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“Just Something To Think About”: 15 Major Decisions This Year From A Partisan Supreme Court

Since Monday’s dramatic Supreme Court decisions, I’ve seen a few people recall that back in 2000, a lot of liberals justified voting for Ralph Nader (or not voting at all) on the basis that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the high court, and it’s safe to say that Gore’s nominees would have been somewhat different, so it’s unlikely we’ll be hearing that argument again. Wherever you place your priorities in terms of the actions of the executive branch, at this point in history, the nominating of Supreme Court justices has become extremely partisan, in a way that isn’t necessarily bad.

What I mean is that whatever the preferences of a particular president, his or her nominee will have to fit within a predictable mold set by the president’s party. For Republicans, that probably means someone who served in a previous Republican president’s Justice Department (as both Roberts and Alito did in Reagan’s), is a member of the Federalist Society, may have done some corporate work on the side, and spent a few years issuing safely conservative rulings on an appellate court. For Democrats, it probably means someone who is an academic (like Elena Kagan), or if not, someone whose record on the bench gives a clear indication of their leanings (like Sonia Sotomayor)—and is more likely to be a woman or a member of a racial or ethnic minority.

As George W. Bush found out when he tried to nominate his good buddy Harriet Miers, the president’s party won’t tolerate someone without a clear record—they want to be sure that they’ll get exactly what they expect from a justice. That means that there will be no surprises for anybody (not that people can’t be fooled a little bit; with a friendly smile, a soothing voice, and some patently disingenuous baseball metaphors, John Roberts convinced a lot of Democrats he might be something other than the intensely ideological justice he has been).

As I said, this isn’t necessarily bad; a justice like David Souter who surprises everyone is only pleasing if the surprise works to your side’s benefit. But now that the Supreme Court’s term has ended in dramatic fashion, it’s worth taking a moment to look back on what they did over the past year, in case anyone is harboring any lingering doubts about the importance of the Court. Here are some of the major decisions, and a quick glance at them shows just how much impact the Supreme Court has on all of our lives:

  1. McCutcheon v. FEC: The law limiting the total amount a donor can give to multiple political candidates was struck down.
  2. Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action: Michigan’s law banning affirmative action at state universities is constitutional.
  3. EPA v. EME Homer City Generation: The EPA’s rules curtailing air pollution that travels from one state to another are constitutional.
  4. Greece, NY v. Galloway: Local officials can open public meetings with sectarian prayers.
  5. Hall v. Florida: Florida’s rule that anyone with an IQ over 70 can be executed is unconstitutional.
  6. Wood v. Moss: The Secret Service was justified in moving protesters opposed to the president farther from where he was having lunch than protesters supporting the president.
  7. Abramski v. U.S.: “Straw purchases” of guns are illegal.
  8. Lane v. Franks: A whistleblower can’t be fired for testifying in court.
  9. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is upheld.
  10. Riley v. California: Police need a warrant to search your cell phone.
  11. ABC v. Aereo: Aereo’s model of streaming over-the-air broadcasts to subscribers was declared illegal.
  12. McCullen v. Coakley: A 35-foot buffer zone to prevent harassment outside abortion clinics was struck down.
  13. NLRB v. Canning: The president can’t make recess appointments during pro forma Senate sessions.
  14. Harris v. Quinn: Home health care workers paid by the state don’t have to contribute to unions that negotiate on their behalf.
  15. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby: “Closely held” companies can deny their employees health coverage for contraception.

These are just some of the 74 opinions the Court delivered during this term. They range over a broad swath of commercial, political, and personal activity. And while there were a few cases where the Court was unanimous, as a general rule the more important a case is, the more likely there is to be a partisan division whose outcome is determined by who appointed the current nine justices.

Three of the current justices (Scalia, Kennedy, and Breyer) are in their 70s, and one (Ginsberg) is in her 80s. The next president, particularly if he or she serves two terms, is probably going to have the opportunity to reshape the Court for decades to come. Just something to think about.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 1, 2014

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is Not Your Independence Day”: Celebrating The Birth Of An Imperfect Union As The Fight For ‘Freedom’ Has Yet To Be Won

Every year, proud U.S. citizens across the country take a break from daily life to commemorate the birth of America. Dusting off the grill, buying frozen meat en masse, attempting to retreat to the nearest body of water, and putting sparklers in the hands of small children might not be exactly what our founding fathers envisioned, but who am I to argue with a long weekend? I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as the next girl. And beachside BBQs? I’m in. Red, white, and blue happens to be the color scheme of my most flattering bikini, so by all means, pass the veggie dogs and pump up the revelry.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance, please don’t wish me a “Happy Independence Day!”

The 4th of July might commemorate the independence of our country — but it also serves as a bitter reminder that in 1776, the country that I love had no place for me in it.

When our founding fathers penned, “All men are created equal,” they meant it. Not all people. Not all humans. Just all men — the only reason they didn’t feel obliged to specify “white” men is because, at the time, men of color were considered less than men, less than human.

The 4th is not my Independence Day — and if you’re a Caucasian woman, it isn’t yours either. Our “independence” didn’t come for another 143 years, with the passage of The Woman’s Suffrage Amendment in 1919. The 4th of July is also not Independence Day for people of color. It wasn’t until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that all men had the right to vote regardless of race — on paper, that is, not in practice. People of color were systematically, and all too successfully, disenfranchised for another century. July 4th of 1776 was certainly not a day of Independence or reverence for Native Americans. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans could unilaterally become citizens of the United States and have the voting rights to go with it.

Now, before anyone argues that Independence is about more than voting rights, I’d like to point out that our Founding Fathers would fundamentally disagree with you. The Revolutionary War was fought, in large part, because of “taxation without representation” — the then English colonists believed they were not free because their voices were not represented. The right to vote, the right to have your say is the delineating characteristic of a democracy.

There is nothing finite about freedom. July 4, 1776 was a definitive step forward in the struggle toward freedom and democracy but we were a long way off from achieving it. And while we have advanced in leaps and bounds — my patriotic swimwear goes over way better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than it would have in Colonial Williamsburg — we are still a far way off from the freedom and independence we’re celebrating.

A resurgence in voter ID laws put in place to once again disenfranchise minorities challenges our collective independence.

This week’s Hobby Lobby ruling — deciding that a woman’s employer has any say in her health care — is a challenge to the ideology of freedom and autonomy our country was founded upon.

The on-going fight for marriage equality prevents same-sex couples in many states from the pursuit of happiness that they are constitutionally guaranteed.

So by all means, enjoy your long weekend. Raise a beer to the ideals of progress and democracy that the 4th of July represents.

But remember that you are celebrating the birth of an imperfect union, remember that the fight for ‘freedom’ has yet to be won — and if you must wish someone a “Happy Independence Day!”, make sure you’re doing something to maintain and advance the Independence you have come to appreciate.


By: Carina Kolodny, The Huffington Post Blog, July 3, 2014

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Democracy, Founding Fathers, Fouth of July | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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