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“A Wise Latina Or A Right Wing Extremist”: The Decision Is Ours In November

Three years ago today, the first Supreme Court confirmation battle of Barack Obama’s presidency came to an end. Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the oath of office on August 8, 2009, after enduring days of hearings at which she had been lambasted by Senate Republicans for such offenses as calling herself a “wise Latina” and acknowledging, like many male nominees before her, the shocking fact that her life experiences had shaped her perspective on the law.

In the three years since, I’ve been relieved to have Justice Sotomayor on the Court. I haven’t agreed with all her decisions, but she has shown time and again that she understands how the Constitution protects our rights — all of our rights. In 2010, she dissented to the Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, which twisted the law and Constitution to give corporations and the super wealthy dangerous influence over our elections. In 2011, she joined the four-justice minority that stood up for the rights of women Wal-Mart employees who were the victims of entrenched sex discrimination. This year, she was part of the narrow majority that upheld the Affordable Care Act, saving a clearly constitutional law that is already helping millions of Americans receive health care coverage.

Over and over again in the past years, the Supreme Court has split between two very different visions of the law and the Constitution. On one side, we have justices like Sotomayor who understand how the Constitution protects all of our rights in changing times. On the other side, we have right-wing justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who are determined to walk back American progress, turn their backs on the values enshrined in the Constitution, and ignore decades of our laws and history. On issues from voting rights to women’s equality to environmental regulation, Americans’ rights are being decided by the Supreme Court — often by a single vote. Even the decision to uphold health care reform, in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined Sotomayor and the three other moderates on the court, would not have been as close as it was if the Court had not moved steadily to the right.

November’s presidential election will be a turning point for the Supreme Court. The next president will likely have the chance to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice, setting the course of the Court for decades to come. President Obama has shown his priorities in his picks of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.

Mitt Romney has a very different vision for the Supreme Court. Campaigning in Puerto Rico earlier this year, Romney bashed Sotomayor — who also happens to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and the Court’s third woman ever. Instead, he says he’d pick more justices like Thomas, Alito and Antonin Scalia, the core of the right-wing bloc whose decisions are systematically rolling back Americans’ hard-won rights. He used to say that he’d pick more Justices like Chief Justice Roberts, but changed his mind when Roberts ruled in favor of the health care reform plan similar to the one that Romney himself had helped pilot in Massachusetts.

So who would Romney pick for the Supreme Court? We’ve gotten a hint from his choice of former judge Robert Bork as his campaign’s judicial advisor. Bork’s brand of judicial extremism was so out of step with the mainstream that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. Bork objected to the part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that desegregated lunch counters; he defended state laws banning birth control and “sodomy”; he was unabashedly in favor of censorship; he once ruled that a corporation could order its female employees to be sterilized or be fired. And, though it might not seem possible, since his confirmation battle Bork has gotten even more extreme.

Any justice appointed by Romney would likely fall in the footsteps of Bork in undermining workers’ rights, eliminating civil rights protections, siding with corporations over the rights of individuals, threatening women’s reproductive freedom, and rolling back basic LGBT rights. President Obama, on the other hand, has promised to pick more justices who share the constitutional values of Justice Sotomayor.

Three years into the term of Justice Sotomayor, the Court hangs in the balance. It’s important that we all know the stakes.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, August 8, 2012

August 9, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Act Of Human Decency”: The Real Winners Of The Affordable Care Act Are Ordinary Americans

So the Supreme Court — defying many expectations — upheld the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare. There will, no doubt, be many headlines declaring this a big victory for President Obama, which it is. But the real winners are ordinary Americans — people like you.

How many people are we talking about? You might say 30 million, the number of additional people the Congressional Budget Office says will have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. But that vastly understates the true number of winners because millions of other Americans — including many who oppose the act — would have been at risk of being one of those 30 million.

So add in every American who currently works for a company that offers good health insurance but is at risk of losing that job (and who isn’t in this world of outsourcing and private equity buyouts?); every American who would have found health insurance unaffordable but will now receive crucial financial help; every American with a pre-existing condition who would have been flatly denied coverage in many states.

In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.

But what about the cost? Put it this way: the budget office’s estimate of the cost over the next decade of Obamacare’s “coverage provisions” — basically, the subsidies needed to make insurance affordable for all — is about only a third of the cost of the tax cuts, overwhelmingly favoring the wealthy, that Mitt Romney is proposing over the same period. True, Mr. Romney says that he would offset that cost, but he has failed to provide any plausible explanation of how he’d do that. The Affordable Care Act, by contrast, is fully paid for, with an explicit combination of tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere.

So the law that the Supreme Court upheld is an act of human decency that is also fiscally responsible. It’s not perfect, by a long shot — it is, after all, originally a Republican plan, devised long ago as a way to forestall the obvious alternative of extending Medicare to cover everyone. As a result, it’s an awkward hybrid of public and private insurance that isn’t the way anyone would have designed a system from scratch. And there will be a long struggle to make it better, just as there was for Social Security. (Bring back the public option!) But it’s still a big step toward a better — and by that I mean morally better — society.

Which brings us to the nature of the people who tried to kill health reform — and who will, of course, continue their efforts despite this unexpected defeat.

At one level, the most striking thing about the campaign against reform was its dishonesty. Remember “death panels”? Remember how reform’s opponents would, in the same breath, accuse Mr. Obama of promoting big government and denounce him for cutting Medicare? Politics ain’t beanbag, but, even in these partisan times, the unscrupulous nature of the campaign against reform was exceptional. And, rest assured, all the old lies and probably a bunch of new ones will be rolled out again in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Let’s hope the Democrats are ready.

But what was and is really striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford expensive individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences. We should all be thankful that, for the moment at least, that effort has failed.

Let me add a final word on the Supreme Court.

Before the arguments began, the overwhelming consensus among legal experts who aren’t hard-core conservatives — and even among some who are — was that Obamacare was clearly constitutional. And, in the end, thanks to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., the court upheld that view. But four justices dissented, and did so in extreme terms, proclaiming not just the much-disputed individual mandate but the whole act unconstitutional. Given prevailing legal opinion, it’s hard to see that position as anything but naked partisanship.

The point is that this isn’t over — not on health care, not on the broader shape of American society. The cruelty and ruthlessness that made this court decision such a nail-biter aren’t going away.

But, for now, let’s celebrate. This was a big day, a victory for due process, decency and the American people.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 28, 2012

 

June 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Elections For Sale”: Supreme Court Reaffirms That The Robber Barons Are In Charge

The US Supreme Court may still retain some familiarity with the Constitution when it comes to deciding the nuances of cases involving immigration policy and lifetime incarceration. But when it comes to handing off control of American democracy to corporations, the Court continues to reject the intents of the founders and more than a century of case law to assure that CEOs are in charge.

Make no mistake, this is not a “free speech” or “freedom of association” stance by the Court’s Republican majority. That majority is narrowing the range of debate. It is picking winners. To turn a phrase from the old union song, this Court majority has decided which side it is on.

The same Court that in January 2010 ruled with the Citizens United decision that corporations can spend freely in federal elections—enjoying the same avenues of expression as human beings—on Monday ruled that states no longer have the ability to guard against what historically has been seen as political corruption and the buying of elections.

The court’s 5–4 decision in the Montana case of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock significantly expands the scope and reach of the Citizens United ruling by striking down state limits on corporate spending in state and local elections. “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the majority wrote. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

Translation: if Exxon Mobil wants to spend $10 million to support a favored candidate in a state legislative or city council race that might decide whether the corporation is regulated, or whether it gets new drilling rights, it can. But why stop at $10 million? If it costs $100 million to shout down the opposition, the Court says that is fine. If if costs $1 billion, that’s fine, too.

And what of the opposition. Can groups that represent the public interest push back? Can labor unions take a stand in favor of taxing corporations like Exxon Mobil?

Not with the same freedom or flexibility that they had from the 1930s until this year. Last Thursday, the Court erected elaborate new barriers to participation in elections by public-sector unions—requiring that they get affirmative approval from members before making special dues assessments to fund campaigns countering corporations.

How might it work? If Walmart wanted to support candidates who promised to eliminate all taxes for Walmart, the corporation could spend unlimited amounts of money. It would not need to gain stockholder approval. It can just go for it.

But if AFSCME wants to counter Walmart argument, saying that eliminating taxes on out-of-state retailers will save consumers very little but will ultimate undermine funding for schools and public services, the union will have to go through the laborious process of gaining permission from tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of members. And even then, it will face additional reporting and structural barriers imposed by the Court.

Campaign finance reformers had held out some hope that states might be able to apply some restrictions on corporate spending, as Montana did with its 100-year-old law barring direct corporate contributions to political parties and candidates. That law, developed to control against the outright buying of elections by “copper kings” and “robber barons,” was repeatedly upheld. Until now.

Now, says Marc Elias, one of the nation’s top experts in election law, “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision [that it] broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone.… To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.”

There may still be a few legislative avenues left for countering the “money power” of the new “copper kings” and “robber barons.” But they are rapidly being closed off by a partisan high court majority.

That’s why US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has emerged as a leading proponent of moves to amend the US Constitution to restore the rule of law in elections, says: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s absurd 5-4 ruling two years ago in Citizens United was a major blow to American democratic traditions. Sadly, despite all of the evidence that Americans see every day, the court continues to believe that its decision makes sense.”

When billionaires can “spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy this election for candidates who support the super-wealthy,” argues Sanders, “this is not democracy. This is plutocracy. And that is why we must overturn Citizens United if we are serious about maintaining the foundations of American democracy.”

Sanders says he will step up his efforts to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but the democratically disastrous rulings that extend from it.

“In his famous speech at Gettysburg during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln talked about America as a country ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ Today, as a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to reconsider its decision in Citizens United, we are rapidly moving toward a nation of the super-rich, by the super-rich and for the super-rich,” explains Sanders. “That is not what America is supposed to be about. This Supreme Court decision must be overturned.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 25, 2012

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bush v Gore”: The Only Precedent That Seems To Matter To “Judicial Counter Revolutionaries”

Nobody would much describe Monthly alumnus and long-time Atlantic writer James Fallows as a firebrand. But he does have a sense of historical perspective. Over the weekend, mulling a probable Supreme Court action to invalidate some or all of the Affordable Care Act, Fallows put together a stunningly brief summary of how we came to this point:

Pick a country and describe a sequence in which:

* First, the presidential election is decided by five people, who don’t even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.

* Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.

* Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.

* Meanwhile their party’s representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation — and appointments, especially to the courts.

* And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party’s majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it — even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party’s presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.

How would you describe a democracy where power was being shifted that way?

Fallows answers his own question by using a term—“long-term coup”—that he later downgrades to “radical change.” That’s appropriate, since “coup” implies tanks in the street rather than black-robed ideological cheerleaders. But it’s becoming more obvious each day that the judicial counter-revolutionaries of the Supreme Court don’t need the crisis atmosphere that they used to justify Bush v. Gore to continue its legacy. Indeed, it seems to have become the only precedent the majority reliably respects. Maybe they will surprise us all on Thursday and step back from the brink. But without question, if another seat on the Court falls their way, the constitutional substructure of every 20th century social accomplishment from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Air Act to the right to an abortion is in immediate danger. And anyone who remembers that strange night in 2000 when the Court’s Republican appointees decided to seize the opportunity to choose a president should not be surprised.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 25, 2012

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blame The Supreme Court”: Acting As An Arm Of The Republican Party

Liberals will be tempted to point the finger at themselves if the Affordable Care Act is overturned. They shouldn’t.

It’s a virtual certainty that, if the Supreme Court overturns the individual mandate or the Affordable Care Act wholesale, liberals will find a way to blame each other—or the administration—for its failure to anticipate the constitutional challenge. Yesterday, both The Washington Post and The New York Times ran stories in which critics and observers laid blame on the administration for its tactical strategy, and the bill’s authors for using the mandate to achieve near-universal health-care coverage. Here’s the Times:

With the benefit of hindsight, some advocates said they would have been better off framing the law more explicitly as a tax, although doing so would have been politically explosive. Short of that, some said, strategy alternatives like slowing down the case still might not have made a difference.

This strikes me as misguided. Underlying the assumption that the Court will strike down the individual mandate—or the Affordable Care Act as a whole—is the idea that the current Supreme Court is partisan in a way that’s never been true before. It’s one thing to stack the Court with Justices who are ideologically favorable; it’s something else entirely to stack the Court with fellow partisans, who are primarily loyal to the Republican Party and not any discernible legal principle.

Whether this has happened is an open question, but if it has—as James Fallows argued yesterday—then it’s silly to think that liberals could have avoided disaster by framing the law as a tax, or changing the structure of the mandate. Remember, when the law was being crafted in 2009, or when it was signed in 2010, the spurious distinction between “activity” and “inactivity” hadn’t been devised yet, and no one was concerned the the mandate would violate the Constitution. But eventually, movement conservatives developed a legal principle that would allow them to argue the case.

Likewise, if the mandate were framed as a tax—or even if the Affordable Care Act were shaped as “Medicare-for-all”—movement conservatives would have devised a legal doctrine that challenged its constitutionality.

Because of this, if the Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, liberals should refrain from turning their guns on each other. Instead, they should take aim at the Supreme Court. A Court that acts as another arm of the Republican Party is one that doesn’t deserve the standing it claims or the respect it demands. Partisan institutions should be treated as such, and liberals should do as much as possible to challenge the legitimacy of the Court.

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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