On ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah claimed that he takes the “principled position” of voting against filibusters of judicial nominees:
And matter of fact, I continue to vote against filibusters with regard to judicial nominations because I think it's a principled position. I actually think the president, whoever the president may be ought to have the full choice of who they put on the bench.
And unless there's just some overwhelming reason why somebody should never be on the bench.
But on many pivotal votes to break GOP filibusters of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, Sen. Hatch hasn’t voted “against” the filibuster. Instead, he’s made a habit of voting “present” or not voting at all. Because a motion to break a filibuster requires 60 affirmative “yes” votes to succeed, not voting or voting “present” in effect supports the continuation of the filibuster.
Hatch voted “present” on efforts to break Republican filibusters of Obama judicial nominees Caitlin Halligan, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell and Robert Bacharach. He did not vote at all in cloture votes on nominee Andrew Hurwitz and in the second cloture vote on Halligan.
These votes allow Hatch to say he didn’t support a filibuster, while in fact voting to do just that. And he certainly didn’t take a “principled position” to vote “against” his Republican colleagues’ obstruction.
In the latest example of the GOP’s eagerness to throw working families under the bus to avoid placing even the slightest burden on the wealthy and corporations, Sen. Orrin Hatch has declared that poor people need to take more responsibility for relieving the country’s debt, because, after all, it would be unfair to tax the “daylights out of everybody around here.” “Everybody around here” presumably refers to Hatch and his fellow senators, who earn $174,000 a year and whose median net worth (as of 2009) was $2.4 million.
The constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is once again in the news, as a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments yesterday on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Lawyers for Virginia struggled to explain how the state had the legal standing to challenge the healthcare mandate on behalf of its citizens. The judges said precedent did not permit states to sue on behalf of their citizens to contest federal laws.
But standing was not a problem in a second case, where lawyers for Liberty University sued on behalf of several individuals. Both lawsuits said a requirement in the new law that everyone purchase healthcare was a violation of the Constitution. ...
By their comments, members of the panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sounded as though they would reverse that decision and say Virginia Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli had no standing to challenge the law.
Liberty University lost its lawsuit in federal District Court and appealed to the 4th Circuit. Mathew Staver, their lawyer, said Congress could regulate commerce but not "idleness." In this instance, he referred to the refusal of his clients to purchase health insurance.
But the judges didn't sound persuaded. They noted the Supreme Court had said Congress had broad power to regulate a national market, and the mandate was an attempt to regulate insurance. It is a "practical power," Judge Davis said, to regulate effectively.
Perhaps the judges did not sound persuaded because the far right's legal argument is so weak. It cannot be repeated too often that many of those caterwauling most loudly that the healthcare law is unconstitutional were expressing the exact opposite opinion before the corporate-funded Tea Party arose. In fact, the individual mandate was a Republican idea and originally championed by many of those who now claim that it is an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government. Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley – who co-sponsored legislation during the Clinton Administration that featured an individual mandate – are among the many who have shamelessly flip-flopped on the issue.
Adding to the shamelessness, Mat Staver was one of the attorneys arguing before the court today that the law is unconstitutional. His extremism has long been reported in Right Wing Watch.
Another federal district judge has found the healthcare reform law constitutional. Judge Gladys Kessler in the District of Columbia becomes the third federal judge to uphold the law. As the New York Times reports:
The judge suggested in her 64-page opinion that not buying insurance was an active choice that had clear effects on the marketplace by burdening other payers with the cost of uncompensated medical care.
"Because of this cost-shifting effect," she wrote, "the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage."
Judge Kessler observed that the basic argument against the law's constitutionality "ignores reality."
As previous Commerce Clause cases have all involved physical activity, as opposed to mental activity, i.e. decision-making, there is little judicial guidance on whether the latter falls within Congress's power. [internal citation omitted] However, this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not "acting," especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.
Perhaps that is why many of those on the right screaming most loudly that the law is unconstitutional were expressing the exact opposite opinion before the corporate-funded Tea Party arose, with its bizarre version of the United States Constitution seemingly written for We the Corporations, rather than We the People. After all, the individual mandate was a Republican idea and originally championed by many of those who now scream that it is an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government. For instance, Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley co-sponsored legislation during the Clinton Administration that featured an individual mandate. As recently as June 2009, Sen. Grassley expressed his belief that there was a bipartisan consensus for individual mandates in the health care legislation. Both have completely flip-flopped on the issue.
Whatever this debate is about, it certainly isn't constitutional principle. Pretending otherwise is, to use Judge Kessler's words, ignoring reality.
Watching the Senate debate on Elena Kagan’s nomination yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t sure I heard correctly when Sen. Orrin Hatch called the backlash against the GOP’s anti-Thurgood Marshall campaign “offensive.” I heard correctly. Here’s the transcript:
While Ms. Kagan has not herself been a judge, she has singled out for particular praise judges who share this activist judicial philosophy. In a tribute she wrote for her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall, for example, she described his belief that the Supreme Court today has a mission to “safeguard the interests of people who had no other champion.” Ms. Kagan did more than simply describe Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy but wrote: “And however much some recent Justices have sniped at that vision, it remains a thing of glory.”
Justice Marshall was a pioneering leader in the civil rights movement. He blazed trails, he empowered generations, he led crusades. But he was also an activist Supreme Court Justice. He proudly took the activist side in the judicial philosophy debate. Some on the other side have suggested that honestly identifying Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy for what it is somehow disparages Justice Marshall himself. I assume that this ridiculous and offensive notion is their way of changing the subject because they cannot defend an activist, politicized role for judges.
Among the members of the GOP who continue to cling to this line of attack, variations of the “I’m not disparaging Justice Marshall, I just don’t like his judicial philosophy” argument are a mainstay. The problem is, Justice Marshall’s work as a Supreme Court Justice—or his “judicial philosophy”—is a key part of his legacy. He’s a hero for his years of work rooting out segregation as a lawyer for the NAACP; he’s also a hero for his adherence, as a Supreme Court justice, to the Constitution’s promise of “protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”
When Hatch attacks Marshall’s work as a justice, he attacks his entire legacy. I won’t call that “offensive”—but I can’t say it’s wise, either.
Sen. Orrin Hatch spent his entire question time lambasting the arguments Kagan made as Solicitor General defending campaign finance limits in Citizens United v. FEC, and trying to get Kagan to express her personal views on the case. She declined.
“I want to make a clear distinction,” Kagan said, “between my role as an advocate and any opinions I might have as a judge.”
The result was something of a half-hour soapbox for Sen. Hatch to heap praise on Citizens United (and criticize its critics) while Kagan repeatedly distanced herself from the issue. Hatch might want to take a look at our recent poll, which shows that the critics of Citizens United include the majority of Americans.
It’s remarkable that Hatch, who has always spoken so highly of judicial restraint, is so happy to have judges overruling acts of Congress. Apparently he’s changed his opinion on “judicial activism.”
The media spent much of last week obsessing over Justice Samuel Alito's injudicious show of disapproval during the State of the
Citizens United, as you probably know, opened up elections to unlimited corporate spending. The 5-4 decision overturned a century of precedent and was made possible by Justice Alito -- President Bush's nominee to replace moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.
Sorely absent from last week's coverage was how far Alito's actions on the bench have departed from his words as a nominee. With that in mind I've pulled some relevant clips from the confirmation hearing.
Alito praised the principle of stare decisis (respect for precedent) throughout his hearing but hasn't let it prevent him back brashly overruling longstanding decisions. Here, in conversaton with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he argued that the court should take limited actions and use its ability to overrule precedent sparingly:
HATCH: Does that mean that the Supreme Court should perhaps be even more cautious, even more self-restrained, since there is no appeal from any errors that they might make?
ALITO: I think that's a solemn responsibility that they have. When you know that you are the court of last resort, you have to make sure that you get it right. It is not true, in my judgment, that the Supreme Court is free to do anything that it wants. It has to follow the Constitution and it has to follow the laws. Stare decisis, which I was talking about earlier, is an important limitation on what the Supreme Court does. And although the Supreme Court has the power to overrule a prior precedent, it uses that power sparingly, and rightfully so. It should be limited in what it does.
Alito frequently said that his judicial philosophy discourages him from reaching overly broad decisions when a narrower ruling is possible. Yet he and the other conservatives went far out of their way in order to strike down as many restrictions on corporate influence in elections as possible. Here, still speaking to Senator Hatch, Alito praised narrow rulings and noted that court rulings on consitutional grounds often cannot be undone by Congress (indeed, we are coming up against that limitation now with Citizens United):
ALITO: Because a constitutional decision of the Supreme Court has a permanency that a decision on an issue of statutory interpretation doesn't have. So if a case is decided on statutory grounds, there's a possibility of Congress amending the statute to correct the decision if it's perceived that the decision is incorrect or it's producing undesirable results. I think that my philosophy of the way I approached issues is to try to make sure that I get right what I decide. And that counsels in favor of not trying to do too much, not trying to decide questions that are too broad, not trying to decide questions that don't have to be decided, and not going to broader grounds for a decision when a narrower ground is available.
Alito also made a good show of deference to the elected branches of government, arguing that the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not make public policy. He clearly disregarded these remarks to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) when he joined with four other judges to strike down decades of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President:
SESSIONS: But we really want the court to be more modest and to draw back from some of its intervention and policy issues that are causing much angst around the country. You want to comment on that? Otherwise, Mr. Chairman, I would yield my time.
ALITO: Well, Senator, I think your policy views are much more legitimate than the policy views of the judiciary because members of Congress are elected for the purpose of formulating and implementing public policy and members of the judiciary are appointed for the purpose of interpreting and applying the law.