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“The Enemy Of Strategic Success”: Obama’s 2005 Blog Post On SCOTUS Good Advice For Today’s Republicans

Regular readers of that fine online watering hole for all things Supreme, the SCOTUSblog, were probably startled Wednesday morning by a guest post from a former constitutional scholar named Barack Obama. On reflection, it makes sense he chose this wonky but accessible venue to lay out his talking points on the criteria he will use in selecting a Supreme Court nominee whom Senate Republicans have already announced they will block.

This is not, however, Obama’s first blog post, or even his first blog post about Supreme Court nominations. Back in 2005, during his first year in the Senate, he took to the virtual pages of Daily Kos to address progressive activists who were angry at Democratic senators who did not go to the mattresses to stop the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice. Obama himself voted against Roberts, but did not choose to support a filibuster. So he was partially defending himself against the then-common netroots charge (still popular among many Bernie Sanders supporters) that Democrats in Washington were surrendering to the evil right-wing foe without a real fight.

What makes Obama’s 2005 essay interesting now, however, is a certain through-the-looking-glass quality. Substitute Republican for Democrat and conservative for progressive in his post, and he’s offering the very Republicans pre-rejecting his own SCOTUS nominee some pretty good advice:

There is one way, over the long haul, to guarantee the appointment of judges that are sensitive to issues of social justice, and that is to win the right to appoint them by recapturing the presidency and the Senate.  And I don’t believe we get there by vilifying good allies, with a lifetime record of battling for progressive causes, over one vote or position.    I am convinced that, our mutual frustrations and strongly-held beliefs notwithstanding, the strategy driving much of Democratic advocacy, and the tone of much of our rhetoric, is an impediment to creating a workable progressive majority in this country….

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists – a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog – we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party.  They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda.  In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in “appeasing” the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda.  The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

In case you don’t recognize it, Obama is accurately portraying — again, in a mirror — the “theory of change” that Ted Cruz articulates every day.

A plausible argument can be made that too much is at stake here and now, in terms of privacy issues, civil rights, and civil liberties, to give John Roberts the benefit of the doubt.  That certainly was the operating assumption of the advocacy groups involved in the nomination battle.

I shared enough of these concerns that I voted against Roberts on the floor this morning.  But short of mounting an all-out filibuster — a quixotic fight I would not have supported; a fight I believe Democrats would have lost both in the Senate and in the court of public opinion; a fight that would have been difficult for Democratic senators defending seats in states like North Dakota and Nebraska that are essential for Democrats to hold if we hope to recapture the majority; and a fight that would have effectively signaled an unwillingness on the part of Democrats to confirm any Bush nominee, an unwillingness which I believe would have set a dangerous precedent for future administrations — blocking Roberts was not a realistic option.

As you may know, Obama went on to support a filibuster against the confirmation of Bush’s second justice, Samuel Alito — a step he now says he regrets. But that doesn’t necessarily undercut his 2005 argument that tactical rigidity is the enemy of strategic success.

[T]o the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward.  When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems.  We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

And that’s the sort of reasoning that movement conservatives denounce as RINOism when it is articulated — a rare thing these days — among Republicans.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 24, 2016

 

February 25, 2016 Posted by | President Obama, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Conservatives Are Right To Be Frightened”: Don’t Believe The Hype: Here’s What A Liberal Supreme Court Would Actually Do

If you look at how the Democratic and Republican candidates for president have reacted to the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia, you might notice a greater sense of urgency from the Republicans. The Democrats are certainly talking about it, and they’ve certainly expressed their contempt at the absurd arguments Republicans are making in support of their position that the president of the United States shouldn’t be allowed to appoint Supreme Court justices if a new president will take office in a year. But they aren’t spinning out nightmare scenarios about what will happen if they lose this conflict. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem much more worried.

And they’re right to be, because at the moment, they have more to lose. But what would actually happen if the balance on the Court shifts from 5-4 in favor of conservatives (what it was before Scalia’s death) to 5-4 in favor of liberals?

To hear Republicans tell it, the results would be positively apocalyptic. Here’s how Ted Cruz described it in a CNN town hall last night:

“We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court striking down every restriction on abortion that’s been put in place the last 40 years. We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court writing the Second Amendment out of the Constitution. We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court ordering Ten Commandments monuments to be torn down, ordering veterans memorials to be torn down, and undermining our fundamental religious liberty.”

This is almost verbatim what Cruz has been saying since Scalia died; on Meet the Press last Sunday, he added colorfully that a liberal majority would mean “the crosses and Stars of David sandblasted off of the tombstones of our fallen veterans.”

There’s no doubt that if and when a new liberal justice takes his or her seat on the Court — either because Obama’s nominee somehow gets confirmed or because Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the election and appoints one — it will be the most significant shift in the Court’s balance in decades. And that’s in large part because the right has gotten so much of what it wanted out of this Supreme Court. While conservatives shake their fists at the Court and call John Roberts a traitor, the truth is that with just a few exceptions, most notably the legalizing of same-sex marriage and the upholding of (most of) the Affordable Care Act, the Roberts Court has delivered the right a spectacular string of victories over the last few years. Among other things, they found an individual right to own guns for the first time in history, knocked down limits on spending by corporations (and unions) on political campaigns, whittled away at affirmative action, gutted the Voting Rights Act, made it harder for employees to sue for sex discrimination, and declared that corporations have religious rights.

Nevertheless, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2008, 80 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of the Supreme Court. By 2015 that figure had fallen to 33 percent. And 68 percent of conservative Republicans described the Court as “liberal,” which is laughable by any standard one could devise.

So what happens now? Margo Schlanger compiled this list of major rulings where Scalia was in a 5-4 majority, all of which could in theory be overturned, from Citizens United to D.C. v. Heller (which established the individual right to own guns) to Shelby County v. Holder (which invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act). But that doesn’t mean a liberal majority would go on a rampage, overturning all those settled cases.

“The Supreme Court is a conservative institution as a whole; justices aren’t looking to overturn the apple cart,” Jill Dash of the liberal American Constitution Society told me this morning. She argued that it’s unlikely that a liberal majority would set about to repeal those high-profile decisions, particularly within the first few years of that majority.

Samuel Bagenstos, a professor at the University of Michigan law school who served in the Justice Department under President Obama, also doubts that there would be too many major decisions overturned. “The four more liberal justices currently on the Court take precedent and stare decisis seriously, and I don’t think that will change,” he said.

But there would be change in complex areas of law where the courts are still working through how previous decisions apply to varied situations. Affirmative action is one “where the Court would be much more likely to uphold programs designed to promote diversity in schools and the workplace,” Bagenstos says. He also points to employment law as an area where a liberal majority could chart a new path, in cases concerning arbitration clauses in contracts and what constitutes systemic discrimination. Dash notes that a liberal majority would probably produce a spate of voting rights cases, as challenges to restrictions imposed by Republican state legislatures would find a friendlier hearing, even if Shelby County isn’t entirely overturned.

And then there’s abortion, always at the top of everyone’s mind when the Supreme Court comes up. In recent years, conservative states have pushed the envelope farther and farther in restricting the availability of abortion, with onerous rules on abortion clinics and invasive mandates on the women seeking the procedure. The question is which of these measures violate the Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which stated that the government can’t impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose.

The conservative position to this point has been that virtually no burden is “undue.” If the state makes you drive hundreds of miles, wait for days, make multiple visits to a clinic, hear an oration of lies penned by some GOP state legislator about how getting an abortion might give you cancer and drive you mad, so far the Supreme Court has said it’s just what women should have to tolerate.

But that might no longer be true. “A liberal who replaced Justice Scalia would likely read the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard as imposing a much more significant limitation on the regulation of abortion than the Court has in recent years,” says Bagenstos, “so you could see a major practical shift in reproductive rights jurisprudence. I don’t think the Court would overrule any precedent, though. It would just find a wider range of burdens to be ‘undue.’”

In short, a liberal replacing Scalia would be an important change with profound consequences for all Americans’ lives. But it wouldn’t happen all at once, and it wouldn’t be so earth-shattering as to cause riots in the streets. Nobody’s going to sandblast the crosses off the gravestones at Arlington. Nevertheless, conservatives are right to be frightened. They’ve had a long run with conservative dominance of the Supreme Court, and it may be coming to an end. Now they’ll understand how liberals have felt for the last few decades.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 18, 2016

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Scalia’s Boring Legacy”: He Simply Became A Reliable Tool Of Retrograde Social Conservative Orthodoxy And Corporate Power

I was determined yesterday not to comment on Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy on the Supreme Court, choosing to focus instead on the political implications of the vacancy. I remain committed to that, in large part because the man only barely passed away and I feel that anything I might say about his impact on law, culture and jurisprudence would be tinged with inappropriate (?) negative passion I might later regret.

Fortunately, I don’t have to. Back in 2014 here at Washington Monthly, Michael O’Donnell wrote a fantastic book review of Bruce Allen Murphy’s “Scalia: A Court of One,” that says most of it for me:

Somewhere in the mid-2000s, Scalia ceased to be a powerhouse jurist and became a crank. He began thumbing his nose at the ethical conventions that guide justices, giving provocative speeches about matters likely to come before the Court. He declined to recuse himself from cases where he had consorted with one of the parties—including, famously, Vice President Dick Cheney. He turned up the invective in his decisions. His colleagues’ reasoning ceased to be merely unpersuasive; it was “preposterous,” “at war with reason,” “not merely naive, but absurd,” “patently incorrect,” and “transparently false.” More and more, he seemed willing to bend his own rules to achieve conservative results in areas of concern to social conservatives, like affirmative action, gay rights, abortion, gun ownership, and the death penalty. Above all, Scalia stopped trying to persuade others. He became the judicial equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, who has made a career of preaching to the choir. But Limbaugh is not merely a shock jock; he is also a kingmaker. Scalia’s position on the bench precludes any such influence. As a result, he has more fans than power.

The conservative movement is trying to treat Scalia as a giant of law and one of America’s greatest and most influential jurists. I’m not so sure about that. His position on the court and his votes in some crucial 5-4 decisions have obviously made a gigantic impact, but it’s not at all clear that his arguments will have had generations-long precedent-carrying weight. Particularly toward the end of his career he simply became a reliable tool of retrograde social conservative orthodoxy and corporate power. Scalia ceased to be interesting because you always knew exactly where he would stand, and that every year he would say something eyebrow-raisingly nasty and clueless about evolution, the sexual revolution or some similar topic. In that sense, I would argue that John Roberts has actually been more interesting and influential recently because one can at least speculate on potentially unconventional arguments and stances he might take.

In the end, what many characterized as Scalia’s incisive wit and questioning simply became boring, because it was always in the service of the same agenda, rendering it devoid of truly honest insight. Scalia simply became as boring as your conservative uncle at Thanksgiving. As O’Donnell says:

Scalia’s fall has been loud and it has been public. He is the Court’s most outspoken and quotable justice, and whether he is flicking his chin at reporters or standing at the lectern attacking secular values, he makes headlines. So when he was passed over for the position of chief justice in 2005, the legal world noticed. President George W. Bush had cited Scalia as well as Clarence Thomas when asked as a candidate to name justices he admired. Yet when Rehnquist suddenly died, Bush did not seriously consider elevating Scalia. “Nino” had rarely demonstrated leadership in assembling or holding together majorities; he had alienated every one of his colleagues at one point or other. His flamboyant antics off the bench might compromise the dignity of the office of chief justice. He would be the devil to confirm. Bush nominated instead John Roberts, an equally brilliant but far more disciplined judge, and one who was better suited to the responsibilities of leadership. After that, Scalia stopped playing nice and started using real buckshot.

I understand and can sympathize with how upset conservatives are about their loss and about the potential for the shifting of the ideology of the court. But let’s not pretend that the court lost a legal giant on the level of Brandeis, Holmes or Marshall. It didn’t.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 14, 2016

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

“Racist And Offensive”: Scalia Makes Racially Charged Argument In Affirmative-Action Case

About a month ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to first-year law students at Georgetown, where he drew a parallel between gay people, pedophiles, and child abusers. What would he do for an encore?

This morning, the high court heard oral arguments in a Texas case on affirmative action and the use of race in college admissions, and NBC News reported that Scalia “questioned whether some minority students are harmed by the policy because it helped them gain admittance to schools where they might not be able to academically compete.”

At first blush, that sounds pretty racist, so let’s check the official transcript:

“There are – there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to ­­ to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.

“One of – one of the briefs pointed out that – that most of the – most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too ­­ too fast for them.”

If we were to go out of our way to be charitable, I suppose we could emphasize the fact that Scalia prefaced these comments by saying “there are those who contend.” In other words, maybe the far-right justice himself isn’t making such an ugly argument, so much as the justice is referencing an offensive argument from unnamed others?

It is, to be sure, a stretch. At no point did Scalia say he disagrees with “those who contend” that African-American students who struggle at good universities and are better off at “a slower-track school.”

David Plouffe, a former aide to President Obama, highlighted Scalia’s quote this afternoon and asked a pertinent question: “Motivation lacking for 2016?”

As for the case itself, Fisher v. Texas, which has been bouncing around for a long while, MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported that the dispute stems from a complaint filed by Abigail Fisher, a white woman “who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race, despite the fact that a lower court found she wouldn’t have been admitted regardless of her race.”

And how did oral arguments go? Carmon added:

The liberals worked to poke holes in the argument that Texas cannot put race on the list of holistic factors. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the same point she had made the first time Fisher came to the court, which is that the supposedly “race-neutral” process of admitting the top 10 percent, which isn’t being challenged in this case, isn’t race-neutral at all, because it makes virtue out of a long history of school and housing segregation and discrimination. Justice Elena Kagan didn’t say a word, because she has recused herself, having worked on the case as solicitor general. Justice Sonia Sotomayor fiercely challenged Fisher’s attorneys.

Meanwhile, three of the four most conservative members of the court reiterated that they oppose affirmative action and would overturn the court’s precedent that it is allowed as a last resort to promote educational diversity. Chief Justice John Roberts repeatedly asked when remedies to racial discrimination would no longer be needed. (Judging from his past decisions, he believes the time is now.) Justice Samuel Alito tried to argue that advocates for affirmative action are themselves making racist or condescending judgments.

A decision is expected by June.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | Affirmative Action, African Americans, Antonin Scalia, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Battle For Voting Rights Continues”: A Non-Problem Invoked To Create A Massive New Problem Of Obstructing Legitimate Votes

Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later. The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over.

And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled.

“The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” his timely book published this month. “In subsequent decades, the number of black registered voters in the South increased from 31 percent to 73 percent; the number of black elected officials increased from fewer than 500 to 10,500 nationwide; the number of black members of Congress increased from five to 44.”

And, yes, an African American was elected president of the United States in 2008 and reelected in 2012. He was powered by the ballots of Americans of color who would not let anything turn them around from their polling places.

President Obama’s victory has been routinely cited by those who were already insisting that the Voting Rights Act was outdated. They turned out to have a powerful ally in Chief Justice John Roberts, whose record on the issue Berman analyzes closely. If the United States could elect a black president, wasn’t that a sign that there was no longer a need for a strong Voting Rights Act?

Berman quotes Ed Blum, a tireless activist in the effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Blum referred to Birmingham, Ala.’s, legendary commissioner of public safety as a figure of the past: “‘Bull Connor is dead.’ And so is every Jim Crow-era segregationist intent on keeping blacks from the polls.”

In fact, Obama’s election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Obama’s political organization had turned out large numbers of young African Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting.

So legislatures in many states where Republicans had full political control went to work to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. Of course, that is not what they said they were doing. They invented a scarecrow, “voter fraud,” to justify voter ID laws. These laws disadvantage inner-city residents and favor suburbanites who get driver’s licenses as a matter of routine. They also used all kinds of excuses to roll back early voting.

“No matter how much evidence emerged to the contrary, the voter-fraud myth would never die,” Berman writes. Indeed. The fraud specter is so useful to those who want to restrict voting that the facts don’t trouble them. As a result, a non-problem is invoked to create a massive new problem of obstructing legitimate votes.

This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas’s voter ID law “has a discriminatory effect” and amounted to a poll tax. But it also sent the case back to a lower-court judge asking her to meet a high standard of showing that the law was passed with an explicitly discriminatory intent. You can bet that the Texas voting case or another in North Carolina, or both, will make their way to a Supreme Court that has already gutted the Voting Rights Act once in a 2013 decision written by Roberts.

Will he do it again? And will voters in 2016 realize just how important a president’s power to name future Supreme Court justices is to the very right they will be exercising on Election Day?

It would have been lovely if Berman’s book could simply have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Instead, it is even more useful as a guide to what still needs to be done. He tells the story of the charismatic leader of the North Carolina NAACP, the Rev. William Barber II, who led the state’s innovative Moral Monday protests.

“What do we do when they try to take away voting rights?” Barber asked at a rally.

The crowd responded: “We fight, we fight, we fight.”

There is no alternative.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 19, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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