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“In A Partisan League Of His Own”: Alito, Doing Everything He Can To Be ‘A Corporation’s Best Friend’

On Monday morning, around 10 a.m. ET, much of the nation’s political and legal world turned to Scotusblog to learn the outcome of two of the year’s biggest Supreme Court cases. Moments later, the blog told us that Justice Samuel Alito was delivering both rulings.

And it was at this point that everyone immediately knew that conservatives had won both cases.

What about the possibility of a surprise? How could everyone be absolutely certain that Alito would side with the right? Was it really so inconceivable that Alito would honor precedent and play against type?

Actually, yes, it was inconceivable.

Ian Millhiser made a compelling case today that Alito is “the most partisan” justice on the bench, making it pretty clear what to expect when he’s written a ruling.

According to data by Washington University Professor Lee Epstein, Alito is more likely to cast a conservative vote than anyone else on the Court.

To be fully precise, that does not make Alito the Court’s most conservative member. That honor belongs to Justice Clarence Thomas, who is the only member of the Court who openly pines for the days when federal child labor laws were considered unconstitutional. Yet, while Alito can’t match Thomas’s radicalism, he is far and away the most partisan member of the Court.

To explain this distinction, Thomas is not a partisan. He is an ideologue. His decisions are driven by a fairly coherent judicial philosophy which would often read the Constitution in much the same way that it was understood in 1918.  While this methodology typically leads him to conservative results, it does occasionally align him with the Court’s liberals…. What makes Alito a partisan is that there is no similar case where his judicial philosophy drove him to a result that put him at odds with his fellow conservatives.

To put this in perspective, note that Millhiser highlighted a striking detail: Alito is the only sitting justice who has never crossed over – in effect, breaking ranks with the usual ideological allies – in a closely divided case.

Nine years ago, you’ll recall that Alito was not George W. Bush’s first choice. Rather, the Republican president initially nominated Harriet Miers, the White House counsel at the time, for the lifetime appointment on the high court.

It was among the more foolish decisions Bush made, which ended in an embarrassing withdrawal.

Miers was obviously unqualified, but Bush’s second choice, Sam Alito, is in many ways worse.

Millhiser’s indictment on Alito’s partisanship, his activism, his reliance on a raw political perspective, his desire to be “a corporation’s best friend,” makes a persuasive case and is worth checking out.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 2, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Samuel Alito | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dirtbag On Aisle 9”: Target, ‘Open Carry’ And The Clash Of Cultures Over Guns

Today, Target Corp. released a statement in which it asked its customers not to bring firearms into its stores. Here’s an excerpt:

As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit “open carry” should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law …

This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

Gun advocates often speak of their cultural attachment to firearms, and what we have here is certainly a clash of cultures. Target would probably never have taken this step were it not for the efforts of Open Carry Texas, a group of gun owners who get a charge out of walking into a grocery store or a coffee shop with AR-15s slung over their shoulders so that they can see the terrified looks on people’s faces. Target’s request comes in the wake of similar moves from Chipotle and Starbucks, and in each case it followed the same pattern: Open-carry advocates brought their assault rifles into the stores, customers and staff freaked out, and the corporation decided to make a request of its customers to leave their guns at home.

It’s important to understand that there are lots of gun owners who think groups like Open Carry Texas are nuts, and even plenty of gun advocates who think they’re doing serious damage to the cause. But groups like theirs have performed a service by reminding us that just as there’s a culture of guns, and cultures where guns are plentiful, there are also tens of millions of Americans for whom an absence of guns is a cultural value. It’s part of how they define places, whether it’s their communities or the stores they shop in, as safe and pleasant. People who grew up around a lot of guns may not blink an eye when they go to the hardware store and see a pistol peeking out of some dude’s sweatpants, but many people find that a troubling sight. We’re not all going to share the same culture, but being an honorable member of society means being aware of how some parts of your particular culture may make other people uncomfortable or afraid, and trying to act respectfully in response.

Despite what some extreme gun advocates believe, no right is unlimited, whether it’s your right to own a gun or your right to practice your religion or your right to freedom of speech. But beyond the legal limits, there are also the limits we all respect in order to have a society where we can get along despite our differences. My neighbor has a First Amendment right to write pornographic “Hunger Games” fan fiction, but if he hands his manuscripts to my kids he’s just being a creepy dirtbag, First Amendment or not.

And depending on the laws of your state, you may have a legal right to take your rifle down to the Piggly Wiggly. But that doesn’t mean that doing so doesn’t make you a jerk.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 2, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Lobby, Target | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Increasingly Out Of Touch”: Hobby Lobby Shows The Need For A More Diverse Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court ended its most recent judicial term this week in a characteristically dramatic fashion. The Court often leaves the most contentious and controversial cases to be decided last, and this year was no exception. A deeply divided Court split 5-4 over the hashtag-friendly Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, an innocuous name that perhaps doesn’t accurately reflect the polemical questions which lie at the heart of the Justices’ deliberations, namely striking the appropriate balance between religious conviction and access to contraception.

The impact of the decision cannot really be known until the United States’ relatively new national health insurance scheme (aka ‘Obamacare‘) has been fully implemented. In essence, the Justices ruled that a specific subset of corporations — those that are ‘closely-held,’ which often means small and family-owned — could not be compelled to provide insurance coverage for certain methods of birth control if the owners of such companies judged such coverage to be ‘incompatible’ with ‘sincerely-held’ religious beliefs. However, the Court suggested that United States government could step into the breach and provide coverage as necessary.

To non-American audiences, the outrage that this decision has provoked may seem bewildering. Yet the ruling affects three things that are cultural touchstones in the United States: access to health insurance (or the lack thereof), religious freedom, and reproductive rights. The dissenting justices opined that it was a decision of ‘startling breadth’, which might essentially legalise future discriminatory practices by corporations, so long as they claimed a violation of their convictions. This may or may not prove to be the case; nonetheless, additional legal challenges to Obamacare’s provisions are a foregone conclusion.

Of perhaps more immediate relevance than trying to guess at the decision’s eventual impact is speculative analysis of the Justices’ motivations. The companies which brought suit in the Hobby Lobby case are run by people who identify with conservative Christian ideologies. The five male Justices who made up the majority in the case all identify as Roman Catholic, and are 59 years of age or older. There is no way to know how much their personal beliefs inform their decisionmaking in this particular case, but it’s not implausible to suggest a correlation. It is reasonable to wonder if the Court would have split on similar lines had the religious convictions under examination been Muslim, Jewish or Mormon.

The Court’s three female Justices found themselves in the liberal minority on the case, as they often do with decisions that touch upon hot-button cultural issues. It was predicted that they would vote in favour of unimpeded access to contraception, and it’s easy to dismiss their votes as influenced simply by gender — after all, birth control is still seen largely as a woman’s responsibility, however inequitable this may be. This is unquestionably an over-simplified analysis, and yet it is sure to be expressed. More interesting by far is to hypothesise how the case might have been decided differently if the medication at the heart of the controversy were indicated for treatment of a distinctly male condition. If someone’s ‘sincerely-held’ religious beliefs prevented them from providing insurance coverage to treat erectile dysfunction, would the Court’s majority have been similarly composed?

Such provocative questions matter. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. While this is supposed to save them from the undignified political posturing and short-term thinking that Americans have come to loathe in their Congressmen and Senators, it can also saddle the Court with Justices whose personal opinions have not kept pace with the ever-evolving beliefs of its citizens. Nevertheless, as there are septuagenarians on both sides of the Court’s ideological divide, both conservatives and liberals have an incentive to keep their favourites around as long as possible.

America’s demographics are changing rapidly, and its younger generations do not generally hold one easily identifiable set of beliefs marking them as either ‘progressive’ or ‘traditional’. Going forward, the Supreme Court will find itself increasingly out of touch if it continues to make decisions that primarily reflect the viewpoint of Christian Caucasian males nearing retirement age. Justices would do well to consider that as they begin their summer vacations. The world may look very different by the time the Court begins again in October.

 

By: Hilary Stauffer, Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics, Centre for the Study of Human Rights; The Huffington Post Blog, July 4, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Death Of A Dream”: Celebrating South Dakota’s 125th Birthday — Or Not

South Dakota, like North Dakota, was named after a people; the Dakota or Sioux as they were misnamed by the French, missionaries and the settlers.

Before it became a state it was known as Dakota Territory, clearly identifying it as a land belonging to the Dakota. It became a state on November 2, 1889. One year and 57 days after statehood one of the worst massacres of innocent Indian men, women and children took place on December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, clearly within the boundaries of the new state.

Nearly 300 innocent victims died that December day many of them torn apart by the new Hotchkiss machine guns, the first time these deadly guns were used against human beings. When the young Nicholas Black Elk saw this carnage he later said, “And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard: A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”

This year on November 2, South Dakota will be celebrating its 125th Anniversary as a State. For nearly all of those 125 years the Dakota, Lakota, Nakota people who make up the largest minority in the state were excluded from participation in the state legislative body and were denied the basic freedoms accorded to every white citizen of the state.

They did not become citizens of the state until 1924 when the United States made them citizens of the United States. First understand that the state was named after a people; but Dakota is not only a people, it is a dialect. That is why those people erroneously noted as Sioux called themselves Dakota, Lakota and Nakota. Simply put all of the so-called Sioux spoke the same language with a slightly different dialect. Where the Dakota used a “D” the Lakota used an “L” and the Nakota used an “N.” For example the word for friend in Dakota is koda, and in Lakota it is kola and in Nakota it is kona.

Of course it is much more complicated than that. When one delves more deeply into it they will find that there were actually four dialects: The Santee, Yankton, Teton and Assiniboine and each of these dialects has slight differences, but not sufficient enough for all of the Dakota to understand each other.

According to a dictionary by the great Lakota educator Albert White Hat. Sr., Sicangu Lakota, the name Sioux came about in the 17th century by French trappers and missionaries when they adopted the last syllable of the Ojibwe term “nadowessioux” (literally “snake lesser”). Since the Ojibwe called their major enemy, the Iroquois, “nadowewok” (snake) “Sioux” was the last part of an Ojibwe word that meant in itself only “minor” or “lessor.” The tribes were further divided into the Oceti Sakowin or People of the Seven Council Fires.”

Most of what I write here are simple things the white citizens of South Dakota ignored or failed to learn and continued to shoot and murder the “Sioux” people because there was no law to stop them. The life of an Indian to them was no more important than that of a coyote. And we should never forget that the United States once placed a bounty on a “redskin,” much as they did on a beaver skin or pelt. And there are those out there who still wonder why most Native Americans hate the word “redskin.”

If you were a Lakota, Dakota or Nakota, how would you feel about celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Statehood for South Dakota knowing that you had been excluded, discriminated against, murdered and had most of your land stolen from you by the State of South Dakota?

I’ll leave it up to the Oceti Sakowin to decide that.

 

By: Tim Giago, Founder, Native American Journalists Association; The Huffington Post Blog, July 3, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Native Americans, Racism | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court Opens The Floodgates”: Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Infinitely Flexible, Based On Your Religion — Provided It’s The Right Religion

It didn’t take long for the conservatives on the Supreme Court to show that their decision in the Hobby Lobby case goes farther than Justice Alito professed when he wrote it — just as the liberal dissenters charged. Yesterday the Court granted an “emergency” injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, so that the college wouldn’t have to endure the burden of filling out a form certifying their objections to contraception. The move sparked a blistering dissent from the Court’s three female justices, in which they wrote, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

On its surface, this case appears to be a rather dull dispute about paperwork. But it actually gets to a much more fundamental question about what kinds of demands for special privileges people and organizations can make of the government on the basis of their religious beliefs.

One of the central points Alito made in the Hobby Lobby decision was that the company could be exempted from the law’s requirement that insurance plans cover contraception because there was a less restrictive means for the government to achieve its goal. This less restrictive means, he said, was the procedure the government had set up for religious non-profits: the group signs a form stating its objection and gives a copy to the government and to its third-party insurance administrator, which will then arrange for people to get contraception without the non-profit’s involvement or money. The fact that this procedure exists is what Justice Alito himself cited in the Hobby Lobby decision as proof that there was a less restrictive means for the government to accomplish its goal of guaranteeing preventive care, and for Hobby Lobby to keep clear of any involvement in contraception.

Yet in yesterday’s order, the conservative justices said this procedure — signing a form — is itself an unacceptable “burden” on Wheaton College’s religious freedom.

We don’t have to get into the administrative nightmare this could cause. (The dissent describes it well.) But the point is that there is seemingly no length this Court says the government shouldn’t go to accommodate this particular religious belief. A company or a university doesn’t want to follow the law? Well, we have to respect that — they can just sign a form stating their objection. Oh, they don’t want to sign the form? Well never mind, they don’t have to do that either.

When the Hobby Lobby decision came down on Monday, liberals warned that it was going to open the floodgates to all kinds of claims in which people would say that their “sincerely held” religious beliefs should excuse them from following the law. “My religion tells me I shouldn’t serve black people in my restaurant.” “My religion tells me not to pay sales taxes.” “My religion tells me that I should operate a brothel on my suburban cul de sac.”

But Alito wrote that that wouldn’t be a problem because in those kinds of cases the government was already employing the least restrictive means available to accomplish its legitimate goals, whether it’s stopping discrimination or collecting taxes or preventing prostitution. What the Wheaton College injunction shows, however, is that it matters very much who’s claiming that the law doesn’t apply to them. As much as the Court’s majority might want to believe their rulings are based in abstract principles that would apply to anyone, if you think they’d be working so hard to accommodate the claims for privilege of Muslims or Hindus or members of religious groups that the five conservatives on the Court do not have such an affinity for, you’re fooling yourself.

For some time now, conservatives have been claiming there’s a “war on religion” in America, but what they really want is special privileges, not for religion in general but for certain religions. They want government meetings to start with their prayers, they want their scriptures pinned on the walls of courthouses, they want everyone to celebrate their holidays and when they find the law displeasing — whether it’s a law about health care or discrimination or anything else — they want an exemption carved out just for them.

As important as the Hobby Lobby case is, it may be the seemingly small Wheaton College injunction that has the real effects. That’s because it’s a clear signal to everyone that the Hobby Lobby decision is infinitely flexible. As long as you liked the ruling, you don’t have to worry about whether the Court’s reasoning actually applies to your situation, because the Court doesn’t care. Go ahead and say the law doesn’t apply to you. As long as you say it’s because of your religion — provided it’s the right religion, and a belief like an abhorrence of contraception that the Court’s conservative majority shares — you’ll probably get away with it. And make no mistake: There are going to be a huge number of organizations, businesses, and individuals — probably thousands — that are going to try.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 4, 2014

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Religious Beliefs, SCOTUS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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