Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Recognizing Reality

The Supreme Court has finally stepped in to say “enough” to the oh-so-clever politicians trying to mask their disdain for women’s autonomy by pretending a concern for women’s health.

The Texas law that triggered the lawsuit was one of a number of similar efforts to cloak anti-choice measures in excessive and onerous “medical” regulations. It required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and imposed a number of physical requirements on clinics, making them meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

Although Texas argued that the measures were aimed at protecting women’s health, Rick Perry was among the political figures who were more forthright about the law’s actual motive, describing it as one step toward an “ideal world” in which there would be no abortion.

Motive aside, as Justice Breyer wrote for the majority, neither of the provisions imposed by Texas “offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.” Justice Ginsberg was more blunt, noting that “It is beyond rational belief” that those provisions actually protected women’s health.

As numerous medical experts have pointed out, abortion is one of the safest of medical procedures. (Colonoscopies and tonsillectomies are riskier, but political figures expressing concern about those operations are non-existent.)

What participants in the ongoing battles over reproductive choice, same-sex marriage, and other “culture war” issues that roil American public debate miss is the actual legal question at the heart of these conflicts. The issue is not whether a woman should terminate a pregnancy or carry it to term; the question is: who should decide what she should do?

Too many Americans fail to understand the purpose of the Bill of Rights, which was to protect individual autonomy—a person’s right to self-government—against government infringement. The Bill of Rights, as I tell my students, is a list of things that government is prohibited from doing. Government cannot tell you what to say, or what to believe, no matter how ugly your speech or deluded your belief. Government cannot tell you whether or how to pray, who to marry, how many children to have, or what career to follow.

Government can’t do these things even if a majority of its citizens wants it to. Just as your neighbors cannot vote to make you an Episcopalian or a Baptist, popular majorities cannot use government to restrict the individual liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.

In short, government cannot tell you how to live your life—how to make what the Court has called your most “intimate decisions.” The rest of us don’t have to agree with the decisions you make, but you get to make them.

The Texas law was one of several transparent efforts by lawmakers trying to do an “end run” around a woman’s right to make decisions with which they disagree.

Fortunately, the Court saw through the dishonesty of that effort.







A Dangerous Road

Yesterday, I was supposed to speak at an event sponsored by Organizing for America, focused on the battle over Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court. Instead, of course, I was in the hospital. Since I hate to let a speech go to waste, here are the remarks I had planned to make.


The refusal by Senate Republicans to even consider a nominee is dangerous for two reasons. The first reason, obviously, is the need to have a full complement of Justices who will hear and deliberate over the important cases that come before the highest court in the land.

The second reason, however, worries me even more, because the absolutely unprecedented position being taken by Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley and the other Senate Republicans represents yet another ratcheting up of the obstruction tactics that the Party of No has engaged in ever since President Obama took office.

This is not the way our system is supposed to work. We don’t elect people so that we can watch them not only refuse to do their jobs but actively throw sand in the gears of government.

Let’s look at what is at stake.

Republicans in the Senate are refusing to participate in the Constitutionally-required process of “advice and consent.” Their argument is that because this is an election year, and the President is in the last year of his tenure, he shouldn’t get to nominate Scalia’s successor.

Of course, that argument ignores the Constitution, which these partisans claim to revere. So much for “strict construction.” But it fails on other grounds as well:

  • Historically, the longest stretch of time between a nomination and a vote has been 125 days. Over 330 days remain in Obama’s term of office.
  • There is absolutely no precedent for this refusal to follow the Constitution. Between 1796 and 1988, at least 14 Justices have been confirmed during election years.

According to legal historians, Senate Republicans would have to reach back to the mid-1800s to find an instance in which the Senate blocked a nominee for reasons having nothing to do with the individual who’d been nominated—that is, just to obstruct the sitting President. And even then, they rejected a particular nominee—they didn’t refuse to consider any.

The Republicans’ behavior is thus a repudiation of both the Constitutional separation of powers and the Constitution’s definition of a Presidential term. If they persist, the Supreme Court will have a vacancy for over a year, and will operate in the interim with only 8 Justices. If the Court splits 4-4, the case sets no precedent, and difficult and divisive issues will remain unresolved.

As troubling as is to see partisan politics affecting the ability of the Court to do its work, what is even more worrisome is the willingness of these Senators to ignore both their constitutional duty and the best interests of the American people in order to demean and diminish a President who was twice elected by large majorities of the American people.

This fixation on sabotaging anything and everything the President does—this unwillingness to support even policies that were originally their own if President Obama proposes them, the refusal to confirm not just a replacement for Scalia, but dozens of lower court judges and agency appointments—is behavior that undermines America’s democratic institutions and calls into question our continued ability to govern ourselves.

This ugly and unpatriotic conduct should be beneath the dignity of members of the United States Senate, but it clearly isn’t.

Although I didn’t plan to say this at the event, it is noteworthy that none of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has bothered to counsel against this assault on settled constitutional processes, or express concern that legitimizing this level of animus will make it more difficult for the next President to accomplish anything.

We’re going down a very dangerous road.

What’s at Stake

Yesterday, the media frenzy was all about Chris Christie’s endorsement of “The Donald.” Of course, there has been something every day–the latest tweet, the most egregious insult, the latest analysis of how someone so manifestly unqualified has managed to get this far…

All of this media attention focused upon Trump–attention that has allowed him to suck all the oxygen out of Republican rooms–has had a number of unfortunate consequences. One of the less remarked of those consequences is that the so-called “establishment” candidates look more reasonable by comparison.

Even Trump can’t make Cruz look sane, but as political observers have pointed out, Rubio and even Kasich are on record taking positions that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Paul Krugman recently noted aspects of Rubio’s extremism:

[W]hat I do know is that one shouldn’t treat establishment support as an indication that Mr. Rubio is moderate and sensible. On the contrary, not long ago someone holding his policy views would have been considered a fringe crank.

Let me leave aside Mr. Rubio’s terrifying statements on foreign policy and his evident willingness to make a bonfire of civil liberties, and focus on what I know best, economics.

You probably know that Mr. Rubio is proposing big tax cuts, and may know that among other things he proposes completely eliminating taxes on investment income — which would mean, for example, that Mitt Romney would end up owing precisely zero in federal taxes.

What you may not know is that Mr. Rubio’s tax cuts would be almost twice as big as George W. Bush’s as a percentage of gross domestic product — despite the fact that federal debt is much higher than it was 15 years ago, and Republicans have spent the Obama years warning incessantly that budget deficits will destroy America, any day now.

What Krugman failed to note were Rubio’s extreme social policy positions; for one thing, he proposes outlawing abortion even in the case of rape and incest.

Not to be outdone, the presumably more moderate John Kasich recently defunded Ohio’s Planned Parenthood.

These are the candidates whose hoped-for elevation to the highest office in the land is motivating Mitch McConnell and his Senate colleagues to ignore their constitutional duty to consider an Obama Supreme Court nominee. (“Strict construction,” anyone??)

If the Senate Republicans manage to keep Scalia’s position open, the next President is likely to choose three Supreme Court Justices. If those choices are made by any of these candidates, America will be a very different country in short order. And it won’t be a country that most of us will recognize.



If There Was Sauce for the Goose…

By now, anyone not living in a cave knows that Republicans in the Senate are refusing to participate in the constitutionally-required exercise of advising and consenting on a proposed Supreme Court nominee. Not that they have objections to the (as yet unnamed) choice–no, they object to even allowing the President to fulfill his constitutionally-required duty.

Indiana Republicans seem to like the GOP’s new “Obama Rule;” to the extent that I can understand the basis upon which Mitch McConnell invented it, it goes something like this: We don’t like Obama, and we think the next President will be more to our taste. (Ignore the fact that Obama won election pretty overwhelmingly, and a lot of Americans–arguably still a pretty robust majority–still do like him.)

Here in Indiana, we also have a state supreme court vacancy. Indeed, interviews for the position are already underway. Governor Pence is in the last year of his term, and all signs suggest that he is far less popular than the President. (In my circles, he’s less popular than dandruff.)  So shouldn’t the voters get to decide who they want picking Indiana’s next state supreme court justice?

If America is now operating on the basis of what Bill Maher might call a “new rule”—if we’ve decided that it is improper for political executives to select judges during the last year of their term–shouldn’t we apply that rule to Governor Pence?

Actually, we might take the new rule even further; since one-third of the US Senate is up for election this year, maybe those senators shouldn’t vote or do much of anything until we see whether the electorate has returned them to office. (Okay–scratch that last suggestion: this Senate isn’t doing anything anyway.)

Besides, let’s be honest; it’s only a black President who’s limited to 3/5 of a term….


It’s Called the Rule of Law….

Indiana’s Governor isn’t the only government official living in an alternate universe. Look, for example, at Alabama’s “Judge” Roy Moore, who has also been in the news of late.

It’s one thing when students who don’t understand the difference between a statute and a constitution complain that their preferred policies should be the law of the land. It’s regrettable–albeit humorous–when Y’all Qaida cowboys communicate their grievances (and inadvertently, their ignorance) by taking over a bird sanctuary. But we expect lawyers— and especially Judges—to understand how the American legal system works.

They don’t have to agree with every Supreme Court decision. They can stamp their feet and insist—as Governor Pence did when he was Congressman Pence—that Marbury versus Madison was wrongly decided, and that every statute struck down by the Supreme Court since 1803 was an act of judicial usurpation.

But we do expect them to obey the decisions of the highest court in the land.

For those of you who’ve been vacationing on the moon, Moore—who has long been a religious zealot with delusions of grandeur—is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a position he regained after being removed for defying federal law and several court orders by erecting a five-ton replica of the Ten Commandments at the door to the Alabama courthouse. Most recently,

Judge Moore issued an administrative order declaring that “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses” to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s June Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage involved a case from a different federal circuit, so it does not apply in Alabama, Moore argues. Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law.

Patently wrong indeed! Law students who took such a position would never pass a bar exam.

Read my lips, “Judge.” If you don’t like gay people, fine. Don’t invite them over for dinner. If you disapprove of same-sex marriage, don’t have one. If your version of God hates homosexuals, feel free to pray for their descent into the fiery pits (or whatever hell you people believe in).

But no matter how fervent your belief, no matter how wedded you are to your animus, you don’t get to overrule the Supreme Court. If you are incapable of following and applying the law, you need to be impeached or otherwise removed from a position that allows you to affect other people.

I think it was Andy Warhol who said everyone was entitled to 15 minutes of fame. Don’t look now, Judge, but your 15 minutes are up—and it won’t be long, in historical terms, until those who agree with you join you in that great dustbin of history.