• Who is to Blame if Roe is Overturned?

    May 13, 2022 // 2 Comments »

    With bad things accumulating like Ukrainian mud around Democrat midterm chances, nobody seems to be talking about the elephant in the room. Its name is Roe, and if national abortion rights are overturned, it could help destroy the Democratic party. A Supreme Court decision is expected soon.
    The signs of significant change are clear. Texas is already effectively restricting abortions after six weeks (Idaho passed similar legislation.) Florida restricts most abortions after 15 weeks. If Roe is gone, 26 states are expected to ban or limit abortion. Four states support the Mississippi law the Supreme Court is now reviewing in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Mississippi law is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Court decision which made abortion a woman’s right through the second trimester. The Court will likely announce this spring a decision to overturn or significantly weaken Roe, clearing the way for each state to create its own restrictions. It will also signal the end of an era dominated by Democratic party social policy.
    Politically the loss could be part of a death spiral for Dems. “Protecting Roe” has been a central Democratic talking point for decades and if that protection fails, especially under a Democratic president and with Democratic House, it will not go down easy. The decision may have as much effect on the midterm elections, and possibly 2024, as any other factor. A lot of Democratic support from educated women is tied to abortion rights, as well as many progressive votes in general. With the party already losing/lost working class voters and many Hispanics, they cannot afford to jettison too many more blocs. And somebody is going to be blamed.
    The most likely gambit by the Dems will be self-destructive, to scold voters, saying if the dumb rednecks hadn’t elected Trump we would not have three new conservative judges on the Court. Scolding and mocking voters was a signature of Hillary’s campaign and look where it got her; “deplorables” is forever an American election meme now. And even if the Democrats were to 3-D print a viable candidate for 2024 out of soy-based beef substitute, it is unlikely he could bring enough new blood to the Court (only Justice Breyer was the obvious candidate to retire) to change the balance quick enough to rally Roe. So the most obvious Dem slogan, elect us and we’ll repack the Court with liberals, is at best a solution decades away even if everything goes well. There is no will to expand the Court outside of the NYT Op-Ed pages.
    Dems will not mention it, but the real blame lies in 50 years of Congress refusing to codify Roe’s judicial creative writing into actual law that could withstand a conservative court. Over the decades the Democrats when in the majority treated abortion, as they did same-sex marriage for many years, as a third rail. They supported it but would never risk the votes by actually touching it. It will beg the question in many Blue voters’ minds of why bother to elect Democrats at all. The Democrats of course don’t see it that way; “I think the country hasn’t seen the rage of women speaking out,” said Representative Jackie Speier. Representative Pramila Jayapal said “I think it’s going to mobilize people to go to the polls. You will see an outcry like you’ve never seen before.” Righteous anger? Maybe. But Democrats will have quite a battle convincing these angry voters that yes for sure this time promise they’ll actually do something to protect abortion rights other than talk about losing them and holding Handmaidens Tale watch parties.
    The other question Democrats will need to confront is what do Americans really want? In a nationwide survey, 56 percent said they would support restricting abortions after 15 weeks, what the Mississippi law at the center of Dobbs aims to do. Hispanic voters, who Democrats are already losing, are divided on the issue of abortion and vote Red in notable numbers. Same sex marriage finally became so widely supported that even Democratic candidates in purple areas could safely jump on the bandwagon. Not so with abortion.
    There are other players the Democrats might want to spread a little blame on as well. In the case of Dobbs now at the Court, their champion Justice Sotomayor failed to lay a legal glove on her opponents. While the conservative and swing justices walked their colleagues through case after important case where precedent was overturned, she whined like a 1L that precedents she supported were untouchable. She chided her colleagues if they overturned Roe the whole Court would lose credibility and take on a “stench.” She spoke like someone running for election in San Francisco, not a sober justice building a case her colleagues would sign on to. She seemed to forget at oral arguments the justices aren’t really talking to the attorneys before them; rather, they’re talking to each other through the lawyer at the lectern. But at least her no doubt snarky dissent will earn her comparisons to the Notorious RBG.
    Speaking of RBG, perhaps she deserves a dainty teaspoon of blame. Her hubris in a) thinking she would live forever and b) assuming Hillary would be anointed and choose her successor lead directly to Donald Trump’s signature political triumph, turning the Court right. The blood of the martyr Breyer waters RBG’s grave site.
    Which also suggests Barack Obama, who failed to fight for his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, shares some blame. Claiming Obama could not effectively fight for his nominee because of Republican opposition again begs the question of why bother to elect a Democrat at all if they’re just going to fail and blame the other party for their failure. You’re just not a very good politician if you can only get things done with a super-majority.
    More broadly, blame should Roe fall lies in part with the feminist movement and the far-left of the Democratic party. They long ago insisted on including the contentious issue of abortion in with the basket of more broadly supported women’s issues, such as equal pay. They then turned away many middle-of-the-road voters and “purple” women by tying abortion rights into all sorts of issues which do not enjoy consensus dealing with LGB and incessantly, trans people. “America’s anti-abortion agenda is also anti-trans” announced one queer media outlet matter-of-factly. “Banning trans people from public life and banning abortion are all about installing a regime of gender roles.” For those whose idea of “a regime of gender roles” means basic biology not same-sex toilets the argument is as non-inclusionary as an NFL locker room.
    As if to double-down on the idea, many Democrats are ginning up scare tactic ploys, saying if Roe falls same sex marriage is next along with a slate of basic civil rights. This strategy, which insists on pairing the broad political spectrum among gay and lesbian voters with a radical feminist perspective, fails to account for the fact the Roe was a cobbled together compromise using the 14th Amendment to create a “right” to abortion, which really made no one feel things were settled. Cases like Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal, and Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned laws criminalizing same-sex relationships, rest on much different and sounder precedent.
    Any politician seeking to build support instead of acquire virtue points tries to make the tent bigger. Instead, Representative Ayanna Pressley, basically saying hold my beer to Hillary “Deplorable” Clinton, stated “Pro-life laws hurt our lowest income sisters, our queer, trans and nonbinary siblings, black, Latinx, AAPI, immigrants, disabled and indigenous folks. And none of this is happenstance… These bans are rooted in a patriarchy and white supremacy.” And no progressive commentary is complete without the now-obligatory Nazi reference. It was feminister has-been Gloria Steinem who added ahistorically “You know, Hitler’s first official act was banning abortion.” The basic line “all men are pigs and rapists” did not build support for feminist issues in the 1960s, it did not build support for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, and it is not helping today.
    In one article of so many on such themes, the writer begins by asking why more men don’t overtly support women in the abortion fight. She then calls any opposing views from hers “Taliban-adjacent,” claims the government is over-represented by men, and cites the need to destroy the patriarchy. She goes on to mock men who claim they understand women’s issues because they have daughters. Hmm, sister, if you don’t see why you’re not building up support among us dudes after that, I can’t mansplain it.
    The real problem for the Democrats is if the Republicans can claim victory in overturning Roe, they will empower their base in new degrees; a signature victory for many social conservative and evangelical voters was delivered. Those evangelicals who held their noses and supported Donald Trump will have new found reason to look past his gross person; he came through for them on an important issue. In response, “Vote for us, we lost Roe on our watch” is not a very inspiring Democratic campaign slogan.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Ginnie Thomas and the January 6 Committee

    April 9, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    In one of the most desperate moves since January 6, 2021, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is considering subpoenaing Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, to review a handful of texts she sent which the Committee feels may amount to treason. The connection is weak, along the lines of evidence that Trump was the one who actually slapped Chris Rock, but the need to come up with a new crisis to revive attention to the events of January 6 post-Ukraine is real.

    The genesis of this “crisis” begins in the Hail Mary plans to use the January 6 Committee to rescue Democrats from near-certain electoral defeat. Though Ginni Thomas’ conservative roots go back to the Heritage Foundation and the Tea Party, it was left to Democratic journo-operative Bob Woodward late last month to highlight a series of texts Ginni sent on January 6 to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The texts had been voluntarily turned over to the January 6 Committee by Meadows (who has since ceased cooperating.) Someone on the Committee leaked the texts and a not so spontaneous chorus of Dems, lead in part by straining-for-relevance AOC, erupted calling for Clarence to recuse himself from all cases dealing with the 2020 and 2024 elections, or resign, or face impeachment.

    The texts are online. Read them if you like, but they come no closer to treason than this article, even though one progressive magazine calls Ginni a threat to the Court itself. Ginni has long been the target of conspiracy theorists, who falsely accused her of busing in protesters on January 6 to bolster the Capitol assault force.

    In case you are unfamiliar with the events of January 6, a bunch of disgruntled Trump supporters turned a legal rally into illegal entry. MSM and Dems reimagined the entire day into some sort of attempted coup. Absolutely nothing could have happened on January 6 that would have resulted in some new form of government on January 7 and that is what a coup is and why what happened was not one and never will be no matter how many times the January 6 Committee tries to claim it was.

    So how did all this end up in Clarence Thomas’ lap? Dems claim almost two years after Ginni sent those texts and after Thomas has sat on the bench for 30 years and after the pair has also been married for three decades, that this month Mrs. Thomas’ politics may influence her husband’s decisions. The solution is for Mr. Thomas to resign, or recuse, or be impeached while his wife is dragged before the Committee as an example of the vast conspiracy behind what did not happen on January 6.

    Thomas and Ginni are far from unique; often modern women have jobs outside the home. And we’ll leave aside the many Washington journalists married to policy makers (Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell) people on different sides of the aisle cohabitating (James Carville and Mary Matalin) and others (Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao.) There are also those other political wives with agendas of their own, including Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Dole, and Hillary. If you work inside the DC bubble you are going to meet others who also do, and navigating the idea that politics makes strange bedfellows is part of life in the capital.

    Nonetheless, looking to stock the witness list for the January 6 Committee, this seems to be all the Dems have to work with, so 1950 it is! Of course it makes no sense, this idea that a wife cannot be in the same general business as her hubby, especially to a Democratic constituency  built around the idea of empowering women, pink hats, and all that. But the flexibility of Democratic supporters on such matters is exemplary — look at how a group who otherwise stands for LGBT rights can’t seem to get its fill of Trump-Putin homophobia.

    Nonetheless, in the interest of showing as completely as possible how shallow the Dems are on Ginni-gate, let’s look at the law and precedent. Supreme Court justices enjoy uniquely protected status, and are not subject to disqualification from decisions over their own activities that bear directly on cases, never mind those of their spouse. Justice Kagan, for example, voted in favor of Obamacare despite having helped create the legal strategy to defend it as solicitor general. Justice Breyer ruled on constitutionality of sentencing guidelines he helped write as a Congressional staffer. Justices Louis Brandeis, Thurgood Marshall, Abe Fortas, and Hugo Black had politically active wives. Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not recuse herself from cases involving her husband’s law firm.

    Outside of the Supreme Court, DC Circuit Judge Nina Pillard is married to the ACLU’s litigation director. Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s wife leads an ACLU chapter. Even those instances did not violate 28 USC Section 455, the law which covers judicial recusals. You get the picture — there is no marriage penalty. Yet a prominent New York University law professor still writes with a straight face “Ginni Thomas alone among the husbands and wives of the justices has shown utter disregard for the harm she inflicts on the court and the administration of justice in the service of her political goals.”

    I know how Clarence Thomas must feel. I joined the State Department not long after it had phased out including diplomats’ wives on performance evaluations. The generations before me spoke in a funny/not funny way about how their bosses kept track of how many teas their wives attended, who did the “right” kinds of charity work, and who was too “ethnic” to fit in. Either your wife tried played nicely or she sat on the sidelines and your own evaluation mentioned she was a none participant. That was generally thought of as better than a bad evaluation of her finger sandwiches.

    That all seems so long ago. To watch the Democrats try and drag Ginni Thomas back into the 1950s for their own partisan purposes is as funny as it is sad. One wonders what scoop Bob Woodward might uncover next — are Ginni Thomas’ cucumber sandwiches really served with the crust still on?!?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Education in Fairfax, Virginia Vies for the Darwin Award

    February 26, 2022 // 2 Comments »


    Fairfax County, Virginia is ground zero for wokeness. It is 65 percent white and votes solidly Democratic. The median income is over $124k. I used to live there; it was common to hear white people brag about having black friends (but at work you know, not the kind that come over to the house) and worry about whatever the issue-of-the-week is as promoted by NPR. Hell, with the county’s proximity to Washington, DC, a lot of people there work for NPR.

    The jewel in Fairfax’s public school system is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known to all simply as TJ. TJ is widely considered the best high school in the country for STEM, and serves as a steady feeder into top universities. It would not be exaggeration to say TJ is a critical part of America staying ahead of other national economies. It’s a big deal, and it worked well until about a year ago based on the fact that the only way in was to pass a very competitive entrance exam. Kids would start studying in elementary school if their goal was TJ ten years later. Entry into TJ meant you were a smart kid with the discipline to put in the hard hours with no guarantee of success, a perfect definition of those who would also go on to succeed at Harvard.

    The problem was with the danged Asians. As many as 73 percent of students offered admission to Thomas Jefferson High School were Asian. That drew criticism from people who felt black and Hispanic students were underrepresented. Typically only about two percent of the TJ students were black. The answer was a) to improve all middle schools in the area so they better prepare their kids to enter TJ; b) offer all students rigorous after-school programs to prepare for TJ c) or just lower TJ’s admission criteria to balance out the races.

    Yeah, they did C. The crazy-hard entrance exam was dropped, the $100 application fee was dropped, and both were replaced by “A holistic review will be done of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit… Students will be evaluated on their grade point average; a student portrait sheet where they will be asked to demonstrate Portrait of a Graduate attributes and 21st century skills; a problem-solving essay; and experience factors, including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who are currently attending underrepresented middle schools.”

    Catch that last part? Experience factors? That basically opened the door to one of the criteria being “whatever we say this all means.” The result at TJ was a drop of more than 11 percent in the number of Asians, and double-digit growth on the part of blacks and Hispanics, achieved by making being poor a criteria for acceptance. No matter white students account for only 22 percent of admissions, despite being 65 percent of the county population. This was done despite 85 percent of voters opposing race as an admission criteria; this is mirrored nationally, where 73 percent of Americans said colleges and universities should not consider race in admissions decisions.

    But is it… racism? Seems so. One school board member texted another “I mean there has been an anti-Asian feel underlying some of this, hate to say it lol,” according to correspondence obtained by non-profit Parents Defending Education. In another exchange, Thomas Jefferson’s admissions director asked a school district official if she could “provide us a review of our current weighting (of experience factors) and whether or not this would be enough to level the playing field for our historically underrepresented groups.” She replied “My gut says that you may need to double all the points so the applicants can receive up to 200 points overall for these experience factors.” Another school board member wrote we “screwed up TJ and the Asians hate us” to which another responded he was “just dumb and too white” to address the diversity deficit in properly.

    The school went further. There will now be three different “pathways” for admissions each year: the first for 350 high-performing students, the second for 100 students judged on a combination of half academic merit and half external factors, and 50 underrepresented students. Some people in town call them the Yellow, Brown, and Black lanes.

    We’ve gotten so twisted in thinking America is shackled by systemic racism that we created a system of education admissions itself built on a foundation of systemic racism. We somehow think racially gerrymandering schools is a solution. We ignore John Roberts dictum “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Why are we hell-bent on self-harm by sacrificing our education system on layers of false progressive assumptions?

    The first false assumption is access to learning equals learning. A student has to be prepared intellectually to succeed, or he fails, or the institution is forced to dumb down to accommodate him. Progressive education thought is to publicly disavow what we all know to be true in private, that some students are just smarter than others. We are absolutely not all alike. Imagine if colleges chose who’ll play on their football teams based not on athletic skill but racial quotas. Who knew education was only skin deep, and the football team more intellectually honest than the philosophy department?

    The next false assumption is the magic number; XX percent of the population is black so XX percent of the student body should be black. If it is not, de facto some form of systemic racism is wished into being to blame. This typically focuses on the admissions process (to include testing, like the SAT) and thus the answer is to scrap every part of the admissions process that seems to rub against that XX percent. You don’t have to show question 27 on the SAT is itself “racist,” only that the SAT results won’t get XX percent of black kids into Harvard and must ipso facto be racist. So, let more black kids into Harvard by eliminating the SAT and that will result in more black doctors and lawyers and a more just society. Problem solved.

    Well, sort of. There still is that issue of getting admitted to Harvard is not the same as graduating from Harvard; you have to be able to understand the classes and put in the hard work of studying, that ultimate form of delayed gratification. And Harvard only has so much space so to let in more black kids means saying no to others. In most progressive instances, that means telling “Asians” to go away (the term “Asian” itself is yet another false assumption, that somehow Chinese, Thais, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Laotians, Indians, Bangladeshis, et al, are lumpable into one omnibus racial garbage can.)

    What you’re left with is the certainty that more exclusion by race is the answer to the alleged problem of exclusion by race. After some forty years of seeing something that egregiously dumb as a good idea, the issue is now coming again before the courts for a reality check, starting in Fairfax County, Virginia. Someone may decide it’s time to ask why we regularly end up with “cosmetically diverse” institutions, rather than anything real that leads to broad social progress.

    A group calling themselves the Coalition for TJ sued the school system to reverse the admission process changes, which they allege were meant to diminish the number Asian students. That qualifies as discrimination based on race, outlawed under the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause, they claim. In late January a U.S. District judge turned down the Coalition’s request for a jury trial, claiming that since no material facts are at issue, he will instead issue a ruling later this year. Both sides will then be able to appeal, suggesting the issue will overlap another admissions season. A second suit is also in play. A bill before the Virginia legislature would also affect TJ, seeking to remove race as an admission criteria.

    The move to eliminate racism in admissions processes in Virginia is mirrored at the national level. The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether race-based admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina are lawful (Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.) The case against Harvard accuses the school of discriminating against Asian students by using subjective criteria such as likability, courage, and kindness, effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions, a nasty echo of the 1930s when it was thought Jews lacked the “character” to be Harvard men. In the North Carolina case, the argument is simply that the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to PO other C. Don’t expect a decision before next year.

    Once upon a time Americans decided race should not be a factor in education, doing away with segregated schools and ending separate could be equal. Somewhere we lost our way, to the point where leveling down, and creating twisty definitions of things like “experience points” brought race directly into education again. Only this time we convinced ourselves that discriminating against whites and Asians was perfectly OK. That current system is under fresh attack in the courts, and well it should be. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. You don’t have to go to Harvard, or TJ, to figure that out.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Sotomayor and End of Roe v. Wade

    December 20, 2021 // 11 Comments »


     

    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. I do know based on the oral arguments recently heard by the Supreme Court regarding Mississippi’s abortion law that our country has problems that cut deeper into our national fabric than the specifics of any abortion law.
    The out-of-the-box role the Founders had in mind for the Supreme Court, basically a check the other branches of government were consistent with the blueprint laid down in the Constitution, did not last long. Almost from the get-go the Court claimed additional authority for itself to strike down laws (Marbury v. Madison, 1803,) the doctrine of judicial review.
    In the years since the Court has used its power to wrestle with Americans over how their country should work. The Court once confirmed slavery (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857), later pulled a reluctant public by the ear away from segregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 but only after it had earlier endorsed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 ) and trailed public opinion on same-sex marriage only to finally confirm it (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015.) As for precedent mattering, the underlaying laws supporting slavery and marriage had been in place much longer than Roe‘s 48 years and in their time were more broadly supported.
    But whether leading public opinion or trailing it, the Court assumed a role unthought of by the Founders, one in the absence of common agreement and/or laws passed by Congress, to decide how Americans would live with one another. Should we be a slave-owning nation? Should our schools be segregated? Should same-sex partners be allowed to marry? In case after case the Court took it upon themselves to determine a solution to a social issue, seeing the need for a nation-wide answer to a contentious question once left to each state.
    And that leads us to abortion. Abortion exists at the raw edges of human existence. It is a religious issue, it is an issue intimately tied to liberal and conservative politics. It can decide elections. In cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother, it is a moral issue. It is a states rights issue. It is women’s health issue and a societal burden issue. It is a socio-economic issue, with the population of women who seek abortions skewed by economics and race. It is healthcare or murder.
    The Court tried in 1973 to pry Americans from one another’s throats over abortion via Roe v. Wade. When the case was first heard, 30 states had complete bans on abortion. Sixteen states had full bans except for rape, incest or the mother’s health. Three states allowed most abortions, but only for residents. Only New York allowed abortions for out-of-state women, but capped them at 24 weeks unless the mother’s health was in danger.
    With Roe the Court took it upon itself to create a kind of compromise out of all that: during the first trimester a state cannot regulate abortion beyond requiring the procedure be performed by a licensed practitioner. During the second trimester a state can regulate abortion if the regulations are reasonably related to the health of the pregnant woman. And during the third trimester, the state’s interest in protecting the fetus outweighs the woman’s rights, so a state may prohibit abortions unless an abortion is necessary to save the life or health of the mother. Roe v. Wade did not legalize abortion per se. What it did was change the way states can regulate abortion.
    Roe also said abortion was a constitutional right, a claim which forms the basis for many who claim the case was wrongly decided. Critics acknowledge while the Court tried to do its best with an impossible problem, nowhere does the Constitution say anything close to abortion being a right, alongside say freedom of speech or due process. They argue the Court should never have essentially written via Roe the law Congress would not. The basis of the right to abortion seems to rest in the 14th Amendment, which otherwise is concerned with equal protection for freed slaves. This bastardization, which allowed the Court in 1973 to create an abortion policy for the entire nation without any democratic input, may prove the basis for Roe‘s undoing. Even one of the Court’s greatest liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, knew Roe was bad law, writing “Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
    Roe‘s other shortcoming is in saying states could not outright ban abortions in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy. The number was something of a compromise; Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the majority opinion in Roe, once called the line arbitrary. The question of where to draw the line for abortion, at Roe‘s 24 weeks or Mississippi’s 15 weeks begs the question of why a line exists; aren’t the legal interests (aside from religious/moral ones) basically the same throughout a pregnancy?
    In subsequent cases, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992 and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016, the Court modified Roe in response to many states imposing laws trying to limit abortions by making the process too complicated, expensive or cumbersome. The Court said in the cases above “such laws could not impose an undue burden,” defined as one having “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
    For all that is unclear, three things are clear: 1) Roe always allowed for regulation; it was never abortion without restriction; 2) if the Court can reverse itself on the issues of slavery and segregation it can reverse itself on abortion, and 3) almost no one thinks Roe forever settled the issue of abortion in America. America will ask, and answer, the question anew.
    The current vehicle for asking and answering is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which concerns a 2018 Mississippi law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks. Its version of regulation is a direct challenge to Roe‘s (Texas’ latest attempt to restrict abortion, SB8, will be heard separately.) The Court heard oral arguments on Dobbs in late November. A decision will be announced in 3-6 months, and will likely have more affect on the midterm elections than any other factor.
    The Court can decide to keep Roe as it is and tell Mississippi to get with the program, it can accept Mississippi’s version (i.e., no abortion after 15 weeks) and upend Roe, or it could ignore Mississippi’s version and re-write Roe to create new rules for each trimester. Any of the three would be consistent with the way the Court has acted for some 220 years.
    What is troubling are some of the statements made during oral arguments by the so-called liberal judges, particularly Justice Sotomayor. Sotomayor went as far as to question whether the legitimacy of the Court itself would endure if it overturned abortion rights. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” She accused Mississippi of moving forward with abortion restrictions only “because we have new justices,” referring to the three Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” Sotomayor continued.
    The other liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, were equally vehement in their support for abortion as a constitutional right. Alongside Sotomayor, they continually claimed that Roe was “settled law” and was thus somehow above being re-examined. It was left for Justice Kavanaugh to point out to any first year law students in attendance the long line of celebrated cases in which the Supreme Court overruled precedents. If the court had adhered to stare decisis in those cases, he says, “the country would be a much different place” (to include segregation and slavery.) Kavanaugh finished his lecture by noting every current member of the Court has voted to overrule constitutional precedents in various past cases.
    I don’t know the right answer on abortion. Since Congress has steadfastly refused for decades to legislate on the issue, the Court has been left to glean the boundaries among religion, public policy, and individual rights. The compromises and weaknesses in Roe are because of what Congress has avoided doing. Any decisions the Court has made in the past, and the decision they will make in the instant case, will be imperfect. But that’s only the beginning.
    The deeper problem is the Court has taken such an overtly political, partisan turn. Sotomayor in particular embarrasses herself with a fan-fiction quality take on settled law, and her claim that a decision which does not fit her political beliefs will destroy the legitimacy of the Court. She believes in precedent when she agrees with it and does not believe in it when that suits her better. She has suggested the last president’s appointments to the Court are somehow wrong because their mere presence allows Mississippi to challenge Roe. Americans have been trained to claim anytime a court decision or an election goes against their personal preference that means the system is unfair. Shame on Sotomayor for fanning those flames by suggesting her fellow judges are biased and she alone is not.
    Sotomayor is a zealot who sees politics above justice. In that sense it is unclear Sotomayor actually understands how the Supreme Court works. If Roe falls, its supporters may wish to re-examine their champion’s role in so poorly defending it.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    1A Victory: SCOTUS Again Confirms ‘Hate Speech’ is Protected

    August 19, 2018 // 20 Comments »



    In the world we awoke to on November 8, 2016, a myth took hold among many progressive people that so-called “hate speech” — speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability — is not protected by the First Amendment. Even Howard Dean contributed to the falsehood.

    The Supreme Court just made it very, very clear that is wrong. Offensive and hateful speech is as protected as any other. It is vital to protect all speech, for the road of prohibiting speech one disagrees with is a slippery one. There is a right to offend; deal with it, snowflakes.




    A recent case, Matal v. Tam, focused on an all-Asian band called The Slants, who wanted to trademark their group’s name. “Slant” of course is one of a dictionary full of racist terms used to offend Asians, and the group wanted to push the word into the world’s face to disarm it, as gay men have done with the slur queer.

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office said no, the group could not trademark the name The Slants because of the disparagement clause, which denies federal trademark protection to messages that may offend people, living or dead, along with “institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” This same reasoning denied the Washington Redskins’ trademark renewal of their team name in 2014, seen as disparaging toward Native Americans.


    No more. The Supreme Court just ruled the government cannot use trademark law to stop people from promoting an (potentially offensive) name. That constitutes the government prohibiting free expression, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment protects offensive speech, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in this unanimous decision. “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” he said, quoting the classic 1929 dissent from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    (Trump-era snowflakes usually misapply Holmes’ famous line — not shouting fire in a crowded theatre — to justify banning offensive speech by claiming it incites violence. They’re wrong; it doesn’t work that way at all. The whole thing is laid out here.)

    “The danger of viewpoint discrimination,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in The Slants’ case, “is that the government is attempting to remove certain ideas or perspectives from a broader debate. That danger is all the greater if the ideas or perspectives are ones a particular audience might think offensive, at least at first hearing. To permit viewpoint discrimination in this context is to permit government censorship.”

    The ACLU called the decision a “major victory for the First Amendment.”



    And… mic drop.

    The marketplace of ideas needs to be broad and deep, and awful people must be free to spew terrible words, into it, so they can be exposed and bad ideas shoved aside by good ones. That’s how the Founders intended the system to work, that is how it has worked through over 200 years of controversy, and the Supreme Court made it clear this week Trump, Howard Dean, Milo Yiannopoulos or your favorite nazi have no place in trying to change things.



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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Scalia Dined at the Great Trough of Corruption

    February 29, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    Antonin_Scalia_2010



    Antonin Scalia was the longest-tenured justice on the current Supreme Court, and a great friend to conservatives in his opinions. It turns out he also ate his share at the great trough of American corruption.


    Though the information was somehow not exposed to the public over the decades Scalia was making decisions that affected all of our lives, now, just two weeks after his death, we learn that he was a frequent traveler, all paid for by private “sponsors.”

    When Scalia died, he was staying, for free, at a West Texas hunting lodge owned by a businessman whose company had recently had a matter before the Supreme Court.

    Then we learned that over the last ten years Scalia took 258 subsidized trips (2004 to 2014), with at least 23 privately funded trips in 2014 alone to legal hotspots like Hawaii, Ireland and Switzerland. A few weeks before his death, he was in Singapore and Hong Kong, all expenses paid. The information on all this comes from the New York Times, who either knew about it all for some time and just never got around to publishing it, or who did a helluva lot of research in the last few days.


    No Ethics

    Ethical standards supposedly prohibit judges from accepting gifts from anyone with a matter currently before the court. But those guidelines presented no barrier to John Poindexter, who invited Justice Scalia to stay at his West Texas ranch. One of Poindexter’s companies, the Mic Group, was a defendant in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee who unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court for a review last year. Funny thing, that the Court refused to hear the case and thus let Poindexter off the hook.

    Maybe it was an open-and-shut case.

    Scalia is not alone in his piggery. The Times also dutifully reports in 2011, a liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, questioned whether Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas should have disqualified themselves from participating in the landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because they had attended a political retreat in Palm Springs, sponsored by the conservative financier Charles Koch. The disclosure report filed by Justice Thomas made no mention of the retreat. It said only that he had taken a trip, funded by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, to Palm Springs to give a speech.



    Swine

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. People do not give away trips to Hong Kong, or pay $200,000 for a short speech, for nothing. They are buying influence and access. Simple test: do you think you could get a Supreme Court justice on his cell phone this afternoon? Do you think West Texas rancher John Poindexter can?

    Anyone who believes these payments, in cash or in air tickets, are anything other than bribes is an utter fool. Our democracy has been bought, and damn cheap, too.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Supreme Court Rules in Favor of TSA Whistleblower Robert MacLean

    February 6, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    Robert MacLean


    Whistleblower laws exist because government officials do not always act in the nation’s best interests.

    The Obama administration, in its war on whistleblowers, just lost a major battle. Major in its venue — the Supreme Court — and major in its implications for future whistleblower cases.

    The Court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Robert MacLean curtails the government’s manipulation of pseudo-classified information to punish whistleblowers, and strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

    The Facts

    In July 2003, TSA alerted all marshals of a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, TSA sent an unclassified, open-air text message to marshals’ cell phones canceling several months of missions to save on hotel costs. Fearing such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert created a danger to the flying public, veteran Air Marshal Robert MacLean tried to get TSA to change its decision.

    After hitting a dead end, MacLean spoke anonymously to MSNBC, who published a critical story. Only 24 hours later, and after 11 members of Congress voiced concern, TSA reversed itself, putting marshals back on the flights. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency policies he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize undercover marshals. The TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.

    MacLean discovered that months after firing him, TSA had retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI) the unclassified text message he had leaked. SSI is a designation created by TSA via administrative memo, and had no basis in law. TSA decided nonetheless that leaking a retroactively SSI-classified document was cause enough to fire a federal worker. MacLean fought back.

    In 2013, after a long series of legal wrangles, a United States Court of Appeals decided that MacLean was entitled to his old marshal job back under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law.” The court said SSI information was not really “classified” at all, and thus MacLean’s disclosure was not a violation of law.

    The Department of Justice challenged the decision in front of the Supreme Court. The Supremes agreed on January 21 with the lower court’s decision, ruling in favor of MacLean and against the government.


    Significance of the Decision

    The Court made clear TSA’s self-created classification, SSI, did not have the power of law. MacLean’s disclosure of SSI material thus did not violate any actual laws making disclosure of properly classified material a crime. There were no grounds to have fired him.

    While by law the U.S. government recognizes only three basic levels of classification (confidential, secret, top secret), since 9/11 government agencies on their own have created pseudo categories of secrecy like SSI, hybrids that casually seek to incorporate the full weight of formal law. There are currently 107 designations just for “sensitive” information alone, none of which receive any review outside of the agency that created them. Allowing any part of the government to declare this or that classified under their own rules means everything can be classified, and every statement by every official potentially actionable, with no external oversight or redress possible.

    The Court also shot down government claims that a law allowing TSA to “prescribe regulations” means the agency can otherwise control disclosures with the force of law. The statute, the Court said, “does not [itself] prohibit anything; instead, it authorizes” the TSA to make choices. No one prohibited MacLean from disclosing an at-the-time unclassified text, nor would it be reasonable to assume something unclassified couldn’t be disclosed.

    The Court did agree with TSA that actions such as MacLean’s can have legitimate national security repercussions. Dealing with that issue “must be addressed by Congress or the President, rather than by this Court,” and, by extension, not by TSA acting on its own.



    Regulation is Not Law

    And as if the point was not clear enough, the Supreme Court stated “interpreting the word ‘law’ to include rules and regulations could defeat the purpose of the whistleblower statute. That interpretation would allow an agency to insulate itself… simply by promulgating a regulation that ‘specifically prohibited’ all whistleblowing.”

    The Supreme Court’s decision answers a key question regarding the scope of exemptions to federal whistleblower protection law. In a blow to the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration ever,” the Court ruled against the use of pseudo-classification as a tool to hide from the public embarrassing or even criminal information. Had the Court held otherwise, no act of whistleblowing could be considered protected. All the government would have had to do to stop an act by a conscientious employee would be to retroactively slap a self-made category of secrecy on whatever was disclosed, and wash its hands of the miscreant.

    Attorney Tom Devine,of the Government Accountability Project, was part of the team that represented MacLean. “This victory,” Devine said, “means that the cornerstone of whistleblower rights has survived — the supremacy of statutory rights passed by Congress over agency secrecy rules. If Mr. MacLean had lost, agencies could cancel those rights through internal regulations, and the Whistleblower Protection Act would have been an unenforceable honor system. In the aftermath, the WPA is alive, well and stronger than ever.”


    What About that Retroactive Classification?

    Also a part of MacLean’s firing from TSA was the issue of the agency retroactively marking the information he was punished for leaking as SSI, some time after it was sent out to all air marshals in an unclassified open text. The Court let stand this government power to retroactively classify information.

    According to MacLean attorney Tom Devine, retroactively pseudo-classifying information as SSI was not an issue in MacLean’s appeal, and should not inhibit all whistleblowing. Following MacLean’s firing, Executive Order 13556 in 2010 made clear categories such as SSI alone does not affect disclosure laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act. In addition, the “anti-gag” provision of the later Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act already outlawed liability for disclosures involving “unmarked but classified” information. That law’s definitions require information to be specifically designated as classified, not just to deserve secret status.


    Whither MacLean?

    That’s the bigger picture. On a more personal level, what’s next for MacLean?

    “I’m a sheepdog, I fight until I’m unconscious or dead,” said MacLean. “The public paid me considerably more than most federal employees. I had the power to arrest people. I was extensively trained and gave an oath that I would risk my life engaging in firefights inside crowded missiles.”

    “I want to resume serving in law enforcement,” said MacLean. “If my country wants me back serving as an air marshal, I will serve to the best of my ability and with honor.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Good News? Maybe. Supreme Court Says Cell Phone Searches Need Warrants

    July 1, 2014 // 9 Comments »



    There are signs of hope that the Supreme Court will return to its check and balance role of the Constitutional era.

    One such sign, directly addressing the Fourth Amendment (the Court also just issued a ruling determining the procedures for challenging one’s inclusion in the No-Fly list are unconstitutional, another hopeful sign) is a recent opinion that the police cannot search the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone without a warrant.

    Good news? Maybe.

    The Supreme Court Recognizes Tech Affects the Fourth Amendment

    Prior to this decision in the case of Riley v. California by the Supreme Court on June 25, 2014, law enforcement held that if they arrested someone, say for a simple traffic offense, they had the right to examine the full contents of his or her cell phone– call lists, photos, social media, contact, whatever was on the device, what one writer called a “montage of the user’s life.” Police traditionally have searched physical objects they find on an arrestee without a warrant, typically with the rationale that such searches were for the protection of the officers (Got a gun in that backpack?) In the case that was before the Court, a traffic stop for one man ended up with him in jail for other alleged crimes based on the contents of his phone. The Court combined the Riley case with a similar one in its decision.

    The Court acknowledged that cell phones today represent far more than a “physical object.” The information they hold is a portrait of someone’s life, the same as a closet at home, or a computer sitting on your desk. Searches of those locations almost always require a warrant, and now, so will searches of your cell phone if you are arrested. An exception exists for “exigent circumstances,” such as the infamous ticking time bomb scenario where a terrorist with knowledge of an imminent attack is arrested. An legitimate exigent circumstance might also include a child kidnapper caught running a red light, whose phone might reveal the location of his victim. Common sense, if not abused by the cops.

    (As background, the Supreme Court flirted with these issues about two years ago in ruling against warrantless use of GPS tracking devices by the police. In U.S. v. Jones the Court stated “GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations” and thus violates a person’s expectation of privacy.)

    Bad News

    Does this matter when talking about the NSA’s and the FBI’s technological dragnet? Maybe. Some suggest that law enforcement will work around the new restrictions by seeking perfunctory, expedited warrants automatically for each arrest, or through the use of technologies such as Stingray, which can electronically gather cell conversations without warrant. Stingray can also be used to track a person’s movements without a warrant, negating the old-school GPS devices the Supreme Court declared require a warrant.

    Good News

    On the positive side, while the Supreme Court decision on cell phone searches applies directly to street-level law enforcement, it does suggest an evolution within the Court that recognizes the way advances in technology have changed the Fourth Amendment. A cell phone is not an object anymore; it is recognized as a portal to other information that a person has gathered in one place for convenience with, as of this decision, a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    The hope now is that future Court cases will take the “new” concept that using a cell phone creates a reasonable expectation of privacy, and enlarge that to cover more of Americans’ digital lives. Can you hear us now NSA?




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    Posted in Democracy, Trump