Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Greece, Greece, I Tell You!

It’s not every day that a law professor has his book quoted by the Supreme Court, and so the University of Baltimore‘s Michael I. Meyerson was understandably intrigued when his 2012 work about the Framers’ views on religion made it into Monday’s decision on public prayer.

But the plug from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, was somewhat bittersweet. Meyerson says the decision misread the point of his book and took the quote out of context in a way that allowed the justices to draw an entirely different conclusion about how the Founding Fathers approached religion in public.

— Professor says Supreme Court drew flawed conclusion from book: University of Baltimore expert says Framers deliberately avoided sectarian language, John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun, May 10

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to the bond-vigilantes/austerity/confidence-fairy crowd, but instead to (yet again) the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision issued last week in Town of Greece v. Galloway–and to what will be the rallying cry of the pro-Christian-prayer-at-government-meetings crowd, going forward.

Before I swear off posting on AB about that Supreme Court opinion, I want to make one more point, this one about the perniciousness of the Court’s conservative majority’s pretense that in order to understand the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights, or the Reconstruction-era amendments, or anything else about the Constitution, you presume that the framers intended to freeze things the way they were before the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Reconstruction-era amendments, were drafted and ratified.

Which raises this question: Why engage in a laborious process of gathering a large number of people to draft a Constitution and shortly afterward draft and ratify amendments, or fight a Civil War and, after you win, draft and ratify amendments reflecting the outcome of the war, if your purpose is to solidify the pre-Constitution, pre-Bill of Rights, pre-Civil War, pre-Reconstruction-era status quo?

The answer is that you don’t, and you don’t pretend that others did.  Unless you’re a 1980s-era Conservative Legal Movement lawyer, judge or justice.*

But it also highlights what is becoming a hallmark of the Roberts Court’s conservative majority: misrepresentations of the very meaning of words, phrases, legal doctrines, and (now, apparently) academics’ writings.

I wrote here recently that we’re “witnessing here a concerted, unremitting restructuring of fundamental parts of American law under the guise of constitutional interpretation, employing medicine-man semantics gimmicks and other such tactics, including baldly false, disorienting declarations stating what others’ opinions are.”

The title of Meyereson’s book is Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Freedom in America.  As I said here yesterday, town governments are people, my friend.

I do think the Supreme Court has crossed a threshold now.  This crowd observes no recognizable bounds of propriety in achieving the Conservative Movement’s policy goals via the Court’s transparent machinations of history, language, false analogy. Nothing–nothing–is sacred any longer. Except, of course, Christianity.

—-

[Next up, later this week: Why I believe that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will announce her retirement at the end the Supreme Court term in late June, pending confirmation of her replacement. And the UnElena Kagan who I expect will replace her–and why it would be a very good development, for once.]

 

*This paragraph and the one above were edited for clarity and inclusion of an inadvertently-missing clause after posting, 5/14 at 6:28 p.m.

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Out of the Mouths of Hypocrites: Scalia Says Citizens United Was Wrongly Decided.

Yes, that’s right.

Scalia said Citizens United was wrongly decided.

He said it yesterday, at the argument on the constitutionality of California’s Prop. 8.  He also said that the right to bear arms doesn’t, after all, preclude the federal government and the states from enacting gun-ownership restrictions as they wish, so the recent Court opinions holding otherwise were decided incorrectly.  And we now know that the Court will uphold Texas’s college-admissions affirmative action law as constitutional and that Scalia will join in the opinion.  

Here’s the lengthy exchange between him and Ted Olson, the lawyer for the same-sex couples who challenged the constitutionality of Prop. 8:

JUSTICE SCALIA: You — you’ve led me right into a question I was going to ask. The California Supreme Court decides what the law is. That’s what we  decide, right? We don’t prescribe law for the future. We — we decide what the law is. I’m curious, when -­when did — when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Sometimes — some time after Baker, where we said it didn’t even raise a substantial Federal question? When — when — when did the law become this?

MR. OLSON: When — may I answer this in the form of a rhetorical question? When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools.

JUSTICE SCALIA: It’s an easy question, I think, for that one. At — at the time that the Equal Protection Clause was adopted. That’s absolutely true. But don’t give me a question to my question. (Laughter.)

JUSTICE SCALIA: When do you think it became unconstitutional? Has it always been unconstitutional?

MR. OLSON: When the — when the California Supreme Court faced the decision, which it had never faced before, is — does excluding gay and lesbian citizens, who are a class based upon their status as homosexuals — is it — is it constitutional -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: That — that’s not when it became unconstitutional. That’s when they acted in an unconstitutional matter — in an unconstitutional matter. When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gays from marrying?
MR. OLSON: That — they did not assign a date to it, Justice Scalia, as you know. What the court decided was the case that came before it -­ JUSTICE SCALIA: I’m not talking about the California Supreme Court. I’m talking about your argument. You say it is now unconstitutional.

MR. OLSON: Yes.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Was it always unconstitutional?

MR. OLSON: It was constitutional when we -­ as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

MR. OLSON: There’s no specific date in time. This is an evolutionary cycle.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, how am I supposed to know how to decide a case, then -­

MR. OLSON: Because the case that’s before you -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: — if you can’t give me a date when the Constitution changes?

MR. OLSON: — in — the case that’s before you today, California decided — the citizens of California decided, after the California Supreme Court decided that individuals had a right to get married irrespective of their sexual orientation in California, and then the Californians decided in Proposition 8, wait a minute, we don’t want those people to be able to get married.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So — so your case — your case would be different if Proposition 8 was enacted into law prior to the California Supreme Court decision?

MR. OLSON: I would make — I would make the — also would make the — that distinguishes it in one respect. But also — also — I would also make the argument, Mr. Chief Justice, that we are — this -­ marriage is a fundamental right and we are making a classification based upon a status of individuals, which this Court has repeatedly decided that gays and lesbians are defined by their status. There is no question about that.

JUSTICE SCALIA: So it would be unconstitutional even in States that did not allow
civil unions?

MR. OLSON: We do, we submit that. You could write a narrower decision.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Okay. So I want to know how long it has been unconstitutional in those -­

MR. OLSON: I don’t — when — it seems to me, Justice Scalia, that -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: It seems to me you ought to be able to tell me when. Otherwise, I don’t know how to decide the case.

MR. OLSON: I — I submit you’ve never required that before. When you decided that — that individuals — after having decided that separate but equal schools were permissible, a decision by this Court, when you decided that that was unconstitutional, when did that become unconstitutional?

JUSTICE SCALIA: 50 years ago, it was okay?

MR. OLSON: I — I can’t answer that question, and I don’t think this Court has ever phrased the question in that way.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I can’t either. That’s the problem. That’s exactly the problem.

MR. OLSON: But what I have before you now, the case that’s before you today, is whether or not California can take a class of individuals based upon their characteristics, their distinguishing characteristics, remove from them the right of privacy, liberty, association, spirituality, and identity that -­ that marriage gives them. It — it is — it is not an answer to say procreation or anything of that nature, because procreation is not a part of the right to get married.

“Baker”–as in, “Sometimes — some time after Baker, where we said it didn’t even raise a substantial Federal question? When — when — when did the law become this?”–refers to a 1972 case called Baker v. Nelson, which, as Linda Greenhouse explained last week in a terrific column in the New York Times, involved a challenge to the constitutionality of Minnesota’s bar to same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.  Under a federal statute that was repealed in (I believe) 1986 at the specific request of William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court was required to consider all cases involving federal constitutional issues in which the immediate lower court was a state (rather than a federal) court of appeals.  So in Baker, the Court summarily ruled in a pro forma single sentence without briefing, much less oral argument, that the case failed to raise a substantial question of federal law.  I.e., there was no constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry.

Which leads me right into a question that I hope the Dem-appointed justices ask in their dissents in Fisher v. University of Texas, the affirmative action case argued at the Court earlier this term: When, exactly, did it became unconstitutional for a state university to consider race in its admissions process?  1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Some time after Bollinger v. Grutter in 2003, when although the Court did say the issue presented a substantial question of federal law, the Court also said that race was, like other criteria beside academic qualifications (such as regional demographics and such as “legatee” considerations), constitutionally permissible?

And I hope that the next time a state such as Montana enacts a stringent campaign-finance law, Scalia himself will ask the Koch brothers, or the Citizens United organization, or whoever is the named* plaintiff in the case, when exactly such laws became an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s speech clause. 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Was it sometime after 1912, when Montana enacted the statute that the Supreme Court last June summarily held was unconstitutional under the Citizens United opinion, which was not issued shortly after 1781 or 1868 but instead in 2010?

These are easy questions.  The lawyers for the challengers of these laws should have an easy time answering them. The answer, of course, being that “originalism” can be, and is, turned on and off like a water faucet by those who subscribe to it as a legal theory when the weather is fair.

*Oh. dear. There was a really funny typo in that sentence originally: “naked plaintiff,” instead of “named plaintiff.” I probably should have left it that way.

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Launching the Nine-ther Movement

by Bruce Webb

Conservatives have long been 2nd Amendment Absolutists (unless you are a black man carrying a stick outside a mostly black precinct in Philadelphia, somehow ‘open carry’ doesn’t apply there). Now they have doubled down with the Tenther Movement, which they have tied together with an Enumerated Powers doctrine which mostly doesn’t actually appear in the text of the Constitution, to launch a renaissance of States’ Rights and even Nullification. Yet this expansive reading of the 2nd and 10th amendments somehow never seems to prevent them from claiming that the Right to Privacy underlying Roe v Wade just isn’t in the Constitution at all. Yet if you apply Tenther logic to the Ninth Amendment as read in light of the Fourth the right to privacy seems pretty much implicit.

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

So like States People have retained rights that only START with the Fourth Amendment

Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Hmm, ‘secure in their persons’. Unless you have a uterus I guess.

This is particularly acute given that Scalia came out and claimed that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment don’t apply to women as such.

Amendment 14 – Citizenship Rights. Ratified 7/9/1868.
1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Sorry ladies, per Scalia you are not even part of the ‘people’ as expressed in the Ninth and Fourth Amendments, or even in principle ether ‘persons’ or ‘citizens’ under the Fourteenth.

Anyone expecting the Teabaggers to come running to join an effort to read the Ninth as broadly as they do the Second and Tenth? Me neither.

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