As commentators begin to run out of words to speculate about the murky maneuverings of the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage issues as reflected in oral arguments, it’s occurring to some to compare and contrast the trajectories of law and public opinion on gay marriage and that other hardy perennial of the Culture Wars, abortion.
At Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff sums up the anomaly:
Tuesday marked for a watershed day for gay rights activists as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case with the potential to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
Across the country and 1,500 miles west of Washington, an equally notable event took place: North Dakota enacted the country’s most restrictive abortion law, barring all procedures after six weeks.
For decades, support (or opposition) for gay marriage and abortion went hand in hand. They were the line-in-the-sand “values” issues that sharply divided the political parties.
Not anymore. ”As recently as 2004, we talked about abortion and same sex marriage in the same breath,” says Daniel Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute. “They were the values issues. Now, it doesn’t make sense to lump them together anymore. We’ve seen a decoupling.”
Actually, I beg to differ in part: abortion policy is, more than ever, a reliable and quasi-universal item that divides the two major political parties.
What’s different is that there’s no clear generational trend on abortion that makes the conservative and Republican position doomed, as Kliff notes:
Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights. Young Americans’ views on same-sex unions look nothing like previous generations. But when it comes to abortion rights, Millennials look a lot more lilke their parents.
Millennials, PRRI has found, have similar views to the general population on the morality and legality of abortion. Fifty-two percent of the general public thinks abortion is “morally wrong.” Among Millennials, that number stands at 50 percent. Fifty-six percent of all Americans think abortion ought to be legal, compared to 60 percent of the younger crowd.
In terms of state activity, the irony is that a development adverse to the anti-choicers–President Obama’s re-election–is partially responsible for the wild competition Republican legislators around the country have been undertaking to enact the most irresponsible and–under existing precedents–blatantly unconstitutional abortion restrictions. Now that they’ve been denied a Romney presidency where Supreme Court appointments would be carried out under a strict anti-choice litmus test, abortion-rights foes have clearly decided to initiate a challenge that will test the commitment to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey of the existing Court–and particularly its erratic “swing vote,” Justice Kennedy, who opened the door to new abortion restrictions in his bizarre opinion in a 2007 decision upholding a federal ban on so-called “partial-birth-abortion.”
When North Dakota’s Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed that batch of radical bills on abortion yesterday, he might as well have been holding up a big sign reading: “Hey, Anthony Kennedy! These bills are for you!” So I wouldn’t be surprised if abortion is the big issue in oral arguments before the Supremes next year or the year after that.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 27, 2013
In today’s polarized political climate, there are a few things on which American voters overwhelmingly agree. For all our disputes, we can find common ground in this: we’re completely fed up. About 80 percent of us don’t think Congress is doing a good job. Only about one third of us view the federal government favorably. In a precipitous drop, less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Across all political lines, 75 percentof Americans say there is too much money in politics, and about the same percentage think this glut of money in politics gives the rich more power than the rest in our democracy.
Interestingly, another thing that most Americans have in common is that 80 percent of us have never heard of Citizens United v. FEC, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Our feelings of frustration with Washington are deeply connected with the widespread, and entirely founded, suspicion that our elected officials aren’t representing voters, but are instead indebted to the wealthy interests that pay for their campaigns. This distrust has only deepened as politicians and the courts have handed over more and more power to those with the deepest pockets.
Citizens United is only the most famous of the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions aimed at eliminating hard-won campaign finance regulations. In fact, shortly before Citizens United, the George W. Bush-created right-wing bloc of the Supreme Court issued major rulings that had already begun to undermine decades of federal clean election laws.
And we are only partway down the slippery slope. It keeps getting worse as the Supreme Court gradually dismantles state-level clean elections laws, as it did in Arizona, and clarifies that its sweeping decision in Citizens United applies to states as well, as it did in Montana. Indeed, it won’t be long before this or some future right-wing Supreme Court cuts to the chase and lifts the century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates, one of the most basic checks we have against widespread corruption.
Believe it or not, this November, we’ll have the chance to vote on whether this slippery slope continues, or whether we stop it and roll it back. Each of these regressive campaign finance rulings has had a monumental impact on our democracy. It’s easy to forget that they have been made by one-vote 5-4 majorities of the Supreme Court. That means we’re just one Supreme Court vote away from stopping the trend in its tracks — and even reversing it. Although Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues, he’s crystal clear about how he feels on this issue and exactly what kind of judge he would appoint to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. He has said he believes “corporations are people” and he means it. He’s promised to nominate more Supreme Court justices like the ones who handed down Citizens United. And his chief judicial adviser, former judge Robert Bork, is legendary in his opposition to individual voting rights while advocating expansive corporate power. On this issue in particular, President Obama has been very clear and comes down unambiguously on the opposite side. Look no further than his Supreme Court picks so far. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have consistently resisted the right-wing court’s radical transformation of our democracy. In fact, his nominees now represent half the votes in the High Court who are standing up for democracy against “government by and for” the highest bidder.
Some 2008 Obama voters may not be thrilled by the last four years. Some may even be considering giving Mitt Romney a chance, despite their misgivings. But no matter who your candidate is, what issues you care about or on what side you come down on them, most importantly your vote this November will likely determine the Supreme Court for a generation. If Romney has the opportunity to replace one of the more moderate Supreme Court justices, the Court’s far-right majority will not remain narrow. The votes will be there to dismantle any remaining limits of money in politics for the foreseeable future. Conversely, future Obama appointments give Americans the chance to halt this downward spiral and the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.
Whatever the issues you most care about, this November’s election will be a choice between two Supreme Courts. And the two alternatives could not be more different. Quite simply, this is the chance that the overwhelming majority of Americans — who recognize that there is too much money in politics and that it is corrupting our government at every level — finally have to vote on it.
Will we seize this opportunity?
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, September 6, 2012
The Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), particularly Justice John Roberts siding with the liberals, took most everyone by surprise this morning. But if you tune in to Fox News or surf around the conservative blogs, they seem to be taking it somewhat philosophically. They’re not happy, but there’s little rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. Mostly they’re saying, well, we’ll just have to win this in November (see here for a representative sample). There’s also a good deal of discussion of the fact that the Court declared that the requirement to carry health insurance is permissible under the government’s taxing power. After all, if there’s one thing Republicans know how to do, it’s complain about taxes. Mitch McConnell quickly took to the floor of the Senate to condemn the decision, and no doubt Mitt Romney will soon say something so vague that no one can determine what he actually thinks.
But here’s my guess: Republicans are going to drop health care very quickly. They took their shot with the only avenue they had to kill the ACA, and they came up short. The legal battle is over, and they know that once they start talking about repealing the whole thing, it makes it easier to talk about the benefits of the ACA that will be repealed, particularly since they have given up on even bothering to come up with a “replace” part of “repeal and replace.” Oh, they’ll still condemn the ACA when they’re on Fox, or when they’re talking to partisan audiences—just enough to reassure base conservatives that they’re still angry. But in short order, they’re going to move on to other topics now that the legal question has been settled.
That suits Mitt Romney just fine. You may remember that when the primary campaign started, many people said it would be impossible for him to become the Republican nominee, given that he had passed a health-care plan so closely resembling the ACA in Massachusetts, complete with an individual mandate. He managed to wriggle and writhe away from questions about it for the last two years. Those questions are no more comfortable than they ever were. As the leader of the GOP, he’ll set the agenda for the party. And there are few things he’d rather talk about less. We’ll pore over this decision for the next week, then the news media will move on, and Romney will breathe a sigh of relief.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling on Obama’s healthcare reforms could come any day now. Whatever the verdict, expect much ado about the hotly debated role of broccoli in healthcare and arcane explanations of the Commerce Clause that is at the center of the legal case against the individual mandate. But buried deep in hearings filled with legalese and judicial sparring was a short exchange that illuminates an American ideal that truly hangs in the balance with this decision—the idea that in a civilized society, we do not sit idly by and watch our neighbors die.
The specific back-and-forth in question occurred on the third day of the hearings between Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald Verilli, the administration official charged with defending the law in court. It went like this:
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It’s because you’re going—in the health care market, you’re going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow—that—to which we’ve obligated ourselves so that people get health care.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don’t obligate yourself to that. Why—you know?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I can’t imagine that that—that the Commerce Clause would —would forbid Congress from taking into account this deeply embedded social norm.
JUSTICE SCALIA: You—you could do it.
If you are not a frequent watcher of the Court and therefore not fluent in the cadences of judicial banter, this short, seemingly banal interchange in an exhaustive debate may not have even registered. The “deeply embedded social norm” that Verilli refers to—in fact seems confused that he has to explain to Justice Scalia—is the norm that dictates that people will step in to aid others who are ailing or in danger of death.
Scalia’s statement that “you could do it [defy these norms]” eerily evoked the appalling moment at the September 2011 Republican presidential debate when the audience wildly applauded Wolf Blitzer’s stunned probing of whether candidate Ron Paul would allow a 30-year-old uninsured man in a healthcare emergency to die. “Yes!” shouted unashamed audience members, turning a presidential debate into something reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum. When Justice Scalia argued against the social norms that Verilli was presuming sacrosanct, he was essentially saying, “Let him die!”
While we’ve grown to expect this kind of mob mentality from a radical right wing whipped up in a Tea Party frenzy, this bizarre display of indifference from a Supreme Court Justice breaks new ground in an evolving culture that seems to prize resistance to any and all government over the compassion that is the essence of civilized society. The right screams often and loudly that President Obama has declared war on the Judeo-Christian underpinnings they hold as American as apple pie. But in fact, it is Justice Scalia, from his exalted perch, who appears intent on vacating the Golden Rule and undermining the parable of the Good Samaritan, both core to Christian theology.
Scalia doesn’t come into oral argument all secretive and sphinxlike, feigning indecision on the nuances of the case before him. He comes in like a medieval knight, girded for battle. He knows what the law is. He knows what the opinion should say. And he uses the hour allocated for argument to bludgeon his brethren into agreement.
Scalia, ever the showman, joked during the March hearings that having to read the entire healthcare law in order to rule on it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Constitution. At the same time, he displayed an egregious ignorance regarding which provisions in the bill actually passed. And on the final morning of arguments, Scalia laid his cards on the table when he argued that stripping out the individual mandate would cause the whole law to topple.
The mandate, more descriptively titled the “free-rider clause,” fines uninsured individuals who expect taxpayer-supported emergency services to cover calamities that befall them. It is also the component of the reform that allows insurance companies to affordably cover those with pre-existing conditions. Cutting the mandate, Scalia mused, cuts the heart out of the entire reform and would almost certainly kick the whole matter back to a gridlocked Congress, while millions of lives hang in the balance.
A recent Pew poll shows that approximately 83 percent of Americans are affiliated with an organized faith, be it a form of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism or Buddhism. A whopping 78.4 percent of us fall somewhere in the Christian camp. Yet, it is core Christian values that are currently on trial at the Supreme Court.
Perhaps this emotional dissonance is what drives a new poll from the New York Times that shows that only 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing. Once a venerated institution that seemed immune to the partisan squabbles of the other branches of government, the Court has consistently displayed its corporate and right-wing allegiances in decisions that span from 2000′s Bush v Gore when it picked our president and irrevocably altered the course of history (Scalia later told Americans to “get over it!” when asked about the decision) to the 2009 Citizens United decision, the impact of which is being felt acutely this election season. Now, 75 percent of Americans say that the Justices’ political preferences motivate their decision making on the bench.
When healthcare reform passed in 2010, the United States ranked dead last among similar countries in a study comparing cost and quality of healthcare. America consistently spends twice as much for lesser care than its industrialized allies. While the Affordable Care Act left some of the best solutions on the table, it offers real hope to the one in four American adults that go without healthcare each year due to job transitions or other circumstances. So many of our neighbors live in terror that a single unexpected calamity will drive their family into bankruptcy spurred by emergency medical bills. Now, when the verdict comes in, those fellow Americans can add a new fear to their list: that a Conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justice will lead the charge to let them die.
By: Ilyse Hogue, The Nation, June 18, 2012
“The Fragility Of The 3rd Branch Of Government”: Why The Public’s Growing Disdain For The Supreme Court May Help Obamacare
The public’s growing disdain of the Supreme Court increases the odds that a majority will uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare.
The latest New York Times CBS Poll shows just 44 percent of Americans approve the job the Supreme Court is doing. Fully three-quarters say justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal political views.
The trend is clearly downward. Approval of the Court reached 66 percent in the late 1980s, and by 2000 had slipped to around 50 percent.
As the Times points out, the decline may stem in part from Americans’ growing distrust in recent years of major institutions in general and the government in particular.
But it’s just as likely to reflect a sense that the Court is more political, especially after it divided in such partisan ways in the 5-4 decisions Bush v. Gore (which decided the 2000 presidential race) and Citizen’s United (which in 2010 opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending).
Americans’ diminishing respect for the Court can be heard on the right and left of our increasingly polarized political spectrum.
A few months ago, while a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich stated that the political branches were “not bound” by the Supreme Court. Gingrich is known for making bizarre claims. The remarkable thing about this one was the silence with which it was greeted, not only by other Republican hopefuls but also by Democrats.
Last week I was on a left-leaning radio talk show whose host suddenly went on a riff about how the Constitution doesn’t really give the Supreme Court the power to overturn laws for being unconstitutional, and it shouldn’t have that power.
All this is deeply dangerous for the Court, and for our system of government.
Almost 225 years ago, Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist (Number 78, June 14, 1788) noted the fragility of our third branch of government, whose power rests completely on public respect for its judgement:
The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. [Yet lacking sword or purse, the judiciary] is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.
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.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 8, 2012