mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Capital Punishment On Hold, For Now”: Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida’s Death Penalty System

The future of the death penalty in the United States is murky, and we know there are some justices who believe the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment necessitates the policy’s end.

The resolution of that debate, however, remains on the horizon. Today’s decision on Florida’s death penalty isn’t entirely what it appears to be at first blush.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it requires the trial judge and not the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose capital punishment.

That’s at odds with a string of Supreme Court cases which held that facts that add to a defendant’s punishment – known as aggravating circumstances – must be found by a jury.

It was an 8-1 ruling, the entirety of which is online, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” she wrote for the majority. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”

The sole dissent in Hurst v. Florida was written by Justice Samuel Alito.

So now what happens? The defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst, will see his case go back to the lower courts, while lawyers scramble to review the convictions of other inmates on Florida’s death row.

For opponents of capital punishment, it’s certainly a victory, but it’s worth emphasizing that it may be short-lived.

In this case, Florida’s current law was struck down, but the ruling focused on criminal procedure in the courtroom. The question of whether the law is cruel or unusual is left for another day.

The Miami Herald reports that state lawmakers are already preparing to “fix” what the Supreme Court said is broken.

Florida lawmakers are prioritizing a fix to Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedures after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law giving judges the final say on capital sentencing.

House Criminal Justice chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said his committee will take on a bill to address the Supreme Court’s problems.

The article added that another member of the Republican-run legislature intends to use this opportunity to consider broader reforms to the system, including a proposal to “require jurors to unanimously find that there are aggravating circumstances in a case, which would warrant a death sentence. Right now, it only takes a simple majority – 7 of 12 jurors.”

Capital punishment in Florida is, for now, on hold. That may not last long.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Florida | , , , , , , , | 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

“Must Vow To Never, Ever, Betray The Conservative Cause”: GOP Candidates Will Now Have To Promise Supreme Court Litmus Tests

With two dramatic and far-reaching liberal decisions in as many days at the end of last week, the Supreme Court laid Republicans low, dashed their hopes and spat on their dreams, made them beat their breasts and shake their fists at the heavens. And in both cases, it was a conservative justice (or two) who joined with the liberals to do it. So while there will be a lot of discussion among Republicans about where they should go from this point forward on the issues of health care and gay rights, you can be sure that they’re also going to spend a great deal of time talking about how they can make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Conservatives already hated Anthony Kennedy, and now some have decided that John Roberts is a traitor as well. If you’re a Republican presidential candidate, you’d better have a strong argument for why whoever you’ll appoint to the Supreme Court will never, ever, ever betray the conservative cause.

In the first couple of days, the candidates reacted much as you think they might, with varying degrees of displeasure built on time-tested conservative cliches about judicial restraint and judges not legislating from the bench. Which was a little odd, since in one of two decisions (King v. Burwell), what they were hoping for was a little more judicial activism. Nevertheless, they’ve been saying those things for so long that it may be understandable. So when Hugh Hewitt asked Jeb Bush how he would avoid future betrayals like these, he said only, “You focus on people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.” Rick Perry said much the same, that he would “appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.” Marco Rubio reached farther back, arguing that “As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.” Scott Walker issued a statement on his Facebook page about “five unelected judges” but passed on an opportunity to rail about them the next day. If you wanted a real denunciation of the Supreme Court that went beyond an objection to the substance of their decisions, you’d have to go to second-tier candidates like Ted Cruz, who proposed recall elections for Supreme Court justices, or Mike Huckabee, who loaded up his rhetorical musket to march at the Supreme Court redcoats. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” he said. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

But guess what? That’s not going to be good enough for Republican voters anymore. Here’s what’s going to happen: At one town hall meeting after another, a Republican primary voter will stand up to the candidate before them and say, “What are you going to do about the Supreme Court?” Then everyone else will lean in to listen.

As well they should. Given the ages of the justices (four are over 76 years old) and the fact that the next president will probably have the chance to appoint a liberal to replace a conservative or vice versa for the first time since Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall in 1991, there may be no single issue in the 2016 campaign of greater importance than the Supreme Court. If Hillary Clinton replaces a conservative justice, the court would swing to a liberal majority; if a Republican replaces a liberal justice, there would be a solid conservative majority with Anthony Kennedy no longer holding the swing vote.

Right now, conservatives are feeling like they’ve been betrayed. As conservative writer Matt Lewis noted on Thursday, “conservatives thought they had figured it out. The right created an impressive infrastructure and network to identify and promote conservative lawyers, clerks, and would-be judges,” and it was designed to keep these kinds of defections from happening. And Chief Justice Roberts was supposed to be the model for how it would work: a young, accomplished lawyer who did his apprenticeship in the Reagan Justice Department, where, like his colleague Samuel Alito, he imbibed the foundations of conservative legal thinking.

As it happens, the John Roberts whom Republicans are now denouncing as a traitor for his ruling in King v. Burwell is also the justice who engineered the unshackling of billionaires’ money in politics, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the Court’s first declaration of an individual right to own guns — along with dozens of other extremely important and extremely conservative rulings in recent years. If anything, he’s an ideologue but not a partisan, meaning he sometimes does what’s in conservatives’ long-term interests, even if it isn’t what the Republican Party wants at the moment.

But the old Republican cry of “No more Souters!” may now be replaced by “No more Kennedys and Robertses!” Republican candidates are going to have make it very clear to primary voters that they have a whole list of litmus tests, and any lawyer or lower-court judge who fails to satisfy each and every one won’t be getting nominated to the Supreme Court. Vague words about judicial restraint and respecting the Constitution aren’t going to cut it.

I’ve argued before that litmus tests for Supreme Court appointments aren’t a bad thing — instead of having candidates pretend that they’re only interested in finding wise and humble jurists, and having the Court nominees themselves pretend that they have no opinions on any legal questions, we should just get everything out in the open so we can all know what we’re in for. In the past, Democrats have been more willing to discuss the litmus tests they have (particularly on abortion), while Republicans have insisted that they only want judges who will respect the Founders and interpret law, not make law. Of course, that isn’t really what they want — when the circumstances are right, they’re only too happy to have judges make laws (or overturn them) if it produces the outcome they prefer.

So if nothing else, the Republican candidates will have to be a more honest now. But they can’t be too honest. Tell everyone that you will tolerate only Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations and get even more big money into politics, and you coulan, d run into trouble with general election voters. That makes it a tricky balance to strike, which is pretty much the story of the entire 2016 campaign for Republican candidates: Appealing too strongly to primary voters means potentially alienating the broader electorate, on almost every issue that comes up. As dramatic as the past week was, other issues will eventually push the ACA and gay marriage out of the headlines, at least for a while here and there. But in the short run, the candidates are going to face a lot of pointed questions about whom they plan to put on the Supreme Court.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stochastic Terrorism”: Did The Four Dissenting Justices In Gay Marriage Case Just Suggest Treason?

In controversial cases, is the role of jurist to inflame controversy, or quell it?

In Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case which found race-based marriage bans unconstitutional, Chief Justice Earl Warren built a 9-0 consensus—just as he’d done years earlier in Brown vs. Board of Education. He knew that a country divided by race ought to be united, if possible, by a Supreme Court mindful of fundamental values—even if the Court was, as the constitution requires, overturning the will of the majority.

The four dissents in the landmark case on same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, one by each of the conservative justices on today’s Supreme Court, take a very different view. With invective and hyperbole, they pour fuel on the fire of the controversy over same-sex marriage. Rather than merely state their views and disagreements, they use heated language to accuse the five-person majority of imperialism, a “putsch,” and worse.

Thus, the unprecedented calls of elected officials for open revolt against the Supreme Court—a shocking display of treason—are now accompanied by calls from within the Court itself that Obergefell is illegitimate, and the Supreme Court itself no longer worthy of full respect.

Ironically, in alleging a new low for the Court, these four justices have brought one into being. Justice Scalia has, as usual, grabbed the spotlight with juvenile taunting usually reserved for the playground. But in fact, all four opinions are shocking.

Chief Justice Roberts (joined by Scalia and Thomas) makes a solid, and unsurprising, substantive case. There is, after all, no explicit right to marriage (for gays or anyone else) in the Constitution; it is, rather, a fundamental right inferred into the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection. Thus, one might expect a judicial conservative like Roberts to be suspicious of expanding it, particularly when doing so runs against the expressed will of a majority of state legislatures.

But the way he chose to cast his argument ill befits his status as chief justice. “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment,” he writes. That is absurd: the court’s decision runs thirty pages, full of all the legal judgments, precedents, and statements of principle one would expect.

But that’s just the beginning. Across four pages, Chief Justice Roberts analogizes Obergefell to the Lochner v. New York decision, one of the most notoriously wrongheaded in Supreme Court history. Lochner means nothing to most people, but to anyone who’s finished the first year of law school, it’s a swear word.

He’s still not done. The Chief Justice of the United States then states (quoting a concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy) that “the legitimacy of this Court ultimately rests ‘upon the respect accorded to its judgments.’ That respect flows from the perception—and reality—that we exercise humility and restraint in deciding cases according to the Constitution and law. The role of the Court envisioned by the majority today, however, is anything but humble or restrained. Over and over, the majority exalts the role of the judiciary in delivering social change.”

In other words, the majority is arrogant, unrestrained, and thus not to be respected. It has an “extravagant conception of judicial supremacy.” “Those who founded our country would not recognize the majority’s conception of the judicial role.” And “The Court’s accumulation of power does not occur in a vacuum. It comes at the expense of the people. And they know it.”

Why not just tell the Religious Right to buy pitchforks and blowtorches? Chief Justice Roberts’ ironic opinion is immoderate in alleging immoderacy, extreme in alleging extremism.

Justice Scalia came next. And he begins thus: “I join THE CHIEF JUSTICE’s opinion in full. I write separately to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.”

It seems inevitable that rhetoric like this will stir the next Confederate flag-waving zealot to an act of, if not domestic terrorism, at least outrageous revolt. How could it be otherwise? And yet this, too, was only the first line.

The next line is, at best, disingenuous: “The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me.” As if. This from the man who, 12 years ago, wrote in his Lawrence v. Texas dissent that the Court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”

Is that what the LGBT equality movement is about? Throughout Justice Scalia’s hysterical writing in LGBT-related cases, he has doggedly maintained that their subjects are merely “homosexual conduct” and “homosexual sodomy.” That there are, in fact, gay and lesbian people is not part of Justice Scalia’s worldview, as he has shown time and time again. There is only homosexual conduct.

And yet he says, like a “no homo” jock in a locker room, “Hey, I don’t care if you’re gay.”

Once again, just getting started. “Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.” That is outrageous rhetoric and an outrageous sentiment. The decision is not a “decree.” The Court is not a “Ruler”—it is an Article III interpreter of the Constitution, at its most important when it protects minorities against the will of the majority. Even demeaning Supreme Court justices as “lawyers” is a sign of disrespect.

Other statements are similar. “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government.” “What really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.” And, “With each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the ‘reasoned judgment’ of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.”

Others have already quoted Justice Scalia’s rhetoric—“jiggery-pokery” and the rest—at length, so I won’t spend much time with it here. Because in fact, his jurisprudence is far more shocking. Watch this:

When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. That resolves these cases. When it comes to determining the meaning of a vague constitutional provision—such as “due process of law” or “equal protection of the laws”—it is unquestionable that the People who ratified that provision did not understand it to prohibit a practice that remained both universal and uncontroversial in the years after ratification. We have no basis for striking down a practice that is not expressly prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment’s text, and that bears the endorsement of a long tradition of open, widespread, and unchallenged use dating back to the Amendment’s ratification.

I have quoted this passage at length so there is no misunderstanding. What Justice Scalia is saying here is that if it was “universal and uncontroversial” in 1868, it’s obviously okay now. That principle, of course, would allow states to ban interracial marriages, including that of Justice Thomas. It would allow states to bring back the doctrine that a woman surrenders all her rights to her husband upon marriage. It is shocking.

To be sure, it is also of a piece with Justice Scalia’s “originalism” and is not, as such, novel. But its strict application here places Justice Scalia in a bizarre twilight-zone of 19th century values.

Likewise, Justice Thomas’s description of “the dangerous fiction of treating the Due Process Clause as a font of substantive rights.” That “fiction” has protected rights to contraception, to abortion, and to all kinds of intimate family matters. Justice Thomas’s reactionary jurisprudence would erase half a century of gains in the area of civil rights.

And likewise Justice Alito’s talking-point dictum that the opinion will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” This, of course, is a commonplace on the Religious Right—but its appearance in a Supreme Court opinion is nonetheless shocking.

But it is Justice Alito’s parting jab which resonates the most.  Obergefell, he writes, evidences “the deep and perhaps irremediable corruption of our legal culture’s conception of constitutional interpretation.”  This from someone who joined an opinion overturning fifty years of due process jurisprudence, and another arguing a return to 1868’s family values.

“All Americans,” he concludes, “should worry about what the majority’s claim of power portends.”  Claim of power—as if the Constitution does not empower the Court to do exactly what it has done: use reasoning and interpretation to defend constitutional rights against laws that would abridge them.

These are, as the saying goes, fighting words, and more importantly, they are words that will inspire others to fight.  They are what some call “stochastic terrorism,” the broadcasting of a message so incendiary as to inspire some “lone wolf” to violence—if not actual violence, then precisely the kinds of anti-democratic, anti-American defiance we have already seen among some politicians.

Were the targets of such acts only gays and lesbians, it would be bad enough.  But these four dissents have encouraged disrespect of the Supreme Court itself.  Agree or disagree with the Court’s method of interpreting the Constitution, they are acts of vandalism against one of the foundations of our democracy.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, June 27, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | 14th Amendment, Marriage Equality, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Cinder In The Public Eye”: Clarence Thomas Says Black NBA Players Give SCOTUS A Reason To Gut Anti-Discrimination Law

On Thursday, the Supreme Court saved a key interpretation of the Fair Housing Act—a historic 1968 law that prevents discrimination in the housing market—by ruling in a 5-4 decision that a complaint does not have to prove a policy was overtly or intentionally discriminatory to be valid. It upheld the “disparate impact” standard, which allows complainants to show a policy led to unequal results, no matter the original intention.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He argued that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.” To make his case, Thomas pointed out that minorities sometimes do quite well. His examples: The Jews in Poland and, in America, the success of black professional basketball players.

Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities. At various times in history, “racial or ethnic minorities . . . have owned or directed more than half of whole industries in particular nations.” These minorities “have included the Chinese in Malaysia, the Lebanese in West Africa, Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Britons in Argentina, Belgians in Russia, Jews in Poland, and Spaniards in Chile—among many others.” “In the seventeenth century Ottoman Empire,” this phenomenon was seen in the palace itself, where the “medical staff consisted of 41 Jews and 21 Muslims.” And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black. To presume that these and all other measurable disparities are products of racial discrimination is to ignore the complexities of human existence.” [Legal citations omitted].

Thomas continues:

And if that “racial balancing” is achieved through disparate-impact claims limited to only some groups—if, for instance, white basketball players cannot bring disparate-impact suits— then we as a Court have constructed a scheme that parcels out legal privileges to individuals on the basis of skin color.”

Sports was a popular example for the dissenting justices. Justice Sam Alito, who wrote a separate dissent, cited the NFL to make a slightly different point:

 Of the 32 college players selected by National Football League (NFL) teams in the first round of the 2015 draft, it appears that the overwhelming majority were members of racial minorities […] Teams presumably chose the players they think are most likely to help them win games. Would anyone say the NFL teams made draft slots unavailable to white players “because of ” their race?

This is the same court that crippled civil rights legislation two years ago by striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, June 25, 2015

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Discrimination, Fair Housing Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: