Last month, the US Senate failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department after a right-wing smear campaign that attacked Adegbile for helping provide legal representation at the appellate level to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer, while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination, effectively blocking the nomination and throwing out the window the constitutional ideal that all criminal defendants should have access to quality legal representation.
Last week, over one thousand law professors came together to publicly condemn the vote by writing a letter to the Senate where they explain the ramifications of the vote for law students, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole. The letter – dated April 25, 2014 – states:
[W]e are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.
As law teachers we are particularly concerned about the disquieting message conveyed to law students and graduates entering the profession who may fear that their engagement with pro bono representation of unpopular clients may imperil their future eligibility for federal government service.
…We believe that the criticism of Mr. Adegbile, based on his representation of a death row inmate, is unjust and inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of our profession. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to persons charged with crimes, and all accused defendants are entitled to zealous representation by competent counsel.
The highest calling of any lawyer is to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court to every defendant.
…The debate surrounding Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation also threatens to undermine the widely-recognized importance of lawyers providing pro bono representation to meet unmet legal needs. Providing representation to defendants on death row is among the most challenging, resource-intensive and critically important pro bono counsel a lawyer can provide. Lawyers engaged in this work should be commended rather than denounced for their hard-work and commitment to ensuring that the protections of the Constitution are extended even to those accused of heinous crimes.
…Finally, as every lawyer knows – including the 57 in the U.S. Senate – we are not our clients. The constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel would be turned on its head if the contrary view were advanced. Indeed, had past candidates for public office been held to the Senate’s unjust standard, our nation would have been deprived of the likes of President John Adams (who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre), Justice Thurgood Marshall (who defended countless black men on death row in the Jim Crow South), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who represented convicted serial killer John Errol Ferguson).
Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients. In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.
By the time the Senate went home for its month-long holiday in before Christmas, Republicans had made it clear they would continue to obstruct the nominations process so as to cripple both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board. Rather than meekly accept this threat to American consumers and workers, President Obama made several recess appointments, most notably of Richard Cordray, to allow those bodies to function.
As partisan political retaliation, Utah Sen. Mike Lee has claimed the mantle of the Constitution and threatened to escalate his party's sabotage of the judicial nominations process, a threat the president himself condemned over the weekend. In a Huffington Post piece today, the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall takes Sen. Lee to task.
[I]t is Senator Lee who is most clearly violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution and playing partisan games. Senator Lee made it absolutely clear that he would not comply with his constitutionally-mandated responsibility to give his "advice and consent" on the Cordray nomination. In an official Senate release in December, he stated that he had no objection to Richard Cordray himself, but that he felt it was his "duty to oppose his confirmation as part of [his] opposition to the creation of CFPB itself."
Actually, according to the Constitution, it's Senator Lee's duty to vote "no" on legislation he opposes, such as the law that set up the CFPB, and to provide "advice and consent" on the president's nominees, judicial or otherwise. Senator Lee's statement is an abdication of his constitutional duty, and it is that hard-line position taken by the President's opponents, coupled with the trick of "pro-forma" Senate sessions designed specifically to prevent the President from exercising his constitutional authority to make recess appointments, that led to President Obama's action on the Cordray appointment.
Kendall's piece is worth reading in its entirety, as it points out many of the hypocritical and misleading ways that Mike Lee waves the Constitution as a weapon to achieve his partisan and ideological ends.
Researchers at People For’s Right Wing Watch were watching Mike Huckabee’s presidential candidate forum on Saturday, and picked out this interesting exchange:
First, Perry presents his plan to impose term limits on Supreme Court justices – which he correctly points out would require a constitutional amendment. Then he explains why he wants to do this: because the Supreme Court (which happens to be the most conservative in decades) keeps on making decisions he finds “offensive.”
Perry’s advice to the Justices who keep on offending him: “Don’t use any of these different clauses, whether it’s the Commerce Clause or any of the other clauses to try to try to change what our founding fathers were telling us.”
The Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to tackle economic issues that affect the entire country, is at the center of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. It has also played a major role in the formation of the country: according to a report by PFAW Foundation, the clause has been "the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”
Of course, there can be many different interpretations of the Constitution – that’s what makes so-called “originalism” more opinion than science – but Perry’s doing more than offering a differening interpretation. He’s outright telling us that he wants to ignore the parts of the Constitution that he doesn’t like. In other words, he doesn’t want judges to use the Constitution to interpret the Constitution.
Perry’s latest Constitutional law lecture places him solidly in the company of fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, who has said he’ll urge Congress to subpoena judges who make decisions he doesn’t like and encourage his administration to flatly ignore unpalatable court rulings.
On November 8, 2011, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a forum at the National Press Club entitled America as a ‘Christian Nation’ – A conversation with experts on religion, history, law and the Constitution. The panel of experts discussed the historical and political forces behind the often-peddled myth that America was founded specifically as a Christian Nation and the effects of this narrative in today’s religious and political dialogue. Highlights are below, and you can find the full video with the transcript here.
Peter Montgomery, Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation, provides background information on the notion of America as a “Christian Nation” and introduces the panel.
Dr. John Ragosta, author and Resident Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, describes the historical significance of 18th and 19th century evangelical Baptists’ insistence on the separation of church and state.
Dr. John Ragosta compares religious nations that have officially sectarian governments with the United States' experience under the doctrine of the separation of church and state and challenges the misleading statements and faulty evidence cited by figures such as David Barton to advance the myth that America is a “Christian nation.”
Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation and the Director of the Law and Government program at American University’s Washington College of Law, describes the ways in which David Barton's ideology is at odds with the Constitution and its ban on religious tests for holding public office.
Jamie Raskin explains why interpreting the Constitution as a religious document is inaccurate, and betrays the original meaning of the First Amendment and denies two centuries of American jurisprudential development.
Dr. Julie Ingersoll, author, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida and contributor to Religion Dispatches, analyzes the incorporation of David Barton’s biblical views into conservative policy.
Dr. Ingersoll identifies some of the subtle language used by Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists, including a focus on “sphere sovereignty.”
Dr. John Kinney, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaver Dam, Virginia, and member of People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, argues against the notion that there is only one correct, “Christian” interpretation of the bible and public policy, and provides a progressive perspective on the role of the church in public and private life.
In the Tea Party, it’s all the rage these days to declare everything unconstitutional – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, disaster relief, federal civil rights laws, health care reform, basically any law that enables the federal government to take on national-scale problems.
One of the main strategies that the Tea Party has been using to push this extreme and regressive view of the Constitution is pushing aside the Commerce Clause, the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
The Commerce Clause, long recognized by courts as the rationale for important progressive economic programs, has come under fire from opponents of health care reform, who are arguing in the courts – with mixed success -- that the clause does not allow the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.
In a new report, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin argues that “a powerful case can be made “that the Commerce Clause is “the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”
Without it, Congress could not have passed the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of race discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and dozens of other federal statutes protecting the environment and establishing the rights of citizens in the workplace and the marketplace.
Why, then, does the Commerce Clause seem pale and dull next to the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses?
Perhaps it is because these provisions clearly declare radiant principles of liberty and equality that translate into easily understood and intuitively attractive protections against arbitrary government power.
Because the Commerce Clause has been a powerful instrument of social reform over the last century, its meaning has periodically provoked deep jurisprudential controversy. This is ironic since the Court routinely and unanimously upheld congressional assertion of a comprehensive federal commerce power before broad democratic purposes entered the picture. The commerce power became the target of virulent attack by corporate conservatives when progressives and labor gained political influence and used this power as the constitutional basis upon which to regulate and improve the character, terms and conditions of the American workplace and marketplace in favor of large numbers of the American people.
Raskin follows the Commerce Clause from its origins at the Constitutional Convention, through the Lochner era, when an activist court “put the Commerce Clause in a straightjacket” to strike down federal worker protection laws and other attempts to regulate interstate commerce, to the late 1930s, when the court returned to a more expansive view of the clause, allowing progressive economic programs and civil rights reforms to flourish, to the Rehnquist Court, which again began to narrow down the scope of Congress’s constitutional regulatory power, to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which threaten to take us back to the Lochner era.
What if our federal government didn’t have the power to provide for emergency disaster relief? To prevent children from being put to work at an early age…without even the protection of a minimum wage? To prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and public schools? To help struggling states fund public education?
These are the logical ends of the radical, regressive vision of the Constitution that has become popular among the Tea Party -- and that for the first time is enjoying serious consideration in the halls of Congress and in federal court rooms.
The Center For American Progress’s Ian Millhiser released a paper today outlining some of the ways the Tea Party’s selective worship of parts of the Constitution threatens to derail the success of the hard-won protections contained in the whole Constitution. Millhiser brainstorms a list of some of the things that would be unconstitutional under the Tea Party’s Constitution:
- Social Security and Medicare
- Medicaid, children's health insurance, and other health care programs
- All federal education programs
- All federal antipoverty programs
- Federal disaster relief
- Federal food safety inspections and other food safety programs
- Child labor laws, the minimum wage, overtime, and other labor protections
- Federal civil rights laws
You can add to that the basic definition of citizenship and the concept of separation of church and state. And that doesn’t even include the progressive amendments to the Constitution that Tea Party activists want to roll back, such as the amendment providing for the direct election of U.S. senators.
PFAW examined the Tea Party’s dangerous cherry-picked Constitution in a report last year, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America , which demonstrates that the Tea Party’s supposed allegiance to the Constitution deliberately ignores the text and history of the original document and the progressive amendments that have extended its freedoms to more and more Americans.
Earlier this week, PFAW Foundation, CAP and the Constitutional Accountability Center launched an effort called “Constitutional Progressives,” aimed at protecting and defending the whole Constitution – it’s its text, history and more than 200 years of amendments. You can sign a pledge to support the whole Constitution at constitutionalprogressives.org.
North Carolina’s Senate today passed a measure to put an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot. North Carolina is currently the only Southeast state that hasn’t amended its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, although it already has a statutory ban.
State anti-marriage amendments like North Carolina's are often put on the ballot to boost turnout for other elections – the Bush administration, for instance, was active in getting 11 anti-marriage amendments on state ballots in 2004.
What is remarkable about these amendments is that they change state constitutions to take away rights from citizens, while the traditional role of state and federal constitutions has been to guarantee rights for citizens, especially those who may not be popular among the majority.
It’s sad to see yet another state putting the rights of a minority at the mercy of a majority vote.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made a surprisingly refreshing statement in Wednesday's GOP presidential debate, when, answering a question about immigration reform, he said, “I hope that all of us as we deal with this immigration issue will always see it as an issue that revolves around real human beings.”
That Huntsman’s basic call for human empathy was surprising to hear at a GOP debate shows just how radically the party has shifted to the right in recent years. Outside the Beltway digs up this clip of George H.W. Bush and GOP hero Ronald Reagan discussing immigration reform at a debate in 1980:
Bush argues in favor of allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to attend public school, saying “We’re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law.” Reagan adds, “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here.”
Contrast this with today’s Republican Party, where a growing contingent is pushing to amend or just intentionally misread the Constitution’s definition of citizenship, and where the two top GOP presidential candidates, when asked about the issue at last night’s debate, talked only about building a border fence and eliminating benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote that Ronald Reagan, as much as he is a hero to today’s GOP, could never have gotten the Republican nomination in today’s polarized political climate. It’s remarkable that in today’s Republican Party, acknowledging the humanity of people who your policies affect makes you an outlier and a curiosity.
In a badly-needed boost to the rule of law and the nation's much-abused new health reform, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit today rejected two attacks on "Obamacare." In one case, Virginia v. Sebelius, the appeals court found that the Commonwealth of Virginia lacked standing to challenge the individual mandate provision and in the other, Liberty University v. Geithner, it ruled that a challenge to the plan's financial penalty for not purchasing individual health insurance coverage was not ready to be heard since the penalty constitutes a tax and taxes may not be challenged until after they have gone into effect and been paid. Both decisions by Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz are a breath of fresh air in a legal and political environment now polluted by partisan and ideological attacks on the health plan.
The decision in the Virginia case, brought by the state's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was an emphatic victory for basic rules of federalism and judicial restraint. Judge Motz found that the court could not hear the case because Virginia lacked standing under long-established jurisdictional principles. As a state, Virginia suffered no "injury in fact" because of the individual insurance mandate it was challenging; the state itself is not "burdened" by it, state officials are not "commandeered" by it, and state sovereignty is not impaired in any way by it. Virginia asserted that it had standing because of a conflict between the new law and a state statute, the "Virginia Health Care Freedom Act," a statute which was transparently cooked up by the legislature for the sole purpose of creating a conflict with the federal health reform law. This state law simply declared that no resident of Virginia "shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual insurance coverage." It had no enforcement mechanism and existed solely for purposes of organizing litigation against the national government. Judge Motz correctly found that, if this kind of metaphysical declaration were enough to create standing, a state could concoct jurisdiction to challenge any federal law just by writing a "not-X" statute. I recall that opponents of the health reform introduced the same meaningless legislation in Maryland and I took great pleasure in pointing out that it had no content. At any rate, Judge Andre Davis dissented from the decision, arguing that the standing problem was no big deal; he would have simply ruled that the individual mandate provision did not exceed Congressional power under the Constitution—and, on this point, he is clearly right.
The other decision, in the Liberty University case, was based on the significant new ruling that the individual insurance mandate is actually a form of federal taxation and the federal Anti-Injunction Act prevents the court from entertaining challenges to taxes until they actually go into effect and have been paid by the litigants. "A taxpayer can always pay an assessment, seek a refund directly from the IRS, and then bring a refund action in federal court," Judge Motz wrote, but the Anti-Injunction Act bars pre-enforcement actions. It is definitely of note that Judge Motz found that, under the Act, financial penalties and exactions are to be treated like a "tax." Both supporters and critics of the decision are noting that this may mark an effort to define and defend the individual insurance mandate as a legitimate exercise of the congressional Taxing power, but this may be over-reading into the court's interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act, which does have its own body of rules and precedents.
It's not clear yet whether the disappointed litigants will try to take the case en banc to the full right-leaning Fourth Circuit or petition for appeal directly to the Supreme Court. All roads lead to the Supremes in this case since there is currently a split between the Sixth Circuit, which upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and the Eleventh Circuit, which struck it down. In addition, the DC Circuit will be hearing oral arguments in a healthcare challenge in two weeks, so it, too, may add its voice to the discussion by the end of the year. At some point next year, the justices will have to grab the bull by the horns and decide whether they want to fully revive the class-driven judicial activism of the Lochner period by knocking down laws promoting public health and welfare.
Right-wing columnist George Will has a column this morning filled with deception and misdirection on the Supreme Court's infamous Lochner decision. Lochner was the decision in which arch-conservative Supreme Court Justices struck down New York's law setting a maximum work week for bakers (six days a week, ten hours a day).
Because of their much greater economic power, employers in New York had been able to compel employees to agree to terrible working conditions. The Lochner Court, seeking a way to impose its own economic and social policies, decided that the law violated the individual baker's constitutional right to freely contract his labor. As manipulated by these Justices, the Constitution enshrined the "right" of the powerless individual to remain powerless in the face of oppression.
Lochner has come to represent the far-right Court's use of the Constitution to impose its own preferred economic and policy goals. The Lochner era saw the Court strike down laws limiting child labor, setting a minimum wage and protecting union rights, all in the name of the Constitution.
Such wild judicial activism has been thoroughly discredited since the 1930s. But as the Roberts Court increasingly chooses to legislate from the bench to protect Big Business, forces of the Right are going so far as to seek to resurrect Lochner. Will writes that
Since the New Deal, courts have stopped defending liberty of contract and other unenumerated rights grounded in America's natural rights tradition. These are referred to by the Ninth Amendment, which explicitly protects unenumerated rights "retained by the people," and by the "privileges or immunities" and "liberty" cited in the 14th Amendment.
Reading that, you would never know that it is conservatives and not liberals who for decades have tossed the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments in the trash heap by claiming that if a right is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, then it does not exist. Conservatives have heaped scorn on the idea that the Constitution protects the right to privacy. How many times have they said that the word "abortion" doesn't appear in the Constitution, as if that was at all relevant?
And the idea that the Supreme Court has "stopped defending the liberty of contract" is absurd. What it has done is stop misusing the liberty of contract to strike down consumer and employee protections.
During the First Gilded Age of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, American society had evolved significantly from our nation's founding. With the unprecedented consolidation of wealth, large corporations and their owners and managers dwarfed individuals in power in a way that our nation had never seen before. In addition, we were changing from an agricultural nation of independent farmers and small merchants into an industrial nation where millions of people began to rely on wage labor with vastly more powerful employers for survival.
Fortunately, the Constitution protects individuals from enthrallment to the powerful, whether it is a government or a private actor holding the whip. In the latter case, it empowers Americans to consolidate our power – through government – to accomplish that which individuals cannot do, including countering the otherwise unbridled power that economic forces have granted to some.
The corporate-funded Tea Party movement is perhaps the most visible effort to discredit the idea that Americans have the constitutional right to prevent giant corporations from oppressing workers, destroying the environment, and endangering consumers at will. The Constitution is not a tool to be wielded against Americans in the service of a developing and growing plutocracy; it's a shield to ensure all Americans have equal rights and protections under the law.
If you watched TV in the 1980s, you surely remember this:
The TV show Diff’rent Strokes – which featured the iconic tagline “What you talkin’ bout, Willis”? – was produced by PFAW’s founder Norman Lear.
And when Norman heard that Mitt Romney – whose first name is actually Willard – was running for president, it rang a bell.
In a piece in Variety this week, Norman asks Willard Mitt Romney exactly what he is talking about:
"What You Talkin' Bout, Willard?"
By Norman Lear
I don't have to explain that line to Americans who grew up watching one of our production company's sitcoms, "Diff'rent Strokes", which ran for eight seasons between 1978 and 1986 and for years after in syndication. Any one who knows the show will recall this signature phrase repeated by the young Gary Coleman to his older brother when stupefied and maddened by something his brother just said, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?"
I know some people think Willard Mitt Romney is the only responsible adult i n that implausible field of presidential hopefuls, but often he will say something so surprising and disingenuous in this seemingly endless campaign, I find myself thinking, 'What you talkin' bout, Willard?
Absent a profanity, I don't know a better reaction to Romney's declaration that "corporations are people." Of course he'd be correct if the people he's referring to are the billionaire Koch brothers. Or if they are the people who are setting up phony corporations for the purpose of supporting Willard Mitt Romney's candidacy with million dollar gifts, and they could of course include the Kochs.
"What you talkin' bout, Willard?" leaps to mind at the thought of the natty Harvard-educated Wall Street executive and former Massachusetts governor railing against "eastern elites" at the last Republican National Convention. And it aches to be shouted out when I am reminded that Willard Mitt Romney, seeking someone to head his legal team, chose a man whose reactionary views about the U.S. Constitution led to a bi-partisan Senate vote to keep him off the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.
Willard's embrace of Bork, despite his angry rants since then, such as those calling for active government censorship of popular culture, is clearly meant to signal far-right activists that they can count on more Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito, who are all energetically working to make Romney's assertion that "corporations are people" a legal reality.
What are you talkin' bout, Willard?
NPR reports today on President Obama’s unprecedented efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench:
The White House says almost half of the 97 candidates who have won confirmation during Obama's presidency are women; about a quarter are black. And Obama has nominated four openly gay people, more than any other president. He's also doubled the number of Asian-American judges on the bench.
Obama continued that pattern earlier this week when he nominated Adalberto Jose Jordan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and Miranda Du, an Asian American who lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia for almost a year as a child before coming to the U.S., for the district court in Nevada.
But that strategy may have a cost, says Caroline Fredrickson, who leads the American Constitution Society and has been following the judge nominees closely.
"Obama is nominating many more diverse nominees than his predecessors ... strikingly so," Fredrickson says. "But the nominees are not getting confirmed with the same kind of success."
Some of the longest waiting nominees, Louis Butler of Wisconsin, Charles Bernard Day of Maryland and Edward Dumont of Washington happen to be black or openly gay.
"For women and minorities, it's just been a bigger hill to climb before they actually get a vote," Fredrickson says. "And so for whatever the reasons, the facts speak for themselves."
Yes, the facts do speak for themselves. PFAW, in a memo released Tuesday, calculated that so far, the president’s women and minority nominees have waited on average 22 percent longer for a Senate confirmation vote than white men.
But the Senate’s slow pace confirming women and minority nominees has fed into a larger, equal opportunity obstruction agenda. As of Tuesday, there were 89 open seats on the federal judiciary, 37 of which had been designated as “judicial emergencies.” Pending on the Senate floor were 24 nominees who the Senate could easily have voted on, 21 of whom had no recorded opposition whatsoever in committee. Yet Republicans allowed a vote on only four of them. Twenty are still waiting for votes allowing them to take their posts.
Mitt Romney yesterday announced the members of his campaign’s legal advisory team, which will be led by none other than Robert Bork.
This is interesting because Judge Bork’s views of the law and Constitution were so extreme that his 1987 Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate.
Here’s the TV spot People For the American Way aired about Bork at the time:
Among the reasons PFAW, the United States Senate, and the American people concluded that Bork was not suitable for a seat on the nation’s highest court:
As another Massachusetts political leader, Sen. Edward Kennedy famously put it:
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks.
And in the years after his failed Supreme Court nomination, Bork kept on reminding us of why he would have been a disastrous Supreme Court Justice. From a 2002 PFAW report:
Robert Bork has carved out a niche for himself as an acerbic commentator on the Supreme Court, as well as various cultural issues. In fact, to Bork the two topics are closely related and the Supreme Court’s “illegitimacy” and its departure from the Constitution are in many ways responsible for our growing “cultural depravity.”
According to Bork, we are rapidly becoming a fragmented society that has totally lost its nerve and is now either unwilling or unable “to suppress public obscenity, punish crime, reform welfare, attach stigma to the bearing of illegitimate children, resist the demands of self-proclaimed victim groups for preferential treatment, or maintain standards of reason and scholarship.” Abortion, technology, affluence, hedonism, and modern liberalism are gradually ruining our culture and everywhere you look “the rot is spreading.”
Bork has denounced the public education system that “all too often teaches moral relativism and depravity.” He considers sensitivity training to be little more than “America’s version of Maoist re-education camps.” He has shared his fear that recognition of gay marriage would lead to accommodation of “man-boy associations, polygamists and so forth.” And he has criticized the feminist movement for “intimidat[ing] officials in ways that are destructive of family, hostile to masculinity, damaging to the military and disastrous for much education.”
It appears as if almost everything within contemporary culture possesses the capacity to offend Bork. He attacks movies for featuring “sex, violence and vile language.” He faults television for taking “a neutral attitude toward adultery, prostitution, and pornography” and for portraying homosexuals as “social victims.” As for the art world, most of what is produced is “meaningless, uninspired, untalented or perverse.” He frets that the “pornographic video industry is now doing billions of dollars worth of business” and the invention of the Internet will merely result in the further indulgence of “salacious and perverted tastes.” When it comes to music, “rock and rap are utterly impoverished … emotionally, aesthetically, and intellectually.”
More to the point, Bork is not content merely to criticize; he wants the government to do something about it. “Sooner or later,” he claims “censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues plunging to ever more sickening lows.” So committed is he to this cause that he dedicated an entire chapter in his 1996 book Slouching Toward Gomorrah to making “The Case for Censorship.” In it, he advocates censoring “the most violent and sexually explicit material now on offer, starting with obscene prose and pictures available on the Internet, motion pictures that are mere rhapsodies to violence, and the more degenerate lyrics of rap music.”
When asked by Christianity Today about how he would decide what should and should not be censored, Bork announced: “I don’t make any fine distinctions; I’m just advocating censorship.” He went on to argue that the United States has a long history of censorship, and that such censorship “didn’t suppress any good art, it didn’t eliminate any ideas.” He goes on to state that, were individuals to decry such censorship as inhibiting their individual liberty or right to express themselves, he would reply “… yes, that is precisely what we are after.”
In choosing Bork to head his legal team, Mitt Romney is sending a clear message to the farthest right of the Right Wing... \and reminding us all that our 2012 vote for president is also a vote for the Supreme Court for the next generation.
This op-ed was originally published at OtherWords.org
Americans realize that our rights and liberties depend on having a system of justice that we can trust. We know we should be able to show up in court to contest anything from a parking ticket to felony and make our case — whether we're rich or poor.
But there's one U.S. court where it's increasingly hard for individual Americans to have their voices heard. The Supreme Court — our court of last resort — is making it harder for individual citizens to hold the rich and powerful accountable.
In recent years, the high court has consistently twisted the law and Constitution to put giant corporations' profits over the rights of individual Americans. That means it's getting harder for citizens to seek justice when corporations stiff us.Supreme Corp.
In June, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that more than a million women who had suffered wage discrimination as employees of Walmart couldn't join together to sue the company. Several women had filed a class action suit against the company on behalf of themselves and up to 1.5 million other women who faced similar treatment, seeking to pool their resources in order to go up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world. But the majority opinion ignored what the women had in common and focused instead on the differences bound to arise within a group that large, ruling that they couldn't go in it together to hold Walmart accountable. By sharply reducing the ability of employees to pool their resources, the court has made it easier for big employers to discriminate.
The Walmart case is only one example of the Supreme Court's growing tendency to side with the interests of big corporations over the rights of ordinary citizens. Earlier this year, the court ruled that Californians who had fallen prey to an alleged scam by their cell phone company couldn't join together to hold the company accountable. Because each customer was cheated out of a relatively small amount, few customers would go to the trouble of recovering their money. Many victims had not even noticed the relevant charge in their bill.
For these reasons, only a large class action lawsuit would serve to hold the company accountable. In another case, the court ruled that a financial firm accused of defrauding its investors couldn't be held liable because the firm had protected itself with a cleverly designed corporate structure. In doing so, the court both ignored the clear meaning of the law and essentially provided financial firms with an instruction manual on how to defraud their clients without being caught.
In the past year, the Supreme Court also handed two big victories to pharmaceutical companies. In one, it ruled that a state couldn't prohibit the sale or use of pharmacies' prescription data by drug companies without the prescribing doctor's authorization. In the other, the court let a pharmaceutical company off the hook for failing to warn about the dangerous side effects of a drug it was selling — a failure that resulted in at least one patient developing a painful and incurable neurological disorder.
Of course, sometimes the law really is on the side of big business. Our justice system requires that big corporations get a fair hearing just as ordinary citizens do. But they don't deserve more of a voice than the rest of us. The Supreme Court, guided by a right-wing majority, has increasingly bought the convoluted arguments of moneyed corporations lock, stock, and barrel, while turning a blind eye to the law — to say nothing of the impact on ordinary Americans. These decisions don't just hurt the individuals directly involved in them. They hurt us all, by limiting our rights and sending a signal to the wealthy and powerful that they can go ahead and abuse the rest of us without consequence.
Our founders wrote the Constitution to protect individuals against the whims of the powerful. But too often lately, the Supreme Court has twisted our laws to protect the powerful from being held accountable by individuals. Supreme Court justices and lower federal court judges must defend the Constitution, not twist it beyond recognition.
Marge Baker is executive vice president of People For the American Way.
The U.S. Constitution establishes a federal court system that empowers ordinary individuals to hold accountable even the most powerful people and corporations. But when people's access to courts is choked off, ordinary people lose and the already-powerful benefit. One of the most devious ways to impede access to courts is to ensure there aren't enough judges to hear cases, and that is just what Senate Republicans continue to do through their unprecedented obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that there are currently 38 judicial emergencies in the United States. That is an administrative designation for courts where there are so many vacancies that the remaining judges cannot effectively do their jobs. The Senate could significantly reduce that number without delay by finally having floor votes on the 25 nominees who have been reported by the Judiciary Committee.
Most of these have been pending since at least May, yet Republicans, abusing their minority position, stubbornly refuse to allow a confirmation vote. You might not guess from the GOP's insistence on delay that all of these nominees except one enjoyed strong bipartisan support in committee. In fact, 22 of the 25 were approved without recorded opposition. There is simply no good reason not to hold an immediate vote on these consensus nominees.
Thirteen of these consensus nominees would fill judicial emergencies, immediately reducing by a third the number of urgently overstressed courts.
But as long as Senate Republicans continue to sabotage the judicial branch of the United States government, more and more Americans will find themselves unable to have their day in court. That's bad for America, but good for giant corporations seeking to avoid being held accountable.
It is clear which of these two Senate Republicans are looking out for.
Last year, we released a report on the myriad ways that the Tea Party movement – supposedly obsessed with the Constitution – twists the United States’ founding documents beyond recognition.
This month, in the debate over the normally routine process of raising the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a default and the resulting massive setback to the recovering economy, we get another example.
Republicans in the House have introduced a plan that would, among other demands, require the passage of a constitutional “balanced budget” amendment before they will consider taking a simple step to avert economic disaster. In Slate on Friday, Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall explained why a balanced budget amendment -- championed by Utah senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee -- would not just be bad policy…it would be a big departure from the original text and intent of the Constitution:
It's fairly certain that George Washington and the other Founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 would be appalled by the Lee amendment. It is not an accident that the first two enumerated powers the Constitution vests in Congress are the power "to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" and "to borrow money on the credit of the United States." The Constitution's broad textual grant of power was a direct response to the Articles of Confederation, which had imposed crippling restrictions on Congress's power to borrow and tax. These restrictions plagued the Revolutionary War effort and made a deep and lasting impression on Washington and other war veterans. Lee and the other proponents of shrinking the federal government to restore freedom misapprehend that the Constitution recognized there would be no freedom without a strong federal government to promote it.
Finally, in a Constitution filled with broad principles of governance, the amendment's arbitrary spending limit of 18 percent of GDP—an awkward and unworkable figure—would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to Chief Justice John Marshall's warning in the landmark decision of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Lee's arbitrary spending limit "partake[s] of the prolixity of a legal code," and would be out of place in a document that is designed to "to endure for ages to come … to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."
We face a high duty when amending the Constitution: to match the Framers' maturity and foresight. By every measure that would have mattered to the Founders, Lee's proposed amendment easily flunks this test. Sen. Lee fancies himself a friend to the Constitution and an originalist. So why is he pushing for the ratification of an amendment that would take us back to the days before the Constitution was even ratified? The framers trusted in the wisdom of future legislators. The Balanced Budget Amendment represents a betrayal not only of our future but of our past as well.
Of course, the most pressing issue here is that House Republicans are playing chicken with the world economy in order to uphold massive tax breaks for the rich. But that they’re using such a misguided constitutional amendment as a bargaining chip speaks volumes about the Tea Party’s priorities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.
The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:
The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.
Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.
Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.
Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.
People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.
In a win for the millions of Americans who are set to receive health insurance through last year's healthcare reform law, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act constitutional. The full ruling can be read here.
The ruling comes in one of several challenges to the healthcare reform law being floated by Tea Party-affiliated groups and Republican attorneys general. (This particular challenge comes from the right-wing Thomas More Law Center.) The groups all challenge the law’s individual mandate, an idea first proposed by conservative groups as an acceptable method of ensuring universal healthcare. The appeals court found that the individual mandate is well within the reach of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate commerce between the states.
The 6th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to rule on the healthcare reform law, and it has been called one of the more conservative benches. Judge Jeffery Sutton, a George W. Bush nominee and former Scalia clerk, wrote a concurring opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. His concurrence offers a detailed and extremely respectful analysis – and rejection – of the claims that the law violates the Constitution because it compels people to purchase a product. He has been called “one of the nation’s leading advocates for conservative states-rights positions” yet, in addition to rejecting the Commerce Clause argument, he also gave short shrift to More’s Tenth Amendment argument.
From the court’s decision:
By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons. First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance
The ACA is clearly constitutional, but the fight is far from over. Despite the fact that this case has one of the nations’ leading conservatives ruling for the constitutionality of the ACA, there are more constitutional challenges still making their way through the courts.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they want to influence elections. Yesterday, the Court ruled that wealthy candidates and campaign donors have the First Amendment right not to have their spending matched by their opponents.
Welcome to the new logic of free speech in elections.
In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that a crucial provision of Arizona’s landmark clean elections law, which provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates who are up against particularly well-financed opponents, to be unconstitutional. Why? Because the provision to put publicly financed candidates on even footing with their privately financed opponents “chills” the speech of wealthy individuals and groups who want to pour money into elections.
Yes, if you’re a wealthy person or interest group looking to buy an impact in an election, you might be put off by knowing that, because of matching funds, you would never be able to overwhelm a publicly funded opponent into comparative silence. But, looking at it from the other side, if you’re a candidate who wants to spend your campaign talking to voters rather than donors, you might hesitate to take public financing if you knew you would never be able to even come close the funds of your opponent – without matching funds, the public financing system is all but useless. By taking away the mechanism by which a greater number of candidates can make their voices heard, the Court has stifled speech, rather than protected it.
Justice Elena Kagan, in a zinger-laden dissent, took on the majority’s “more speech is less speech” argument:
The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona's anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the "opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people."
People For’s Marge Baker had this to say:
The Roberts Court has once again twisted the Constitution to benefit the wealthy and powerful while leaving ordinary Americans with a diminished voice. Like in Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited legislatures from limiting corporate spending to influence elections, the Court’s majority has strayed from the text and history of the Constitution in order to prevent citizens from maintaining control over our democracy. The Roberts Court would do well to remember that the Constitution was written to protect democracy for all people, not just the rich and powerful. Today it has ruled not only that the wealthy have a right to spend more but that they have a right that everyone else spend less.