December 9, 2022 / by 

 

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

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~ ~ ~

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

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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.

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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

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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.


This Is Not How You Wield Power: Toxic Punditry’s Lack of Self Awareness

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

This is complete and utter bullshit:

We all know asking Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself is merely pissing into the wind. Congressional Democrats are obligated to ask this of him but they know Thomas is corrupt and won’t give the demand a second thought.

What’s bullshit, though, is MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan and Ayman Mohyeldin ripping into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a request by Democrats to Thomas for his recusal on cases related to the January 6 insurrection.

We all know as well the real problem is that Thomas should be removed from the Supreme Court. Pelosi was absolutely correct saying that Thomas should never have been approved as a SCOTUS jurist to begin with. His failure to report his spouse’s income appropriately — particularly Ginni Thomas’s income from her nonprofit — during the lead up to the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision was unacceptable, as was his meeting with the Koch brothers.

But the House had absolutely nothing to do with Thomas being approved in the first place. The Senate is responsible for review of nominees to the Supreme Court and their approval.

We all know, too, that the House may impeach jurists, but they cannot be removed without a two-thirds vote for conviction by the Senate.

And in this case, a Senate which is only nominally held by Democrats. They couldn’t convict and remove Trump twice after impeachment for the same reason — an inadequate number of Democrats in the Senate.

Where is this power that Hasan and Mohyeldin think Pelosi has as House Speaker when she cannot remove Thomas? Why are they insisting she launch a war she can’t win? (We can see how that works out for Putin in Ukraine.)

All these two boneheaded pundits (and others making the same argument like them) are doing is misogynist pontificating when they know it’s the Senate which can force the issue and only if there were two-thirds of the Senate willing to vote to convict Thomas for his continued corrupt practices.

Yet you don’t see pundits like Hasan and Mohyeldin going after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Nope.

Why is that?

~ ~ ~

They’re literally filling empty air time with useless crap which only serves to damage the public’s opinion of House Democrats — the portion of government which has most reliably served the needs of the people during the Biden administration while the Senate obstructs its efforts.

They’re directly contributing to and amplifying the same poisoning of public opinion already performed by right-wing media outlets Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN, grossly distorting the public’s perception of US government.

It’s right there in front of their noses and they don’t see it:

Hello, Sam Stein, who’s with both MSNBC and Politico? You’re not doing a very good job breaking through to the public if they believe the complete opposite of the truth.

Dan Froomkin elaborated on media’s failures with help from Dean Baker; public opinion about employment is particularly telling.

An additional 21 percent didn’t know one way or the other. Only 28 percent said, correctly, that jobs were created. Less than half of those — only 12 percent — knew that it was more jobs created than in any other year in history.

Similarly, only 19 percent said they thought the U.S. economy experienced more job growth than normal in the past year. The plurality – 35 percent – said they thought more jobs were lost than usual, which is of course spectacularly wrong.

Media figures go out of their way to make sure something looks like it’s on fire or bleeding, so much so that it’s a joke.

But sure, keep beating on House Speaker Pelosi because that will effect the change needed as will pissing into the wind.

~ ~ ~

A pre-print study found that it’s not solely the public at fault when it comes to misperception — it’s not purely partisanship which mis- or disinforms their opinions.

A key problem is the business model: audience members’ understanding and opinions could be shaped by exposure to media, if media bought their time.

Unfortunately, cable and broadcast news don’t pay their viewers. They rely on advertising and subscription volume; their programming becomes little more than reductive clickbait fighting for audience attention. They’ll run the inflammatory material which skews public opinion the wrong way because good news is boring.

It makes sense, and yet the answer to running content which is both more attention-grabbing and -retaining to viewers and the ethically responsible content to run is right there under their noses.

Assuming, of course, the media outlets aren’t forcing their pundit-anchor class to promote corporatism über alles.

Why aren’t programs like Hasan’s and Mohyeldin’s contacting every goddamned Senator and putting them on the record one at a time on camera about their position on Thomas’s failure to recuse himself and whether they would vote to convict him if impeached for abuse of his office as jurist?

I’d pay to watch them squirm. I’d pay to watch Senators’ chiefs of staff run away from mics to avoid answering.

I’d pay to watch them ask Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Tommy Tuberville if Thomas should recuse himself on any lawsuit in which they may be named as co-conspirators because Thomas’s wife Ginni sided with Hawley and Cruz on overturning or obstructing the election…and was it obstruction of Congress or overturning an election in which they had been encouraged to participate?

That’d be Must-See TV.

~ ~ ~

The other person who gets off lightly all the damn time to the point every media outlet forgets he exists: Chief Justice John Roberts.

He’s the administrative leader of SCOTUS. Every decision made during his tenure will be attributed to the Roberts’ court.

Clarence Thomas’s unmitigated corruption including the damage to democracy Thomas’s role in Citizen United played is the product of Roberts’ court.

The lack of a self-imposed binding code of conduct is Roberts’ failure. Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself from January 6 cases which may be decided by SCOTUS is also his failure.

The lack of legislation requiring a SCOTUS code of conduct with adequate teeth to ensure enforcement is Congress’s fault, but primary responsibility is that of the Senate. In its absence Roberts could administer his court in a way which enforces judicial ethics.

Why wasn’t Roberts a subject of Hasan’s and Mohyeldin’s critique when Roberts clearly has the power to rein in corruption among his jurists?

~ ~ ~

But the real power to which Hasan and Mohyeldin deliberately turned a blind eye wasn’t Nancy Pelosi’s as House Speaker.

It wasn’t even Chuck Schumer’s, or John Roberts’ power.

That pre-print study says it’s their own. How convenient these media figures with a bully pulpit have a handy favorite punching bag to use as clickbait, redirecting attention away from their own failures as media figures with sizable audiences whose perception they shape.

By the way, you have power, too. You should be exercising it by calling your representative and senators and demanding legislation to implement a code of ethical judicial conduct for the Supreme Court (since Roberts appears unable or unwilling to produce one), and impeachment and conviction of Clarence Thomas for his lack of ethics as a jurist.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121


Day Four — The Well-Qualified K. B. J.

[NB: check the byline, thanks. Update(s) if any will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

It’s the fourth and final day of U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Today’s hearing is in progress.

Today’s hearing consists of three remaining panels (Judge Jackson was Panel I):

Panel II

The Honorable Ann Claire Williams
American Bar Association
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary

Ms. D. Jean Veta
American Bar Association
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary

Mr. Joseph M. Drayton
American Bar Association
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary

Panel III Majority

The Honorable Joyce Beatty
United States House of Representatives
State of Ohio – 3rd District

Ms. Risa Goluboff
Dean, Arnold H. Leon Professor of Law, and Professor of History
University of Virginia

Mr. Wade Henderson
President & CEO
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Mr. Richard B. Rosenthal
Captain Frederick Thomas
National President
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)

Panel III Minority

The Honorable Steve Marshall
Attorney General
State of Alabama

Ms. Jennifer Mascott
Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Executive Director
The C. Boyden Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University

Ms. Eleanor McCullen
Anti-abortion activist

Ms. Keisha Russell
First Liberty

Ms. Alessandra Serano
Operation Underground Railroad

From the looks of the last three panelists, the GOP senators are continuing to play to the base by hammering Judge Jackson on abortion, religious freedom in public schools, and human trafficking. The last will likely fit with the crap Sen. Josh Hawley et al already tattooed about child pornography.

The GOP will want to leave that shitty taste of zealotry and bigotry in the audience’s mouths as the hearings end. In other words, on brand for the GOP.

You can watch live feed at these sites (not the same links as yesterday’s as the previous links may lead to recordings previous days’ hearings):

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing feed

PBS Senate Judiciary Committee hearing feed on YouTube

C-SPAN feed via YouTube

You can also catch the hearings through these live Twitter threads:

Rewire News Group

Chris Geidner at Grid News

If you know of anyone else covering today’s hearing in Twitter, please leave a comment below. Thanks!

~ ~ ~

Apparently these hearings weren’t really to determine a nominee’s qualifications for a lifetime appointment to SCOTUS or to ensure the public was informed. No, apparently the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings have been little more than social media opportunities, which Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) called out.


Sasse also expressed his concern about cameras in the court room, that “cameras change human behavior,” and yet the difference between the video above by C-SPAN versus this by CBS News below tells us cameras tell us things audio and written reporting don’t offer.


Or this photo by Los Angeles Times’ Kent Nishimura:

If you have a Twitter account, every once in a while for grins and giggles you should drop Sen. Ted Cruz (Senate account: @sentedcruz, personal account: @tedcruz) a tweet and let him know what you thought of his performance as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wholly visible on all sorts of cameras.

~ ~ ~

There may be more to come, watch this space for updates.

Copyright © 2022 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/scotus/