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“Obama Rejects The Rejectionists”: Scalia’s Passing Starts A Court Fight For The Ages

In most presidential elections, Supreme Court nominations are a major issue for elites and a substantial concern for significant parts of the conservative movement. Other voters usually see the future makeup of the court as a side matter, or not essential to their decisions at all.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday will change this.

The issue of conservative judicial activism had already begun to take hold among liberals because of a series of fiercely ideological and precedent-shattering 5-to-4 decisions.

You read that right: After decades during which conservatives complained about “liberal judicial activism,” it is now conservatives who are unabashed in undermining progressive legislation enacted by the nation’s elected branches. Scalia will be remembered fondly on the right as the brilliant exponent of the theory of “originalism” that provided a rationale — or, in many cases, a rationalization — for decisions that usually fit conservative ideological preferences.

In 2010, Citizens United v. FEC rewrote decades of precedent on Congress’ power to regulate how campaigns are financed, facilitating a flood of money into elections from a small number of very wealthy Americans. Three years later, Shelby County v. Holder ripped the heart out of the federal government’s enforcement power in the Voting Rights Act. Last week, conservatives on the court halted the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, his central initiative on climate change.

This is merely a partial list. The court’s conservatives have also regularly undercut the power of unions and the ability of citizens to wage legal battles against corporations.

Such decisions already had the potential of broadening the range of progressive constituencies invested in making the court a major election issue, including political reformers, African Americans, environmentalists and organized labor.

But Scalia’s death means that Obama or his successor — if that successor is a Democrat — could overturn the current conservative majority on the court, which could lead it to revisit many of the most troubling decisions of recent years.

And Republicans did themselves no favors in the coming argument by moving in a hard political direction even before most of the tributes to Scalia had been published — and even before the president had actually picked someone: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proclaimed that no Obama nominee would be considered, period.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Republicans claimed precedent for ignoring court appointees from presidents on their way out the door. During Saturday night’s debate in South Carolina, Marco Rubio said that “it has been over 80 years since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.” Ted Cruz made a similar point.

Well. A Senate controlled by Democrats confirmed President Reagan’s nomination of Anthony Kennedy on a 97-0 vote in February 1988, which happened to be an election year. By what definition was Reagan not a lame duck when he put Kennedy forward on Nov. 11, 1987?

Obama rejected the rejectionists. He said Saturday he would name a new justice and that there would be “plenty of time . . . for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.”

My hunch is that Obama will try to put the Republicans’ obstructionism in sharp relief by offering a nominee who has won support and praise from GOP senators in the past. Three potential candidates who fit these criteria and won immediate and widespread mention were Merrick Garland and Sri Srinivasan, both judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Jane Kelly, a judge on the 8th Circuit. (I should note that Garland is a dear friend of long standing.)

Whatever choice Obama makes, he will try to make it as hard as possible for Republican senators — especially those struggling for reelection this year in blue or purple states — to claim that he had picked an ideologue. Obama could also argue he had deferred to the Republicans’ Senate majority by offering a candidate whom many of them had supported in the past.

An extended court fight would allow progressives, once and for all, to make clear it is their conservative foes now using judicial power most aggressively. The partisan outcome of this year’s election just became far more important. This fall, Americans will not just be picking a new chief executive. They will be setting the course of the court of last resort for a generation.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 14, 2016

February 15, 2016 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Ideology, Judicial Activism, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Electing Judges Is Insane”: Justice Judith French, ‘Forget All Those Other Votes If You Don’t Keep The Ohio Supreme Court Conservative’

With a couple of minor exceptions, like a few local judgeships in Switzerland, the United States is the only country where judges are elected. Indeed, to the rest of the world, the idea of judges running for office—begging for money, airing attack ads against their opponents, thinking always about their next election even after they take the bench—is positively insane. And they’re right.

We’ve had elected judgeships for our entire history, but until the last few years, those elections were nothing like races for Congress or governorships. But those days are past—now not only are judges acting like politicians, outside groups (yes, including the Koch brothers) are pouring money into judicial races to produce courts more to their liking. And when you make judicial elections more partisan, you get more partisan judges, like one Judith French, a member of the Ohio Supreme Court who is running to retain her seat:

At a Saturday event at which she introduced Republican Gov. John Kasich, French said, “I am a Republican and you should vote for me. You’re going to hear from your elected officials, and I see a lot of them in the crowd.

“Let me tell you something: The Ohio Supreme Court is the backstop for all those other votes you are going to cast.

“Whatever the governor does, whatever your state representative, your state senator does, whatever they do, we are the ones that will decide whether it is constitutional; we decide whether it’s lawful. We decide what it means, and we decide how to implement it in a given case.

“So, forget all those other votes if you don’t keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative,” French said.

Well, at least she’s being forthright, not bothering with “I’ll rule according to the Constitution” and “It’s not my job to make the laws” and “I just call balls and strikes” and all the other baloney that Republican judges offer up when asked about their judicial philosophy. “I am a Republican and you should vote for me.” That pretty much sums it up. What a terrific system.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 31, 2014

November 2, 2014 Posted by | Judicial Activism, Judiciary | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Who Are The Judicial Activists Now?”: People Like Ted Cruz Will Never Stop Screaming Judicial Activism

As is regularly the case in American politics, you have to hand it to Ted Cruz: His reaction to the Supreme Court’s order on same-sex marriage was the best one I came across Monday for sheer outrage-iness. “Judicial activism at its worst!” he thundered (okay, the exclamation point is mine). This, remember, in response to an inaction. The Court did exactly nothing. And now that’s judicial activism.

In fact, the Court took a pass, one presumes, because there weren’t two circuit-court decisions before it that presented conflicting legal interpretations of statute. In the absence of such a conflict, the Court did exactly what most experts I’ve read and spoken to over the last few months predicted it would do. But to Cruz, it’s “astonishing.” Ditto that the Court acted (or in-acted) “without providing any explanation whatsoever.” Which it never does in such instances, but never mind.

People like Cruz will never stop screaming judicial activism. No, wait: They will stop screaming judicial activism, at least on the question of same-sex marriage; and they will stop doing so sooner rater than later. This will constitute a major victory for the forces of light, one very much worth marking and thinking back over.

Ever since, well, Brown v. Board of Education, and probably before, conservatives have complained about judges making law against the will of the majority of voters. The critique extends into nearly every little crevice and lacuna of our civic life. Roe v. Wade was legislating from the bench; affirmative action; of course taking God out of the classroom; but basically anything any court did that conservatives didn’t approve of.

And let’s admit it—on at least the abstract level, the complaint has often had merit. I mean, there can be little doubt that public opinion in Dixie in 1954 opposed the integration of the schools. So the Court of 1954 was indeed making law from the bench. And thank God for it, since the problem is that public opinion was wrong. Not just wrong like “I think I’m not putting enough salt in my grits” wrong, but immorally wrong. What’s a court to do in such a case? Many forests have been sacrificed so that various scholars could take up this question, but the answer is really quite short and simple: The right thing.

And so liberalism has lived now with decades of such criticisms from conservatives, with the understanding that it’s far better to have won the right in question from a court than not to have won it at all—and the understanding that out there in America, yes, the backlash against these judges and the policies that grew from their decisions was probably brewing.

But same-sex marriage is different for two reasons. First, the amazing and oft-commented upon speed at which public opinion has flipped. And second, the fact that if the legal consensus can be said to be coming down on one side or the other, it’s clearly coming down on the side of same-sexers having the same constitutional matrimonial rights that the rest of us have. When federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah say it, it ain’t judicial activism, folks. It’s, you know, the more-or-less-impossible-to-deny law.

So the process by which same-sex marriage has advanced in this country hasn’t been overwhelmingly judicial at all. Until the Court’s announcement Monday, in fact, the tally was that gay marriage became legal by court decision in 13 states, and by the will of the people in 11 (legislative action in eight, popular referendum in three). And in most of the states where the change happened through the courts, the issue is decreasing in controversy, and public opinion is coming along.

You may remember that Iowa was the first unexpected heartland state where the state Supreme Court made gay marriage legal, back in 2009. It’s true that three judges who so ruled were removed from the bench in judicial retention elections in 2010. But by 2012, when the “values” crowd went after a fourth, they walked away scalpless: Judge David Wiggins retained his seat by a landslide 10-point margin. The temperature had cooled. Today, polling shows that public opinion in the state is still divided on same-sex marriage but is firmly against any kind of state constitutional amendment that would ban the practice.

So now, after what the Court did Monday, same-sex marriage is going to extend into 11 new states. It seems fair to say that majorities are against gay marriage in most of these states (the aforementioned Utah and Oklahoma, plus Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, and the Carolinas). We’re going to see the usual skirmishes and hear the predictable sound bites. In political terms, if you’re a liberal who wants to read the tea leaves, keep an eye trained on the North Carolina Senate race.

Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is steadily but narrowly leading GOP challenger Thom Tillis. Hagan backs same-sex marriage. But the state voted overwhelmingly against it two years ago in a referendum. And now, as a part of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, North Carolina is about to have the sinful practice foisted on it. Public opinion in the state still runs strongly against same-sex marriage. I think we can reasonably expect Tillis to double down on the issue, and it would be horrible to see Hagan lose because of it.

It’ll take time in these states, but the same thing will happen in them as is happening in Iowa. People will adjust. Gay couples will marry. Straight couples will see that their own marriages were somehow not sullied after all.

This is the core dilemma for conservatives on same-sex marriage: The more widespread its practice, the more accepted it becomes. This is the exact opposite of abortion and affirmative action, two red-hot issues on which the right has used the “judicial activism” charge to great effect in recent history. If you think abortion is murder, then the more widespread its practice, the more aghast you are. If you oppose racial preferences, then ditto. But that isn’t how same-sex marriage works. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples, or for that matter anyone.

Eventually, the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 (with Kennedy) or maybe even 6-3 (with Roberts—not completely impossible) in favor of gay marriage, because the law is clear, and because the Court isn’t going to tell many thousands of married couples in 30 states that they’re suddenly not married. Judicial activism? No. Just the right thing. The judicial activists will be those, led by their godhead Scalia, who will try to invent new ways to march backwards while pretending that they themselves aren’t trying to dictate morality from the bench. And the charge of judicial activism, which hurt liberalism because it resonated with a resentment that millions of average Americans felt, will lose its sting soon enough.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 7, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Judicial Activism, Marriage Equality, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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