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What I Want Bernie Sanders to Know Before Tuesday’s Debate

A few weeks ago Mike Huckabee made minor news by telling an interviewer that slavery has never been made unconstitutional.  Or, to be precise, he told radio interviewer Michael Medved that “the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land which says that black people aren’t fully human.”  He then asked, “Does anybody still follow the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision?”

That was a rhetorical question because no one follows the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision anymore.  No one has since December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was certified by the secretary of state as formally a part of the Constitution.  At least no one admits to following the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision anymore, and no one follows the part of it that treated slave ownership as a property right, since everyone but Huckabee knows about the Thirteenth Amendment.  It provides:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

But the Dred Scott opinion did not actually address the constitutionality of slavery; slavery clearly was constitutional then and Mr. Scott did not claim otherwise.  What Dred Scott addressed was whether under the Constitution, the right of states to trump the rights of individuals, including even the most basic human rights, extended beyond the borders of the states whose laws authorized the profound violations of human rights.  That is, whether the rights of those states to violate individuals’ human rights extended beyond those states’ borders and into other states.  The Supreme Court said it did.

And it is a fundamental tenet of the modern Conservative Legal Movement begun in the late 1970s, that has a stranglehold on the current Supreme Court and until recently thoroughly controlled the lower federal courts and continues to rage unabated in state courts, that despite the clear language and purposes of the two additional Reconstruction amendments, the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth, the essence of Dred Scott indeed remains the law of the land.  And just as in Dred Scott, it is given the name “Freedom”, its source of constitutional legitimacy nothing actually specified in the Constitution but instead the Constitution’s supposed “design”, which is federalism, the technical term for states’ rights.

The idea is that a separation of powers between types of governments means freedom. Balances between the powers of the federal government and state (and local) governments.  No checks, though; only balances.  Unless, of course, a state legislature enacts, say, a campaign-finance law, or a municipality a gun-restriction ordinance.

Trickle-down freedom, in other words.  Freedom derived by virtue of your state’s right not to be confined by federal constitutional rights that explicitly accrue directly to individuals.  Even though the Fourteenth Amendment begs to differ.

If you were a slave owner back before the Emancipation Proclamation, you were free to reclaim your escaped slave from a state that outlawed slavery, courtesy of your state’s freedom vis-à-vis the federal government.  And if you are a state or local judge, a state or local law enforcement officer, a state or local prison guard, you are unconstrained by that pesky Bill of Rights and that Fourteenth Amendment.  Those do limit state legislators’ and municipal lawmakers’ powers to, say, legislate campaign-finance laws and gun-ownership ordinances, but do not limit the brute power of government actors invested with actual and direct police powers over specific individuals.  It is only in the rarest of circumstances that individuals have freedoms derivative of their state’s rights, and therefore only in the rarest of circumstances does “Freedom” concern actual physical freedom.

It never concerns the right to be treated humanely when in the custody of the state.  Or the right to survive a traffic stop.  Or to not be incarcerated for days, weeks or months because you can’t afford to pay the hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines and fees whose purpose is to fund the municipality’s government, especially its law enforcement complex.  Or to be brutalized while in jail awaiting trial.

Then, freedom means state or local government’s freedom to violate individuals’ constitutional rights.  Federalism, in other words, defined by the Constitution’s design.

Dred Scott forever!

Most people who read about Huckabee’s pronouncement that Dred Scott remains the law of the land reacted as Medved did: with disbelief.  Me?  I said to myself, “Well, he’s in good company.  Or at least extremely powerful company.”

He is.

Five of the nine Supreme Court justices believe that Dred Scott accurately describes the Constitution’s design not only before ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments but after those amendments became a part of the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment didn’t alter the Constitution’s design one whit, except when it can be invoked to advance an item on the Conservative Legal Movement agenda.  Uh-uh. No way, no how.  See?

John Cornyn, a high-ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agrees.  Late last fall,shortly after President Obama announced that his choice for Attorney General was Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the federal judicial district in New York that includes Staten Island, Cornyn publicly licked his chops.  Lynch earlier had announced that her office was conducting an investigation into possible violations of federal criminal rights law by the police officer who killed Eric Garner, and the other officers who were present, as Garner was being arrested for selling single cigarettes in violation of state law.

This is a local matter, Cornyn said, and indicated that he planned to question Lynch about her use of her federal office to infringe upon the obvious constitutional right of state and local law enforcement—police, judges, prison guards (those directly employed by state and local governments and those employed by corporations under contract with state and local governments in exchange for massive political contributions)—to baldly violate individuals’ most basic civil and human rights.  But it turned out that large swaths of Republicans who are not members of a local Patrolmen’s Benevolent Society actually disagreed. Within 24 hours of Cornyn’s declaration, many of them, including, if I recall correctly, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, and in any event informal Internet commenters and a couple of formal ones, indicated support for the federal probe into the death of Eric Garner.  Cornyn did not question Lych hostilely about infringements of state and local government rights in the federal Garner probe; at least nothing I read about. Neither did any other senator.

Cool!

So there is a limit to the Mad Hatter definition of freedom, even in the opinion of most Republicans.  Who knew?  (Not Cornyn.)

The Supreme Court, beginning in the late 1970s, has erected a bizarre series of ostensible jurisdictional and quasi-jurisdictional, but fabricated-out-of-whole-cloth, bars to access to federal court in order to challenge as unconstitutional actions by, and occurrences in, state and local court by judges in criminal and life-altering civil matters and by courts, prosecutors, law enforcement officers in criminal and quasi-criminal matters.

Such as minor traffic violations. Such as inability to pay child-support payments in the amounts ordered.  Such as adult-guardianships and conservatorships and child-visitation. And letting your nine-year-old spent time in a nearby park alone.  Even profoundly unconstitutional actions.

These court-fabricated jurisdictional and quasi-jurisdictional bars to access to federal court in order to enforce provisions of the Constitution itself are odd invocations of the Constitution’s design, since the Constitution’s actual design explicitly assigns to Congress, not the judicial branch, the obligation and sole authority to write the parameters of federal-court jurisdiction, and Congress has done so, or rather attempted to do so, in, for example, this statute.  And this one.

Under the Constitution’s actual—actually explicit—design, the sole role of the judiciary branch in determining federal-court jurisdiction is to consider whether a federal-court jurisdictional statute is constitutional, and whether Congress’s failure to provide for federal-court jurisdiction regarding circumstances is itself unconstitutional.  This is of particular importance concerning an infamous jurisdictional statute enacted in 1996 and signed by President Clinton because he feared that Bob Dole would run Willie Horton ads against him in the upcoming campaign if he did not.  The Supreme Court in the last decade—i.e., the Roberts Court era—has (very) effectively rewritten the statute to categorically eliminate the right of habeas corpus in state criminal matters.  Completely.  Ever.

This is a completely unabashed obsession of certain members of the current Court—an unremitting juggernaut lead originally by Anthony Kennedy, in the name of Freedom, and lately by Samuel Alito, in the name of Fascism.  Freedom and Fascism are converging these days.

States’ rights, according to the current Supreme Court, as I’ve said many times here at AB, mainly state-courts’ rights to violate individuals’ rights.  State legislative and executive branches don’t have that right.  The Supreme Court justices never explain why this is so, but as I’ve said before, I think it’s just good old-fashioned professional courtesy.  Affinity fraud, albeit on the public rather than on those with the affinity.  Masquerading as the Constitution’s design.  The Constitution’s habeas corpus provision, like the Constitution’s assignment to Congress rather than the judicial branch of the power to determine the scope of federal-court jurisdiction, is part of the original Constitution.  These provisions are not in Amendments; they are in the original Articles.  In contrast to the Bill of Rights.  And to the Reconstruction Amendments.

The most important of which, for purposes of this post, is the Fourteenth.  Which provides in the two sections that are at the heart of post-Civil War constitutional civil rights:

Section 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.

and:

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Meaning that contrary to what (I suspect) most Americans believe, Congress indeed has broad authority to outlaw the slew of local and state laws and practices that brazenly render the United States Constitution’s vaunted civil rights provisions a Potemkin Village.  They actually protect almost no one against even the most arbitrary and absurd,  and even the most corrupt or brutal, police, prosecutorial, judicial and prison-guard and prison-official actions. Even against judges who openly and routinely violate their own state’s laws concerning bail and fines and fees.

Constitution-as-fraud.  How American.  Presumably, the next time Ruth Bader Ginsburg uses one of her month-long vacations during the Court term, or maybe her months-long summer break as she reportedly did this past summer when she spoke at a conference in Australia on the subject of human rights, to flit around the world and lecture other countries’ leaders in government and law about human rights and civil rights, she’ll explain the relationship between, say, this, and this, and this,  and this, and Supreme Court-created federalism. And Freedom, of course.

She might also identify the constitutional authority that her court has for its admitted venture into policy, entirely absent any claim of constitutional or federal statutory interpretation as a pretext, that exempts law enforcement folks—police, prosecutors, prison guards—from civil rights monetary liability to their victims for blatant violations of their federal civil rights. The Constitution’s design, perhaps?  Nah. The justices themselves concede that this is simply a policy of the sort normally reserved for legislative bodies.  But they think the policy is a wise one.  So, no matter that under the Constitution’s design, they have no authority to simply invent a policy.  In the absence of actual constitutional authority, Ginsburg might identify her reason for failing to mention this in her dissents in these cases.  Maybe she will when she visits Canada or Sweden to lecture them about human rights and civil rights.  They’re northern-climate countries, though, so she’ll have to wait until next summer.  Especially since she has no clothes.

As a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and a recipient of his campaign’s listserve notices, I received an email message that discusses a bill he recently introduced in the Senate that would end for-profit prisons.  I had heard about the bill but was under the disappointing impression that it prohibited only the federal government’s use of private privately-owned or privately-run immigration detention centers—the only use the federal government makes of prisons not owned and run by the federal government.  And I had assumed that Sanders limited his bill to the federal government because he thought, as so many people do, that Congress is powerless to address issues of that sort pertaining to state and local governments.  But, happily, I was wrong.  The email says the bill “will bar federal, state, and local governments from contracting with private companies who manage prisons, jails, or detention facilities.”  It will not get Marco Rubio’s vote.

The email goes on to say:

The private-for-profit prison racket is a $70 billion industry, and with so much money at stake, it’s not surprising they’ve corrupted our political process.

The industry has contributed millions of dollars to candidates in pursuit of laws that increase incarceration of nonviolent offenders — a practice that disproportionately impacts people of color in the United States. We must stop the practice of governments guaranteeing prison occupancy as part of deals with private corporations that incentivize states to keep prison cells filled. And we must stop the practice of private companies charging exorbitant rates for prisoners to contact their families by phone — sometimes up to several dollars per minute to talk with loved ones, and charging outrageous service fees to prisoners trying to access their money upon release. That kind of exploitation takes an already difficult family dynamic between husbands, wives, parents and children and strains it even further.

It is wrong to profit from the imprisonment of human beings and the suffering of their families and friends. It’s time to end this morally repugnant process, and along with it, the era of mass incarceration.

I wrote here at AB three or four months ago, shortly after I first learned of contracts with private prison companies that guarantee occupancy, that these contracts strike me as flagrantly unconstitutional.

The Sanders bill, if enacted, will be challenged as an unconstitutional abridgment of states’ rights and, indirectly, of the prison corporation’s Freedom; separation of powers equals Freedom, see, when the separation is between the federal government and state or local governments and it advances some Conservative Legal Movement goal.  Or Republican Party donors’ financial interests. But actually the bill is authorized by none other than the Constitution.  Albeit the Fourteenth Amendment, sections 1 and 5, which don’t actually count.  See Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857).*

In fact, the entire panoply of violations that the general public now, finally, is aware of can be addressed by national legislation that indeed controls state and local courts, lawmakers, police and prison guards.  That is what I want Bernie Sanders to know before Tuesday’s debate.   I will recommend some in a (much shorter) follow-up post tomorrow.  It is imperative to expose the states’ rights canard for what it is: a key component of the Conservative Legal Movement’s commandeering of constitutional law, via procedural and fabricated jurisdictional gimmicks, to so completely remove constitutional protections from the vulnerable that, objectively, this country cannot be thought of as a civilized society.  Civilized societies don’t conduct themselves in this manner.  Civilized societies don’t uncouple the word freedom from its objective meaning; their highest court and their legislative bodies don’t use the Mad Hatter’s dictionary.

I also will insert several web links into this post tonight or tomorrow.**  Meanwhile, maybe Bernie Sanders can think about proposing a constitutional amendment that will once and for all end the part of the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that still remains to this day the law of the land which says that black people aren’t fully human.  Or an amendment that says that Mike Huckabee is fully human.  There seems to be a lot of support for the first of these, if not for the latter one.

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*Paragraph edited for typo correction and clarity.  Post edited slightly elsewhere, also.  10/11 at 11:10 p.m.

**I’ve added several links. 10/12 at 1:47 p.m.

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Anthony Kennedy Adds the Fifth Vote in the Citizens United Against Gerrymandering Opinion

Tomorrow, in addition to the predictable ruling in the EPA/mercury-emissions case, and in addition to a declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—another 5-4 ruling, in Obergefell v. Hodges—the Court will issue an opinion in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a case that could directly implicate continued Republican control of the House of Representatives.  So the only question is, which way will Kennedy vote—and most people expect that he will vote Republican.

Which is to say, most people think he’ll make up the fifth vote to strike down as unconstitutional an amendment to Arizona’s state constitution, passed by the state’s voters in 2000, that removed the legislature’s authority to draw boundaries for federal congressional districts away and placed that authority with an independent redistricting commission.  The legislature is challenging the amendment’s constitutionality under the Elections Clause, which states: “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”  (Scotusblog notes that California has a similar setup.)

Obviously, since state legislative gross gerrymandering is largely responsible for Republican control of the House, presumably until after the next census in 2020, the Republican justices don’t want to invite, say, Pennsylvania voters to push through something similar in a voter referendum, reversing the extreme gerrymandering there by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011. That includes Kennedy.  But Kennedy authored Citizens United and reportedly was the one who encouraged his cohorts to take on issues that had not been raised in the case, in order to destroy the McCain-Feingold law, and he’s been on the extreme defense about it ever since.  He could see this as some sort opportunity to regain some semblance of credibility on the nonpartisan front.  I mean, you never know.

Okay, you probably do know.  It won’t happen. The CW will prove right.

— In its ACA opinion today, the Court significantly narrowed its “Chevron-deference” doctrine.  I’m glad. Even despite the immediate repercussions for EPA authority., Me, Jun. 25

Okay, well, the EPA/mercury-emissions opinion, in Michigan v. EPA, and the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission opinion were released today rather than on Friday.  As expected, both were 5-4 opinions with Kennedy as the swing vote.

Also as expected—by me and pretty much everyone else—the EPA’s interpretation of a phrase in the Clean Air Act was stricken as beyond the reasonable meaning of that phrase within the context of the Clean Air Act.  This is a big, big win for power plants and the Koch brothers.

But as not necessarily expected, by me or (to my knowledge) many other people, was the result in the Arizona Redistricting Commission case.  Which is to say, Kennedy’s decision to join Ginsburg’s opinion interpreting the Constitution’s Elections Clause as referring not to the actual legislative body but to a state’s general authority—vis-à-vis the federal government’s—to determine such matters, in this case via a voter-led referendum in 2000 that established a bipartisan state commission for the purpose of redistricting congressional districts.

“Arizona voters sought to restore the core principle that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” Ginsburg said in a statement she read in the courtroom.  The full provision in the Constitution’s Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, states:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but Congress may at any time make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of chusing Senators.

“Arizona voters sought to restore the core principle that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” Ginsburg wrote.

What I find curious is the majority’s interpretation of “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives” as referring to redistricting methods at all.  And theoretically, it’s interesting that Scalia, Thomas and Alito, after all the venom they spilled last week in their King v. Burwell dissents—words no longer have meaning, etc., etc.—think “Times’ means something other than “times”; “Places” means something other than “places”; and “Manner” means something other than, well, “manner”.  I haven’t read the Ginsburg opinion yet, and I don’t know whether it addresses this. And while Ginsburg wrote the opinion, Kennedy controlled the basis for it.

But in my opinion, the grounds that the majority settled on are broader and better than a decision limited to the issue of gerrymandering. Which, it seems to me, this isn’t.  I’m certainly no expert in election law, but off the top of my head the ground on which the opinion is based—that the Elections Clause as referring not to the actual legislative body but to a state’s general authority to determine such matters, including by voter-led referendum—then states (Think: Wisconsin; North Carolina; but not, of course, Texas) might reverse the uber-restrictive voter-ID laws enacted the moment that the Tea Party gained control over the state’s legislative and executive branches together.

Well, we’ll have to see what the experts say about that.  Sit tight.  But even if limited to voter referendums on creation of anti-gerrymandering commissions, this opinion is a very big deal.  I think.

Citizens united in Arizona in 2000 against extreme gerrymandering. Now citizens can unite in other states to do the same.

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UPDATE: Richard Hasen, a professor at UC-Irvine law school and a leading liberal election law expert (he blogs on election law at electionlawblog.org), just published an article on Slate on the opinion in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, in which he conjectures about the reasons for Kennedy’s surprising vote and notes that, as in King v. Burwell, Kennedy seems to have changed his mind after the argument in the case this spring.  Slate notes at the bottom of the article that he has a book forthcoming called Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections.  Cool.

Added 6/29 at 3:42 p.m.

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SECOND UPDATE:  Hmm. Two terrific articles about the actual effect of the EPA decision on coal-powered power plants. One, by Michael Grunwald in Politico, discusses both the specifics of the ruling and the quickly progressing demise of the coal industry, which is rapidly being replaced by gas and solar and wind power. His article is titled “A great day for coal? Not exactly.” It’s subtitled “Why the Supreme Court’s strange EPA decision won’t matter as much as people think.”

The other, by Eric Holthaus in Slate, is called “Bad News: Supreme Court Blocked Power Plant Rules. Good News: The Era of Coal Is Over.

Since I’m one of the people referred to in Grunwald’s subtitle, I thought I should mention these articles.   This is just a  big win for coal-powered power plants, not a big, big win for them.  The Koch brothers are still pretty happy tonight, though.

Added 6/29 at 9:40 p.m.

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In its ACA opinion today, the Court significantly narrowed its “Chevron-deference” doctrine. I’m glad. Even despite the immediate repercussions for EPA authority.

[T]oday’s victory may have been even more decisive than it looks at first glance.

It isn’t just that the Court ruled six-to-three in favor of the government’s position, with John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy joining the Court’s liberals in support of a single, non-splintered decision, though that’s important.

It’s also that Roberts’ opinion may have precluded any future efforts by a Republican president to use executive discretion to cancel the subsidies for the millions of people on the federal exchange. [Italics in original.] This option might have been left open if the ruling had been written differently.

A decisive win for Obamacare, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Indeed.

The Court issued opinions in two of its seven remaining cases this morning, in this one, King v. Burwell, is in my opinion the lesser-significant of the two.  Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, in which the Court, ruling 5-4, upheld as both intended by the Fair Housing Act and within permissible constitutional bounds the right to invoke that Act to challenge government agency and private business actions that, while not overtly racially discriminatory, plainly have a discriminatory effect.  It is a tremendously important opinion, even beyond the housing issue.  And no slouch in the significance department is another 5-4 opinion issued this week, Kingsley v. Hendrickson, that began, finally, the process of limiting what has been the tacitly unfettered authority of prison guards to brutalize both pretrial detainees and post-conviction inmates—although the dissents in that opinion deserve their own post, and soon will get one.

But the far-reaching importance of the King opinion today, authored by Roberts, is in its choice to interpret the statute directly as providing for the subsidies irrespective of whether a state had designed and runs its own insurance exchange or instead defaults to the option by which the federal government created and runs the state’s exchange.  The government had argued both that that was the clear intent of the statute in providing for the default (the backup) option, and, alternatively, that under a Court-created doctrine known as “Chevron deference,” courts are required to give deference to the statutorily designated federal agency—here, HHS—in the agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous provision in the statute.

The Chevron-deference option would have enabled a later White House administration’s HHS to interpret the statutory language at issue—“an Exchange established by the State”—as the King plaintiffs claimed: Tax credits are available only in states in which the Exchange was set up and is run by the state, not an Exchange set up and run for the state by the federal government.

The Chevron-deference doctrine was created in a 1984 Supreme Court opinion, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., mainly for the purpose of allowing Reagan’s regulatory agency chiefs to orchestrate the industry capture of the respective regulatory agency charged with regulating the capturing industry.  Federal laws that create regulatory agencies provide that the agency itself will design regulations addressing specifics, in order to give effect to the broad design and mandates of the Act that establishes the agency.  The EPA was the original target of the Chevron doctrine, and is still the most common, I believe, but obviously the doctrine comes in handy in undermining regulations regulating the financial industry, the pharmaceutical industry, employee safety, and, well … you get the idea.

The doctrine’s stated premise is a clearly sensible one: that the very purpose of creating a regulatory agency is to have a permanent body of experts in the relevant fields employ their expertise to study the science, the technology, the methodology, and promulgate regulatory mandates and parameters that give effect to Congress’s purpose in enacting the statute and creating the regulatory agency.  But the extreme deference that the Chevron doctrine has appeared to accord to the agencies has, rather than served to effectuate congressional regulatory purposes in enacting the statutes that come within the regulatory jurisdiction of the relevant agency—the Clean Air Act vis-à-vis the EPA, for example—turned control of these agencies into political footballs.

Which was fine with the conservative justices, as long as the White House was in Republican hands.  But nearly seven years into the Obama administration, they’ve had enough, and have begun to make noises indicating a change of heart on Chevron.  They want to rein it in.  Two of them, joined by the four Democratic justices, took the first step toward that today, in King. And tomorrow, it is widely expected, in a case called Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, the five Republican justices will take a second, broader, and direct step, in an opinion that will strike down as beyond its authority under the Clean Air Act the current EPA’s interpretation of that statute as permitting it to regulate the release of mercury into the air by power plants.

And as a longstanding critic of the Chevron-deference doctrine, I’m thrilled with the Chevron implications of King.  As someone who’s not fond of the effects of mercury on the health of anyone or anything who breathes, though, I won’t welcome the substantive result in tomorrow’s opinion. But I hope, and think, that the issue of statutory regulation of power plants will become a somewhat potent issue in next year’s national elections.

What won’t be a national issue in next year’s elections, federal and state, are tax credits for subsidies for healthcare premiums under the ACA.  Which is precisely why Roberts and Kennedy decided that King must be decided as it was decided today.  Last March, after the argument in the case, I predicted exactly correctly what would happen, and why—and have never looked back, instead rolling my eyes at all the continued handwringing of liberal pundits so worried about the case’s outcome.

I pointed out back then that Roberts, for all his desire to fully, thoroughly, complete the circa 1980s Conservative Legal Movement’s takeover of American law, point by point by point, wants first and foremost, always—always—to provide every possible assist to Republican candidates for federal and state elective office.  Once it became clear, as it already had by the time King was argued at the Court, that a victory for the plaintiffs would spell electoral disaster for Republicans for federal and state office next year, Roberts’ vote, and the outcome of the case, was clear as well.

Tomorrow, in addition to the predictable ruling in the EPA/mercury-emissions case, and in addition to a declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—another 5-4 ruling, in Obergefell v. Hodges—the Court will issue an opinion in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a case that could directly implicate continued Republican control of the House of Representatives.  So the only question is, which way will Kennedy vote—and most people expect that he will vote Republican.

Which is to say, most people think he’ll make up the fifth vote to strike down as unconstitutional an amendment to Arizona’s state constitution, passed by the state’s voters in 2000, that removed the legislature’s authority to draw boundaries for federal congressional districts away and placed that authority with an independent redistricting commission.  The legislature is challenging the amendment’s constitutionality under the Elections Clause, which states: “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”  (Scotusblog notes that California has a similar setup.)

Obviously, since state legislative gross gerrymandering is largely responsible for Republican control of the House, presumably until after the next census in 2020, the Republican justices don’t want to invite, say, Pennsylvania voters to push through something similar in a voter referendum, reversing the extreme gerrymandering there by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011. That includes Kennedy.  But Kennedy authored Citizens United and reportedly was the one who encouraged his cohorts to take on issues that had not been raised in the case, in order to destroy the McCain-Feingold law, and he’s been on the extreme defense about it ever since.  He could see this as some sort opportunity to regain some semblance of credibility on the nonpartisan front.  I mean, you never know.

Okay, you probably do know.  It won’t happen. The CW will prove right.

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Freedom. [Addendum added.]

Liberty.  States’ rights.  Freedom.

Just ask Justice Kennedy about how the removal of federal constitutional checks on state and local courts, prosecutors and prisons has ensured our freedom.  Well, his, anyway.

He’ll tell you.  It’s our constitutional design (his word), see.

I keep wondering why international human rights organizations don’t aggressively spread information about this country’s states’-rights agenda and it’s huge, appalling consequences, and make clear that this is, virulently advanced by the current Supreme Court.  Because, really, only when this gains broad international attention will it begin to end.

And, yes, this is what the Court calls, explicitly, freedom.  The rest of the civilized world, though, I trust, would call it barbarism.  If they knew about it.

And really, it’s long past time that they did.

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ADDENDUM: To clarify, the premise of Kennedy’s states’-rights=freedom shtick is that separation-of-powers=freedom; ergo, Germans, Scandinavians and the Dutch, for example, are prisoners. The selling point is supposed to be checks and balances, but under Kennedy’s brand of separation-of-powers=freedom, there is a separate of powers but there are no constitutional checks on state and local government police and judicial powers. Freedom is defined not by what happens to you but instead by which government, and what part of that government, is doing it.

Added 6/9 at 11:34 a.m.

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Obviously, the New York Times Editorial Page is Lying*

I know for a fact that the alleged facts stated in this New York Times editorial today are false.  Or at least that, contrary to the editorial’s claim, those facts, if true, no longer have any impact on black Americans’ financial status and educational opportunities.  None whatsoever.

I know this because I read John Roberts’ and Anthony Kennedy’s opinions in cases that touch on such matters.

Okay, so maybe the writer of that editorial isn’t actually a liar.  Maybe he or she actually believes that the claims in the editorial are true.  Which would indicate that that writer does not read John Roberts’ and Anthony Kennedy’s opinions, at least not the ones that concern such things.

In any event, that editorial should be retracted.  Immediately.  With a concession that it misstates fact.

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*Okay, I know from experience that someone will post an angry comment here indicating that he or she thinks the title of the post, and the post itself, aren’t, y’know, facetious.  The title of the post, and the post itself, are facetious. The Times editorial, by the way, is titled “How Racism Doomed Baltimore.”

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Samuel Alito Thinks There Has Been a Constitutional Right of Four People to Marry One Another at Once Since 1967. Interesting.

Justice Kennedy said he was concerned about changing a conception of marriage that has persisted for so many years. Later, though, he expressed qualms about excluding gay families from what he called a noble and sacred institution. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. worried about shutting down a fast­moving societal debate.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked whether groups of four people must be allowed to marry, while Justice Antonin Scalia said a ruling for same­ sex marriage might require some members of the clergy to perform ceremonies that violate their religious teaching.

Gay Marriage Arguments Divide Supreme Court Justices, Adam Liptak, New York Times, this afternoon.

A fun parlor game among some progressive pundits leading up to today’s gay-marriage arguments at the Supreme Court has been speculating about what would be the most ridiculous analogy to gay marriage offered by … well … Scalia, who has offered his share of silly analogies on such things before.

But early reports on the argument suggest that it was not Scalia but Alito who distinguished himself most on this front this morning.  The constitutional issues in today’s six consolidated cases, called Obergefell v. Hodges, are essentially the same as the ones that were at issue in a 1967 case called Loving v. Virginia, in which the Court struck down as violative of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses state laws that prohibited interracial marriage.

In fairness to Alito, I don’t know the specific context—the specific statement of counsel whom Alito was asking, perhaps, a follow-up question. But by mentioning Alito’s question in his short article written immediately after the argument, Liptak seems to suggest that Alito ‘s inquiry was pretty general.

So I’m guessing that Alito fears that a decision in favor of the gay couples who want to marry will remind people who want to marry three people at once—a.k.a., polygamy—that they have had a due process and equal protection right to do so since 1967.  Or else he just forgot about Loving.

Which would make him a bedfellow, apparently, of Hillary Clinton, who last summer told NPR’s Terry Gross, “For me, marriage has always been a matter left to the states.”  So, for her, it always has been, but for the interracial couple who challenged such a precept in Loving, it turned out not to be.

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Post edited slightly for clarity. 4/28 at 6:45 p.m.

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The Campaign-Finance Transparency Canard … In All Its Orwellian Splendor

For the reasons explained above, we now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Jan. 21, 2010

I should have foreseen it on Monday.  That was the day that the Washington Post published a high-profile article by Matea Gold, one of the Post’s national political reporters, headlined “Big money in politics emerges as a rising issue in 2016 campaign.”  Five of the Post’s other national political reporters contributed to the piece, two of them reporting from New Hampshire.

By “it”—that is, the thing I should have seen coming—I mean the Orwellian attempt by Republicans to blame campaign-finance laws for the billionaire co-optation of politicians instead of on, say, the Supreme Court’s dismantling of those laws.

The thrust of Gold’s article is this: Historically, the general public laments the influence of large campaign-finance donors—those who contribute directly to campaigns or parties, and those who run or contribute to ostensibly independent PACs and, now, SuperPACs—most people cite specific substantive policy concerns such as the state of the economy, rather than the influence of large donors, as their main political concerns, because, well, most people don’t connect government policy to who’s paying for the policymakers’ elections.  But now, because of the clear, well-known effect of Citizens United (and McCutcheon v. FEC, whose name and specifics most of the public does not know, but whose effect the public does know, albeit under the rubric of Citizens United), large swaths of the public are, finally, connecting the dots between government policy and campaign-finance practices, whatever the guise.

Uh-oh.  Much of the public is now not only onto the Koch brothers, but recognizes that the Koch brothers and others who are nearly as wealthy are effectively the puppeteers to the candidates for national public office—and may soon become aware that that is as true of elections for state government.  All three branches of it.

Not to worry.  Republican pundits Ed Rogers and Kathleen Parker have the answer.  Which they’ve wasted no time in laying out in their respective forums in the Washington Post forums, Rogers in his blog there surprisingly honestly titled “The Insiders,” Parker in her syndicated column.

Rogers, a longtime high-profile Republican political consultant inside and outside Republican White House administrations, and now (to quote the bio line at the bottom of his blog posts) “the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991,” announces in both the title and the body of a blog post yesterday that he is “embarrassed by our campaign finance system.”  Yup.  The first paragraph of his post reads:

I’m embarrassed by our campaign finance system. And as a long-time participant in the system, for me to get here, it must be pretty bad. So-called “campaign finance reform laws” have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done. I can’t say it any better than the recent article “Trading Places” in the National Journal. Tim Alberta and Shane Goldmacher, who wrote this thoughtful piece about the impact and increasing necessity of super PACs, said, “[SuperPACs] pose an existential threat to the old order. The campaigns themselves may soon become subordinate; as Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.” How can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign?

It can’t, Rogers concludes.  But not because a few exceedingly wealthy people are dictating candidate campaign platforms—they hold their own private primaries these days—and, of course, actual government policy by those whom they sponsored as candidates.  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.  It’s because of a lack of transparency regarding who is funding whose SuperPACs.

And whose fault is it that this system has developed and is having the effect that it’s having?  The drafters and supporters of the post-Watergate and 2001 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance statutes!  Without which we would have had no commandeering of candidates, elected officials and (consequently) of government policy!  Uh-uh.  No, Sir. No, Ma’am.  No how. No way.

If extremely wealthy individuals could donate unrestricted amounts of money directly to campaigns and parties, and have to identify themselves as doing that, the public would also be entitled to transcripts of these folks’ phone and in-person conversations, and email exchanges, with their candidate-proxies/elected-officials, see.

Problem solved!  Or it would be, if only we would just kill the remaining campaign-finance restrictions before the Supreme Court does, and require it all to be … transparent.

Rogers’ post reminds me of those old children’s black-and-white game book puzzles in which the object is to find the obscured animal in the thicket of the drawing’s foliage.  He’s now, finally, after many decades as a participant in the system, embarrassed by that system, because of how very bad it now is.  But it’s the campaign finance reform laws—the so-called ones, not the real ones—that have created a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.

Yes, that’s right.  You probably thought that the Supreme Court’s literally spontaneous campaign finance “reform” law announced under the auspices of First Amendment jurisprudence in January 2010, and “enhanced in the name of freedom by the court’s majority last year in McCutcheon v. FEC, striking down most of the McCain-Feingold law, played some role in creating a surreal world where the official campaigns aren’t where the campaigning is being done.   But it didn’t.  Uh-uh.

We know that, because although Rogers admits that it is only now that he’s finally embarrassed about our campaign-finance system–13 years after McCain-Feingold was enacted but four years after the Supreme Court decimated that statute–he’s embarressed by the system propogated by McCain-Feingold, a system that is now a quaint memory.  The embarrassment is totally unrelated to the Supreme Court’s nullifiçation of most of the statute.  Which explains why he doesn’t mention Citizens United, much less McCutcheon. He doesn’t mention the Supreme Court and Citizens United, at all.

So there.

The animal figures in the drawing are really, really obscured.  But he assures us that they’re there.  The campaign-finance laws left standing for now, he complains, are quickly rendering the campaigns themselves subordinate.  As Mitt Romney demonstrated in the 2012 primary, a candidate can win without an effective campaign but not without an effective super PAC.  So, how can the public interest be served in a world where an unaccountable super PAC is actually bigger than a candidate’s formal campaign? he asks.

But by design, he’s asking the wrong question.  So I’ll ask the right one, which is: How can the public interest be served in a world where a handful of billionaires puppet campaigns of others for public office and have secret, direct access to the candidates and who direct campaign positions the goal of which is to ultimately dictate government policy?  It is not, and it cannot.  And that’s true whether unlimited money goes directly to a candidate or party, or both, or whether instead it goes to a SuperPAC.

The demand for transparency is largely a canard, a way to render false assurances that the problem is entirely or mainly secrecy of the identity of the benefactors.  We know who the Kochs are and whom, and what, they support, because they’ve been open about it.  Same with Sheldon Adelson and Tom Steyer.  So what?

Parker’s column today is worse than Rogers’ post, but because of its obvious Orwellian feel will just prompt shrugs, I’d guess.  She writes, in a piece titled “Mr. Hughes Goes to Washington”:

Setting aside for now the debate about security, let’s turn our attention to [gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes’] proclaimed mission of shining a light on our corrupt campaign finance system and his urgent plea for reform.

We tried that, Mr. Hughes, and it created an even bigger mess. [Italics in original.]Today’s salient political adage goes like this: Behind every successful politician is a billionaire — or several.

We did indeed try that, Ms. Parker.  And for a decade or so it worked reasonably well.  But, see, that decade saw the Democrats take control of both houses of Congress from the Republicans as well as the election of Barack Obama.  So although the Supreme Court majority initially killed most of McCain-Feingold in order to allow corporate CEOs to use shareholder money to support Republican candidates directly and indirectly, what we have as a result is less the influence of corporate money than the purchasing of federal, state and local government policy by a billionaire.  Or several.

It turns out that it’s the “several” part that Parker, and probably Rogers, finds problematic.  Parker dedicates much of the remainder of her column to Hillary Clinton’s call last week for mandated transparency in campaign finance in its various forms, because, well, transparency has not been Clinton’s strong suit.  Clinton has a pretty broad base of large donors, apparently. Anyway, Parker writes:

This tells us two things: Transparency polled well in focus groups; Clinton is adept in the art of political jujitsu.

Campaign finance reform is indeed on many minds, if only in greater America. Beyond the Beltway, people like Doug Hughes choke and spit when talking about politics and politicians. The notion that a few rich people can determine who leads this essential nation is a sour, cynical-making joke that borders on the criminal.

As noted in the quote from Citizens United that opens this post, Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues beg to differ.  But Parker and Kennedy agree on the elixir.  Parker continues:

There’s nothing free about paid-for elections — unless everybody knows where the money came from. [Italics in original.] Ever since the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, generally known as “McCain-Feingold,” our two-party system has been on life support. If in pre-reform America, too many wealthy people were donating large sums to candidates, at least we usually knew who they were. In post-reform America, too many are still giving large donations — but in the shadows.

As one philanthropist put it to me, “Money will always find a way.”

Funny, but I wasn’t aware that the two-party system was on life support between 2002 and 2010, although I guess it might have appeared that way to someone who liked the idea of a one-party system as long as the one party is the Republican one.  (I am not such a person.)  I’d argue instead that the two-party system’s demise, as Parker and Rogers seem to mean it, came not as a result of the enactment eight years earlier of McCain-Feingold but instead from the rise of the Tea Party and therefore as a result of that Supreme Court opinion that cannot be mentioned in polite company.  Or in Republican pundits’ commentary.

Nor am I aware that money always finds a way in the other democracies. The other democracies in the world–the actual ones, and there are a number of them–manage to ensure that it doesn’t.

Left unexplained by these folks, and by others, possibly including Hillary Clinton, is why they believe that the purchase of candidates’ platforms and, ultimately, of elected officials’ policy positions is pernicious only when done via SuperPAC; the purchase of candidates and entire parties is fine, because, see, we know that Republicans audition with the Kochs, and we know these brothers are billionaires many times over, but that would be unimportant if only the brothers could make direct payments to the campaigns and parties.

Hillary Clinton may be adept at political jujitsu, but suffice it to say that she has no monopoly on it.

I do accept Parker’s characterization (however unwitting but by her own terms accurate) of Kennedy & Friends’ actions as bordering on criminal, though. And that money does find a way in this democracy.  But only in this democracy.  By resounding democratic majorities of 5-4.

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Dear Greg Sargent: YOU may not know what Scalia and Alito were up to yesterday. But I do.*

The chief justice said almost nothing.

Supreme Court Appears Sharply Split in Case on Health Law, Adam Liptak, New York Times

Okay, so how well did my predictions from three days ago hold up at the argument yesterday* in King v. Burwell?

Well, I got the outcome right, but not the particulars of how it will occur.  By saying almost nothing, Roberts said everything you need to know: The ACA will remain undisturbed.  He will join with the four Dem justices in an opinion that simply invokes standard statutory-interpretation methods that the Court employs when, say, it’s the Tea Party whose interests that long-established mechanism serves. In, y’know, garbage statutes. There’s no way—seriously; there really is no way—that Roberts would sit through 80 minutes of argument, in this of all cases, almost completely silently, if he intended to vote to interpret the four-word phrase at issue as the statute’s challengers ask.

Roberts will leave Kennedy to his federalism obsession—his bizarre the-Civil-War-and-the-Reconstruction-amendments-are-figments-of-the-political-left’s-imagination claims. (Roberts shares this view, but only as a means to specific Conservative Legal Movement ends, such as nullifying the Voting Rights Acts.)  Sure, the majority opinion will invoke the fancy the-federal-government-can’t-coerce-the-states-not-even-by-subterfuge federalism ground tailored specially for Kennedy.  But it will do so only to undermine the challengers’ belated switch argument: that Congress intended that the subsidies be available only in states that had set up and run their own websites, and that the purpose of the provision in the ACA that provided that the federal government would set up and run websites for individual state healthcare markets in states that do not set up and run their own was to mislead the states about the effect of a failure by the state to set up and operate its own website. (Congress knows better than to try that kind of thing and think it could get away with it! Unless, of course, it knew it wouldn’t get away with it.)  Originally, the challengers had argued that the four-word phrase at issue was an inadvertent error.

Congress’s clever ruse was predictably effective, since, as Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Breyer noted, the federally run websites would have no products available and no customers, so the state legislators who bought the head fake weren’t really all that gullible in not catching on.

Then again, as Dahlia Lithwick reported, Scalia commented to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: “How can the federal government establish a state exchange. That is gobbledygook.”  Which surely it is, since although each state has its own separate insurance market under the ACA, available only to residents of the respective state, the ones set up and run by the federal government were intended to have no actual insurance policies available, or customers to buy policies even if one or two policies should happen to pop up on one of those non-state exchanges.  And Scalia—no fool, he—does now recognize that that could undermine the challenger’s Plan B argument that Congress gamed this all out and decided to lull the states into a false sense that they could default to the federal government the setup and operation of the exchanges, with no ill effects.  Pun intended.  So Scalia needed a Plan B to save Plan B as something he could assert in his dissent.

But Scalia’s pointing this out wasn’t really the main gist of what he was up to yesterday. What he really was up to was having his cake and eating it too. He apparently waited until it was becoming clear that Roberts and Kennedy would do the heavy lifting for him and Thomas and Alito, and then largely reverted to his November 2014 garbage-statutes position—that is, to his pre-January 21, pre-Fair Housing Act case argument comments about how the Court normally interprets complex, multi-section federal statutes that intend to establish a coherent policy.

Well, inadvertent garbage, or instead advertent garbage; whatever. Either scenario works in this silly save-us-from-ourselves-please-while-we-protest-too-much kabuki act.  Just as Sens. Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, and John Barrasso indicated in a Washington Post op-ed published last Sunday that was unabashedly directed to Roberts, Kennedy and Scalia.

Specifically, this trio opened its message with:

Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.

Oh, okay. Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions that for the last year are providing them with healthcare, by enabling them to continue to have the healthcare insurance that is harming them.  In other words: Please, Supreme Court, save our party’s election chances in 2016, just as we quietly asked you a couple of months back, Antonin Scalia, to do.  But since it takes only one of you to do this for us, the rest of you don’t have to participate.  One sacrificial lamb is all that’s necessary.  The rest of you, write a dissent along the lines of … well, I’ll let Greg Sargent explain:

At oral arguments before the Supreme Court yesterday, two of the conservative justices — Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia — both floated versions of the idea that, if the Court does strike down Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states, it might not be that big a deal, because surely lawmakers would then fix the problem and avert disruptions for millions.

This had more significance than it first appeared.

Here are the key quotes. After Solicitor General Donald Verrilli claimed that a Court decision against the law would cut off subsidies “immediately,” producing “very significant, very adverse effects” for “millions of people,” Alito suggested that the Court could side with the challengers but delay the ruling “until the end of this tax year.”

That would mean people would not abruptly lose their subsidies; the suggestion was that if the Court did this, the disruptions might not be immediate, and perhaps somehow contingency plans could come together to soften the blow for those millions of people. Verrilli suggested the Court might have this authority, but disputed whether doing this would actually make much of a difference in practice, because many of the states would be unable to set up exchanges — keeping the subsidies flowing — by the end of the year.

Whereupon this happened:

JUSTICE SCALIA: What about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue. I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the — you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, this Congress, Your Honor, I — I –

[Laughter.]

That was indeed a richly comic moment! But it was also very significant. The conservative Justices implicitly suggested that the consequences of ruling with the challengers — which Scalia himself termed “disastrous,” though there may have been a hint of sarcasm there — are in fact weighing on the Court, and they themselves floated the idea that a legislative fix might mitigate those consequences.

Sargent goes on to say:

I don’t pretend to know for certain what motivated the conservative justices to say this stuff. But here’s a guess: The idea that a legislative solution might soften the disruptions could make it easier for Anthony Kennedy (who appeared torn over federalism concerns, particularly in light of the punishment that might be inflicted on states) and/or John Roberts (who seemed at least open to the idea that Chevron deference should be accorded to the government) to rule with the challengers.

Okay, well, unlike Sargent, I do pretend to know for certain what motivated the conservative justices to say this stuff.  Or at least what motivated Scalia.  He just enjoys cake.  It’s his favorite dessert.  Despite all those calories.  Especially when he has the cake and eats it too.

Kennedy will join the majority’s ruling only in its bottom line: the ACA survives in its current interpretation.  He’ll write a concurring opinion explaining that this is a necessary outcome, in order to avoid so offending the sovereign dignity of 36 states that, in self-defense, they would enter into a military treaty with Russia and attack Washington using an allied force comprised of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the states’ national guard units.  Which itself would violate the Constitution’s design because it obviously would have the effect of coercing the states into increasing their own military budgets significantly.

But Kennedy’s concurrence will be a sideshow.

Laughter.  Applause.  Curtain.

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*Typo-corrected to reflect the day that the post was posted (Thursday), rather than the day when I began writing it, which was Wednesday, the day of the argument. The post also has been edited slightly (and typo-corrected elsewhere) for clarity.

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How the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Debacle Will End [Addendum added]

I have known for the last five weeks—since January 27, to be exact—that the Supreme Court will uphold the Administration’s interpretation of the federal-subsidies provisions in the ACA when it issues its decision in the infamous King v. Burwell case whose argument date at the Court is Wednesday.  I also have known since then that the opinion will be unanimous, or nearly so, and that Antonin Scalia is likely to write it but if not will join it.

I considered revealing this to AB readers earlier, but feared an F.B.I. inquiry into suspicions that I hacked into the computer system in Scalia’s chambers, so I hesitated.  But it’s now or never—Scalia will make his position clear at the argument, and then I will have lost my one chance, ever, for a career as a Vegas oddsmaker—and I think I can persuade the F.B.I. that I received my information not illegally but instead from a report recounting extensive, pointed comments Scalia made in open court on January 21, in a case that is not about the ACA but is, like King, about the methods the Court uses to interpret lengthy, highly complex federal statutes with multiple interconnecting sections and subsections whose purpose is to establish a cohesive policy.

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Cynthia Lummis’s (Stunningly) Glib Fraud

The big news story of the last 24 hours, of course, is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s sickening torture report.  But you might also have heard about Wyo. Rep. Cynthia Lummis’s dramatic statement yesterday as a member of Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Jonathan Gruber/Marilyn Tavenner Obamacare hearing.

The purpose of the hearing was, naturally … well, you know.  But something surprising did happen at the hearing.  In short, Lummis, the chairwoman of the Republican Study Committee’s Obamacare-repeal subcommittee, claimed that her 65-year-old Medicare-eligible husband failed to get a physician-recommended medical test to diagnose the cause of his chest pains because he was told incorrectly that he and his wife “were not covered by Obamacare”.

Even if you did hear about this, you might have missed Washington Post political blogger Nia-Malika Henderson’s precious take on it as “the most moving moment of the Gruber hearing.”:

Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who said that the stupidity of the American public played a major role in the passage of the  Affordable Care Act, came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to be verbally flogged by members of Congress. Amid the predictable litany of “stupid” references, Wyoming Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) provided a poignant moment. Here’s what she said:

“On October 24, the week before election, my husband went to sleep and never woke up. He had a massive heart attack in his sleep at age 65.  A perfectly, by all accounts, healthy man. Come to find out, in a conversation with his physician after he died, he chose not to have one of the tests, the last tests, his doctor told him to have. This happened to coincide with the time that we were told that we were not covered by Obamacare. I’m not telling you that my husband died because of Obamacare.  He died because he had a massive heart attack in his sleep.

Lummis’s husband was Alvin Wiederspahn, a former Democratic state legislator and a lawyer and rancher. They married in 1983. When he died, Lummis released this statement, which mentions the couple’s only child: ‘Last night, my husband, Al, passed away peacefully in his sleep in our home in Cheyenne. Annaliese and I know that God has taken Al home to heaven, but right now our hearts are broken.’

“Her statement about her husband in the Gruber hearing wasn’t so much a question as much as it was a raw accusation about the Affordable Care Act, a statement she ended by asking for some compassion. ‘I want to suggest that regardless of what happened to me personally, that there have been so many glitches in the passage and implementation of Obamacare that have real-life consequences on peoples’ lives,’ she said, almost choking up. ‘The so-called glibness that has been referenced today has direct consequences for real American people. So get over your damn glibness.’”

“Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner tried to offer Lummis some sympathy, but was cut off by outgoing chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)”

Hearings like this are always political.  But they don’t usually offer such deeply-felt personal stories from lawmakers.

Apparently, it didn’t occur to Henderson, nor for that matter to Tavenner, to mention that Lummis’ husband surely was covered by Medicare.  For the record, Mr. Wiederspahn, according to his own Wikipedia page, was born on January 18, 1949, so he turned 65 a full 10 months before his death.

Also for the record, Lummis and her husband had a net worth of between $20 million and $75 million, including three Wyoming ranches.  Although Mr. Wiederspahn himself came from a prominent Cheyenne family and was a successful lawyer, the couple, who met when they were young across-the-political-aisle colleagues in the state legislature, inherited most of their extensive wealth from Lummis’s family.

Lummis said at that hearing that her husband had had several routine heart-health tests, presumably months or at least weeks before he died, and had submitted payment claims to “Obamacare,” but was told, erroneously, by “Obamacare” that the two of them were not were not covered, even though they had purchased a plan through the DC exchange website.  She said he resubmitted the bills and was told again that he and his wife weren’t covered.  But he was covered primarily by Medicare. And of course he knew that. Lummis didn’t mention that, but she did say that he had been having chest pains yet declined to have that final diagnostic test.

Lummis ran unsuccessfully in September to chair the Republican Study Committee, and she heads its legislative-repeal subcommittee. Her story was not a deeply-felt personal one but instead a deeply-felt ideological one.  The chance is nil that her husband delayed getting that final diagnostic test for fear that he might have to pay out-of-pocket some relatively small portion of the cost for the test–the portion that Medicare would not pay. Or that he thought the insurance error would not be corrected.

Her claim is a fraud.  Call her the “‘Jackie’, the-University-of-Virginia-fraternity-gang-rape-victim” of the Obamacare-horror-story crowd.  By which I mean that, theoretically at least, her fabrication in order to try to serve her cause may prove to have the opposite effect.  But only if the news media reports the credibility issues.  And because this is not about sex but instead about Obamacare, the news media probably won’t.

And, no, I’m not being glib.  Lives indeed are at stake.

And while it may be unfair to analogize Henderson to Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the infamous UVa-fraternity-gang-rape article—Henderson, after all, was just extemporaneously reacting to what she had just seen on CSPAN, not writing an ostensibly extensively-investigated in-depth news article—I’ll draw the analogy anyway, albeit while noting that important distinction.

But Henderson certainly is correct on her last point: Congressional hearings don’t usually offer such deeply-felt personal stories—real ones or fake ones—from lawmakers. Nor, of course, was this lawmaker actually testifying.  Not under oath, anyway.

But to Henderson’s observation, I’ll add one of my own: There has, at least to my knowledge, never been a House or Senate hearing at which, say, a surviving spouse of someone who died because of lack of access to diagnostic tests or to treatment because of the family could not afford healthcare insurance on the private market on the pair’s minimum-wage jobs, or because the spouse had a pre-existing condition detailed this.  Nor, to my knowledge, has there been testimony by a witness who alone or along with a spouse filed for bankruptcy, or completed lifelong savings and retirement accounts, because of huge and possibly ongoing medical bills that far exceeded the pre-Obamacare annual benefit cap on the family’s Blue Cross plan.

For that matter, there has been no Congressional-hearing testimony by people who will lose access to healthcare insurance if Antonin Scalia brings along with him next spring the votes of four other justices to interpret the ACA as containing an antidisestablishmentarian clause that bars insurance-premium subsidies under that statute in states that have allowed the federal government to set up and run their state’s insurance exchange website, as per the ACA, rather than set one up and run it itself.  During a little-publicized private speech to the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit last month, Scalia decided to tamp down public speculation that in the ACA cases, King v. Burwell and Halbig v. Burwell, he might adhere to the rule of statutory construction that he announced for the Court last June in a ruling favoring a who’s-who cadre of anti-environmental-regulations Republican campaign finance benefactors, and against the EPA.  Scalia reportedly told his audience that judges don’t have the power to interpret “garbage” statutes enacted by Congress to avoid an undesired outcome. (Scalia and four of his colleagues do believe, however, as they demonstrate regularly these days, that they have the power to interpret non-garbage statutes and statutory procedural rules as garbage statutes, but apparently he didn’t mention that in his speech.)

And there has been no Congressional testimony by anyone who, notwithstanding a very moderate annual income ($11,670 to $29,175 a year for an individual), this year has enjoyed excellent healthcare insurance through an ACA provision that has remained almost secret because it requires a separate budget appropriation that the Republicans have blocked. HHS has used funds appropriated for the tax subsidies to fund the program this year, but the professional-anti-Obamacare-litigation industrial complex is challenging the legality of this in the courts.  New York Times healthcare reporter Robert Pear explained on November 29:

In mounting the latest court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans are focusing on a little­-noticed provision of the law that offers financial assistance to low­ and moderate­ income people.

Under this part of the law, insurance companies must reduce copayments, deductibles and other out-­of­pocket costs for some people in health plans purchased through the new public insurance exchanges. The federal government reimburses insurers for the “cost-­sharing reductions.”

Nor has there been Congressional testimony by anyone who is deeply grateful for the dramatic slowing of the decades-long virulently-rising annual increase in healthcare insurance costs for private-employer-based insurance, although surely there are many, many millions who are.

I want to suggest that regardless of what happened to Lummis personally, that although there have been so many glitches in the passage and implementation of Obamacare, the actual real-life consequences of Obamacare on peoples’ lives are that it mitigates to some extent but by no means fully the profoundly harsh and quite-often deadly American healthcare-access/healthcare-coverage system, and that Lummis is fraudulently invoking her husband’s untimely death in the service of trying to strip millions of spouses, parents, and children of their newfound, very-long-in-coming access to diagnostic tests, treatments, and preventative medical care.  That—unlike her false indictment of the ACA in her husband’s death—is a fact.

Lummis’s husband, whether or not he remained a Democrat throughout his life, did remain someone whose heart was in the right place.  He reportedly played a large role in obtaining financial support for Cheyenne’s largest homeless shelter.  His widow should have let him rest in peace, rather than glibly invoking his death in a cause whose purpose is to deny access to healthcare insurance to massive numbers of people.  His widow’s glibness was intended to have direct consequences for real American people, of exactly the sort that her husband (who surely knew that at the least he was covered by Medicare) did not face.  It is not Gruber, but Lummis, whose glibness will kill, as is its intention.

Yes, Henderson really did title her blog post “This was the most moving moment of the Gruber hearing.”  Once Obamacare has been repealed root-and branch, as Mitch McConnell has vowed, or just branch-but-not root, by the Supreme Court, as Scalia is hinting, there will be many possible moving moments, superficially similar but substantively different than Lummis’s, although of course not by lawmakers.  There still is a difference between staged theater and real life; at least I think so.  So I suppose we’ve seen the last of the moving moments, at Congressional hearings, concerning spousal deaths due to lack of health insurance coverage.

Lummis surely mourns her husband.  Deeply.  But she also made him her unwitting stage prop yesterday.

 

 

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