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“Teamwork On The Supreme Court”: Discipline On The Left Side, Disarray On The Right

Now that the current term is over for the Supreme Court, analysts are digging into the record to draw conclusions about what happened. In a fascinating analysis, Adam Liptak writes: Right Divided, a Disciplined Left Steered the Supreme Court.

The stunning series of liberal decisions delivered by the Supreme Court this term was the product of discipline on the left side of the court and disarray on the right.

In case after case, including blockbusters on same-sex marriage and President Obama’s health care law, the court’s four-member liberal wing, all appointed by Democratic presidents, managed to pick off one or more votes from the court’s five conservative justices, all appointed by Republicans.

They did this in large part through rigorous bloc voting, making the term that concluded Monday the most liberal one since the Warren court in the late 1960s, according to two political-science measurements of court voting data.

“The most interesting thing about this term is the acceleration of a long-term trend of disagreement among the Republican-appointed judges, while the Democratic-appointed judges continue to march in lock step,” said Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

For example, this session there were 19 SCOTUS decisions that were decided 5/4. In 10 of those, the four liberals voted together and were joined by one conservative. In contrast, the conservatives only voted together 5 times.

Ian Millhiser suggests that the problem for the conservative justices is that they “represent three – and possibly as many as five – distinct versions of judicial conservatism.”

* The Ideologue – Clarence Thomas
* The Partisan – Samuel Alito
* The Reaganite – John Roberts

He points out that Scalia purports to be an “originalist” (like Thomas), but mostly votes as a partisan. And he can’t seem to find a way to characterize Kennedy.

Liptak credits the cohesion among the liberal justices to the leadership of Justice Ginsberg. But I’m also interested in how they managed to pretty consistently pick off one of the conservative justices to vote with them. I was reminded of something Adam Winkler wrote about Elena Kagan almost 2 years ago. He described her as a justice in the mold of Earl Warren.

Warren didn’t accomplish these by embarrassing his colleagues or by making sharper arguments on the merits. Warren was a master politician, one who’d sit with the other justices and bring them along slowly and steadily to his side. He sought to understand other justices’ concerns and address them. Unlike most of today’s justices, Warren was willing to work the halls to gain five votes.

He says this about why Kagan was chosen to be the dean of Harvard’s Law School:

She was seen as someone who could bring together a faculty known for ideological and personal divisions that institutionally hobbled the law school, especially when it came to hiring. As dean from 2003 to 2009, she calmed faculty tensions, launched an aggressive hiring spree that netted 32 new professors, and earned praise from both left and right.

I remember that some liberals opposed Elena Kagan’s nomination. But it strikes me that President Obama would see “bridge-builder” as a necessary role for someone to play on the Supreme Court. It’s exactly how people describe his tenure as President of the Harvard Law Review.

If that’s the case, here’s what we know about the 3 women on the Supreme Court: the senior member is Ruth Bader Ginsberg – the Notorious RBG – tiny woman who throws quite a punch. Then there’s my hero, Sonia Sotomayor, the wise Latina with a heart as big as they come. And finally, there’s Elena Kagan, the bridge-builder. What a team!


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 2, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Marriage Equality, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blowing With The Winds”: Conservatives Love Scott Walker’s Anti-Gay Transition

Scott Walker has his groove back with social conservatives and he has the Supreme Court to thank.

After the court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry, Walker released a statement calling for a constitutional amendment to let states define marriage as between one man and one woman. Social conservatives loved it, and it came at a moment when he needed all the love he could get.

Back in May, the Wisconsin governor traveled to Washington to meet with a bevy of leaders from the party’s more conservative wing.

And in that meeting, there were lots of Walker skeptics.

Penny Nance—the president of the influential conservative group Concerned Women for America—emailed to The Daily Beast after that meeting to say she still wasn’t convinced Walker was a strong enough opponent of same-sex marriage.

“I think people are still trying to discern” his position, she wrote.

His list of confusing comments about the issue over the years made it a little tricky for some on the right to ascertain his position.

In 2014, for instance, after a district court judge declared that the Badger State’s ban on same-sex marriage wasn’t constitutional, he gave an oddly obtuse answer on the topic at a press conference.

“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” Walker told reporters, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s in the Constitution.”

Then he refused to clarify his position on the marriage question.

“No,” he said. “I’m just not stating one at all.”

For gay marriage foes, that little exchange didn’t exactly make him a profile in courage.

And it wasn’t the only time he telegraphed a position on the question that was a bit more nuanced than you might expect from, well, a Republican presidential candidate.

In a 2013 interview with Bloomberg, the likely 2016 contender indicated that he could be comfortable with federal legislation protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Walker noted that Wisconsin didn’t let same-sex couples marry, but still afforded them those employment protections.

“There’s a healthy balance there,” he said.

Opponents of same-sex marriage are not interested in finding “a healthy balance,” and they weren’t thrilled with Walker’s comments.

But all this changed on Friday after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed.

In response, Walker released a statement saying he favored amending the Constitution to let individual states decide whether or not to allow those unions. As The Daily Beast noted at the time, this distinguished him from other top-tier Republican contenders who refused to back changes to the Constitution.

And people noticed. When the Beast asked Nance if Walker’s full-throated support of a constitutional amendment gave her more confidence that he would side with her on the marriage question, she emailed, “Boy has it!”

“In calling for a federal marriage amendment that would allow states to determine their own laws on marriage Walker has put to final rest any questions social conservatives had on his willingness to lead on the matter,” she wrote.

And though Nance—like most activists—doesn’t have a 2016 favorite yet, she said taking a Walker-esque position on marriage is a must.

“Just as Roe made the issue of life central to support for a presidential candidate, the Obergefell decision has hardened our resolve on marriage,” she wrote. “The courts have made them issues that candidates for federal office can no longer duck.”

Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, is in the same boat. He said he was “distraught” with the comments Walker made last year about the overturn of Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment.

“I thought it was a huge mistake,” Brown said. “But ever since then, he has been working very hard to be a leader on the marriage issue.”

He also said that, in his view, Walker has changed his position on marriage, and for the better.

“If we ask people to sign pledges and stand for principles, then when they do it, we can’t second-guess them,” he said. “So I’m ecstatic he’s doing this.”

And Bob Vander Plaats, the president of the Iowa-based conservative group The Family Leader, said he was also delighted with Walker’s endorsement of an amendment.

He said his group was “openly concerned” with some of Walker’s previous comments on marriage, and that the governor’s stance has assuaged those fears.

Asked if he thought Walker had changed his position on how to handle marriage issues, Vander Plaats said, “Yea, without question.”

“I was thrilled to be able to see his response to this opinion,” he said.

Walker aides emailed to say that the governor’s position on the issue hasn’t actually changed, noting that in 1997 as a state legislator, he voted to ban same-sex marriage in the Badger State.

But while Walker’s single-minded opposition to same-sex marriage has won him favor with anti-same-sex-marriage activists, it’s already alienated some big Republican donors.

The Washington Post reported last week that Walker lost the support of one hedge-fund billionaire after having a long argument with him about the issue.

And an insider close with the New York Republican donor community expressed disappointment with Walker’s change of tone on the issue and support for a constitutional amendment, and suggested it could make it harder for him to secure New York Republican donors.

Mary Cheney, an openly gay political consultant who is also Dick Cheney’s daughter, expressed bafflement at Walker’s move.

“From a political perspective, I don’t understand why you would do that,” she said.


By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, June 30, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Marriage Equality, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Owns Most Of The Guns? ‘The Base!”: Overlapping Circles Of A Hard Core Of Dangerous Folks

It’s a research finding that is startling but not really surprising (per a report from NBC’s Maggie Fox):

A new study aimed at figuring out who owns gun in the United States and why suggests that about a third of Americans have at least one.

Most are white males over the age of 55, and a “gun culture” is closely linked with ownership, the team at Columbia University reports.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, is one of several trying to pin down the number of gun owners in the United States. No agency keeps statistics on gun ownership and many pro-gun activists advocate keeping gun ownership private because of fears about potential future laws that might take guns away.

Yeah, well, if you really buy into the idea that good people like us need to stockpile weapons in case we need to overthrow a tyrannical socialist regime supported by those people, then I guess you want to present a moving target, eh? But I digress. The study also even less surprisingly shows a geographical gulf in gun ownership:

[Gun ownership percentages ranged] from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 61.7 percent in Alaska,” they wrote in their report. “Gun ownership was 2.25 times greater among those reporting social gun culture than those who did not,” they added.

In the Northeast, gun ownership rates ranged from 5.8 percent in Rhode Island to 28.8 percent in Vermont.

In the Midwest, rates ranged from 19.6 percent in Ohio to 47.9 percent in North Dakota. In the South and mid-Atlantic, rates ranged from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 57.9 percent in Arkansas. And in the West, California had the lowest rate of gun ownership at 20 percent, while nearly 62 percent of Alaskans said they had a gun.

Now this rural habit of disproportionate gun ownership is often related to the opportunity for and interest in hunting, and of a “gun culture” (to use the Columbia report’s terminology) in which social life revolves around gun-related activities. Both these factors are undoubtedly important. But there is something more basic than that: isolation. The first time in my life I really thought about owning a gun was one night when I was awakened at 2:00 AM in my central Virginia home at the end of a two-mile dirt road by approaching–and then extinguished–headlights. At that moment, I wasn’t real confident in the safety offered by a baseball bat, a Bichon Frise, and police officers who were at least 30 minutes away.

On the other hand, even then I didn’t really want an assault rifle, and I would have probably regretted firing hundreds of rounds at that parked car which in the end probably contained teenagers messing around or smoking pot.

Putting aside for a moment geography or the objective advisability of owning some sort of gun for self-protection, there is something fundamentally disquieting about the fact that the Americans most likely to own guns are also the Americans most likely to embrace a political rationale for gun ownership and most likely to believe they’re getting outvoted by people who don’t share their values. Somewhere in these overlapping circles is a hard core of dangerous folks who are being told constantly by Republican politicians that they are losing or have already lost their most fundamental rights. And this is why political extremism is a bad thing even if its devotees lose most elections.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 30, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Ownership, Public Safety | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Very Real Work That Needs To Be Done”: Republicans, Take Down That Flag — And Stand Up For Voting Rights

The abandonment of the Confederate battle flag by conservative politicians and organizations that previously defended it as a noble symbol of “heritage, not hate” is welcome, if long overdue. And the subsequent move by large corporations to stop selling the flag suggests that we may be experiencing an important cultural shift, that we may be entering a time in which it is no longer deemed acceptable to celebrate nostalgia for an era defined first by slavery and then by racial segregation enforced by officially sanctioned terror.

That kind of cultural change is, of course, a good thing, and the Confederate battle flag’s dramatically declining fortunes feel like a significant moment. Still, doing away with official reverence for the flag is largely a symbolic move that doesn’t come close to addressing the problems surrounding race in America, including disparities in treatment by the criminal justice system and the resurgence of voter suppression laws and other schemes designed to rig the elections in favor of powerful conservative interests. In recent days, the burning of black churches in Southern states, including one that had previously been burned down by the KKK, is a chilling and tragic reminder that violence aimed at the African-American community, violence with a long history, is not confined to a single act in a single city.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to ask the legislature to take the Confederate battle flag from its position on the statehouse grounds came only after the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. It is a sad fact of political life that it often takes a horrific act to galvanize sufficient political will to make necessary change, often after years of work have prepared the ground for what looks from the outside like a sudden shift. Civil rights activists, clergy, and Black lawmakers in South Carolina have been organizing against the official place of honor for the Confederate battle flag for decades, both before and after the flag was moved from the dome of the state capitol and raised over the Confederate memorial on the statehouse grounds in 2000. That activism continued as recently as two months before the Charleston shooting, when a group of African-American clergy taking part in a national gathering of People for the American Way Foundation’s African-American Ministers Leadership Council encircled the flag in protest.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley may be reaping praise for her rising political stock, or for outmaneuvering “the agitators,” in the words of one gloating tweet, but this is not really a story about courageous leadership on her part. It is, rather, a story about the GOP leadership finally coming to terms, at least symbolically, with the Republican Party’s increasingly untenable position, in an increasingly diverse country, of being in partnership with groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens that foster nostalgia for our white supremacist past and deep resentment about the nation’s growing diversity.

In fact, right-wing responses to the Charleston shootings have been a study in political calculation, reflected in the face of RNC chief Reince Priebus looking over Haley’s shoulder last week. The Haley press conference was in part an effort to save floundering GOP presidential candidates from dealing with questions about the Confederate flag without distancing themselves from right-wing base voters or GOP activists in South Carolina, an important early primary state.

Initial right-wing responses to the shootings were mind-boggling and important to look at. Some commentators on Fox News downplayed evidence that the murders were racially motivated. Some sought to blame drug use and anti-religious feelings. Some even blamed the murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, based on his positions on reproductive choice and gun control.

National conservative leaders denounced the violence but were seemingly unwilling to engage with the violent racism that was at its root and bizarrely did all they could to find another explanation for the shooting. When asked if the shooting in Charleston was racially motivated, Jeb Bush said, “I don’t know.” Lindsey Graham tried to take the focus off race and advance the myth that the shootings were a hate crime targeting Christians.

Remarkably, even after the killer’s manifesto of racial hatred was released, some right-wing pundits continued to push the idea that the murders were an attack on Christianity, a “Satanic act” by someone with “socialist leanings.” That fits the right wing’s political narrative, which is grounded in dishonest claims that progressives are enemies of religious freedom. Republicans are counting on that narrative to help carry them into the White House in 2016, in part by reaching out to evangelical voters of color.

But taking down the flag is not going to change the Republican Party’s devotion to policies that harm people and undermine our democracy. As President Barack Obama said in his eulogy for the slain Rev. Pinckney, taking down the flag would be “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history,” but allowing ourselves to “slip into a comfortable silence” on difficult issues facing the country would be “a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for.”

Voting rights advocates from around the country gathered in Roanoke, Virginia, on the day before Rev. Pinckney’s funeral to rally for a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, a centerpiece achievement of the civil rights movement that was gutted by the Supreme Court’s conservative justices to the cheers of many Republican politicians. We must make sure that the continuing conversation around the Confederate battle flag does not become a distraction from the very real work that needs to be done to dismantle the legacy of racism and bigotry that that flag represents. It’s not enough to take down the flag; we have to take down the discriminatory policies and practices that constitute that legacy. If Republican politicians truly want to reject that legacy, let them start by embracing the Voting Rights Advancement Act.


By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 2, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Republicans, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How The Right Hijacked MLK To Fight Gay Marriage”: Their Cause As Just And Noble As Those Against Slavery, Segregation, And Nazism?

In their fight against the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, leading conservatives have been turning to an unlikely source for inspiration:  Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (PDF), the collection of notes that King smuggled out of his jail cell during his eight-day detention for protesting the Jim Crow laws that sanctioned discrimination across the South.

The letter is one of the most iconic documents from of the Civil Rights era and includes King’s observations on the injustice of segregation and the daily humiliations that black men and women were suffering in their public and private lives.

Fast forward 50-plus years to Sunday morning when pastor-turned-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee referenced King as he decried the same-sex marriage ruling handed down last week as “judicial tyranny.” Huckabee also predicted that Christians across the country would “go the way of Martin Luther King,” and disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriages must be legal in all 50 states.

“In his brilliant essay, the letters from a Birmingham jail, [King] reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all,” Huckabee during an interview on ABC’s This Week.  “And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.”

Days earlier, the National Organization for Marriage, which has long opposed marriage equality, cited the same clause in a blistering take down of the Court’s ruling, comparing it to the 1857 Dred Scott decision that declared slavery constitutional.

As the marriage question has wound its way through the courts, conservatives from Franklin Graham to Tom DeLay and Dr. James Dobson (PDF) used the same portion of King’s letter to make the case that the Court’s decision to expand the right to marry would be unjust and immoral.

And when a group of Alabama pastors gave Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore an award this year to recognize his efforts to stop same-sex marriage, they called it the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail Award.”

But King experts say the basic premise of equating King’s fight against segregation with moral objections to same-sex marriage doesn’t ring true to King’s broader message of inclusion, tolerance and the rights of minorities to live by the laws of the majority.

“King never said a law is immoral if it doesn’t line up with the Bible. He would never have said anything like that. That’s not the way he thought,” said Doug Shipman, the founding director of the National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights. “If you look at the letter, morality is bringing people together, not separating them from each other. So it seems odd that King would draw an exclusive line someplace.”

More broadly, it also seems odd that some cultural and religious conservatives are increasingly appropriating not just the language of the Civil Rights movement, but are also identifying themselves as an oppressed minority in a country that remains mostly white and mostly Christian.

On Sunday, Roy Moore warned Alabama churchgoers that they should prepare for their persecution.  “Welcome to the new world,” he said.

At a protest to keep the Confederate flag flying on the statehouse grounds in Alabama over the weekend, a woman carried a sign that read “Southern Lives Matter,” which spawned the Twitter meme #SouthernLivesMatter. It was exactly as ugly a cocktail as you’d expect from a combination of race, Twitter, and a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the Confederacy.

At the same rally, a Confederate flag supporter told the AP, “Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover. I mean I do feel that way, like there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

Those truths of history make it impossible to draw a straight line from American slavery to Nazi Germany to the Jim Crowe South to today’s conservatives, who have seen social change sweep across the country in the last week and felt powerless to stop it.

Historically accurate or not, that lack of power, that sense of being a victim to current events, has become a key element of the new populism on the right that candidates like Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker are trying to harness.

That explains Huckabee’s and other conservatives’ decision to graft the fight against gay marriage onto MLK’s fight for Civil Rights. It also makes Ted Cruz’s reaction to the marriage decision (telling an Iowa crowd that “the last 24 hours at the United States Supreme Court were among the darkest hours of our nation” and hitting the “elites” on the Court), make perfect sense. And it explains why Scott Walker would suggest a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage that would be ratified by the states through a vote of the people.

By telling conservatives that their fight is as difficult and just and noble as those against slavery, segregation, and Nazism, the GOPers are not only endorsing conservatives’ fight, they are also casting themselves as the next Lincoln, the next FDR, or the next MLK that history will require to overcome tyranny.

When Huckabee quoted from King’s letter on Sunday, it wasn’t the first time. At the March for Marriage in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2014, he read lengthy passages of King’s words from a white iPhone to the crowd that had gathered to protest same-sex marriage.

“I wish I had penned those words,” Huckabee said. “But they were penned by someone who understood freedom, and understood that there was a time to stand up against law when it has become unjust. Those are the words that were penned in 1954 by Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

Among other omissions and inaccuracies, Huckabee botched the date King wrote the letter. It was in 1963.


By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, July 1, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Martin Luther King Jr, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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