“Sotomayor, Kagan Ready For Battles”: You May Have The Votes Conservatives, But You’re Going To Have A Fight
For a quarter-century, Antonin Scalia has been the reigning bully of the Supreme Court, but finally a couple of justices are willing to face him down.
As it happens, the two manning up to take on Nino the Terrible are women: the court’s newest members, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The acerbic Scalia, the court’s longest-serving justice, got his latest comeuppance Wednesday morning, as he tried to make the absurd argument that Congress’s renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House did not mean that Congress actually supported the act. Scalia, assuming powers of clairvoyance, argued that the lawmakers were secretly afraid to vote against this “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
Kagan wasn’t about to let him get away with that. In a breach of decorum, she interrupted his questioning of counsel to argue with him directly. “Well, that sounds like a good argument to me, Justice Scalia,” she said. “It was clear to 98 senators, including every senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation.”
Scalia replied to Kagan, “Or decided that perhaps they’d better not vote against it, that there’s nothing, that there’s no — none of their interests in voting against it.”
Justice Stephen Breyer defused the tension. “I don’t know what they’re thinking exactly,” he said, changing the subject.
The styles of the two Obama appointees are different. Sotomayor is blunt and caustic, repeatedly interrupting. In an opinion this week, she harshly criticized a Texas prosecutor for a racist line of questioning. She has been on the interview circuit publicizing her memoir.
Kagan is choosier about when to interject herself, but she’s sardonic and sharp-witted. (“Well, that’s a big, new power that you are giving us,” she said, mockingly, when a lawyer tried to argue that the justices should overrule Congress’s discrimination findings.)
Both are more forceful than the Clinton appointees, the amiable Breyer and the frail Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The two new justices are sending a message to the court’s conservative majority: You may have the votes, but you’re going to have a fight.
Wednesday’s voting rights case was typical. Surprisingly, the five conservative justices seemed willing to strike down a landmark civil rights law (the provision that gives extra scrutiny to states with past discrimination) that was renewed with near-unanimous votes in Congress. Conservative jurists usually claim deference to the elected branches, but in this case they look an awful lot like activist judges legislating from the bench.
Sotomayor allowed the lawyer for the Alabama county seeking to overturn the law to get just four sentences into his argument before interrupting him. “Assuming I accept your premise — and there’s some question about that — that some portions of the South have changed, your county pretty much hasn’t,” she charged. “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”
Moments later, Kagan pointed out that “Alabama has no black statewide elected officials” and has one of the worst records of voting rights violations.
Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito tried to assist the Alabama county’s lawyer by offering some friendly hypotheticals, but Sotomayor wasn’t interested in hearing that. “The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious,” she said, because “it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list.”
Sotomayor continued questioning as if she were the only jurist in the room. “Discrimination is discrimination,” she informed him, “and what Congress said is it continues.”
At one point, Justice Anthony Kennedy tried to quiet her. “I would like to hear the answer to the question,” he said. The lawyer got out a few more sentences — and then Kagan broke in.
Sotomayor continued to pipe up, even when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was defending the Voting Rights Act — at one point breaking in as Alito was attempting to speak. Chief Justice John Roberts overruled her. “Justice Alito,” he directed.
Scalia was not about to surrender his title of worst-behaved justice. He mocked the civil rights law as he questioned the government lawyer. “Even the name of it is wonderful,” he said. “The Voting Rights Act: Who is going to vote against that?” (Verrilli cautioned him not to ignore actual votes of Congress in favor of “motive analysis.”)
But Scalia’s mouth was no longer the loudest in the room. When the Alabama county’s lawyer returned for his rebuttal, he managed to utter only five words — “Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice” — before Sotomayor broke in.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2013
Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Shelby County v. Holder, a case concerning the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark law that outlawed discriminatory voting practices that disenfranchised African-Americans.
Shelby Country lies just south of Birmingham, Ala. One of its largest tourist attractions is the American Village, a nationally recognized citizenship education center whose mission is to teach visitors good citizenship and remind them of the price of liberty—that freedom isn’t free.
Shelby County wants the Supreme Court to declare a part of Section 4 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Section 4b codifies a formula to identify parts of the country where political discrimination based on race is high. Section 5 requires the Justice Department to “preclear” any changes to voting rules made in nine states, mostly in the South, and by areas in seven others.
The justices will consider an ultimate constitutional question: Does voter discrimination persist to the point where legal protections must remain in place to prevent it? The question, of course is rhetorical. It does. We only need to look at the long list of recent state-level legislative activity, both in and out of the South, that targets minority voters. Just in the last decade, lawmakers have broken up majority-minority districts with questionable redistricting practices. African-American and Latino voters have seen their names purged from voter lists under the guise that election officials were cleaning them up, and restrictive voter ID laws implemented. Laws, some argue, are the modern day equivalent of poll taxes.
If today was the opposite day, Shelby County’s case would have merit. They’d rightly argue that voting rights are color-blind. But it isn’t the opposite day, nor will that be the case for a long time to come. Shelby County ignores this fact. It forgets about Alabama’s long history of using violence fraud, poll taxes, and literacy tests to keep African-American’s from the polls.
The justices must avoid the same amnesia. In 2006, the House of Representatives voted 390-to-33 and the Senate 98-to-zero to renew the Voting Rights Act until 2031. These lawmakers, after a significant amount of testimony and impassioned debate, recognized that the threat of disenfranchisement persists. Some of the justices, however, have already signaled that it doesn’t. Justice Anthony Kennedy has questioned the fairness of the Voting Rights Act, and Justice Clarence Thomas has said flat out said that it’s unconstitutional.
Shelby County v. Holder targets the very heart of American democracy. If the justices rule in Shelby County’s favor, the right to vote will most certainly not be free. The American Village will have one more reminder to give its visitors.
By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, February 27, 2013
The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the case that opens the door to the final destruction of the campaign finance laws that place a limit on how much money an individual can contribute directly to a federal candidate or national political party.
Now that the infamous Citizens United case, decided in 2010, has removed limits on how much a corporation, union and individual can contribute to groups that are ‘unaffiliated’ with candidates and political parties—leading to the creation and domination of the Super PAC—the Court, by agreeing to hear yet another challenge to campaign finance laws, is poised to take the next step toward finishing off all campaign limits by freeing individuals to give candidates and their political parties unlimited sums of money.
As the law currently stands for calendar years 2013-14, individual donors are limited to giving contributions to candidates for federal offices up to a maximum of $123,200 during an election cycle (two years) with a limit of $2,600 to an individual candidate, $32,400 to a national political party, $10,000 to a state political party and $5,000 to any other political committee affiliated with a candidate or political party.
However, an Alabama political donor—joined by the Republican National Committee—believes that the limitation of $123,200 placed on an individual donor during an election cycle is ‘unconstitutionally low’ and wants the highest court in the land to remove the cap.
The case now set to come before the Supreme Court will challenge only the total contribution cap and does not go after the limits placed on money given to individual candidates and political parties. However, based on the Court’s ruling in Citizens United, it is widely anticipated that were the Supreme Court to side with the plaintiffs in this matter and end the limits on the total contribution amount, the Court will have telegraphed its intention to do away with limitations of any kind or nature—making it only a matter of time until limits on individual contributions to candidates and political parties are also tossed into the dustbin of history.
While ending the existing limitation would put political parties on an even keel with the Super PACs in the race for big money, it would also mean the latest evisceration of the campaign finance limits put in place during the 1970’s when Congress reacted to the growing influence of money in politics—money that placed wealthy, individual donors in a position of undue influence over the nation’s elected officials.
The case that will now be heard by SCOTUS was argued last year in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where a three judge panel ruled that the challenged campaign limit laws were, indeed, constitutional. In issuing the Circuit Court ruling, Judge Janice Rogers Brown noted that the Supreme Court had previously held that limiting an individual’s political contributions had only a marginal effect on that person’s freedom of speech and that it was within Congress’ authority to place such limits on individual contributions.
Judge Brown added, “Although we acknowledge the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern, we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to anticipate the Supreme Court’s agenda.”
The Supreme Court has now accepted that invitation, leading many experts to worry that the latest blow to campaign finance laws in about to descend.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, February 20, 2013
At The Atlantic today, Andrew Cohen has a brief preview of the upcoming session of the Supreme Court. A lot of his article revolves around the personal antagonisms that seemed to emerge strong during and after consideration of the Affordable Care Act case. But here’s what Cohen says about the Court’s caseload:
Alas, what’s on the docket today, even after the Court accepted six new cases this past Wednesday, is only about half of what the justices will decide between now and June. So previewing the Court term this year is a little like previewing a play that is only half written. Will this be a term like last term, one for the ages? It depends. It depends on how aggressive the justices are in reaching out to take big-ticket social cases.
We don’t yet know, for example, whether the justices will take the Proposition 8 case out of California to finally put to rest that state’s uncertainty with same-sex marriage. Nor do we yet know if the Court is going to take another look at the Voting Rights Act after a season marked by partisan discrimination over voter identification laws. And there is a possibility, with voting rights cases brewing in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere, that the Court may be dragged into an election case before the November election.
As I write today, there is only one transcendent case on the Court’s docket this term, and it comes up early, on October 10. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court’s conservatives are poised to finish off once and for all the concept of affirmative action in academia.
Cohen goes on to note the perilous constitutional condition of affirmative action in college admissions, maintained in 2003 on a tie-breaking vote from Justice O’Conner, who has since been replaced by Samuel Alito, a confirmed enemy of affirmative action in general.
But Political Animals want to know if oral arguments on this issue right in the middle of the stretch run of the election campaign could serve as something of an “October Surprise” for Republicans who may by that time have lost whatever remaining inhibitions they have about racially tinged attacks arguing that those people and their president are systematically looting the good virtuous white people of America. I certainly think they will do whatever they can to exploit the publicity over the case, and would not be surprised at all if Mitt Romney and/or debate moderators were to pointedly challenge Obama on this subject either before (on October 3) or after (on October 16) the Court’s oral arguments.
So get ready for some race-baiting nestled in the gauzy language of constitutional law!
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 27, 2012
“Not A Chance”: Does The Supreme Court Care A Whit About The Public’s Opinion Of The Obamacare Ruling?
As we edge closer to this month’s Supreme Court decision on the future of the Affordable Care Act—or lack of any such future—many liberal pundits are pinning their hopes for a happy ending on Chief Justice John Roberts voting to uphold the law in response to the court’s poor showing in recent polls on the issue of the court’s political objectivity.
Of the many concerns that fall to a Chief Justice—whose name will forever attach to the decisions of the court over which he or she presides—public polls would have to be at the very lowest rung on the list.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll reveals that public support for SCOTUS is at just 44 percent, with 76 percent believing that the justices, at least some of the time, base their rulings on their personal and political views.
This rather dismal opinion of our one government institution— that is supposed to be high above petty political concerns—prompted former Clinton Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, to write in the Christian Science Monitor –
The immediate question is whether the Chief Justice, John Roberts, understands the tenuous position of the Court he now runs. If he does, he’ll do whatever he can to avoid another 5-4 split on the upcoming decision over the constitutionality of the Obama healthcare law.
My guess is he’ll try to get Anthony Kennedy to join with him and with the four Democratic appointees to uphold the law’s constitutionality, relying primarily on an opinion by Judge Laurence Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – a Republican appointee with impeccable conservative credentials, who found the law to be constitutional.
While I would love to believe that Reich has this right, I’m afraid the Secretary is engaging in some very wishful thinking. It’s just not going to happen that way.
This is not to say that the Chief Justice may not, ultimately, find the law to be constitutional.
I have previously suggested that writing off Robert’s vote in support would be a mistake— in no small measure because of his high regard for the opinions of Judge Silberman who did, as Reich reports, vote to uphold Obamacare in the DC Court of Appeals and did so in a highly compelling opinion that cannot be ignored.
Silberman is a major legal influence on conservative judges throughout the nation and, in my opinion, the most likely next appointee to the Supreme Court should a Republican president make the choice.
At the very least, it is reasonable to expect that Justice Roberts might be far more open to considering the less comfortable approach to the law than he might otherwise have been had Judge Silberman seen things differently. In the end, Judge Silberman’s well thought out opinion may turn out to be the difference between Obamacare surviving or not.
But will the Chief Justice ‘tilt’ his vote in a scheme designed to protect the status of the court in the public’s perception?
Not a chance.
If Roberts concludes that the law should be upheld, he may go after Justice Kennedy’s vote, as Secretary Reich suggests, but he would do so with the understanding that on issues as important as the healthcare decision, a 5-4 vote would leave the issue settled—but in a highly unsettling way. When it comes to critical rulings, any Chief Justice greatly prefers that the decision not be carried by a tie-breaker vote as it forever remains more suspect than a 6-3 determination.
We should also keep in mind that The Roberts Court is far from the first controversial Supreme Court in our history. Nor is the current crop of justices the first to experience a bumpy road when it comes to public opinion. We need only recall the huge public outcries engendered by the Warren Court—a version of the Supreme Court which upended the legal status quo in this country in ways never previously seen, enraging many Americans in the process.
Chief Justice Roberts may vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act—including the controversial mandate provisions. I certainly hope that this is the case. And should things go this way, there is no doubt that Roberts’ opinion will go a long way to encourage confidence in our Chief Justice who, by voting to uphold, would reveal himself as a man committed to correctly interpreting the law—even when it may be in opposition to what we suspect might be the dictates of his personal belief.
But if the Chief Justice does this, it will not be the result of some PR effort to raise the level of esteem for the Court among the American public—it will be because he will have correctly understood that, like the law or not, the Affordable Care Act passes Constitutional muster.
By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, June 17, 2012