Tag Archives: chief justice john roberts

Obama on the Affordable Care Act

President Barack Obama explains the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. They ruled that the individual mandate was no more than a tax.

More from ScotusBlog:

Although the Court had four questions before it, the focus of the challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the so-called individual mandate – the requirement that almost all Americans buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. Defending the constitutionality of the mandate, the government’s primary argument was that Congress can require everyone to buy health insurance using its power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, because the failure to buy insurance shifts the costs of health care for the uninsured to health care providers, insurance companies, and everyone who does have health insurance. Five Justices – the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – all rejected that argument. But the government still won, because a different set of five Justices – the Chief Justice, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan – agreed that the mandate was constitutional, but for a different reason. Continue reading Obama on the Affordable Care Act

The Supremes

I wish I was talking about the soulful group led by Diana Ross from the 1960s. Unfortunately, I’m talking about our Supreme Court. By now, you have read hundreds of opinions of why the 5-4 decision in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission was bad or was good for the country. I think the decision was awful. I do not think we will see a huge influx of money into our elections. We have already seen this. We have seen staggering sums of money as business tries to influence our politicians. From my standpoint, I have a problem with corporations being treated as persons. Aren’t corporations nothing more than contracts? Are they nothing more than stacks of paper? We should treat them as such.

From the Daily Beast:

The Supreme Court’s decision to roll back campaign-finance reform does more than just open the spigots for corporate cash. It also exposes the judicial activism of the Roberts Court.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to overturn decades-old restrictions on campaign-finance reform. The majority’s bludgeoning of what were already pitifully weak restraints on corporate campaign spending is a kind of jurisprudential equivalent to clubbing a baby seal: a revolting spectacle that might make even a sadist or a K Street lawyer blanch. The animating principle that underlies the majority’s argument is clear: We must do what we can to ensure that corporate America shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy, shall not perish from the earth.

Three aspects of the decision are particularly noteworthy. First, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was praised to the skies at the time of his confirmation hearings for his supposedly “minimalist” approach to judging, goes out of his way to demolish several decades worth of congressional work to do something about the corrupting influence of money on politics.

He does so by taking two totally unnecessary steps. For one thing, the law at issue could easily have been interpreted to simply not apply to the facts of this case. (The case involves the distribution of a feature-length film via video on demand, which quite arguably is not an “electioneering communication” covered by the federal statute the court struck down). It’s a well-established rule of statutory interpretation that when a court is faced with two plausible readings of a federal statute, one of which would require something as drastic as finding the statute unconstitutional, and the other which avoids that outcome, the justices ought to prefer the latter. Indeed, that rule is a central tenet of anything that deserves to be called “minimalist” judging.

Secondly, even after the Court chose to interpret the statute in the former fashion, Roberts and the rest of the majority could have held that the statute was not unconstitutional on its face, but merely as applied to the facts in this particular situation. Avoiding rulings that declare federal laws unconstitutional on their face rather than as applied is also a fundamental principle of minimalism.

Curiously, Roberts’ aversion to maximalist interpretations of First Amendment rights seems to fade away when the victims of government “censorship,” as he calls it, are major corporations rather than individual human beings.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurrence provides an even more morbidly amusing exercise in judicial gymnastics. After all, one would think a genuine commitment to applying the original meaning of the Constitution to contemporary cases poses a serious problem to someone who wants to find that the document forbids Congress from banning direct campaign contributions by corporations.

It’s difficult to express how bizarre the framers of the Constitution would have considered such a proposition. Indeed, prior to the middle of the 20th century, the idea that artificial “persons” such as corporations could have constitutional rights was unknown in American law. Scalia is reduced to arguing that he can find no historical evidence that the framers were opposed to the idea of granting free-speech rights to corporations. It’s quite true there is no such evidence. It’s also true there’s no evidence that the framers opposed escalating the Vietnam War, deregulating the airline industry, or breaking up the Beatles.

In other words, it’s hardly surprising that he can find no explicit opposition in 18th-century American political debates to an idea that didn’t occur to anyone until 150 years later.

Finally, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion is long on what Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent accurately labels “glittering generalities.” But it is short on any explanation as to how those generalities–such as that speech cannot be regulated on the basis of the identity of the speaker–can be squared with holdings such as Kennedy’s recent vote to allow a school to suspend a student who unfurled a banner advocating “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” (The only basis for not considering this unconstitutional censorship is that certain kinds of people, namely students at school events, have fewer free-speech rights than, say, an ordinary citizen in a public park).

All this adds up to yet another example, as if one were needed, that conservative complaints about “judicial activism” are usually nothing more than a code for “judicial outcomes conservatives don’t like.” Citizens United strikes down a major federal statute by taking the extreme step of explicitly overturning the Court’s own precedents, while dismissing a century’s worth of congressional attempts to stop special interests from buying legislation. The argument that the relevant legal materials required the Court to take such a step is flatly incredible. In short, the decision is as pure an example of judicial activism as one could hope to find.

As a consequence, we are left in a situation where Congress can do little more to quell the corrupting influence of money on politics than forbid the explicit bribing of elected officials. Such a triumph of laissez-faire ideology gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the marketplace of ideas.”

Another Blow to Affirmative Action (Updated)

Conservatives have been attacking affirmative action and the 1964 Civil Rights Law since the Reagan administration.  The Supreme Court has reversed the lower court (Second Circuit Court of Appeals with Sotomayor).  More later…

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From AP:

The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

“Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. (more…)

Update: One thing is clear. The Supreme Court did nothing to clarify the situation, but instead muddied the waters. The Supreme Court seems to be saying that if you did not intentionally discriminate, then no discrimination exists. This must be just my overly simplistic way of reading this decision. This is obviously a false hypothesis. It’s clearly possible to discriminate against blacks, women and other minorities without doing it “intentionally.” Proving intent would be nearly impossible in most discrimination cases.

This case also points out some of the problems I have with some conservatives who say that judges need to “interpret the law.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly states that you cannot discriminate based on race but then it goes on to say when an employer can discriminate based on a “protected trait.” So how do you balance these things? The mantra, “interpret the law,” rings hollow.

The Supreme Court focused on a test that was given to these firefighters. Now we know from years of testing students that some tests can reveal racial bias. We know from an elegant study by Stanford researcher that minorities will perform worse a particular test if they are told that this is a test of intelligence. If minority students are told that this is a problem-solving test these students do perfectly well. Their scores are as good as their White counterparts. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s arguments seem to be solid when she states, “In so holding, the Court pretends that “[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.” Ante, at 20. That pretension, essential to the Court’s disposition, ignores substantial evidence of multiple flaws in the tests New Haven used. The Court similarly fails to acknowledge the better tests used in other cities, which have yielded less racially skewed outcomes.”

Finally, the Supreme Court has breathed just a flicker of hope into the anti-Sotomayor crowd. Over the next 24-48 hours, some conservatives will try to move quickly to capitalize on this momentum. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, they’ll say, is somehow unfit for the Supreme Court because she has a ruling that’s been overturned. This, of course, is a ridiculous statement. Nonetheless, I suspect conservatives will try to push this and get as much mileage out of this is possible. As Glenn puts itIn light of today’s ruling, it’s a bit difficult — actually, impossible — for a rational person to argue that Sotomayor’s Ricci decision places her outside the judicial mainstream when: (a) she was affirming the decision of the federal district court judge; (b) she was joined in her decision by the two other Second Circuit judges who, along with her, comprised a unanimous panel; (c) a majority of Second Circuit judges refused to reverse that panel’s ruling; and now: (d) four out of the nine Supreme Court Justices — including the ones she is to replace — agree with her.

Put another way, 11 out of the 21 federal judges to rule on Ricci ruled as Sotomayor did. It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that she ruled erroneously, but it’s definitively unreasonable to claim that her Ricci ruling places her on some sort of judicial fringe.

Update II: Balkination has more technical questions about this Ricci decision and how will it affect the Voting Rights Act.