In the term that ended Monday, the Roberts Court continued its disturbing trend of removing the legal protections that are often the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. The Chamber of Commerce not only has been working to make this development happen, it has taken credit for it. As reported in Roll Call:
The liberal Constitutional Accountability Center released a report Tuesday pointing out the increasing philosophical alignment between the chamber and the Supreme Court.
The current court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has sided with the chamber's position on business cases 65 percent of the time, more than it did under any previous chief justice.
"The chamber is having a great deal of success in helping to shape the docket of cases that the Supreme Court hears and then having a lot of success in winning the cases," said Doug Kendall, a lead author of the report.
[T]he chamber has encouraged the notion that it is somehow influencing justices.
On the [Chamber's] litigation center's website, the group highlights a quote from Carter G. Phillips, a partner at Sidley Austin who often represents the chamber in the Supreme Court.
"Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center," he said.
You can read more about the Constitutional Accountability Center's report here.
Inside yesterday's Supreme Court opinion in Smith v. Bayer lies a repudiation of much of the far right's propaganda about judges. The severely flawed analogy of a judge interpreting the law with an umpire calling balls and strikes is one the right has favored since John Roberts used it at his confirmation hearing for his nomination to be Chief Justice. What makes yesterday's repudiation particularly interesting is that every member of the Court, including Roberts, signed on to it.
The opinion discussed whether one could assume that West Virginia's rule on forming class actions is the same as the federal rule, whose wording it closely follows. The lower court had concluded that the state rule is the same as the federal one. But as the unanimous Supreme Court explained:
The Eighth Circuit relied almost exclusively on the near-identity of the two Rules' texts. That was the right place to start, but not to end. Federal and state courts, after all, can and do apply identically worded procedural provisions in widely varying ways. If a State's procedural provision tracks the language of a Federal Rule, but a state court interprets that provision in a manner federal courts have not, then the state court is using a different standard and thus deciding a different issue.
In other words, you can't just read the text of a law and automatically know how to interpret it. Different judges can reasonably come to different conclusions about how to interpret the exact same text. The Justices do not condemn state courts for this, but instead understand it as an unexceptional aspect of jurisprudence.
In other words, judging is not simply the mechanical calling of balls and strikes.
We write a lot about “judicial emergencies”—situations where slow-downs in the judicial nominations process have led court systems to be woefully understaffed. These cases are not emergencies because judges have to work harder—they’re emergencies because when courts are overworked, access to justice is delayed.
Last week, Politics Daily’s Andrew Cohen explained what is happening in Arizona, where Chief District Court Judge John Roll was murdered when he stopped by an event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to talk with her about the overcrowded courts. Roll had been planning to request that Arizona be labeled a “judicial emergency” in order to loosen restrictions on speedy trials:
Roll did not live to see his request granted. But on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he was shot by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner, Roll's successor finally did declare a "judicial emergency" in the state after consulting with the 9th Circuit's Judicial Council. The move by Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver allows federal judges in the state to wait for as long as 180 days between the time of the indictment or complaint and the time of trial, even if a criminal defendant wants to go to trial more quickly.
The administrative move could delay the Loughner case itself, depending upon whether the 22-year-old defendant's attorneys try to change the trial venue from Arizona to another state or if federal prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty against Loughner. Most federal murder cases do not go to trial quickly anyway, in large part because of the significant pre-trial work it typically takes for lawyers to prepare their cases. The government has not yet charged Loughner with a capital crime. The next hearing in the case is set for March 9.
The extraordinary action by Silver was taken because of the sheer volume of cases. According to the 9th Circuit: "The Arizona federal court has the third highest criminal caseload in the nation, driven by illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Criminal cases have increased 65 percent since 2008, when the federal government greatly expanded its law enforcement efforts along the border. The bulk of the criminal caseload is assigned to the court's Tucson division, where three judges currently handle approximately 1,200 cases each" (emphasis added).
There are currently 101 empty seats in the federal courts, 49 of which have been labeled as judicial emergencies [pdf]. Chief Justice John Roberts recently pleaded with the Senate to stop holding up judicial nominees, saying their stalling had resulted in “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.” Justice Anthony Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times, “It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk.”
In an editorial memo last week, PFAW outlined the Senate obstruction that has been largely responsible for the slow pace of filling judicial vacancies in the Obama administration:
On the occasions when it has confirmed nominees to the bench, the Senate has slowed down the process to the point of absurdity. During the first two years of the George W. Bush administration, District Court nominees were confirmed in an average of 25 days. Under President Obama, the wait has averaged 104 days. For Circuit Court judges, the time has increased six-fold, from 26 days to 163 days on average.
Senators need only to look to Arizona to see the real impact that playing politics with judicial nominations has on the ability of citizens to get prompt access to justice.
Chief Justice John Roberts called on Friday for Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with judicial nominees. Referring to “the persistent problem of judicial vacancies,” Roberts urged the president and the Senate to find a way to fill the growing number of vacancies in the federal courts:
“We do not comment on the merits of individual nominees,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote on Friday. “That is as it should be. The judiciary must respect the constitutional prerogatives of the president and Congress in the same way that the judiciary expects respect for its constitutional role.”
But he identified what he called a systemic problem.
“Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” he said.
The upshot, he said, was “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.”
The chief justice noted that the Senate recently filled a number of vacancies. Including 19 recently confirmed judges, the Senate has confirmed 62 of Mr. Obama’s nominees. There are 96 federal court vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
“There remains,” the chief justice wrote, “an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.”
Before the Senate left town for Christmas, it confirmed only 19 of the 38 judicial nominations that had been pending on its calendar. Many of the nominees, easily confirmed once their nominations reached a vote, had been waiting as long as a year just to get a vote from the Senate. Of the 19 nominees left on the calendar, the vast majority had little or no opposition from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee...but they all will start the confirmation process over again in the new year.
In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:
This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.
The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.
Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.
Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:
Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.
The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:
Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.
When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”
At yesterday's oral arguments on Thompson v. North American Stainless – the case of the fired fiancé – the Justices discussed whether Title VII allows Eric Thompson to sue his employer for firing him in retaliation for a discrimination complaint lodged by his fiancée. Everyone agrees that Title VII prohibits the company from firing her. The Justices of the Supreme Court are trying to figure out if that federal law also protects her fiancé.
The Washington Post reports:
But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wondered if the betrothed were included, how far would the law extend.
"Does it include simply a good friend?" he asked. "Does it include somebody who just has lunch in the cafeteria every day with the person who engaged in the protected conduct? Somebody who once dated the person who engaged in the protected conduct?"
[The fired employee's attorney] said the person fired would have to prove the intent was to punish the person who complained. And then the person would have to show that the retaliatory action was serious enough to dissuade a reasonable person from filing a complaint.
Justice Antonin Scalia put himself in the role of employer, saying he would want a clear rule on who he "had to treat with kid gloves."
Note that Justices Alito and Scalia are not mechanically calling balls and strikes, as in the severely flawed umpire metaphor then-Judge John Roberts used at his confirmation hearings - and which conservatives have been using since to bamboozle the American public. In interpreting Title VII, they are taking policy considerations into account: How would their interpretation work? How could any line-drawing be justified? How could the needs of employers for clarity be met?
Conservative supporters of Alito and Scalia who repeat the tired "balls and strikes" line simply cannot be taken seriously. They simply use it to mask their extremist, results-oriented viewpoint that no matter what the Constitution and statutes actually say, corporations and powerful special interests should win, while workers, women, gays, immigrants, and liberals should lose.
A classic claim of pro-corporate shills regarding Citizens United is that campaign finance reform is the equivalent to banning books and government censorship. As Chief Justice Roberts said, “we don’t put our First Amendment rights in the hands of FEC bureaucrats.”
But what Americans are experiencing this election year is the emergence of political organizations with secret sources of funding, an increase in corporate “Astroturfing” through front groups, and an avalanche of money to run misleading advertisements across the country.
In the New York Times, Timothy Egan points out how the astronomical amount of money poured into this election is actually drowning-out the voices of citizens and distorting the democratic process. Egan writes that the Court’s decision in Citizens United “will go down in infamy” for giving corporations the right to easily and secretly fund political groups “to bludgeon the electorate” by flooding the airways with deceptive ads:
Here’s what’s happened: Spending by interest groups in this fall’s senate races has gone up 91 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. At the same time, spending by political parties has fallen 61 percent.
So corporations, whose sole purpose is to return money to shareholders, were given the legal right to be “natural persons” in our elections and are now overwhelming them. But political parties, which exist to promote ideas and governing principles, have seen their voices sharply diminished.
If the hell of Colorado’s current election season is what those isolated, black-robed kingmakers on the high court had in mind, you certainly didn’t see it in the nonsense of their decision.
“We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in his concurrence of Citizens.
I can’t find any celebrating in Colorado, except by broadcasters cashing the checks of big special interest groups. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, by a large majority in the polls, agree on this: outside groups should not be allowed to dominate election spending.
The court missed the reality of what would happen once the floodgates were opened to the deepest pockets of the biggest players. They turned back a century of fine-tuning the democracy, dating to Teddy Roosevelt’s 1907 curbs, through the Tillman Act, against Gilded Age dominance of elections. They focused on a fantasy.
“The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox or the lonely pamphleteer,” wrote Justice Roberts.
Come to Colorado, your honor. You will see that those iconic individuals don’t have a prayer in the post-Citizens-United world, let alone some broadcast time for the soapbox.
Here was the court’s prediction: “The appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Really? Perhaps the top complaint this year about the barrage of outside attack ads is that nobody knows who is behind them, which promotes the exact opposite of what the Roberts court predicted.
Celebrating yet? Get used to it. Though Republican-leaning special interests are currently outspending the other side by a 9-to-1 ratio, Democrats will soon follow Karl Rove’s lead and learn to bundle and hide wealthy contributors.
As ugly as 2010 has been, the next election cycle, for president in 2012, will bring us a John Roberts’s America that will make this year look like a town hall meeting from a Rockwell painting.
Sen. John Cornyn, in his boilerplate remarks about the “judicial activism” conservatives like to associate with Elena Kagan, attempted to throw the Solicitor General’s own words back at her. Kagan, Cornyn insisted, would not rely on the “Constitution ratified by the American people and the laws passed by Congress,” but rather that she would solve tensions “between her Constitutional values” using “her prudence and judgment.” (He demonstrated his contempt for “prudence” and “judgment” by spitting the words out in disgust).
This is what Kagan actually said, in a written response to questions from Cornyn:
Question: In Confirmation Messes, Old and New, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 919, 932 (1995), you wrote that “many of the votes a Supreme Court Justice casts have little to do with technical legal ability and much to do with conceptions of value.”
a. Please explain in greater detail what you meant in this statement.
Response: I was referring to constitutional values, by which I mean the fundamental principles articulated and embodied in our Constitution. In some cases, constitutional values point in different directions, and judges must exercise prudence and judgment in resolving the tension between them. In doing so, judges must always look to legal sources—the text, structure, and history of the Constitution, as well as the Supreme Court’s precedents—not to their own personal values, political beliefs, or policy views.
Kagan wasn’t talking about tension in her own values—she was talking about the tension inherent in the values of the Constitution. For more on that point, Cornyn might want to read former Justice David Souter’s excellent explanation of this principle, or even just sit down and read a few recent Supreme Court cases, which typically get to the Court precisely because they embody hard-to-resolve tensions between constitutional values.
He might also want to re-watch Kagan’s debunking of the John Roberts doctrine of the judge-as-umpire, in which she patiently explains that “judging requires judgment':
As the questioning in Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing finally gets underway, right-wing groups are busy releasing statements and reports claiming she is everything from a "clear and present danger to the Constitution" to a sign of the end times.
The Judicial Crisis Network's first day write-up is particularly confusing, as they seem convinced that Kagan is trying to "disguise herself as the next John Roberts"
The Senate Judiciary Committee just concluded the first day of Elena Kagan's hearings to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court. Our summary of Day 1: She may not be a Constitutionalist, but she sure plays one on TV.
As we expected, Kagan followed in Justice Sotomayor's footsteps and disguised herself as the next John Roberts, and Democratic Senators did their best to help her hide from her record of extreme activism on abortion, 2nd Amendment rights, and the scope of government power. According to Kagan, "what the Supreme Court does is to safeguard the rule of law, through a commitment to even-handedness, principle, and restraint." In the immortal words of The Who, "Don't get fooled again."
Seeing as it was John Roberts who "disguised" himself as a umpire who would just call balls and strikes and then, once confirmed, revealed himself to be a blatant judicial activist, that is a pretty ironic criticism for JCN to level.
But at least the JCN's complaints are at least coherent, unlike those of Gordon Klingenschmitt:
Chaplain Klingenschmitt has contracted with a team of investigative journalists including Brian Camenker, Amy Contrada and Peter LaBarbera to investigate and report breaking news about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.
While serving as Dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan's administration demanded and forced Blue-Cross, Blue-Shield to cover sex-change operations as an "equal right" paid benefit, harming gender-confused students, as confirmed in 2006 and 2008 by Harvard Crimson newspaper articles.
Kagan also offered sympathetic ear to lesbian group Lambda's Transgender Task Force demand to force all women to share public bathrooms and locker-rooms with cross-dressing men, which is now part of Harvard's dormitory policy, according to the report.
"This is further proof Elena Kagan cannot be trusted to impartially rule on Obamacare or bathroom bills like ENDA, since she believes sin is a Constitutional right," said Chaplain Klingenschmitt, "but rights come from God, who never grants the right to sin."
Because if anything is going to clarify these confirmation hearings, is a report written by a bunch of militantly anti-gay activists like Klingenschmitt, Camenker, and LaBarbera ... and now that is exactly what we have:
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is committed to the radical campaign pushing acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism as “civil rights." Her unprecedented activism supporting that view as Dean of Harvard Law School (2003-2009) calls into question her ability to judge fairly and impartially on same-sex “marriage” and other homosexuality- or transgender-related issues that may come before the nation’s highest court.
Kagan’s record while Dean of Harvard Law School (HLS) demonstrates her agreement with the goals of the radical GLBT (gay lesbian bisexual transgender) movement and her solidarity with those activists. Working hand in hand with students to expel military recruiters in protest over the Armed Forces’ ban on homosexuals (a “moral injustice of the first order,” she wrote) is only the most obvious example of Kagan’s passionate dedication to this controversial and immoral agenda.
Kagan’s celebration and active promotion of the radical homosexualist and transgender worldview has profound implications. As a Supreme Court Justice, she could be expected to overturn traditional law and understandings of family, marriage, military order, and even our God-given sex (what transgender radicals call “gender identity or expression”). She is a most dangerous nominee who must be opposed by all who care about religious freedom, the preservation of marriage and traditional values.
There should be grave concern over Kagan’s issues advocacy concerning “sexual orientation.” Even before her nomination to the Court, her enthusiastic and committed pro-homosexuality activism at Harvard (including her recruitment to the faculty of radical “gay” activist scholars like former ACLU lawyer William Rubenstein and elevation of radical out lesbian Professor Janet Halley) was highly significant for the nation. Now, it is imperative that Senators and the U.S. public gain an accurate understanding of the radical, pro-homosexual environment that was Kagan’s home at Harvard – and the GLBT legal agenda that Kagan herself helped foster as Dean.
But that is actually quite reasonable compared to this statement from Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall claiming that Kagan "presents a danger as old as the book of Genesis" and that her confirmation could be a sign of the End Times:
First, if she becomes a Supreme Court justice, she could be the all-important fifth vote in favor of interpreting our Constitution, not according to the vision of our Founding Fathers, but from an international law standpoint, a concept that would have seemed treasonous to our Founders. Three justices on the Court have already relied on foreign law in their opinions: Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg. Recently-installed justice Sotomayor has praised Ruth Bader Ginsberg's penchant for international law, so we can assume she will be a legal globalist as well. Five justices create a majority and with Kagan on board they could begin radically steering us away from view of the Constitution that honors our Judeo-Christian heritage and founding.
Second, if this happens, it will usher America into a new age of global law. With Elena Kagan on the Supreme Court, international legal standards could well be imposed on Americans by the High Court's legal globalists, even without the Senate approving a specific international treaty. In our new novel, Edge of Apocalypse, we show how this trend might create a modern-day legal nightmare for conscientious Christians. We need only to turn to Genesis chapter 11 to see how God opposed the ancient attempt at global unification: the Lord declared the tragic result that would follow if a centralized group of fallen men were to consolidate an unlimited, unrestrained power over the planet.
Keep your eyes on the Supreme Court's view of global law. It could be one of the most telling 'signs of the times.'
Cross-posted from RightWingWatch.org
In response to the GOP’s repeated accusations of Elena Kagan’s so-called judicial activism, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) fired back with a quote from Justice John Paul Stevens’ sharp dissent in Citizens United: “Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
As Senator Durbin pointedly noted, the Court’s reversal of decades of precedent was “espoused by men who swore they would never engage in judicial activism” – men like Chief Justice John Roberts, who during his own confirmation hearings spoke about how judges are like umpires because they “don’t make the rules, they apply them” and must have “the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent”…and then went on to author the majority opinion in Citizens United. “If that isn’t judicial activism,” said Durbin, “then I don’t know what is.”
And as for the “well-known activist judges” with whom Ms. Kagan has been “associating”, Sen. Durbin spoke out against Republicans’ criticism that Kagan might be a judge in the mold of Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked. He instead praised the former justice, citing his critical role in successfully arguing the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, and saying that Marshall had changed America for the better. “If that is an activist mind at work, we should be grateful as a nation.”
In his opening remarks in the Elena Kagan nomination hearings, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) expressed concern about Gen. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience. Additionally, he chose to chastise her for opting to take jobs in the policy arena.
Professor Kagan left teaching law to spend five years at the center of politics, working in the Clinton White House, doing – as she describes it – mostly policy work… In many respects, Ms. Kagan’s career has been consumed more by politics than law.
How conveniently Sen. Sessions forgets that the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, served in both the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, and also was a part of Bush Sr.’s Office of White House Counsel. Even more alarmingly, Jeff Sessions doesn’t seem to mind that Roberts flew to Florida in 2000 to stop the recount in the presidential election.
The GOP’s double standard becomes clearer and clearer.
As a new arrival in DC (I started interning here two weeks ago), I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the Heritage Foundation for the first time on Wednesday. I know everyone here at People For was flattered to learn that the folks on their “Myth of the Conservative Court” panel had been reading our Rise of the Corporate Court report. A lot.
The panelists – Todd Gaziano, Hans von Spakovsky, and Manuel Miranda -- took umbrage at progressive groups like PFAW using the term “judicial activism” because, well, it belongs to them. And they like the decisions being handed down!
Spakovsky argued that progressives have called the Citizens United decision judicial activism merely because we didn’t like the outcome. He’s certainly right that we don’t like it—and neither do 80% of Americans—but we agree that our dislike doesn’t make it judicial activism. What makes it judicial activism is that the Court based its decision on utterly specious Constitutional grounds, overturning over a hundred years of settled law and its own precedent in the process. John Roberts promised to be a baseball umpire, just calling balls and strikes, but as PFAW President Michael B. Keegan pointed out, “in baseball terms, Citizens United was the equivalent of grabbing the bat and using it to beat the pitcher.”
Much to my shock, Gaziano admitted during the panel that the conservatives on the Court had exhibited pro-corporate judicial activism in one case, Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, deciding in Exxon’s favor for subjective rather than purely Constitutional or statutory reasons. So what makes him think that the Conservative judges weren’t influenced by their corporate bias in the other cases outlined in our Corporate Court report?
What was most remarkable about the panel, though, probably wasn’t the contortions that conservatives are willing to go through in order to deny “judicial activism” by conservatives on the Court—it’s that they’re still clearly trying to use it against progressives. That and the lunch they served afterwards. It was delicious.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote for this Thursday on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Richard Painter—who, as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer helped to shepherd through the nominations of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito— brought an interesting perspective to the Liu nomination in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:
A noisy argument has persisted for weeks in the Senate, on blog sites and in newspaper columns over President Obama's nomination of Liu to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This political spat over a single appellate judge makes no sense if one looks at Liu's academic writings and speeches, which reflect a moderate outlook. Indeed, much of this may have nothing to do with Liu but rather with politicians and interest groups jostling for position in the impending battle over the president's next nominee to the Supreme Court.
Painter is right that Liu’s nomination has served as a flashpoint for partisan squabbles and a testing ground for new conservative talking points. We hope that the Judiciary Committee will be able look past the political expedience of bickering over Liu, and recognize him as the qualified, fair nominee he is.
In his remarks on the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, President Obama alluded to his displeasure (which he hasn’t exactly been keeping secret) with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Now the GOP is crying “litmus test”:
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) invoked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s name in a Senate floor speech Tuesday warning Obama not to nominate someone who would be an automatic vote against corporate interests. He made it clear such a nomination could provoke a GOP filibuster.
“The big corporation might have the right law and facts in a particular case,” said Kyl, who noted that Roberts in his own confirmation hearing said that in a dispute between a “big guy and little guy” he would vote for whoever had the law behind him.
“You don’t go on to the bench [saying], ‘I’m always going to be against the big guy,’ ” said Kyl.
Kyl’s straw man argument not only misconstrues Obama’s words, but shows how out of touch his party has become with the American people. A People For poll in February found that a full 78% of Americans—from across the political spectrum— believe that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections, with 70% believing that corporations already have too much influence. And asked whether President Obama should nominate a Supreme Court justice who supports limiting corporate spending in elections, 69% said yes.
And just this week, a candidate running on a platform that included a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United won a resounding victory in a congressional special election in Florida.
Given that kind of evidence, Senator Kyl might want to rethink his decision to make himself a champion of corporate interests over the rights of ordinary Americans.
Despite Chief Justice John Roberts’ claims in 2006 that his goal for the Supreme Court was to converge around narrow, unanimous rulings, The New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen writes that Citizen’s United v. FEC is, “the kind of divisive and unnecessarily sweeping opinion that Chief Justice John Roberts had once pledged to avoid.”
The Roberts Court is demonstrating the kind of conservative activism seen during the New Deal, which was met with political backlash by then-president Roosevelt. What could Roberts’ failure to deliver on his goal of judicial restraint mean for the Court? According to Rosen:
“…contested constitutional visions can’t be successfully imposed by 5-4 majorities, and challenging the president and Congress on matters they care intensely about is a dangerous game. We’ve seen well intentioned but unrestrained chief justices overplay their hands in the past--and it always ends badly for the Court.”
Maybe Chief Justice Roberts will take Rosen’s concerns to heart, but this is also a reminder as to why it’s important that we fight to confirm fair minded Justices who will stand up to defend core constitutional values.
If you watched the State of the Union last week, you probably saw Justice Samuel Alito take exception to President Obama's entirely accurate characterization of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
Some people were outraged by Justice Alito's lack of decorum, but not E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post.
Alito did not like the president making an issue of the court's truly radical intervention in politics. I disagree with Alito on the law and the policy, but I have no problem with his personal expression of displeasure.
On the contrary, I salute him because his candid response brought home to the country how high the stakes are in the battle over the conservative activism of Chief Justice John Roberts's court.
Hopefully, Justice Alito's actions at the State of the Union will help feed the conversation about the damage done by the Court's decision in Citizens United and what can be done to fix it.
Question: Can a police officer pull a driver over on suspicion of drunk driving based only on an anonymous tip? Based on the quotations below, can you guess what governmental body was asked this week to answer that question?
Every year, close to 13,000 people die in alcohol-related car crashes - roughly one death every 40 minutes. ... Ordinary citizens are well aware of the dangers posed by drunk driving, and they frequently report such conduct to the police. A number of States have adopted programs specifically designed to encourage such tips ...
[Another lawmaking body] adopted a rule that will undermine such efforts to get drunk drivers off the road. [It] commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they see the driver actually do something unsafe on the road - by which time it may be too late.
There is no question that drunk driving is a serious and potentially deadly crime ... The imminence of the danger posed by drunk drivers exceeds that at issue in other [situations]. In a case [with an anonymous tip that someone at a bus stop is carrying a gun], the police can often observe the subject of a tip and step in before actual harm occurs; with drunk driving, such a wait-and-see approach may prove fatal. Drunk driving is always dangerous, as it is occurring. ...
The conflict is clear and the stakes are high. The effect of [needing more than an anonymous tip to permit the police to stop a driver] will be to grant drunk drivers "one free swerve" before they can legally be pulled over by police. It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check.
Is this a legislator urging his colleagues how to vote on an important policy question?
No. It's Chief Umpire John Roberts, and he's not exactly neutrally calling balls and strikes.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari in Virginia v. Harris, declining to hear the appeal of a drunk driving case involving a police stop based only on an anonymous tip. Roberts, joined by Justice Scalia, issued a stinging dissent from that decision not to hear the case. Their dissent was brimming with ... policy considerations.
This blog has written before on the pernicious myth that judges shouldn't affect policy, pointing out that that's exactly what courts are supposed to do. It's inherent in interpreting the law in difficult cases. Yet part of the Far Right's propaganda to demonize liberal judges and portray them as anti-American is the line that they "legislate from the bench," usurping policymaking powers from the people's elected representatives.
No one should be fooled into buying the Right's framing. Progressives shouldn't be bullied into parroting it. And the press needs to start asking why the Right always remains silent when conservative jurists engage in this perfectly normal, long-accepted practice.
This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Maryland v. Shatzer, a case involving the constitutional right to counsel during police questioning. The questions asked by the Justices – even the most conservative of them – exposed one of the great lies the Far Right tells about our nation’s judiciary: that courts should not make policy.
In 1981, the Court held that once you tell the police that you want your lawyer, the questioning must stop either until your lawyer arrives, or you yourself initiate further communication. This rule protects you from being badgered by the police to change your mind before the lawyer shows up.
In 2003, after Michael Blaine Shatzer asked for a lawyer, the police dropped their investigation and released him from their custody. Three years later, new evidence arose in the case. The rule established in 1981 would suggest that the police were still barred from questioning Shatzer. That was the issue before the Court this week. To help them analyze the case, the Justices asked the sorts of hypothetical questions they often ask. The Washington Post reports:
Justices seemed generally supportive … that police should have been allowed to question Shatzer again, but they had a hard time agreeing on how the rule should be changed.
[Chief Justice] Roberts worried that police could repeatedly question and dismiss a suspect who asks for a lawyer. "You know, just sort of catch-and-release, until he finally breaks down and says, 'All right, I'll talk,' " Roberts said. ...
[T]he justices wondered what could be done about a suspect who asks for a lawyer, never actually receives one or is convicted, and then is questioned years later, perhaps for a different crime.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. posed this hypothetical: What if someone was arrested for joy riding in Maryland, invoked his Fifth Amendment protection, and was never convicted? Could police in Montana question him as a murder suspect in Montana 10 years later?
When [Shatzer’s attorney] said no, Alito replied: "And you don't think that's a ridiculous application of the rule?"
[Then] Alito raised the hypothetical ante to a crime committed 40 years later ...
If the police let a suspect go after he asks for a lawyer, does the Constitution prohibit the police from questioning him again half a century later? Should there be limits? What should they be? How do you decide?
The Justices deciding this case are not simply calling balls and strikes, the insulting umpire analogy that Roberts infamously used during his confirmation hearings. Roberts, Alito, and the other Justices are weighing the consequences of different possible interpretations of the 1981 precedent as they apply it to a new and unforeseen situation.
Just as legislators do, they will be making policy. And that's fine. That's what courts are supposed to do. It's inherent in interpreting the law in difficult cases such as this.
So the next time the Washington Post quotes a right wing propagandist condemning progressive judges for making policy or "legislating from the bench," perhaps the Post will do more than collaborate by simply reprinting the accusation. Perhaps the Post will cite its own reporting and point out that all judges weigh policies and make law, but that the Far Right is silent when conservative judges do it.
Jeffrey Rosen’s op ed piece in the New York Times over the weekend, The Trial of John Roberts, echoes a theme noted by a number of commentators, one on which I posted last week: that the Supreme Court’s decision to open up long-settled law with respect to regulating corporate expenditures in candidate elections in the recently argued Citizens United case is a quintessential exercise in judicial activism. And it’s the kind of judicial activism that then nominee John Roberts pretended to foreswear through his claims to be an umpire, simply calling balls and strikes.
Where I part company from Rosen, however, is in his analysis that Chief Justice Roberts “deserves credit for trying” to forge a broader consensus on narrower grounds, citing, in particular, last term’s Voting Rights Act case. The cynic in me says that the decision was 8-1 to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and not 5-4 to overturn it, because the Chief Justice simply did not yet have the votes to do so. And Rosen’s reliance on greater unanimity on the Court with respect to upholding business interests – according to the Chamber 79% of these cases decided on margins of 7-2 better – is not, in my view, a reflection of Chief Justice Roberts’ forging consensus on narrow grounds. It’s a reflection of how conservative this Court really is, why the judicial philosophy of the next nominee to the Supreme Court really matters, and why it’s important to begin having that discussion now.