SCOTUS Is Wrecking The Societal Safety Net

The right-wing wrecking crew on SCOTUS is destroying the safety and security that make it possible to live in our society. They oppose governmental power when it’s used to protect us from guns and disease, and they strike at rights people need to participate fully in our complex capitalist society.

The Constitution doesn’t give SCOTUS the power to make these decisions. An earlier version of SCOTUS arrogated the power of judicial review to itself. Whereas the other branches have to justify their exercise of power by reference to the Constitution, SCOTUS justifies its power by pointing to an ancient precedent set by itself. For a discussion of this history and a defense of judicial review, see this article by Erwin Chemerinsky in The American Prospect.

To defuse protest against this power grab, for a long time SCOTUS exercised its power sparingly, and only in egregious cases. Perhaps the first instance of overreach was Dred Scott, which was reversed by the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments.

When SCOTUS got out of control in the 1930s, striking down New Deal legislation repeatedly, the other branches took aggressive action to protect their Constitutional powers.

In the 1970s conservatives and radicals rebelled against the Civil Rights cases and other changes wrought by the Warren and Burger Courts. In response, Republicans stacked SCOTUS with right-wing ideologues who have now run amok.

When I say “run amok”, I mean that all of the important decisions of the six SCOTUS right-wingers ignore the interests we all share in living in a safe and secure environment. It’s as if they believe that, as Margaret Thatcher put it, there is no such thing as society. Worse, the individuals affected by the outcomes are never heard, and the decisions only recognize the interests of a tiny minority. This post is focused on gun cases, but there are others equally vile.

New York State Rifle And Pistol Ass’n. Inc. v. Bruen holds that no restriction on the ownership of guns is Constitutional unless “… it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” The Holy Six bluntly tell us we can’t protect ourselves from the climate of fear created by today’s weaponry.

In US v. Perez-Gallan, the defendant was charged with carrying a gun while subject to two court orders barring such possession. The District Judge, David Counts, held that there weren’t laws barring people subject to domestic abuse protective orders from having guns in 1792; therefore that can’t be Constitutional today.

In Cargill v. Garland, the 5th Circuit en banc ruled 13–3 to invalidate an ATF regulation banning bump stocks. It claims that a firearm equipped with a bump stock is not a machine gun within the statutory definition, so the ATF regulation banning them is not within its statutory power. There’s a conflict among the Circuits, so the SCOTUS death panel has the opportunity to promote murder by machine-gun equivalents.

It’s worth noting that John Roberts demands governmental protection for all these judges to insulate them from the dangers they create.

None of the endangered parties are before these courts. Perez-Gallan’s ex-wife isn’t there. In the bump-stock case none of the people murdered in Las Vegas are there, nor are their families and friends, or the people who ran or cowered in fear. None of us normal people from Chicago testified about the impact of guns on our lives after months of deadly violence, car-jackings, road-rage shootings, and mass killings like the attack on the Highland Park Fourth Of July Parade.

So who was present? Well, in Bruen the Appellants are the New York State Rifle and Pistol Assn, and a couple of losers who don’t qualify for a concealed carry permit under New York law. In Cargill, the Appellant is a gun nut who turned in several bump stocks and then sued. Perez-Gallan is a truck driver who is subject to a domestic abuse protective order from Kentucky barring him from gun ownership and a separate order barring possession of guns while released on an assault charge. In each case, the opposing parties are government officials.

In other words, murder-neutral courts make these decisions in a bubble, where the only parties are government officials and gun fanatics.

Now I’m sure that the defenders of these laws and their lawyers are dedicated, hard-working, and skilled. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that courts are free to decide societal questions without regard to the specific tangible concerns of the people whose lives are at stake in these cases. After Bruen, the interests of normal people are irrelevant. Only the interests of gun fanatics are relevant. Courts, parties, and lawyers don’t have to look at the coffins of the dead, or the scars of the damaged. They don’t have to consider the psychological impact of shattered bodies on the families of the dead and wounded. They are instructed to ignore the consequences of their decisions. They pretend it’s all just words in a game of legal Scrabble.

They can also ignore the purposes of the Constitution, set out in the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These decisions don’t insure domestic tranquility, they don’t promote the general welfare, and they don’t secure the blessings of liberty for the vast majority.

Instead, they insure domestic violence and homicide. They insure that none of us can go to a Church, a grocery store, a concert, or a Fourth of July parade without fear of being shot. They endanger the lives and liberty of every last one of us.
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Photo by Arvell Dorsey Jr. via Flickr.

Year-End SCOTUS Rant

This past year brought us the full flowering of a central project of the filthy rich white people who fund the insurrection party: the takeover of SCOTUS by a gang of hardline fanatics. Big Wallet Boys don’t care about religion, they worship money. They want SCOTUS to screws up any government regulation that slows down their plundering of the American economya and Planet Earth. But they don’t care what SCOTUS does on culture war issues because they are not affected.

Of course SCOTUS has always been politically conservative and a blight on the promises America made to each of us. The few sprinkles of decency we’ve gotten over the centuries were either a) tiny steps towards enabling all Americans to benefit from Constitutional rights enjoyed by white men, or b) grudging reversals of old precedents inflicting the prejudices and hatreds of dead rich white men on we the living. For a detailed look at the disgusting history of SCOTUS on individual rights, see The Case Against The Supreme Court, by Erwin Chermerinsky

The provocateurs supported by the rich use culture war issues to anger up the rubes and while they’re distracted, SCOTUS can work toward the goal set by the rich: enabling their moneymen to steal the country blind and route us to an unlivable future.

We can identify the goals of the longer serving members. John Roberts is dead set against the Voting Rights Act, and has never missed a chance to use a case with a voting-related issue to subvert it. Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito have been stewing in their own bile so long they are fully rotted; they both live to stick it to the libs.

In 2022, though, we got bitch-slapped by the revanchists, including the three religious zealots appoint by Trump and McConnell. The Holy Six imposed their religious views in a number of cases, ruling that women have no right to control their own bodies, that coaches are free to dragoon their players into worshipping the god of the coach’s choice, and that religious leaders are free to spread a pandemic.

The big casualty is rational jurisprudence. In case after case, SCOTUS has ignored the trial record, made up its own facts, reached out to take cases before a record can be made, ignored precedent, including precedent about rejecting precedent, invented new Constitutional “doctrines”, taking faked-up cases for the sole purpose of striking down actions the Holy Six, the rubes, or rich people don’t like, and delaying justice through the shadow docket.

The result of these deviations from normal practice is the utter lack of stability. On Twitter law profs ask what they should teach about Constitutional law. The Fox News Six make it too easy: the Constitution means only whatever five of them say on any given day. The same question can be asked about Administrative law: is there any? And the power of Congress: does it have any? And the power of the Executive: does a Democratic President have any power? Not if SCOTUS doesn’t like it.

We have historically entrusted courts with the task of determining which rights belong to the people, and the extent to which governments at all levels can exercise their Constitutional powers in controlling people. Courts do this by interpreting and applying terms like liberty and due process found in the Constitution. Courts have always lagged behind the consensus of the American People on issues of rights, but change has come, if at a frustrating pace. For example, at least for now, governments don’t execute very many mentally ill people.

SCOTUS doesn’t care about any of this. Read Bruen, where Spouse of Insurrectionist Clarence Thomas says that the only restrictions on guns that are Constitutional are those in place at the time of the adoption of the Second Amendment, 1792. At that time, there was no concept of domestic violence. So, a Texas law prohibiting people subject to domestic abuse protective orders from owning guns is unconstitutional.

In other words, you don’t have the liberty of not being murdered by an abusive spouse. And you don’t have the liberty of going to a school, a place of worship, a concert, a grocery store, or a parade unless you are willing to take a bullet from a person armed by SCOTUS.

We can’t protect ourselves from corporate depredations either. SCOTUS restricts government regulation for years if not forever. It strikes down every law it doesn’t like, by which I mean any law rich people don’t like. In West Virginia v. EPA, it ignored the long-standing rule that SCOTUS doesn’t issue advisory opinions when it struck down a regulation of air pollution that was withdrawn before it ever took effect. And it invented a brand spanking-new doctrine, the major question doctrine, to arm itself further against Congress trying to regulate anything.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court announced that Congress hadn’t done enough investigation to justify the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. That act offended the Dignity Of The States, another brand new invention. That same logic can be used with the major questions doctrine to argue that Congress hasn’t done enough to justify authorizing agencies to regulate anything SCOTUS doesn’t like. And of course SCOTUS gets to decide whether a question is a major question.

Congress and executive agencies aren’t allowed to make rules to protect us from deadly pandemics. Only SCOTUS is allowed to do that. They killed mask mandates in the workplace, freed up unscrupulous religious leaders to infect their followers, and just recently interfered with international diplomacy by enjoining the Biden Administration from junking a Trump rule barring entry of asylum seekers because Covid is so terrifying. So much for consistency.

Neither Congress nor the President have resisted the hijacking of their power. They didn’t impose any limits on SCOTUS, by restricting its jurisdiction, cutting its funding, publicly attacking decisions as overtly political or poorly reasoned, holding hearings, or even taking the mild step of imposing ethical requirements. They just sit and watch the Holy Six enjoying their self-declared role of Philosopher Kings, the Platonic Ideal. Democracy? That’s not in the Constitution.

The worst part is that they expect you and me to respect them. We “cross a line”, in Alito’s words, when we say they are illegitimate. They are spitting on us and telling us we are powerless to stop them.

Are we?

Justice Jackson’s Brilliant Debut

On her second day of oral argument at the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson showed the wisdom of her appointment and confirmation. A short clip of one of her questions in Merrill v. Milligan made the rounds on Twitter, giving everyone a taste of her skill and understanding. Her point was so powerful I wondered how the lawyer responded.

The case involves an Alabama redistricting map. Plaintiffs alleged that the map unfairly discriminated against Black voters by reducing the number of majoirity-minority congressional districts unfairly. A three-judge district court ruled that the map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Here’s a fairly neutral discussion of the legal context in which the case was argued. Sec. 2 gives individuals the right to sue to prevent any state action to dilute minority voting power. The leading case on Sec. 2 is Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 US 30 (1986). The case sets out three factors which the plaintiff must prove to establish a violation of Sec. 2.

1.The racial or language minority group is “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district”;

2. The minority group is “politically cohesive” (meaning its members tend to vote similarly); and

3. The “majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it … usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate.”

The colloquy between Justice Jackson and Alabama Solicitor General Edmond Lacour concerns the first Gingles test. Lacour argues that plaintiffs were required to present a race-neutral map as a benchmark to show that Alabama’s map diluted Black voting power. The transcript can be found here. We start at page 52. Justice Amy Coney Barrett asks Lacour this question:

…if you were forced to adopt a map proposed by the plaintiffs that was racially gerrymandered because race was predominant in its drawing, that you would be violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

Therefore, the first factor of Gingles required to get past the hurdle that Justice Jackson was talking about, to get past that hurdle, it required race neutrality.

Is that your central argument?

MR. LACOUR: Yes, that –that is our core argument that it –it cannot be that they can come forward with a map that we would never be allowed to draw, call it reasonably configured and then force us to draw a map we would never be allowed to constitutionally draw.

You can think of that either –the problem is either race predominance or the problem is, when race enters in to the equation, then traditional districting principles necessarily have to yield, which is what the district court found on page 214 of the Milligan stay appendix, non-racial considerations had to yield to race.

He’s saying that the Constitution bars Alabama from drawing a map that uses race to create majority Black districts. After further discussion, Justice Jackson takes over.

JUSTICE JACKSON: Yes. I am so, so glad for Justice Barrett’s clarification because I had the same thought about what you were arguing, and I’m glad that you clarified that your core point is that the Gingles test has to have a race-neutral baseline or that the –the first step has to be race-neutral.

And –and what I guess I’m a little confused about in light of that argument is why, given our normal assessment of the Constitution, why is it that you think that there’s a Fourteenth Amendment problem? And let me just clarify what I mean by that.

I don’t think we can assume that just because race is taken into account that that necessarily creates an equal protection problem, because I understood that we looked at the history and traditions of the Constitution at what the framers and the founders thought about and when I drilled down to that level of analysis, it became clear to me that the framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, in a race conscious way.

That they were, in fact, trying to ensure that people who had been discriminated against, the freedmen in –during the reconstructive –reconstruction period were actually brought equal to everyone else in the society.
So I looked at the report that was submitted by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment, and that report says that the entire point of the amendment was to secure rights of the freed former slaves.

The legislator who introduced that amendment said that “unless the Constitution should restrain them, those states will all, I fear, keep up this discrimination and crush to death the hated freedmen.”

That’s not –that’s not a race-neutral or race-blind idea in terms of the remedy. And –and even more than that, I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required, right? They drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which specifically stated that citizens would have the same civil rights as enjoyed by white citizens. That’s the point of that Act, to make sure that the other citizens, the black citizens, would have the same as the white citizens. So they recognized that there was unequal treatment, that people, based on their race, were being treated unequally.

And, importantly, when there was a concern that the Civil Rights Act wouldn’t have a constitutional foundation, that’s when the Fourteenth Amendment came into play. It was drafted to give a foundational –a constitutional foundation for a piece of legislation that was designed to make people who had less opportunity and less rights equal to white citizens.

So with that as the framing and the background, I’m trying to understand your position that Section 2, which by its plain text is doing that same thing, is saying you need to identify people in this community who have less opportunity and less ability to participate and ensure that that’s remedied, right? It’s a race-conscious effort, as you have indicated. I’m trying to understand why that violates the Fourteenth Amendment, given the history and -and background of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Lacour says:

The Fourteenth Amendment is a prohibition on discriminatory state action. It is not an obligation to engage in affirmative discrimination in favor of some groups vis-à-vis others.

That contradicts what Justice Jackson just said. She repeats her point using shorter words. Lacour repeats his earlier statement that Alabama shouldn’t have to sacrifice “other redistricting principles” for the sake of racial fairness unless plaintiffs prove Alabama’s map is discriminatory. He says plaintiffs have to prove specific racial discrimination before thay can use race as a factor in drawing lines. That would require plaintiffs to produce a race-neutral map as a matter of evidence. Justice Jackson says that the point of the Gingles test is to make that determination as required by Sec. 2. Lacour says:

Not if they’re allowed to sacrifice our principles to come up with their maps.

“They” refers to the Black Plaintiffs. Justice Jackson pokes at this response and Lacour says some words. Roberts moves to the next lawyer.

Discussion

1. Justice Jackson is right on the original purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment. In The Slaughter-House Cases SCOTUS construed it so narrowly that it became useless for equalizing government treatment of newly freed slaves, or anyone else, except in very rare cases. But recent scholarship has recovered the original intent. See, e.g. R. Barnett and E. Bernick, The Original Meaning Of The Fourteenth Amend: It’s Letter And Spirit (2018). I haven’t read this book, but based on reviews, it generally tries to extricate the original breadth of the Fourteenth Amendment in Line with Justice Jackson’s analysis. Barnett is a well-known originalist.

2. Lacour’s position is absurd. How can you not laugh at the idea that Alabama has sacred principles of drawing district lines? Of course it does: draw the lines so White people always win. Even if we could imagine some other principle, why should it be so important as to justify diluting minority voting power?

3. John Roberts has devoted his career to destroying the Voting Rights Act. The other right-wingers follow him because it suits their own partisan purposes. They all follow in the tradition of the revanchist SCOTUS of the Slaughter-House Cases. The idea that the Fourteenth Amendment is color-blind is madness.

4. The six right-wingers pretend that their decisions are guided by originalism. When this opinion comes out, look for the tortured logic dismissing the originalist argument so clearly laid out by Justice Jackson.

5. The coward Ben Sasse said that he couldn’t vote to confirm Justice Jackson because he only supported originalists. Obviously she is intellectually rigorous, using originalism as one of the tools of interpretation, just as she said in her confirmation hearing. The six right-wingers only care about original intent when it can be made to fit their preferred outcome.

6. The revanchist six claim that their opinions are driven by their judicial philosophy, not by political ends. They scold their critics for questioning their legitimacy. But the reality is that their so-called judicial philosophy is indistinguishable from right-wing Republican ideology.

How Trump’s SCOTUS Appeal Shows Why He’s Got a Weaker Legal Argument than a [Former] Gitmo Detainee

Trump has appealed the part of the 11th Circuit’s decision that ruled DOJ did not have to share classified documents as part of the Special Master process. Trump did not appeal the part of the decision lifting the stay on using the classified documents as part of the criminal investigation.

The parts of this pertaining to classified documents and Presidential authority are even more of a shit-show than the 11th Circuit response was, and for an audience that has actually considered these issues.

But parts of it are jurisdictional and would not be frivolous if this were simply a discovery dispute (as Chris Kise treats it), and not one pertaining to classified information. But it does pertain to classified records.

And that’s why I think this is the most important part of the argument. Trump attempts to dismiss the government’s argument that it could appeal Judge Cannon’s order that it share classified records with Judge Raymond Dearie and Trump.

In its reply before the Eleventh Circuit, the Government made a fleeting statement that orders to disclose classified information are immediately appealable as collateral orders. App. F at 10 (citing Mowhawk Indus., 558 U.S. at 113 n.4; Al Odah v. United States, 559 F.3d 539, 542–44 (D.C. Cir. 2009)). This assertion is without merit.

[snip]

In Al Odah, the Government appealed from an order granting defendant’s counsel access to unredacted “classified” information. 559 F.3d at 543. The District of Columbia Circuit, applying the Cohen test, determined it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal of the collateral order in that case. Id. at 543-44. However, the present case is distinguishable from Al Odah, primarily due to whom the “classified” or “privileged” documents are being disclosed. Unlike in Al Odah, where the unredacted classified documents were ordered to be disclosed to defendant’s counsel, here the materials in question will be provided to the Special Master—a Senior United States District Judge with years of FISA court experience. As Special Master, Judge Dearie will effectively act as an arm of the District Court. It can hardly be suggested that Judge Dearie’s review of these records is in any way akin to dissemination of previously unshared, unredacted, classified information to counsel for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Additionally, the fact this dispute involves potential Presidential records14 creates a fundamental and significant distinction. Since any purported “classified records” may be Presidential records, President Trump (or his designee, including a neutral designee such as a special master) has an absolute right of access to same under the Presidential Records Act (“PRA”). 44 U.S.C. § 2205(3). Accordingly, President Trump (and, by extension, the Special Master) cannot in any event be denied access to those documents. Given this absolute right of access under the PRA, there is therefore no valid basis to preclude such review. Moreover, there cannot possibly be any valid claim of injury resulting from a statutorily authorized grant of access to a former President and/or his designee.

The Government argued on appeal, without explanation, that showing the purportedly classified documents to Judge Dearie would harm national security. App. D at 17. However, in seeking to stay the Injunction Order pending appeal, the Government then argued it needed to use those same documents to interview witnesses and submit to the grand jury. ECF No. 69 at 17. These positions cannot be reconciled.

14 Even the Government’s own Motion for Stay in the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged the obvious, that any purported “classified records” may be Presidential records. App. D at 10 [my emphasis]

At first, Trump argues that Cannon has not ordered DOJ to share classified records with anyone but Dearie. That’s false: She ordered DOJ to share classified records with Trump’s lawyers.

In fact, in the very next paragraph, Trump admits that Cannon’s order is worse to that in Al Odah a DC Circuit case decided per curiam by a panel including Merrick Garland. Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah was a plaintiff in a habeas petition — as an enemy combatant he hadn’t and never was charged with a crime — but he was challenging indefinite detention with inadequate due process. By comparison, Trump has not been charged and if and when he is charged, his lawyers will get to see the classified evidence against him. For now, he’s just a plaintiff and the record is uncontested that the warrant executed on his beach resort involved no gross abuse of his rights.

Without acknowledging that the claim Cannon only ordered DOJ to share with Dearie is false, Trump makes the argument that DOJ should have to share with Trump’s designees under the Presidential Records Act. As DOJ has already noted, of course, that’s only true of the records are where they are supposed to be: In the possession of the Archives. They’re not, and that’s part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that, elsewhere in this appeal, Trump unquestioningly invokes EO 13526, which governed classified information for the entirety of his term and still does. As I’ve noted, that explicitly says even former Presidents must get waivers of Need to Know requirements to access classified information. Trump never changed that order before he became a former President.

In the next paragraph, Trump then complains that DOJ might complain about sharing all of this information with Dearie (and Trump’s lawyers) but might decide to share some of the information with witnesses. Again, elsewhere in this appeal, Trump unquestioningly invokes Navy v. Egan, which is the Supreme Court precedent that says the President — not the former President — gets to decide who needs access to classified information or not.

And nowhere in this argument do Trump’s lawyers admit something that DOJ laid out explicitly before the 11th Circuit: At least one of them, Evan Corcoran, is a witness or possibly even a co-conspirator (DOJ referred to his lawyers, plural, as potential witnesses, suggesting Lindsey Halligan (who was at Mar-a-Lago during the search) or Jim Trusty has had a role in the obstruction process as well. Of course, Trump also neglects to mention the obstruction part of the investigation, which makes all documents with classification marks proof that Trump defied a subpoena.

In other words, Trump is even more poorly situated than Al Odah, who at least had lawyers uninvolved in his potential security concerns. The only one of Trump’s lawyers who’s definitely not a witness, Kise, is also the one who recently was a registered agent of Venezuela.

As I keep saying in this matter, no one really knows how any of this will turn out. Trump’s argument that Ginni Thomas’ favorite President is no Gitmo detainee surely will work with Clarence, who will decide whether to take this appeal (or ask the entire court to weigh in). But along the way, Trump has compared himself unfavorably — legally, at least — with a former Gitmo detainee.

Update: This tweet thread from Steve Vladeck notes that Trump never describes what irreparable harm he faces if Dearie can’t review the classified records now.

Update: One more thing Trump doesn’t tell SCOTUS: That Judge Cannon has altered her own order, taking the classified documents out of it altogether, which makes Vladeck’s point about emergency relief even more hysterical.

Update: Justice Thomas has given the government a week to respond, which suggests even he doesn’t see this as the emergency it would have to be for SCOTUS to get involved.

Open Thread: SCOTUS End of Term Releases

This is an open thread focused on Supreme Court orders and decisions released this week, the final week of the court’s term.

Check these Twitter accounts for more updates and analysis:

SCOTUS updates: https://twitter.com/USSupremeCourt – Updates

SCOTUSblog: https://twitter.com/SCOTUSblog – Analysis

Steve Vladeck: https://twitter.com/steve_vladeck – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

Chris Geidner: https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

If you want to suggest any other Twitter accounts to follow for SCOTUS news and analysis, please share in comments.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the day progresses.

All comments related to the House January 6 Committee hearings should be shared in those dedicated threads, not here

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

Comment policy

Community guidelines

If you are leaving a comment, please be concise; 100 words is the optimum length.

If you are sharing active links your comment may be delayed by auto-moderation.

If contributors and moderators seem slow, it’s because they’re dealing with higher than usual volume of comments including trolling.

Caution: moderators will have much lower tolerance for trolling.

~ ~ ~

28-JUN-2022

Ardoin, LA Secretary of State, et al. v. Robinson, Press, et al.

Certiorari Granted

Stay granted 6-3 by SCOTUS, essentially fucking over Black voters in Louisiana for this mid-term election by way of the shadow docket.

~ ~ ~

29-JUN-2022

Oklahoma, Petitioner v. Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta

5-4 decision, Kavanaugh majority opinion, Gorsuch with dissent

Blackhawk’s next tweet encapsulates much of the problem with this particular SCOTUS iteration:

This court is not legitimate because it fails to recognize previous SCOTUS decisions, undermines fundamental human rights, and tears at democracy, while re-colonizing Native American nations without the express approval of U.S. legislature, or the re-colonized by nation, or by bodily autonomy.

It is a superlegislature supplanting the role of the legislative branch while frustrating the executive branch’s ability to fulfill functions outlined in legislation.

Given what it has already done this term, what are the odds this same court further destroys the executive branch’s long-recognized functions in its last decisions on West Virginia v. EPA and Biden v. Texas this term?

~ ~ ~

29-JUN-2022

Le Roy Torres, Petitioner v. Texas Department of Public Safety

5-4 decision, Breyer majority opinion, Kagan concurring, Thomas dissent

SCOTUS finds in favor of U.S. veterans’ rights. Texas agreed upon becoming a state that its sovereignty was subordinate to federal policy; this will tweak the noses of Texas secessionists.

The disturbing part of this decision:

It’s as if the four dissenters don’t realize they’re arguing against their own legitimacy. If federal law isn’t supreme, why is their court supreme?

Or is that the point, they’re making yet another argument for states’ rights?

~ ~ ~

Open Thread: SCOTUS Release Day 2 of 2

This is an open thread focused on Supreme Court orders and decisions expected to be released today, Thursday June 23, 2022.

Check these Twitter accounts for more updates and analysis:

SCOTUS updates: https://twitter.com/USSupremeCourt – Updates

SCOTUSblog: https://twitter.com/SCOTUSblog – Analysis

Steve Vladeck: https://twitter.com/steve_vladeck/status/1539971356204212226 – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

Chris Geidner: https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1539971614690840576 – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

If you want to suggest any other Twitter accounts to follow for SCOTUS news and analysis, please share in comments.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the day progresses.

All comments related to the House January 6 Committee hearings should be shared in those dedicated threads, not here

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

Comment policy

Community guidelines

If you are leaving a comment, please be concise; 100 words is the optimum length.

If you are sharing active links your comment may be delayed by auto-moderation.

If contributors and moderators seem slow, it’s because they’re dealing with higher than usual volume of comments including trolling.

Caution: moderators will have much lower tolerance for trolling.

~ ~ ~

 

Open Thread: SCOTUS Release Day 1 of 2

This is an open thread focused on Supreme Court orders and decisions expected to be released today, Tuesday June 21, 2022.

More will be released on Thursday, June 23.

Follow Chris Geidner for SCOTUS news:

Check these Twitter accounts for more updates and analysis:

SCOTUS updates: https://twitter.com/USSupremeCourt – Updates

SCOTUSblog: https://twitter.com/SCOTUSblog – Analysis

Steve Vladeck: https://twitter.com/steve_vladeck/status/1539244516615540736 – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

Chris Geidner: https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1539239966911471616 – Dedicated thread with updates and analysis

If you want to suggest any other Twitter accounts to follow for SCOTUS news and analysis, please share in comments.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the day progresses.

All comments related to the House January 6 Committee hearings should be shared in those dedicated threads, not here

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

Comment policy

Community guidelines

If you are leaving a comment, please be concise; 100 words is the optimum length.

If you are sharing active links your comment may be delayed by auto-moderation.

If contributors and moderators seem slow, it’s because they’re dealing with higher than usual volume of comments including trolling.

Caution: moderators will have much lower tolerance for trolling.

~ ~ ~

 

Alito’s Horrifying Opinion

1. The only really important point in this post.

It is crucial to remember that this disgusting diatribe is the real opinion of Alito and his co-conspirators. They intend to force you to submit to this power grab and all the sickening changes it makes in our democracy. To them the opinions, the morals, and the sense of civic virtue of the vast majority of Americans are meaningless. Only they and their tiny minority are right.

The formal opinion may be substantially different in form, maybe even to some extent in substance, but this is the unvarnished opinion of Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Barrett and possibly Roberts. Do not be fooled by a milder version of this screed. Do not forget they will happily hand you over to the Red State version of the Inquisition.

2. Alito is a bad judge.

Alito’s draft is an attack on judging as a human intellectual activity. It’s an assault on the very nature of good judging. In the less important part of this post, nearly unimportant, I explain my thinking on this point.

Here’s a summary of Alito’s opinion, selected sentences from the beginning of the opinion.

1. And in this case, 26 States have expressly asked this Court to overrule Roe and Casey and allow the States to regulate or prohibit pre-viability abortions (my numbering and paragraphing).

2. In defending this law, the State’s primary argument is that we should reconsider and overrule Roe and Casey and once again allow each State to regulate abortion as its citizens wish.

3.The Con­stitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, in­cluding the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s his­tory and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”

4. Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.

Therefore they reverse Roe v. Wade and while they’re at it, they reverse Casey v. Planned Parenthood; and say that the standard for review of a state law concerning abortion is whether there is a rational basis for the law.

Here’s a summary by Jeanne Suk Gerson in the New Yorker, laying out the general form of the argument.

Let’s begin with this question: at this time two years was there a Constitutional right to an abortion as set out in Roe and Casey? The answer is clearly yes. The proof is that courts enforced it, and people complied. It can’t possibly be that Alito’s decision, in whatever form it is finally rendered, makes it so that there was never a Constitutional right to an abortion. The Constitution is what five people say it is. The majority in Roe and Casey both said there is a Constitutional right to an abortion, and so it was.

Lots of SCOTUS cases are wrong at least to a large number of people. Why is it necessary to overrule this one? Why not leave it in place, even if Alito and his allies don’t like the reasoning. Alito doesn’t address that question. Stare decisis and reliance on precedent are crucial elements in judging. They give stability to our law.

Consider, for example, Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. In overruling Plessy, the Brown Court found that separate schools for White and Black kids seriously damaged Black citizens in ways that didn’t exist at the time Plessy was decided. Changes in society were so great that separate was inherently unequal by the time of Brown. Therefore it was necessary to overrule it.

How does Alito explain why Roe should be reversed? This is all I can find:

Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.

Overturning Roe will also have terribly damaging consequences. A good judge would address this plain fact.

One possible answer is that Alito is a true believer in originalism, a theory created by conservatives to combat the Warren Court’s “liberal” decisions. He believes that there is a True Constitution from which all law springs. That law is encapsulated in the public meaning of the words in the Constitution as they were understood at the time of adoption. Alito and his colleagues are guardians of that True Constitution, and it’s their sworn duty to insure that it is not distorted by bad cases. Using that theory, Alito can and must speak truth about the Constitution, regardless of the consequences. As he puts it:

The Casey plurality was certainly right that it is important for the public to perceive that our deci­sions are based on principle, and we should make every ef­fort to achieve that objective by issuing opinions that care­fully show how a proper understanding of the law leads to the results we reach. But we cannot exceed the scope of our authority under the Constitution, and we cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work. That is true both when we initially decide a constitutional issue and when we consider whether to overrule a prior decision.

“Proper understanding”? Concerns about “the public’s reaction”? His “work”? For Alito judging isn’t about people, or society. Real judges don’t act like that. Let’s see what traditional jurisprudence says about judging.

In a paper titled Logical Method and Law (1924) the American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey describes good judging. He quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes from a paper on agency law in The Collected Legal Papers, p. 50.

… the whole outline of the law is the resultant of a conflict at every point between logic and good sense — the one striving to work fiction out to consistent results, the other restraining and at last overcoming that effort when the results are too manifestly unjust.

Dewey’s pragmatic theory is that the act of thinking only occurs in the face of doubt. At that point we are forced to proceed to inquiry. Over centuries of trial and error that continue to the present, we human beings have developed ways of investigating and collecting information, evaluating it, checking and rechecking, and ultimately forming conclusions. Then we observe the results and make adjustments to achieve our goals in the best way possible, knowing that we cannot be sure we are right. This method, more fully developed in other writings, applies to solving the problems presented to judges.

I read Dewey to say that judges should start with inquiry, and collect the facts in the messy circumstances of the case before them. As they do so they reach tentative conclusions about the best solution to the problem presented. Then they consider the general legal principles which might act premises for forming a conclusion that will be best for the case in front of them. He thinks inquiry is a logic of consequences, not antecedents. Once the consequences become reasonably clear, it is possible to consider relevant general principles. The selection of the relevant premises becomes crucial only at that point. We’ll see that when we see the dissents which we can expect from three members of the Court.

Then the judge writes down an explanation based on the general principles and tries to justify the decision. This logic is different from the logic of inquiry and the formation of conclusions. It is designed to appear as impersonal as possible while being persuasive. That’s why formal syllogistic logic is the model for many opinions. It conceals the messy process of inquiry, and it hides the uncertainty which has to exist in all really hard cases.

To see how Dewey’s thinking works in practice I turn to a modern thinker and appellate judge, Richard A. Posner. In a paper titled Pragmatic Adjudication Posner writes

But if his definition is rewritten as follows-“a pragmatist judge always tries to do the best he can do for the present and the future, unchecked by any felt duty to secure consistency in principle with what other officials have done in the past” — then I can accept it as a working definition of the concept of pragmatic adjudication.

He explains that the function of precedent is to provide the current judge with information and principles that might be helpful in deciding the current case. The point is that precedent does not supply Judges with a single answer to the determination of the proper rule to govern the case before them. Judges should consider sources that help understand the wisdom of the possible rules. The role of the judge is to end the fiction when it conflicts with good sense.

That’s what Alito doesn’t do. In this opinion, the question is whether Roe and Casey should be reversed. But Alito doesn’t explain why overruling Roe and Casey is better than leaving them in place even though the reasoning in his view is flawed.

Let’s grant for the sake of argument that Roe “had damaging consequences”, which Alito asserts as a fact with no evidence. It also caused heart-burstingly wonderful outcomes for millions of living women and their families. Why doesn’t Alito consider that benefit? He doesn’t explain why reversing Roe and Casey is the best outcome for the present and the future; in fact he says that isn’t relevant.

In my jurisprudence, he would at least address it. In his, it’s irrelevant, trivial, meaningless. For me and the majority of Americans, Alito’s originalist fiction imposes an unjust outcome with no explanation. It can only be a political act, an act of power.

=====
Here are a few of the essays I read on the draft opinion.

Rebecca Traister

Ian Milheiser

Alex Parene

Jessica Valenti

Molly Crabtree

Zachary Carter

Melissa Murray and Leah Litman

Barry Friedman,Dahlia Lithwick, and Stephen I. Vladeck

Six Weeks: The Tactics of Sammy Alito’s Abortion

Last night, Politico published a February 10 draft opinion in the Dobbs case, authored by Sam Alito, that overturns Roe and Casey entirely. I’ll leave it to experts to analyze the opinion. For my purposes, it matters only that it is legally and historically shoddy (meaning, Alito didn’t even care about making a convincing argument before taking away constitutional protections), and that it would also permit states to roll back protections for gay rights, contraception, and privacy generally.

I’d like to talk about tactics.

This leaked draft opinion, while not unprecedented, is almost that momentous. But the leak of the draft will in no way affect abortion access after June in any case. Since the oral argument, there was never a doubt that Casey, at least, was going to be effectively overturned. The only suspense, then, and now, concerned the scope of rights the Supreme Court eliminated and how John Roberts will vote.

The most hackish five justices support the Alito argument. And — in CNN reporting that is almost as important as the Politico leak — John Roberts would have voted to uphold Mississippi’s sharp restrictions on abortion in any case.

CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer Joan Biskupic reported late Monday that Chief Justice John Roberts did not want to completely overturn Roe, meaning he would have dissented from part of Alito’s draft opinion, likely with the top bench’s three liberals.
That would still give the conservatives a 5-4 majority on the issue.

Roberts is willing, however, to uphold the Mississippi law that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, CNN has learned. Under current law, government cannot interfere with a woman’s choice to terminate a pregnancy before about 23 weeks, when a fetus could live outside the womb.

CNN’s report suggests this leak more likely came from Roberts’ chambers than the most likely other source, Stephen Breyer’s. The most logical explanation for the leak is that Roberts is trying to get his colleagues to adopt a less radical opinion. And if that’s the purpose, it might have the desired effect, both by making it clear what a shit-show the original Alito opinion will set off, but also by exposing the opinion itself to the ridicule and contempt it, as written, deserves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that in one way or another, the national protection for access to abortion is gone by the end of the SCOTUS term next month.

So those who support equality for women (and LGBTQ rights, and privacy generally) should consider this leaked draft as an opportunity to use the next six weeks — assume the final opinion will be released in mid-June — to lay the groundwork for what comes next. Symbolically, those who support equality for women (and LGBTQ people) now have about as long as many states will permit abortions to do something to protect the right to abortion (and to marry who you love) going forward.

It’s not clear how overturning abortion access or the early release of this opinion will affect politics going forward. I can certainly see it driving the plurality of Republicans who support such a radical stance. I can also see this decision being decisive in defeating some anti-choice Senate candidates and maybe, because this was released before the run-off, the remaining anti-choice Democrat, Henry Cuellar. Gavin Newsom has already talked about adding abortion to California’s constitution, and California might not be the only such state. Perhaps it is not too late to find a way to put reproductive rights on the ballot as a referendum (though I assume it is). Certainly, this is way to make abortion support a litmus test for state-wide elections.

Certainly, this decision raises the stakes of Brett Kavanaugh’s lies in his confirmation and Clarence Thomas’ implication in his wife’s participation in a coup attempt.

Democrats are talking about abolishing the filibuster to pass abortion rights, but there’s no indication they have 51 votes to pass it. Maybe this would change things?

But there are other ways to mobilize what is a solid majority (including most large corporations) in the United States to undercut this decision, and possibly to change the tenor of politics in this country. Americans believe that women and gays (at least) should be treated as equals. A radical minority disagrees.

Use the next six weeks to figure out how to isolate them as a radical minority.

Update: Noted that this opinion will just end national protections on abortion access.

Update: Roberts is ordering an investigation, suggesting he is not aware of the leaker’s identity. Others have made persuasive arguments that this is from one of the radicals, attempting to keep the five vote majority.

SCOTUS Is Changing The Definition Of American Citizenship

In this post I discussed the Republican plan to rig SCOTUS by selecting SCOTUS nominees who would reliably vote their way on issues important to their base and their donors. They’ve succeeded. In this post I give a brief sketch of their goals for each group, the means of enforcement, and the impact on the nature and benefits of American citizenship.

1. Donors. There is an oligarchy inside our democracy, as I have been saying for over a decade. It dominates the Republican donor class. Oligarchs want the freedom to do anything they like with their money and the assets they control. They want the freedom to do whatever they think will make them richer. And they really hate the idea of taxation and all forms of redistribution of wealth. Their current goal is to weaken the ability of the federal agencies to regulate, because that reduces the value of their assets.

The first steps were legislative. The Administrative Procedures Act governs the way agencies make rules. Republicans and corporatist Democrats fiddled with it to make it harder for agencies to act quickly, and to increase the cost to the agencies of rule-making. Then the Office of Management and Budget was added as an additional check closer to the President.

Until recently the primary use of the courts was delay. Corporations and their front groups challenged every rule they didn’t like. Courts took these filings seriously, and allowed lawyers to spend years in costly litigation. Gradually courts created a new layer of rules that brought delay and increased costs of regulation. But even that wasn’t enough.

Right-wing lawyers have been arguing that there is no Constitutional basis for administrative agencies, and thus no basis for rules made by agencies. This led to the non-delegation doctrine which limited the power of Congress to delegate authority to agencies. The current version is called the major questions doctrine, which says Congress has to be very specific about what it delegates if there is a big effect. It essentially gives SCOTUS the power to overrule any agency action it doesn’t like by saying Congress wasn’t explicit. As an example, SCOTUS used the shadow docket to strike down a CDC rule extending the nationwide moratorium on evictions in Alabama Assn. Of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Services, link here. The Court said the cost to landlords was so great that Congress had to explicitly give the agency poser to make such broad rules.

We get a similar result in National Federation of Independent Businesses v. OSHA. In another case on the shadow docket, a 5-4 majority declared that the number of people affected by a workplace safety requirement that people be vaccinated or tested weekly was really big, and only Congress could make such a big decision.

And who gets to decide if a decision is too big? Not Congress. Not the President. Not the elected representatives of the American people. Nope. SCOTUS gets to decide. In these cases the big beneficiaries are the donor class and the anti-vax Trumpists.

2. The religious fanatics. During the pandemic SCOTUS gutted the CDC rules on attendance at super-spreader events, asserting that Churches had to be treated like grocery stores. Here’s a more neutral discussion on ScotusBlog. These cases were also part of the general attack on agency rules dealing with the death and misery caused by Covid.

Of course, for the religious fanatics, the most important cases are attacks on Roe v. Wade. In the first set of cases, SCOTUS just couldn’t figure out how to stop that blatantly unconstitutional Texas bounty law. So they left it in place, seriously impacting abortion clinics in Texas.

The frontal assault is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which seeks to limit abortions to 15 weeks, or to get rid of Roe altogether. The case was argued late last year. Here’s a summary from SCOtUSBlog. A decision is expected in June, 2022, and everyone expects a big loss for citizens.

3. Cementing the outcome. It would be possible to get different outcomes if Congress actually represented the will of the majority. To make sure that doesn’t happen, state legislatures draw districts that favor the party in power in the state. In Rucho v. Common Cause, a 5-4 majority of SCOTUS said that partisan gerrymandering “is incompatible with democratic principles”, but sadly courts can’t do anything to protect democracy.

Even racial gerrymandering is fine because it’s always too close to an election, as the Court held in a bunch of shadow docket cases involving obviously racially gerrymandered districts. Here’s a discussion of the problem.

Another challenge to democracy is the idea that state legislatures can make election rules without the checks and balances of their state constitutions, including their governors and courts. This is called the independent state legislature doctrine. I love the idea that this garbage jurisprudence calls itself “doctrines”.

Each of these cases essentially means that we don’t live in a democracy, that the votes of millions of us don’t matter, and in turn, that government controlled by a minority of rich people and religious fanatics cannot be replaced by a majority of voters.

This may breing to mind the principle “one man one vote”, an idea laid out in Baker v. Carr, and the related cases of Reynolds v. Sims and Wesberry v. Sanders. Here’s the thing. Computerized map-drawing has made it so that everyone gets an equal vote, but some votes are more equal than others.

4. Citizenship. I went to law school in the early 70s, so most of the important cases we studied in Constitutional Law were Warren Court cases. I learned to think of them as giving practical effect to the rights and privileges of being a US citizen. For example, everyone has a right to counsel in a criminal case under the Sixth Amendment. Until 1963 everyone with money had that right, but those who didn’t have money didn’t have that right. Then in Gideon v. Wainwright, SCOTUS made that right a reality for every American. In the same way, everyone had a right not to incriminate themselves. That was meaningless until Miranda v. Arizona made it clear that people must be informed of their rights, including their right to have a lawyer present during interrogation.

Another group of decisions made it clear that there were limits on the ability of states and the federal government to control people’s private lives. Griswold v. Connecticut said states can’t regulate birth control for married people. Cases like this limited the ability of government at all levels to intrude on our private lives.

As a result we gradually gained a full panoply of rights as American citizens, rights which could not be infringed by federal, state and municipal governments.

In this post I cited constitutional scholars across the ideological spectrum saying that originalism and textualism were the conservative backlash against these and many other so-called liberal decisions of the Warren Court. The six conservatives now ruling over us plan to gut those decisions. They were all selected for that purpose. In the future, we will have very few meaningful rights as American citizens. The bulk of our rights will be set by states, many of which are gerrymandered so that a minority can decide what you can and cannot do.

That’s not my idea of America.

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