SCOTUS

The Marriage Equality Decisions

Picture-1The moment of truth has finally come on the long and tortured path through the Supreme Court for the marriage equality movement. Without further adieu, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been struck down as unconstitutional under Equal Protection grounds in a 5-4 opinion authored by Anthony Kennedy. A lack of standing has been found by the court in the California Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, thus meaning the case will revert to the Ninth Circuit decision.

Frankly, everybody in the universe is going to have instantaneous analysis and opinion on the nature and import of these two decisions. I will likely be along with the same on particular aspects later, but for now I want to get the decisions and opinions up here so that one and all can read and discuss them. Below I will give the links to the opinions and the critical language blurbs from each.

United States v. Windsor (DOMA): Here is the opinion. As stated above, it is a 5-4 split authored by Justice Kennedy, joined by the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissent in separate dissents written by Roberts and Scalia.

The opinion is very broad in range and focuses on Section 3 of DOMA, which will effectively obliterate the law. The key holding comes at the end of Kennedy’s majority opinion:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA in- structs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the mar- riages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8): Here is the opinion. As stated above, the court found a lack of standing by the appellants Hollingsworth (Prop 8 Proponents). ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. So, just to be clear here: The liberals are the reason the court could not issue a decision granting ALL Americans the right to marriage equality that citizens in California, and the other few states who have state law marriage equality, will enjoy.

Anthony Kennedy, by his crystal clear decision and language he penned in the Windsor DOMA decision, and his willingness to find standing and rule on the merits in the Prop 8 case, was ready to make it happen. And all the liberal justices, save for Sonia Sotomayor, prevented it.

The court has remanded Hollingsworth back to the 9th Circuit with instructions to enter a similar ruling based on lack of standing/jurisdiction. That means that the broad and sweeping decision entered by Vaughn Walker in the district court trial will become law in California.

Now, to again be clear, I expect there will be litigation attempts by the Equality Haters to try to restrict Walker’s decision to the two plaintiff couples and/or the two respective counties at issue in the original Perry complaint. I do not believe that will bear any fruit and fully expect full marriage equality to exist across all of California, but it may not be as immediate as it should. We shall see.

In closing, a very good day for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The DOMA decision is broad and provides for heightened scrutiny in evaluating marriage and sexual identity issues; that portends well for future rights litigation. And, of course, DOMA is dead. Also heartwarming that all of California’s citizens will have their rights protected; it is, however, sad that this will not extend to all Americans.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

DOMA’s Day At The Supremes

RainbowNiagraFallsUPDATE: HERE IS THE AUDIO OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

I am going to do something different today and put up a post for semi-live coverage – and discussion – of the DOMA oral arguments in the Supreme Court this morning. First, a brief intro, and then I will try to throw tidbits in here and there as I see it during and after the arguments.

The case at bar is styled United States v. Windsor, et al. In a nutshell, Edith Windsor was married to Thea Spyer, and their marriage was recognized under New York law. Ms. Spyer passed away in 2009 and Windsor was assessed $363,000.00 in inheritance taxes because the federal government, i.e. the IRS, did not recognize her marriage to Spyer in light of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Litigation ensued and the 2nd Circuit, in an opinion written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, struck down DOMA as unconstitutional and ruled in favor of Edith Windsor. Other significant cases in Circuit Courts of Appeal hang in the lurch of abeyance awaiting the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, including Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, Gill v. OPM and Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management.

As an aside, here is a fantastic look at the restaurant where Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer met nearly 50 years ago.

Arguing the case will be Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli again for the United States, Paul Clement for the Bi-Partisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) on putative behalf of Congress, because the Obama Administration ceased defending DOMA on the grounds it was discriminatory and unconstitutional, and Robbie Kaplan for Edith Windsor. Clement and Verrilli are well known by now, but for some background on Robbie Kaplan, who is making her first appearance before the Supremes, here is a very nice article. Also arguing will be Harvard Law Professor Vicki Jackson who was “invited” by SCOTUS to argue on the standing and jurisdiction issue, specifically to argue that there is no standing and/or jurisdiction, because the Obama Administration quit defending and BLAG will argue in favor of standing and jurisdiction.

Here is a brief synopsis of the argument order and timing put together by Ed Whelan at National Review Note: I include Whelan here only for the schedule info, I do not necessarily agree with his framing of the issues).

Okay, that is it for now, we shall see how this goes!

Live Updates:

10:39 am It appears oral arguments are underway after two decisions in other cases were announced.

10:51 am RT @SCOTUSblog: #doma jurisdiction arg continues with no clear indication of whether majority believes #scotus has the power to decide case.

11:00 am By the way, the excellent SCOTUSBlog won a peabody award for its coverage of the Supreme Court.

11:05 am @reuters wire: 7:56:34 AM RTRS – U.S. SUPREME COURT CONSERVATIVE JUSTICES SAY TROUBLED BY OBAMA REFUSAL TO DEFEND MARRIAGE LAW

11:15 am Wall Street Journal is reporting: Chief Justice John Roberts told attrorney Sri Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general, that the government’s actions were “unprecedented.” To agree with a lower court ruling finding DOMA unconstitutional but yet seeking the Supreme Court to weigh in while it enforces the law is “has never been done before,” he said.

11:20 am Is anybody reading this, or is this a waste?

11:32 am @SCOTUSblog Kennedy asks two questions doubting #doma validity but nothing decisive and Chief Justice and Kagan have yet to speak.

11:40 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Chief Justice Roberts repeatedly expressed irritation at the Obama administration, telling Ms. Jackson, the court-appointed lawyer, and without specifically mentioning the administration, that perhaps the government should have the “courage” to execute the law based on the constitutionality rather instead of shifting the responsibility to the Supreme Court to make a decision.

11:45 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Paul Clement, attorney for lawmakers defending the law, argued that the went to the very heart of Congress’s prerogatives. Passing laws and having them defended was the “single most important” function of Congress, he argued.

11:52 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Justice Scalia and Mr. Srinivasan parried on whether Congress should have any expectation that laws it passes should be defended by the Justice Department. Mr. Srinivasan said he wouldn’t give an “algorithm” that explained when Justice lawyers would or wouldn’t defend a statute, but ceded to Justice Scalia’s suggestion that Congress has no “assurance” that when it passes a law it will be defended. That’s not what the OLC opinion guiding the Justice Department’s actions in these cases says, Justice Scalia interjected.

11:56 am Associated Press (Brent Kendall) One of the last questions on the standing issue came from Justice Samuel Alito, who asked whether the House could step in to defend DOMA without the Senate’s participation, given that it takes both chambers to pass a law.

11:59 am Bloomberg News During initial arguments today on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that a federal law that doesn’t recognize gay marriages that are legal in some states can create conflicts.
“You are at real risk of running in conflict” with the “essence” of state powers, Kennedy said. Still, he also said there was “quite a bit” to the argument by backers of the law that the federal government at times needs to use its own definition of marriage, such as in income tax cases.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that when a marriage under state law isn’t recognized by the federal government, “One might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”

12:05 pm @SCOTUSblog Final update: #scotus 80% likely to strike down #doma. J Kennedy suggests it violates states’ rights; 4 other Justices see as gay rights.

12:07 pm The argument at the Court is well into the merits portion of the case now

12:09 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Kennedy, however, jumped in with federalism concerns, questioning whether the federal government was intruding on the states’ territory. With there being so many different federal laws, the federal government is intertwined with citizens’ day-to-day lives, he said. Because of this, DOMA runs the risk of running into conflict with the states’ role in defining marriage, he said.

12:12 pm It is pretty clear to me, from a variety of sources I am tracking, that the Court has serious problems with DOMA on the merits. Clement is getting pounded with questions on discrimination, conflict with state laws and federalism concerns. Pretty clear that if standing is found, DOMA is going down.

12:15 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Ginsburg again says the denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples pervades every area of life. DOMA, she said, diminished same-sex marriages to “skim-milk” marriages. Justice Elena Kagan (pictured) follows a short time later saying DOMA did things the federal government hadn’t done before, and she said the law raised red flags.

12:19 pm @reuters wire: U.S. SUPREME COURT CONCLUDES ORAL ARGUMENTS ON FEDERAL LAW RESTRICTING SAME-SEX BENEFITS

12:30 pm @AdamSerwer Con Justices contemptuous of Obama decision not to defend DOMA but still enforce law. Kennedy said “it gives you intellectual whiplash”

Okay, as I said earlier, if the Justices can get by the standing issue, it seems clear that DOMA is cooked. I think they will get by standing and enter a decision finding DOMA unconstitutional as to Section 3, which is the specific part of the law under attack in Windsor. That effectively guts all of DOMA.

That is it for the “Live Coverage” portion of the festivities today. It should be about an hour and a half until the audio and transcript are available. As soon as they are, I will add them as an update at the top of the post, and will then put this post on the top of the blog for most of the rest of the day for further discussion. It has been bot a fascinating and frustrating two days of critical oral argument; please continue to analyze and discuss!

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

Picture-1A momentous morning in the Supreme Court. All the work, analysis, speculation, briefing and lobbying culminated in an oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry lasting nearly an hour and a half – half an hour over the scheduled time. There are a lot of reports and opinions floating around about what transpired.

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

Here is Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks with a video report

Here is Ryan Reilly and Mike Sacks with a written report at HuffPost

Suffice it to say, we do not know a heck of a lot after oral arguments than we did right before them. The full range of decision is on the table. However, there were certainly some hints given. Scalia and Alito are very hostile, and Thomas is almost certainly with them in that regard although he once again stood mute. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor seemed receptive to the Ted Olson’s arguments. Breyer oddly quiet and hard to read. As is so often the case, that left Anthony Kennedy in effective control of the balance.

If Kennedy’s tenor at argument is any guide, and it isn’t necessarily, he is unlikely to sign on to a broad ruling. In fact he may be struggling with standing, but that is very hard to read. Several commenters I have seen interpreted Kennedy’s questions as having a real problem with standing and signaling a possibility of punting the case on that basis. From what I have read so far, I wouldn’t say that…and neither does Adam Serwer, who was present at argument.

So, in short, I would summarize thusly: Standing is a bigger issue than I had hoped, and there is more resistance to a broad ruling than I had hoped. But the game is still on. Remember when Jeff Toobin’s train wreck/plane wreck take after the ACA oral arguments; you just don’t know and cannot tell.

I will likely be back later after analysis of the pertinent material. For now, let me leave you with that material and media so you too can hear and see the groundbreaking day in the Supreme Court:

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

Enjoy, and I look forward to discussing this! And, again, there will be updates to this post throughout the day, so keep checking for them.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Case Against Marriage Equality Backlash

LadyJusticeScalesOne of the relentless memes that keeps cropping up in the marriage equality battle is that, were the Supreme Court to grant full broad based and constitutionally protected marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, there would be a destructive backlash consuming the country on the issue.

A good example of the argument was propounded by Professor Eric Segall at the ACSBlog in a piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriage, Political Backlash and the Case for Going Slow”:

There may be a better way. The Court could strike down DOMA under heightened scrutiny making it clear that government classifications based on sexual orientation receive heightened scrutiny. The Court could dismiss the Proposition 8 case on standing grounds (there are substantial standing arguments which the Court asked the parties to brief). This combination would leave all state laws (except perhaps California’s) intact but subject to likely successful challenges. Obviously, this would be a slower and more expensive route to marriage equality, but it might make the right more secure over time while decreasing the chances of serious backlash.

I know that it is easy for a straight male like me to suggest that the Court should refrain from quickly and forcefully resolving the same sex marriage issue on a national basis. But issues that some gays care deeply about are not limited to marriage equality, just like feminists face many challenges other than abortion such as equal pay, equality in the military, and glass ceiling barriers. Where gender equality would be without Roe is unknowable but even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that the right to choose today might be more secure if the Court hadn’t decided it “in one fell swoop.” I don’t know what will happen if the Court announces a national rule on same-sex marriage but history strongly suggests that a more incremental approach might better serve the long term interests of people who identify themselves as liberals and progressives, including gays and lesbians.

I like and respect Eric quite a lot, but I cannot agree with him, nor other advocates of this position (for further discussion of the “Roe backlash” theory, see Adam Liptak in the New York Times). I have long strongly advocated for a full, broad based, ruling for equality for all, in all states, most recently here. But the issue of “backlash” has not previously been specifically addressed in said discussions that I recall.

Fortunately, there are already superb voices who have addressed this issue. The first is from Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman in the LA Times:

What sort of political backlash might such a decision ignite?

Constitutionalizing gay marriage would have no analogous impact on the lives of opponents. Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples may alter the institution’s meaning for religious conservatives who believe that God created marriage to propagate the species. But that effect is abstract and
Continue reading

A Path To Civil Rights History For the Supreme Court, Obama and Verrilli

Supreme Court CoolJust about a month ago, in urging the Obama Administration to file a brief in favor of marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, I described the stakes:

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

It was true then, it is true now. To the everlasting credit of of President Obama, Solicitor General Verrilli and the Administration, they did indeed file a brief in support. It was a surprisingly strong brief with a clarion call for full equality based upon heightened scrutiny; yet is was conflicted with a final ask only for a restricted ruling limited in application to either just California or, at most, a handful of somewhat similarly situated states. In short, the ask in the Administration’s brief was not for equality for all, in all the states; just in some.

On the eve of one one of the seminal moments of Supreme Court history – it is easily arguable this is far more of a defining moment than the ACA Healthcare scuffle was – it is again incumbent on the Administration to give the justices the headroom to make a broad decision granting equality for all.

Even in the short time since the Obama Administration filed their brief, between February 28 and now, the mounting tide of public opinion and desire for full equality has grown substantially in multiple ways. Colorado, a state where the thought was once beyond contentious, passed full civil union equality and Governor Hickenlooper signed it into law. And a new comprehensive Washington Post/ABC News public poll has found that a full 58% of Americans now support the legality of gay nuptials, and a whopping 81% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 so support.

The writing is on the wall, and the trend overwhelming. And it simply does not make sense for the Obama Administration to buck this tidal wave and argue only for equality in a handful of states, with equality for some, but far from for all. Barack Obama and Donald Verrilli laid every bit the foundation needed to argue for broad based full equality – in all states – in their brief.

It is time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Verrilli to step up and forcefully tell the Supreme Court that full equality is the right way to rule. The Court granted Solicitor General Verrilli time to express the Administration’s position in the oral argument Tuesday; he should use it in the name and cause of full broad based equality. It is a time for leadership; this is a moment for Mr. Obama and his attorney to display it.

By the same token, it is also time for the Supreme Court to do the same. So often it has been argued the “Court should not get out in front of popular opinion”. Bollocks, the Court should refuse to put themselves behind public opinion, and an ever strengthening one at that, by shamefully ducking the perfect opportunity to stand for that which the Constitution purports to stand, equal protection for all.

There are a myriad of legal arguments and discussions, and just about every commenter and expert in the field has been offering them up over the last week. I will leave that to another day, after the court has heard the oral arguments, we have our first inclination of what the justices are focused on, and the case is under advisement for decision.

For now, here are a couple of warms ups for Tuesday’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry/Prop 8 and Wednesday’s oral argument in United States v. Windsor/DOMA. First a nice little video “Viewer’s Guide to Gay Marriage Oral Arguments” with Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire, and SCOTUSBlog founder, Tom Goldstein. Here is a handy flow chart of all the different possibilities, and the why for each, of how the court may rule on both cases. It is really pretty neat and useful tool.

The briefing is long done now and the Justices understand the issues. But if the ACA/Healthcare cases taught us anything, it is that Justice Roberts is concerned about the legacy and esteem of the court. And Justice Kennedy has already shown how committed he is to fairness in social justice issues and willing to even go out on limbs ahead of controversial public opinion with his written opinions.

At this point, the most effective leverage is not repeated discussion of the minutiae of law, but rather the demonstration of the righteousness of full equality. History will prove fools of those who sanction continued bigotry against marital equality, and anything less than a broad based heightened scrutiny finding, for equality for all people, in all states, is a continuation of such unacceptable bigotry.

UPDATE: Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA has a piece out today that embodies my point in the post perfectly. Discussing the disastrous and ugly 1986 decision of the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to uphold sodomy laws when times and opinion had already changed, and the profound regret felt by Anthony Kennedy’s predecessor, Lewis Powell, Professor Winkler writes:

Kennedy is clearly a justice who considers how his legacy will be shaped by his votes. In 1992, when the Supreme Court was asked to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy originally sided with the conservatives to reverse the controversial privacy decision. Like Justice Powell in Bowers, Justice Kennedy then changed his vote. He went to see Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, and explained that he was concerned about how history would judge Kennedy’s decision to end constitutional protections for women’s right to choose.

Like many people, Justice Kennedy may believe that the public tide against marriage discrimination is growing and that gay marriage is inevitable. History is not likely to be kind to those justices who vote to continue relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship. As the swing justice ponders how to rule in the gay-marriage cases, Justice Powell’s well-known regret over Bowers, and the widespread recognition that Bowers was wrongly decided, will almost certainly weigh on his mind.

Adam’s article is worth a full read. And I agree with it completely.

The SCOTUS Healthcare Decision Cometh

[UPDATE:Okay, from the SCOTUSBlog "The entire ACA is upheld, with exception that federal government's power to terminate states' Medicaid funds is narrowly read." Key language from the decision on the mandate:

The money quote from the section on the mandate: Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.

And, boy howdy, was I wrong. I steadfastly maintained that CJ Roberts would never be the swing vote on a 5-4 majority, but would only join a liberal majority on the heels of Tony Kennedy. WRONG! The mandate survives solely as a result of Roberts and without Kennedy. Wow.

Final update thought. While I think the mandate should have been constructed as a tax, it clearly was not in the bill passed. You want to talk about "legislating from the bench"? Well hard to see how this is not a remarkable example of just that. I am sure all the plebes will hypocritically cheer that, and fail to note what is going on. Also, if the thing is a "tax" how is it not precluded as unripe under the AIJA? don't have a fine enough reading of the opinion - read no reading yet - to discern that apparent inconsistency.

As to the Medicaid portion, here is the key opinion language on that:

Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

Oh well, people on the left have been crying for this crappy law, now you got it. Enjoy. I will link the actual opinion as soon as it is available.

And here is THE FULL OPINION]

Well, the long awaited moment is here: Decision Day On The ACA. If you want to follow the live roll out of the Supreme Courts decisions, here is a link to the incredibly good SCOTUSBlog live coverage. Coverage starts at 9 am EST and the actual Court proceedings starting at 10 am EST.

This post will serve two functions. The first is to lay just a very brief marker, for better or worse (undoubtedly the latter I am afraid), going into decision day, hour and moment, and a ready location to post the decision of the court and link the actual opinions. The minute they are known and links available, they will be put here in an update at the top of the post. That way you can start the discussion ahead of the decisions, lay a record of your predictions ahead of time AND have a place to immediately discuss the rulings as they come in and immediately afterward.

Many friends and other pundits involved in the healthcare SCOTUS discussion have been working for weeks on alternative drafts of posts and articles to cover every contingency so they can immediately hit the net with their takes. That is great, and some of them will be a service. But I have just been too busy lately to expend that kind of energy on something so canned. Sorry about that. So my actual analysis and thoughts will mostly have to come later, but they will be on the merits, such as they may be, when the actual decisions are in. Also, I will be in comments and on Twitter (under “bmaz” of course).

Okay, with the logistics out of the way, I have just a few comments to lodge on the front end of this gig. First off, the ACA/PPA started off as truly about health insurance, not about health care from the start, and that is, still, never more true than today. Marcy laid out why this is, and why a LOT of people may get, or be forced into, purchasing health insurance, but there is a real question as to whether they will be able to afford to actually use what they will be commanded to buy. See here, here and here as a primer. Those points are pretty much as valid today as they were back when she wrote them.

Secondly, I have no real actual idea how the ruling will come down as to the merits. But, just for sport and grins, I guess I should take a stab at what I think after all the briefing and oral arguments, so here goes. The Anti-Injunction Act argument that the issue is a tax matter and therefore cannot be ripe for consideration until implemented and applied, will be rejected. The individual mandate is struck by a very narrow majority in a very carefully worded opinion written by John Roberts. The remainder of the ACA is deemed severable and is left to stand, and the Medicaid provisions are left intact, again by a narrow majority. Here is the thing, I would not bet one red cent of my own money on the foregoing; but if I could play with your money, I guess that is how I would roll. Maybe. Note that, before oral argument, my prediction was that the mandate would be upheld; I may regret not sticking with that call.

The real $64,000 question is the mandate, and that could just as easily be upheld, in which case it will likely be by a 6-3 margin (I still think Roberts writes the opinion, and if that is to uphold that means it will be 6-3). Here is what I will unequivocally say: however this goes down as to the mandate, it is a very legitimate issue; the arguments by the challengers, led by Randy Barnett, are now, and always were, far more cognizant than most everyone on the left believed or let on. I said that before oral argument, I said that after oral arguments and I say that now. Irrespective of what the actual decision turns out to be. Oh, and I always thought the hook liberals desperately cling to, Wickard v. Filburn, was a lousy decision to start with.

I have been literally stunned by the ridiculous hyperbole that has been blithely bandied about on the left on the ACA cases and potential striking of the mandate. Kevin Drum says it would be “ridiculous”, James Fallows says it would be a “coup!”, Liz Wydra says the entire legitimacy of SCOTUS is at issue, So do the Jonathans, Chait and Cohn. A normally very sane and brilliant guy, Professor David Dow, went off the deep end and says the justices should be impeached if they invalidate the mandate. The Huffington Post, and their supposed healthcare expert, Jeffrey Young, ran this insanely idiotic and insulting graphic. It is all some of the most stupefyingly hyperbolic and apoplectic rubbish I have ever seen in my life.

Curiously, the ones who are screaming about, and decrying,”politicization of the Court”, my colleagues on the left, are the ones who are actually doing it with these antics. Just stop. Please. The mandate, and really much of the ACA was ill conceived and crafted from the get go. Even if the mandate is struck, the rest of the law can live on quite nicely. Whatever the decision of the court, it will be a legitimate decision on an extremely important and very novel extension of Commerce Clause power that had never been encountered before.

One last prediction: Irrespective of the outcome today, the hyperbole will continue. So, there is the warm up. Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

Requiem For ACA at SCOTUS & Legitimacy Of Court and Case

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare” had a bit of a rough go of it this week at the Supreme Court. Jeff Toobin called it a train wreck (later upgraded to plane wreck). Kevin Drum termed it a “debacle” and Adam Serwer a “Disaster“.

Was it really that bad? Considering how supremely confident, bordering on arrogant, the Obama Administration, and many of the ACA’s plethora of healthcare “specialists”, had been going into this week’s arguments, yes, it really was that bad. Monday’s argument on the applicability of the tax Anti-Injunction Act (AIJA) went smoothly, and as expected, with the justices appearing to scorn the argument and exhibit a preference to decide the main part of the case on the merits. But then came Tuesday and Wednesday.

Does that mean the ACA is sunk? Not necessarily; Dahlia Lithwick at Slate and Adam Bonin at Daily Kos sifted through the debris and found at least a couple of nuggets to latch onto for hope. But, I will be honest, after reading transcripts and listening to most all of the audio, there is no question but that the individual mandate, and quite possible the entire law, is in a seriously precarious lurch.

Unlike most of my colleagues, I am not particularly surprised. Indeed, in my argument preview piece, I tried to convey how the challenger’s arguments were far more cognizable than they were being given credit for. The simple fact is the Commerce Clause power claimed by Congress in enacting the individual mandate truly is immense in scope, – every man, woman and child in the United States – and nature – compelled purchase of a product from private corporate interests. Despite all the clucking and tut tutting, there really never has been anything like it before. The Supreme Court Justices thought so too.

I have no idea what kind of blindered hubris led those on the left to believe the Roberts Court was going to be so welcoming to their arguments, and to be as dismissive of the challengers’ arguments, as was the case. Yes, cases such as Raich and Wickard established Congress could regulate interstate commerce and Morrison and Lopez established there were limits to said power. But, no, none of them directly, much less conclusively, established this kind of breathtaking power grant as kosher against every individual in the country.

Despite the grumbling of so many commentators that the law was clear cut, and definitively Continue reading

ACA at SCOTUS: Some Thoughts On The Mandate

As you likely know by now, we stand on the cusp of historic oral arguments this week in the Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise popularly known as “Obamacare”. The arguments will occur over three days, for a total of six hours, Monday through Wednesday. Yes, they really are that historic, as Lyle Denniston explains in SCOTUSBlog. The schedule is as follows: Monday: 90 minutes on whether the Anti Injunction Act (AIJA) prevents consideration of a challenge to the individual mandate until it takes effect in 2014; Tuesday: Two hours on the Constitutionality of the individual mandate; and Wednesday: 90 minutes on severability of the main law from the mandate and 60 minutes on state sovereignty concerns of Medicaid reform.

There are two areas of particular interest for me and which really are the meat on the bone of the overall consideration. The first is Monday’s technical argument on the AIJA, which I actually think may be much more in play than most commentators believe, because the Supremes may want to punt the politically sticky part of the case down the road until after the 2012 elections, and the AIJA argument is a ready made vehicle to do just that. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven Sky v. Holder explains how that would go should the Supreme beings decide to punt. This is by no means likely, but do not be shocked if it occurs; can kicking down the road is certainly not unknown at SCOTUS on politically sensitive cases.

By far, however, the biggest, and most contentious, kahuna of the healthcare debate is the individual mandate, and that is where I want to focus. The two sides, pro (predominantly liberal left) and con (predominantly conservative right), have been selling their respective wares since before the law was passed and signed by the President. As we truly head into the arguments, however, the pro left have crystallized around a matched pair of articles by Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse, and the con right around response pieces by James Taranto and Ed Whelan.

Now this hardly seems like a fair fight, as Taranto has no degree, nor legal training, whatsoever; that said he and Whelan actually lay out the contra to Dahlia and Linda pretty well. Each side effectively accuses the other of being vapid and hollow in argument construct. I will leave aside any vapidity discussion because I think both sides genuinely believe in their positions; as to the hollowness, though, I think both sides are pretty much guilty. Which is understandable, there is simply not a lot of law directly on point with such a sweeping political question as presented by the mandate. “Unprecedented” may be overused in this discussion, but it is not necessarily wrong (no, sorry, Raich v. Gonzales is not that close; it just isn’t).

In short, I think both sides are guilty of puffery as to the quality of legal support for their respective arguments, and I believe both are guilty of trying to pass off effective political posturing as solid legal argument. Certainty is just not there for either side. This is a real controversy, and the Supreme Court has proved it by allotting the, well, almost “unprecedented” amount of time it Continue reading

SCOTUS and GPS Tracking: US v. Jones and Secret PATRIOT

As I read the transcript of the SCOTUS hearing in the US v. Jones yesterday, I was most interested in what the comments suggest about the government’s secret use of the PATRIOT Act to–presumably–use phone geolocation to track people. (Here’s Dahlia Lithwick, Orrin Kerr, Julian Sanchez, Lyle Denniston, and Kashmir Hill on the hearing itself.)

Mind you, the facts in Jones are totally different from what we think may be happening with Secret PATRIOT (I’ll borrow Julian Sanchez’ speculation on what Secret PATRIOT does for this post). In Jones, a suspected drug dealer had a GPS device placed on his car after the 10-day warrant authorizing the cops to do so had already expired. As such, Jones tests generally whether the government needs an active warrant to track a suspect using GPS.

Whereas with Secret PATRIOT, the government is probably using Section 215 to collect the geolocation data from a large group of people–most of them totally innocent–to learn whom suspected terrorists are hanging around with. Not only does Secret PATRIOT probably use the geolocation of people not suspected of any crime (Section 215 requires only that the data be relevant to an investigation into terrorists, not that the people whose records they collect have any tie to a suspected terrorist), but it collects that information using a device–a cell phone–that people consensually choose to carry. Moreover, whereas in Jones, the government was tracking his car in “public” (though Justice Sotomayor challenges that to a degree), Secret PATRIOT probably tracks the location of people in private space, as well. Another significant difference is that, in Jones, the government is doing the tracking themselves; in Secret PATRIOT they probably get tracking data under the guise of business records from cell phone companies.

Nevertheless, the concerns expressed by the Justices seem to be directly relevant to Secret PATRIOT. After all, Chief Justice Roberts almost immediately highlighted that the government’s argument–that the use of GPS to track cars on public streets was not a search and therefore it did not need probable cause to use it on anyone–meant that the government could also use GPS trackers on the Justices themselves.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You think there would also not be a search if you put a GPS device on all of our cars, monitored our movements for a month? You think you’re entitled to do that under your theory?

MR. DREEBEN: The justices of this Court?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes.

(Laughter.)

MR. DREEBEN: Under our theory and under this Court’s cases, the justices of this Court when driving on public roadways have no greater expectation

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So your answer is yes, you could tomorrow decide that you put a GPS device on every one of our cars, follow us for a month; no problem under the Constitution?

[snip]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, then you’re -you’re moving away from your argument. Your argument is, it doesn’t depend how much suspicion you have, it doesn’t depend on how urgent it is. Your argument is you can do it, period. You don’t have to give any reason. It doesn’t have to be limited in any way, right?

MR. DREEBEN: That is correct, Mr. Chief Justice.

Continue reading

Roberts Court Sticks Another Dagger In the Back Of Consumers

The Supreme Court today handed down its decision in AT&T v. Concepcion. From Reuters:

By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that AT&T Mobility could enforce a provision in its customer contracts requiring individual arbitration and preventing the pooling together of claims into a class-action lawsuit or classwide arbitration.

The plaintiffs, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, filed their class-action lawsuit in 2006, claiming they were improperly charged about $30 in sales taxes on cellphones that the AT&T wireless unit had advertised as free.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, was backed in the case by a number of other companies and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, while consumer and civil rights groups supported the California couple.

Companies generally prefer arbitration as a less expensive way of settling consumer disputes, as opposed to costly class actions, which allow customers to band together and can result in large monetary awards.

Well, yes, of course this was the decision of the Roberts Court; it was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. The conservative block in the Roberts Court – Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy rarely miss an opportunity to buck up big business and screw individuals and consumers when it comes to any issue involving class action law and/or standing. It is simply what they do, and they have no problem doing by politicized 5-4 majority opinion, which is exactly what occurred here.

The full opinion, including the dissent from Breyer, is here.

The dissent pointed out, correctly, that California law (the case was brought in California), known as the Discover Bank Rule for the main case setting it out, forbade such clauses and rendered them unenforceable as adhesion clauses that were forced down consumer’s throats. The majority simply dismissed the California provision as being inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act. The Roberts block sure don’t care much for state’s rights if said rights conflict with their pet causes, such as bucking up big business.

Irrespective of the California Discover Bank Rule, however, Breyer and the other dissenting judges pointed out an even bigger consideration: By forcing each individual to sue for a small sum (in Concepcion, it was $30), the majority was effectively denying consumers a viable remedy:

In general agreements that forbid the consolidation of claims can lead small­ dollar claimants to abandon their claims rather than to litigate. I suspect that it is true even here, for as the Court of Appeals recognized, AT&T can avoid the $7,500 payout (the payout that supposedly makes the Concepcions’ arbitration worthwhile) simply by paying the claim’s face value, such that “the maximum gain to a customer for the hassle of arbitrating a $30.22 dispute is still just $30.22.”

What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim? In California’s perfectly rational view, nonclass arbitration over such sums will also sometimes have the effect of depriving claimants of their claims (say, for example, where claiming the $30.22 were to involve filling out many forms that require techni­ cal legal knowledge or waiting at great length while a call is placed on hold). Discover Bank sets forth circumstances in which the California courts believe that the terms of consumer contracts can be manipulated to insulate an agreement’s author from liability for its own frauds by “deliberately cheat[ing] large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money.” Why is this kind of deci­ sion—weighing the pros and cons of all class proceedings alike—not California’s to make? (citations omitted)

Exactly right. Scalia and the others in the majority have effectively deemed big businesses – and any that do not yet have these clauses in their service and sales agreements will certainly incorporate them now – immune from accountability on systemic small dollar fraud. Which is a HUGE gift to companies with thousands to millions of customers. Now all we are waiting for is for the Supreme Court to finish gutting class action litigation altogether in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case argued March 29th.

In a late breaking development, Representative Hank Johnson, and Senators Franken and Blumenthal have announced legislation to overcome the Supreme Court’s decision today in the AT&T v. Concepcion case:

After consumers were dealt a blow today when the Supreme Court ruled that companies can ban class action suits in contracts, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said today they plan to introduce legislation next week that would restore consumers’ rights to seek justice in the courts.

Their bill, called the Arbitration Fairness Act, would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases, and would allow consumers and workers to choose arbitration after a dispute occurred.

Many businesses rely on mandatory and binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements that force consumers and employees to settle any dispute with a company providing products or services without the benefit of legal recourse.

“This ruling is another example of the Supreme Court favoring corporations over consumers,” said Sen. Franken. “The Arbitration Fairness Act would help rectify the Court’s most recent wrong by restoring consumer rights. Consumers play an important role in holding corporations accountable, and this legislation will ensure that consumers in Minnesota and nationwide can continue to play this crucial role.”

This sounds wonderful but, of course, stands about zero chance of making it through the Republican controlled House of Representatives that serve as the daily lackey water carriers for big business.

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