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GOP Not Anxious to End John Roberts’ Unilateral Reign Appointing FISA Judges

FWIW, Roger “Broccoli” Vinson aside, John Roberts has been appointing some solidly conservative, but nevertheless not lockstep Republicans to the FISA Court in recent years. But especially given the degree to which the FISC is now playing what former FISC judge James Robertson called a policy role, it is all the more inappropriate to have the Chief Justice, of whatever party, unilaterally pick FISC judges.

And some members of Congress — Adam Schiff in the House and Richard Blumenthal in the Senate — are trying to change that.

Curiously, however, while Republicans are happy to cosponsor legislation to force FISC to publish their opinions, Schiff, at least, has had no success finding a Republican cosponsor to support moves to take the FISC appointments out of John Roberts’ hands.

Schiff’s having a tougher time finding GOP co-sponsors for a second measure that would require Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation of FISA judges. Currently they are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

I guess whatever claims GOP Representatives make about wanting to impose some controls on this dragnet take a back seat to maximizing party influence?

The Marriage Equality Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOMA’s Day At The Supremes

RainbowNiagraFallsUPDATE: HERE IS THE AUDIO OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

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

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

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

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

The Case Against Marriage Equality Backlash

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of political backlash might such a decision ignite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Would Jeh Johnson Suggest the Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court Would Be Bipartisan?

I’ll have more to say about Jeh Johnson’s skeptical speech on a drone and/or targeted killing court later.

But I wanted to point to this detail:

Our government finds itself in a lose-lose proposition: it fails to officially confirm many of its counterterrorism successes, and fails to officially confirm, deny or clarify unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties.

Our government’s good efforts for the safety of the people risks an erosion of support by the people.

It is in this atmosphere that the idea of a national security court as a solution to the problem — an idea that for a long time existed only on the margins of the debate about U.S. counterterrorism policy but is now entertained by more mainstream thinkers such as Senator Diane Feinstein and a man I respect greatly, my former client Robert Gates – has gained momentum.

To be sure, a national security court composed of a bipartisan group of federal judges with life tenure, to approve targeted lethal force, would bring some added levels of credibility, independence and rigor to the process, and those are worthy goals.

In the eyes of the American public, judges are for the most part respected for their independence.

In the eyes of the international community, a practice that is becoming increasingly controversial would be placed on a more credible footing. [my emphasis]

As I understand it, the model under discussion is simply to give the existing FISA Court the additional task of reviewing kill decisions, not creating a new court.Yet the FISA Court — whose judges are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (and therefore, for the entire life of the FISA Court, by a Republican appointee) — is in no way bipartisan.

Read more

John Roberts: Second Class Citizen

When we were covering the Prop 8 Trial in San Francisco, Teddy Partridge made a very astute point. As the Prop 8 intervenors questioned a witness who (dubiously) talked about how adoptive families are less successful than biological parents in an effort to dismiss claims that gays and lesbians should be able to marry so their kids have more security, Teddy noted that the claims the Prop 8 people were making about adoptive families also applied, to Chief Justice John Roberts, who has two adopted kids.

It’s a point I’ve been obsessed with as the case made its way towards SCOTUS. I even thought about getting an amicus brief together representing opposite sex adoptive families, because the Prop 8 argument threatened their families with second class status, to emphasize the insult at the core of the Prop 8 case.

Turns out no one had to do that. (h/t Americablog)

“You’re looking at what is the best course societywide to get you the optimal result in the widest variety of cases. That often is not open to people in individual cases. Certainly adoption in families headed, like Chief Roberts’ family is, by a heterosexual couple, is by far the second-best option,” said John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. Eastman also teaches law at Chapman University law school in Orange, Calif.

As Teddy suggests, that NOM demeaned the Chief Justice’s family just two weeks before the arguments in this case is not only testament to their hard bigotry, but their stupidity.

But hey. If it helps Olson and Boies show how outrageous the distinct treatment of gay families is, all the better.

SCOTUS Prepares to Decide 2016 Election

One of the unsung heros of this election is Thomas Perez, head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. By aggressively challenging states trying to disenfranchise people of color, he prevented states from tipping the scale for Republicans.

Apparently, the Republicans on the Court read the news on Wednesday, because they’ve just accepted a challenge to the Voting Rights Act.

Lyle Denniston writes:

Acting three days after the nation’s minority voters showed that they have increased and still growing power in U.S. elections, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on a challenge to Congress’s power to protect those groups’ rights at the polls.  The Court said it would hear claims that Congress went beyond its authority when it extended for another 25 years the nation’s most important civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and renewed four times since then.

Specially at issue is the constitutionality of the law’s Section 5, the most important provision, under which nine states and parts of seven others with a past history of racial bias in voting must get official clearance in Washington before they may put into effect any change in election laws or procedures, no matter how small.   The Court came close to striking down that section three years ago, but instead sent Congress clear signals that it should update the law so that it reflects more recent conditions, especially in the South.  Congress did nothing in reaction.

[snip]

In agreeing to rule on the Voting Rights Act, the Court limited its review to a question which it composed itself: ”Whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage fomulal of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.”   The Tenth Amendment protects the powers of states by limiting Congress’s powers.  Article IV guarantees each state a “republican form of government,” meaning it is protected in its right of self-government.   The question specified by the Court differed from that posed by Shelby County’s lawyers only by adding a reference to the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case to be decided in Shelby County v. Holder (12-96).

It appears the Court is going out of its way to take this case, with very obvious timing.

I guess John Roberts wants to make his decision in ObamaCare up to the GOP? I guess the Republicans on the Court didn’t think their intervention with Citizens United gave the corporatists enough of a boost this year?

Withholding the Tax Decision: SCOTUSblog on the ObamaCare Decision

Having served as the liveblog link to a widely-anticipated court decision myself, I probably read Tom Goldstein’s tick-tock of how the decision got reported differently than others. Most interesting for me?

SCOTUSblog is not credentialed to cover SCOTUS

Goldstein describes how most major news outlets as well as the White House listened in on a conference call SCOTUSblog had to discuss the ruling as it came out. He notes that Fox managed to correct its incorrect initial reporting because Megyn Kelly was watching SCOTUSblog. He describes other news outlets–like NPR–citing SCOTUSblog as their source.

And yet, even with all those people relying on SCOTUSblog for coverage of the decision (and all other decisions), SCOTUSblog is not credentialed to cover the court.

The Supreme Court will not grant SCOTUSblog a press credential.  Lyle Denniston is the only member of our team permitted in the press area; he has a press credential because of his reporting for WBUR in Boston.  There are six other members of our team nearby, running nine computers on eight separate Internet connections.

I’m curious what the justification for this stance is. Does the Court care more about its prestige than ensuring that what amounts to its own newswire be able to report quickly and accurately?

SCOTUS decided not to email the decision

Perhaps that’s the case. After all, SCOTUS also decided not to email the decision to reporters (and the parties to the case), though they have done so in the past.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website.  In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced.  But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later.  The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does.  At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet – ever.  It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building – including not just the public, but press editors and the White House – can get the ruling.  And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision.  They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over – hitting refresh again, and again, and again.  In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour.  So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Aside from being a boneheaded technical decision, it is, again, a statement about the philosophy of information at the Court. Why insist that the decision go through those physically at the Court, where people have little space or time for close reading?

Who hacked SCOTUSblog?

And here’s the bit that has me most intrigued. When we covered the Libby trial, we were hounded by denial of service attacks, including on verdict day–though we were also operating on a less stable system with almost no staff and little time to prepare for the technical demands of the coverage, which I think made the attacks rewarding.

Plus, it wasn’t surprising someone would attack FDL during the Libby case; because we served as the wire service for the trial, and because we didn’t unquestioningly repeat whatever Barbara Comstock claimed, we ended up undermining Liibby’s defense team’s best efforts at spin. So I’ve always assumed our DNS hackers were conservatives trying to cut off our coverage, leaving the more favorable Libby spin by default.

So it made sense that we were getting attacked.

But SCOTUSblog?

Our problem at the moment is that someone is trying to crash the blog.  At 10:00 exactly, hackers are launching a “distributed denial of service” attack with 1,000 page views per second to try and bring us down.  It does not work; our tremendous Deputy Manager Max Mallory has spent months augmenting our capacity, and the hackers give up after a few minutes.

The only one who–assuming good faith interest in reporting accurately–who I can imagine having a motive to hack SCOTUSblog are other media outlets who don’t want a competitor to draw off potential readers and viewers.

Alternately, there’s the possibility that someone wanted the decision reported inaccurately. Read more