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“Antonin Scalia And His Argle-Bargle”: He Doesn’t Want To Be Seen As The Bigot He Is

Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent (pdf) in U.S. v. Windsor, the ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, is not subtle in its anger. The conservative Supreme Court jurist refers on page 22, for example, to the “legalistic argle-bargle” the court majority uses as its rationale.

And as Paul Waldman explained, the dissent goes downhill from there.

Scalia is outraged at the majority’s contention that the core purpose of DOMA was to discriminate against gay people, and this, he asserts, means that they’re calling everyone who supports it a monster. “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution,” he writes.

And more: “It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”

Yes, apparently Scalia is feeling a little defensive, so much so that he believes those who disagree with him are calling him an enemy of humanity. One gets the sense reading his dissent that he doesn’t want to be seen as a bigot, just because he’s on record describing homosexuality in his Lawrence v. Texas dissent as “a lifestyle” that should be seen as “immoral and destructive.”

But let’s also not overlook this curious argument from the beginning of his DOMA dissent:

“This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. “

Really? When it’s the Voting Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act on the line, Scalia doesn’t hesitate to take an axe to “democratically adopted legislation,” approved by the elected representatives of Americans who are able to “govern themselves.” But when it’s the Defense of Marriage Act, Scalia suddenly remembers his affinity for restraint?

Exactly one year ago yesterday, following some of Scalia’s partisan antics, a constitutional law professor at UCLA said the conservative jurist “has finally jumped the shark.” At the time, that seemed like a reasonable assessment, and yet, Scalia somehow manages to get worse.

Update: Sahil Kapur takes the next step, listing “the top 10 quotes from the staunchly conservative jurist — a mix of rage-filled metaphors and legal punches.”

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 26, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Arrogance Of The Third Political Branch”: The Supreme Court Uses Judicial Activism For Conservative Ends

We prefer to think of the Supreme Court as an institution apart from politics and above its struggles. In the wake of this week’s decision gutting the heart of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, its actions must now be viewed through the prism of the conservative movement’s five-decade-long quest for power.

Liberals will still win occasional and sometimes partial victories, as they did Wednesday on same-sex marriage. But on issues directly related to political and economic influence, the court’s conservative majority is operating as a political faction, determined to shape a future in which progressives will find themselves at a disadvantage.

It’s true that the rulings voiding the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 show how the liberalizing trend on some social issues is hard for even a conservative court to resist.

The Defense of Marriage Act was invalidated because one of the conservatives, Justice Anthony Kennedy, has joined much of the American public in an admirable move toward greater sympathy for gay and lesbian rights.

And the decision on California’s anti-gay marriage law was reached by an ideologically eclectic majority on procedural grounds. Five justices held that the case had been improperly presented because the state of California declined to appeal a lower court’s ruling voiding the law.

This led to a middle-of-the-road outcome. The court declined to declare a national, Constitutional right to same-sex marriage, but did give gay-rights advocates a victory in California. By leaving the issue in the electoral sphere in most states, the court opened the way for further advances toward marriage equality, since public opinion is shifting steadily in its favor, fueled by strong support among younger Americans.

The marriage rulings, however, should not distract from the arrogance of power displayed in the voting rights decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts. His opinion involved little Constitutional analysis. He simply substituted the court’s judgment for Congress’ in deciding which states should be covered under the Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required voting rules in states with a history of discrimination to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department.

The court instructed Congress to rewrite the law, even though these sophisticated conservatives certainly know how difficult this will be in the current political climate.

Whenever conservatives on the court have had the opportunity to tilt the playing field toward their own side, they have done so. And in other recent cases, the court has weakened the capacity of Americans to take on corporate power. The conservative majority seems determined to bring us back to the Gilded Age of the 1890s.

The voting rights decision should be seen as following a pattern set by the rulings in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Citizens United in 2010.

Bush v. Gore had the effect of installing the conservatives’ choice in the White House and allowed him to influence the court’s subsequent direction with his appointments of Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Citizens United swept aside a tradition going back to the Progressive Era — and to the Founders’ deep concern over political corruption — by vastly increasing the power of corporate and monied interests in the electoral sphere.

Tuesday’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling will make it far more difficult for African-Americans to challenge unfair electoral and districting practices. For many states, it will be a Magna Carta to make voting more difficult if they wish to.

The Constitution, through the 14th and 15th Amendments, gives Congress a strong mandate to offer federal redress against discriminatory and regressive actions by state and local governments. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her scalding but very precise dissent, “a governing political coalition has an incentive to prevent changes in the existing balance of voting power.”

In less diplomatic language, existing majorities may try to fix election laws to make it far more difficult for their opponents to toss them from power in later elections. Republican legislatures around the country passed a spate of voter suppression laws disguised as efforts to guarantee electoral “integrity” for just this purpose.

Recall that when conservatives did not have a clear court majority, they railed against “judicial activism.” Now that they have the capacity to impose their will, many of the same conservatives defend extreme acts of judicial activism by claiming they involve legitimate interpretations of the true meaning of the Constitution.

It is an inconsistency that tells us all we need to know. This is not an argument about what the Constitution says. It is a battle for power. And, despite scattered liberal triumphs, it is a battle that conservatives are winning.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 27, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Roberts Gets His Trophy”: Inventing A Previously Unheard Of “New Constitutional Doctrine”

In my focus on the joyful and immediate exploitation of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder by southern Republicans who behaved like they were in the midst of a jail break, I probably gave too little attention to the audacity of the decision itself. Ari Berman of The Nation offered some immediate observations, beginning with the stunning contrast between the Chief Justice’s solicitude for Congress is his dissent against the invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act with his breezy contempt in Shelby County v. Holder:

In his dissent in the Defense of Marriage Act case today, Justice Scalia wrote: “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation.”

Justice Roberts wrote in his concurrence: “I agree with Justice Scalia that this Court lacks jurisdiction to review the decisions of the courts below… I also agree with Justice Scalia that Congress acted constitutionally in passing the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Yet that reasoning didn’t stop Justices Roberts and Scalia from striking down the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act yesterday, a hugely important civil rights law that has been passed by Congress five times with overwhelming bipartisan approval. Why didn’t the court defer to Congress on the VRA, which has a far more robust Congressional history/mandate than DOMA? And how did Roberts and Scalia reach such contradictory conclusions in the different cases?

But more fundamentally, as 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner notes in a scathing review of Shelby County v. Holder for Slate, Roberts kind of made up the constitutional foundation for the decision: a previously unheard-of doctrine of the “equal sovereignty of the states.”

Roberts, of course, is rather famous for his specific hostility to the Voting Rights Act, as Adam Serwer pointed out at MoJo when this case was first argued:

Shelby County offers Roberts an opportunity to complete a mission he began three decades ago. When the chief justice was a young lawyer, in 1981, Southern legislators hoped an ascendant conservative movement could pressure Reagan into opposing an extension of the VRA. In June of that year, Reagan wrote a letter to Attorney General William French Smith requesting an “assessment” of the law. “I am sensitive to the controversy which has attached itself to some of the Act’s provisions, in particular those provisions which impose burdens unequally upon different parts of the nation,” Reagan wrote. “But I am sensitive also to the fact that the spirit of the Act marks this nation’s commitment to full equality for all Americans, regardless of race, color, or national origin.” Reagan didn’t go as far as former segregationist and then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) by opposing the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, but his administration fought efforts to strengthen the law.

Additionally, Roberts has been around the block enough times to know that a legislative “fix” to Section 4 either won’t happen (that’s my bet), or would take long enough that long-stalled voter suppression efforts in the Deep South will find their way into statute books and election procedures. Yes, the Justice Department and civil rights advocates will try to use Section 2 remedies in the absence of preclearance powers, but winning such cases typically requires after-the-fact demonstrations of harm to minority voting influence.

It took a while, and required looking far away from the congressional history of the Voting Rights Act, and inventing a new constitutional doctrine, but John Roberts got his trophy this week. He should have had the sense of decorum to assign the opinion to someone else.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 26, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holy Crap”: Christian Employers Claim Their Religion Puts Them Above the Law

Ready for the next court fight over Obamacare? Get to know Hobby Lobby, the chain of stores fighting the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that the health insurance employers offer their employees cover contraception, and the next Christian martyr to the unholy scourge of health coverage for employees. Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians, and though their company isn’t a church, they’d like to choose which laws they approve of and which they don’t, and follow only the laws they like. And a federal appeals court just ruled that not only can their suit go forward, but they’re likely to win. Because apparently, “This law violates my religious beliefs” is now a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The decision is simply mind-blowing, essentially finding that private businesses are just like religious institutions, and therefore they can decide which laws they have to obey:

“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the judges wrote. “The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel Inc. and their owners, the Green family, argue for-profit businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exception if the law violates their religious beliefs. The owners approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg — such as an IUD or the morning-after pill.

Hobby Lobby is the largest and best-known of more than 30 businesses in several states that have challenged the contraception mandate. A number of Catholic-affiliated institutions have filed separate lawsuits, and the court suggested faith-based organizations can follow for-profit objectives in the secular world.

“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other,” they wrote.

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but my reaction upon reading this was, “Holy crap!” It’s not for the court to question whether Hobby Lobby’s interpretation of what laws it would rather follow is correct? Seriously? And they don’t see how they can distinguish selling pipe cleaners and finger paint from any other form of evangelism?

Before we get to the core question here, it’s just incredible that one of the reasons the court found in favor of Hobby Lobby was that the company didn’t want to pay for insurance that would pay for “drugs and devices that the plaintiffs believe to be abortifacients.” But what they believe is utterly irrelevant. One of the methods they object to is Plan B, the morning-after pill. But Plan B isn’t an abortifacient. The plaintiffs can choose to “believe” that it is if they want, but they’re asking that the state accept their belief as if it were true just because they believe it, and thereby exempt them from obeying the law. In effect that creates a justification for anyone who wants to ignore the law to create their own factual universe, then use that invented universe to say they’re exempt from the laws everyone else has to follow. If you get caught by a speed camera going 50 in a 35 zone, you can’t say, “Your honor, I believe that all speed cameras automatically register cars as going 15 miles per hour over their actual speeds. Therefore, I was going 35, and I am exempt from this fine.”

This is not the last challenge we’re going to see to this part of the ACA; there are going to be many other companies coming forward to say, “We’re Christian, so therefore the law doesn’t apply to us.” But just think for a moment about the principle they’re using to justify that position. There isn’t any question about the constitutionality of this provision of the ACA. It was passed by Congress and signed by the President. It’s the law of the land. But these private companies are saying that they have the right to choose which laws they obey, simply by saying “It’s my religion.”

To put this in context, the law doesn’t distinguish between “real” religions and fake religions, and properly so. One of the reasons we have the religious freedom we do in America is that the founders didn’t want to set up a system like the one that existed in Europe, where there was a single state religion and none others had protection. So if you want to get married by a clergyman from the Church of Holy Toenail, you might have to fill out some extra paperwork, but you’ll be able to do it.

And that means that if we apply this rationale more broadly, anyone, whatever religion they claim to believe in, should be able to declare themselves exempt from any law they don’t like. And what’s more, they don’t even need any evidence from their religious tradition or texts to justify it. You know what the Bible says about contraception? Absolutely nothing. Not a word. But along the way, some Christians decided that God disapproves of contraception, even though most Christians use it. So now anyone can declare that their religion, i.e. their personal interpretation of their religion, has a greater legal force than actual laws.

I have to pay taxes? Sorry, I’m a Hindu, so I think taxes are an abomination unto the Lord. Sure, there’s no justification for that position in any Hindu text, but the Bible says nothing about contraception either, and Christians are getting an exemption for that, so I decided that Hinduism forbids tax paying. You caught me breaking into my neighbor’s garage and stealing his nice new 18-volt cordless drill? Well, I’m a Buddhist, and I believe that private property is an impediment to enlightenment, so what’s his is mine. The zoning laws in my neighborhood forbid retail establishments? Sorry, I’m a member of the Church of the Homemade Energy Bar, which mandates that all adherents sell energy bars out of their homes, so the zoning rules don’t apply to me.

I only skimmed the decision in this case, so maybe there’s something there I missed that makes this seem less appalling. But religious organizations get all kinds of special treatment from the government as things stand today, and what the plaintiffs in this case (along with their supporters) seem to be arguing is that religious people ought to enjoy a special privileged status that puts them above the law.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 28, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Boehner’s Dilemma”: Your Choice Mr. Speaker, Tea Party Uprising Or Latino Uprising

On immigration, Speaker John Boehner is caught between two unpleasant possibilities: A Tea Party uprising or a Latino uprising. Eventually, he’s going to have to choose which presents a bigger risk to his party.

So far, all of his rhetoric and body language suggests he is trying to protect his House Republican caucus from a Tea Party uprising that would take out incumbents in Republican primaries, and perhaps himself from a challenge to his speakership.

Even though the Senate passed landmark immigration reform with a supermajority of 68 votes, Speaker Boehner is refusing to bring the Senate bill to the House floor. He is insisting the House pass its own legislation with “majority support of Republicans,” a needless standard designed to produce a far more right-wing bill than the Democratic-led Senate can tolerate, increasing the chances of a deadlocked House-Senate negotiation.

If it even gets that far. Considering how House Republicans recently failed to come together to pass a farm bill, it’s not a given the House can pass any immigration bill with Republican votes alone.

Failure to pass a final bill suits Tea Party Republicans just fine. But if Boehner buries a widely supported bipartisan Senate bill, the uprising he faces may be far worse.

On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told CNN, “This has the potential of becoming the next major civil rights movement. I could envision in the late summer or early fall if Boehner tries to bottle the bill up or put something in without a path to citizenship … I could see a million people on the Mall in Washington.”

This is not idle musing. This has already happened.

In December 2005, the House passed legislation that would turn undocumented workers into felons. A wave of mass protests by Latinos swept the country the following spring, lasting for three months. Half a million poured into the streets of Los Angeles, and 400,000 marched in downtown Chicago. Seeing the strength of the Latino vote, the Senate quickly backed off of the House approach and in May 2006 passed an immigration bill providing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

Neither the House nor Senate bills became law. But back in 2006, with conservative Republicans controlling both chambers, gridlock was a win for the protesters. Today, with immigration advocates so close to winning historic reform, gridlock would be a devastating blow.

And if the highest-ranking Republican in the country was the clear roadblock, the Republican Party in general would be on the receiving end of visceral hatred, most likely voiced once again in the streets.

A wave of protests targeting Republicans that matched or surpassed the level of street heat generated in 2006 would be devastating to the Republican Party’s attempts to win back the Latino votes that proved decisive to Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories. With the Latino share of the electorate continuing to rise — most ominously for Republicans, in their lone bastion of strength, the South — killing immigration reform could fast-track a demographic disaster that would condemn Republicans to minority status for a generation.

In the end, Boehner will have to decide which uprising he wants to face least: A Tea Party uprising that could spell personal defeats for himself and his friends, or a Latino uprising that could spell the end of the Republican Party.

If he takes the long view, he will recognize that his speakership won’t last for long if his party crumbles all around him.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, June 28, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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