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“Outraged About Ginsburg’s Comments?”: Supreme Court Justices Have Always Voiced Political Opinions

Donald Trump is freaking out over statements made by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg didn’t hold back during a New York Times interview published Monday. “I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said.

Trump, naturally, hopped on Twitter to complain.

Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot – resign!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 13, 2016

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Ginsburg’s comments “out of place” during a CNN Town Hall on Tuesday.

But even after a wave of criticism, including from “liberal” outlets, Ginsburg refused to walk back her comments. On Monday, she called Trump a “faker.”

“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that,” she said in her chambers.

The backlash over Ginsburg’s comments is not surprising, given Trump’s history of trying to de-legitimize the judicial system (especially when it applies to him). But his argument that Ginsburg’s comments disqualifies her from being an unbiased judge is a weak one: The ideological leanings of the justices are well known by not only their decisions (its kind of their job to give opinions), but also their public statements.

Unlike Ginsburg’s comments about Trump, justices have made plenty of statements in the past that relate directly to cases before them in the court.

Antonin Scalia was the poster boy for this behavior – the conservative legal icon frequently toured between law schools, book stores, and other gatherings, debating all comers on a wide range of topics. We knew how he felt about the death penalty, abortion and homosexuality:

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” he said in 2012.

“What minorities deserve protection? What? It’s up to me to identify deserving minorities? What about pederasts? What about child abusers? This is a deserving minority. Nobody loves them.” he said in 2015.

Scalia’s defense of his homophobic remarks could easily be used to defend Ginsburg’s Trump comments — not that Ginsburg would use his argument, despite her storied, decades-long friendship with Scalia.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” Scalia said in 2012 after a gay Princeton student asked him why he equated laws banning sodomy with laws that ban man-on-animal sex and murder.

Ginsburg herself has long been known for her frankness. Joan Biskupic, the journalist who reported Ginsburg’s statements on Trump, writes that, having met with her “on a regular basis for more than a decade,” she “found her response classic.”

Biskupic elaborates:

I have witnessed her off-bench bluntness many times through the years.  During 2009 oral arguments in a case involving a 13-year-old Arizona girl who had been strip-searched by school administrators looking for drugs, she was troubled that some male justices played down any harm to the student. “They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” Ginsburg told me. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.”

Earlier in 2009, she was being treated for pancreatic cancer yet made sure to attend President Barack Obama’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress, explaining that she wanted people to know the Supreme Court was not all men. “I also wanted them to see I was alive and well, contrary to that senator who said I’d be dead within nine months.” She was referring to Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, who had said she would likely die within nine months from the pancreatic cancer. Bunning later apologized.

As the first Latina to reach the court, Justice Sonya Sotomayor fiercely defends her use of personal political reflection, based in experiences that she believes differ from those of the other justices, in her arguments. The issue of affirmative action is especially important to Sotomayor. In her 2013 memoir, she wrote:

“Much has changed since those early days when it opened doors in my life. But one thing has not changed: to doubt the worth of minority students’ achievement when they succeed is really only to present another face of the prejudice that would deny them a chance even to try.”

Sotomayor has taken this sentiment to the court. In her dissent on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, she wrote: “Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No where are you really from?’”

Sotomayor’s opinion in a fourth amendment case on the validity of police stops was an explicitly political appeal. “It is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she wrote in her dissent, on a case where a Utah man claimed he was unlawfully stopped by police. “For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

And besides: The Constitution does not prohibit Supreme Court Justices from expressing personal opinions.

Bloomberg‘s Noah Feldman offers Chief Justice John Marshall, who served as John Adams’s secretary of state while he was a chief justice, as proof that America’s founding generation was not “obsessed with the idea that justices have to be outside the reach of politics.”

Marshall, a loyalist of the Federalist Party, was understood to retain his beliefs while serving as chief justice subsequently.

Two of his most revered opinions, Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland, are historically incomprehensible except through the lens of partisan politics. In the first, he went to great lengths to embarrass the Jefferson administration by insisting that Marbury had a right to a justice-of-the-peace commission granted by Adams, before tacking back and holding that the law that would have allowed the court to force the delivery of the commission was unconstitutional.

In the second, he upheld the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States, originally such a fundamental partisan issue that it helped drive the creation of his Federalist and Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican parties.

Maybe conservatives shouldn’t argue about the integrity of the Court while in their fourth month of refusing to give it a ninth justice.

 

By: Germania Rodriguez, The National Memo, July 13, 2016

July 14, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ethnic Heritage On The Courts”: What Happens In A White Patriarchal Culture Where “Norms” Are The Default Mode

Even as legal experts express their alarm over Donald Trump’s remarks about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel (who is presiding over the fraud cases against Trump University), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee decided to double down.

In an interview, Mr. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Mr. Trump said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said.

So here’s how that breaks down: Trump makes racists proposals against Mexican immigrants and then assumes that presents a conflict of interest for a judge with Mexican heritage. Based on all of his racist and sexist comments, that might wipe out a pretty good portion of the judiciary from ever presiding over a case in which he is involved.

But there is something deeper at work here. I have no illusions that a man like Trump will ever understand it. But it’s important for us to be clear about what it means to single a judge out for their ethnic heritage.

As I’ve been watching this unfold, I am reminded of the Republican attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Because of her compelling story and exemplary career, they settled on going after her for her remarks about a “wise Latina.” They were part of a lecture she gave in 2009 titled: A Latina Judge’s Voice” in which she addressed the question of what it means to have more women and people of color on the bench.

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life…

Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Now…compare that to what Sam Alito said during his confirmation hearing when Sen. Tom Coburn asked him to let us see a little bit of his heart.

…when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

The only real difference between what Sotomayor and Alito said is that her family is from Puerto Rico and his are from Italy. And yet one nominee’s words were cause for a firestorm and the other’s were heralded as heartfelt – when noticed at all. That is what happens in a white patriarchal culture where “norms” are established as the default mode for expectations.

Let’s take a look at how Justice Sotomayor ended her lecture.

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering.

One has to wonder whether Justice Alito questions his own assumptions, presumptions and perspectives that stem from being a white male on the court. The systemic bias we witness in the courts is largely a result of the failure to do so.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 3, 2016

June 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Judiciary, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“A Revolutionary Committee”: Time For Some Candor From The Supreme Court

In most of the cases it decides, the Supreme Court is what it presents itself as: a court of law. The justices apply preexisting rules and standards set forth, for example, in the Constitution and statutes passed by Congress, to a dizzying array of human and institutional behaviors.

But in many highly contested cases, especially those involving the definition of broad-based rights, the Supreme Court is only slightly more a court of law than the House of Representatives or the Senate. Here the justices are often covertly and ashamedly quasi-legislative, actually deciding what sort of a society they wish to call into being, designating winners and losers on the basis what they want or hope will be best.

A powerful mythology keeps the Supreme Court and its constituencies from acknowledging this. Sore losers often claim they have been cheated by life-tenured federal judges, but such complaints are promptly forgotten because today’s angry critic is tomorrow’s triumphant victor, suddenly extolling the fairness of the justices.

Judges, lawyers and the interested public usually end up colluding in promoting the idea that when the Supreme Court decides that corporations have the same speech rights as natural persons, or that there need not be a recount in a contested presidential election, or that sodomy cannot be a crime, or that racial segregation in education is not only abhorrent but a violation of the Constitution, the rule of law, not the rule of men, is in operation.

The core notion we cling to is basic civics. Though chosen democratically, the justices are not elected. The information they receive and their legitimacy are rightly circumscribed, the former by laws that surround the way decisions are reached, and the latter by their unaccountability. It is feared that if the Supreme Court talked about what serious observers concede, that many major rulings are a result of value choices made in a legal context rather than on strict application of a legal rule or precedent, the ensuing contradictions would undermine the public’s acceptance of its decisions.

Justice Sonia Sotomayer came as close as justices of the Supreme Court ever do to crossing this line when she pointed out the glaring inconsistency between the court’s assurances in the Hobby Lobby contraception case and a decision granting Wheaton College an injunction four days later. Despite becoming instantly famous, her blunt language — “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.” — stops far short of what an elected politician might say in a similar situation.

Deeply embedded in the discourse that follows decisions in epochal cases is talk about the way the Supreme Court’s reasoning connects to its conclusions and the practical consequences of the ruling. All can condemn or praise the work of the Supreme Court, but only entrenched partisans are likely to claim that the decision is purely political.

What Supreme Court majorities never admit is that the past is so contingent, and the choices made by other governmental actors so unclear, that nothing is left for the Supreme Court to do but what it thinks best under the circumstances. The thought is that it would be institutionally damaging to admit that the justices just choose the reasonable and wise course, in effect conceding that they truly act as a “revolutionary committee,” as A.A. Berle once memorably put it. Given such an admission, would the next voice say, “Why not leave these choices to the elected?”

But maintaining the myth is costly. Because both unhappy losers and Supreme Court analysts know that all too often the threads of the law said to dispose of a case really stand only as a thin cover of justification (rather as an honest search for solution), the result is large-scale cynicism. Law students learn early in their first year the difference between the language of opinions and what really cuts the mustard. Practicing lawyers know well the difference between rhetoric and reality.

This gap between actual and masked reasons for a decision muddies the waters and inhibits healthy debate. And it is unnecessary. Perhaps there was a time when, in order to respect the law, the public had to believe that it was found somewhere outside our judges, a “brooding omnipresence,” as it was called, but no longer. Given the massive exposure in the media to what passes for law making, people today are not quite so naïve.

More importantly, we need the justices to do more of what they do well. A deliberative process responsive to objective evidence and narrowed to real controversies is a paramount governmental function. There is probably no better way to meet the need to manage the existential controversies of a complex society than a judicial process that presents the true bases of decisions. What is no longer sustainable is the illusion that in these major cases the justices are merely the mouthpiece for decisions made by Congress or settled long ago by James Madison and his colleagues.

 

By: Michael Meltsner, Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University School of Law; The Hoffington Post Blog, July 25, 2014

July 28, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Democracy, Supreme Court | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Default Setting”: Why Your Employer Can’t Cut Off Your Contraception Coverage

On the Fourth of July, while you were stuffing your face with patriotic burgers and watching patriotic fireworks, the Supreme Court handed down an emergency injunction in a case involving Wheaton College’s objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefit, a decision that acted as an addendum to the Hobby Lobby decision. As I ranted over here, this is the decision that could really open the floodgates to thousands of claims from all kinds of organizations and companies that don’t want to let their employees get contraception. But after thinking and reading about it for a while, there’s something I think everyone seems to be missing, and it could mean that no one is actually going to lose their coverage, even temporarily.

I should say that it’s entirely possible that I’m completely wrong about this, and there’s some bureaucratic detail deep within the ACA that I’ve overlooked. But the first thing to remember is that the ACA requires that insurance plans cover a variety of kinds of preventive care, including contraception; this issue is about what exactly a company or organization has to do when they have an objection to contraception coverage. The Obama administration constructed an alternative arrangement, which until now was supposed to be used only for religiously affiliated non-profits but, after the Hobby Lobby decision, may have to be used for basically anyone, including for-profit companies. The way it works is that if your group doesn’t want to be tainted by the sin of contraception, there’s a form you file with the government stating your objection. You send a copy to your insurer or third-party administrator (TPA), and the insurer/TPA (I’m just going to say insurer from this point on) arranges for the coverage with the government, by getting reimbursed out of other funds.

The problem is that Wheaton College, along with dozens of other organizations that have filed suit, believes that just filling out this form and sending it to their insurer makes them complicit in sin, because doing so triggers the arrangement under which their employees will get coverage. Let’s leave aside the merit of this belief, but by granting the emergency injunction the Court’s majority essentially accepted that filling out the form and sending a copy to their insurer was indeed a burden on Wheaton’s religious freedom. This made Sonia Sotomayor absolutely livid, since just four days before the Court had used the existence of that very form as proof that there was a less restrictive alternative than the contraception mandate available.

So what Wheaton would prefer is that they not fill out the form and send it to the insurer. Instead, they want to send a letter to the government just stating their objection—a letter which wouldn’t have to inform the government of who their insurer is. In her dissent, Sotomayor warned that this could become a bureaucratic nightmare, because now the government has to figure out who the insurer is for every company that sends a letter, so they can get in touch with the insurer and arrange the alternate payment procedure for contraceptive coverage.

And this is where I’m puzzled. Because under the ACA, ordinary insurance coverage has to provide prescription contraception with no cost-sharing (meaning without copayment or deductable). That’s the default setting. So let’s say I’ve started a new non-profit aimed at educating America’s youth about the important cultural contributions of 1980s hair metal bands. I get health insurance for my employees, and because of the requirement in the ACA, it includes coverage for contraception. Then after spending an extended period listening to Stryper, I realize that contraception is sinful and try to deprive my employees of it.

Depending on the outcome of these cases, I may have a couple of options. I can file the original form with the government and send a copy to my insurer, in which case those two will arrange for my employees’ contraception coverage to continue. If I object to the form, as Wheaton College does, I’ll just send a letter to the government saying “I’ll have none of this!”

But since I don’t want to inform my insurer and thus trigger the alternate arrangement, my insurer has no idea that I object to contraception coverage. That means they’ll continue to provide it to my employees, as the law requires. If because of ordinary bureaucratic slowness it takes the government a while to find my insurer and inform them of my objection, my employees will still have contraception coverage in the meantime. Whether I’m active or passive the coverage continues, either because the alternate arrangement has been triggered, or because the insurer keeps doing what they’ve been doing because they don’t know of my objection.

To repeat, there may be something I’m missing here. But it seems that even if the Hobby Lobby and Wheaton cases impose more bureaucracy and make things more cumbersome for the government and insurers, as long as contraception coverage without cost-sharing is the default setting for insurance plans, people won’t actually have their coverage interrupted, no matter what the preferences of their employer.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 7, 2014

July 8, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Contraception, Health Insurance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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