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

I predict that the Supreme Court will grant the emergency petition in the Texas voter-ID case, and reinstate the district court’s stay of enforcement until after the November election.

I predict that the Supreme Court will grant the emergency request in the Texas voter-ID case, and reinstate the district court’s stay of enforcement until after the November election. Which, best as I can tell, makes me a minority of exactly one.

I don’t have time to elaborate much, but I did address pretty thoroughly last week, in this post, what’s become known in the last 10 days or so as “the Purcell principle”–the key legal issue regarding these emergency stay requests to the Supreme Court in all of the voter-access litigation,  as, in my opinion, it should apply to the Texas case.

Summarizing quickly why I think that the Court will stay the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay of the district court’s stay of enforcement of the Texas voter-ID law:

  1. The Purcell principle cannot possibly justify the disenfranchisement of otherwise-eligible voters—and the voter-ID litigation has now, finally, broken out into mainstream media, and consequently the public’s, consciousness.  I think there is a limit to the extent to which the Court is willing to advertise its overt partisanship, and in this instance it would serve no real Republican purpose.  There aren’t any major races in Texas that are close enough for this to swing the election to the Democrats.
  1. Last week, in the Wisconsin voter-ID case, six justices voted to stay the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay of the district court’s stay of enforcement of that state’s voter-ID law, thus halting enforcement of the statute in the upcoming election.  But three justices—Alito, Scalia and Thomas—dissented, citing a technical Court-created procedural nicety that they thought was violated by the majority’s issuance of the stay of the stay.  In the Texas case, however, that very procedural nicety would require that the Court stay the appellate court’s stay of the district court’s stay.  (Got that?  Of course you do!)

Okay, by tomorrow at this time, I probably will be in need of orthopedic surgery to repair those bones I broke when that tree limb I just climbed back out on snapped.  We’ll see.

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Libertarian? Or Fascist-Light?

The shooting death by police of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown, and what has happened in the aftermath, has been blanketing the news for the past few days. It’s a story about race, but it’s also become a story about the power of the state and how it’s wielded, and against whom.

So my question is this: Where are the libertarians?

Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?, Paul Waldman, Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday

The answer to the question that the title to that post asks is: they are. Libertarians are talking about Ferguson.Waldman’s question addresses a linguistics problem, a misappropriation of a particular ideological term, “libertarian,” by those who ascribe to a narrowly prescriptive ideology that adopts extreme economic libertarianism and certain aspects of fascism.

It is a curious brand of fascism that is peculiarly American, in that it artificially distinguishes between federal powers and state and local ones. A veritable foundation of this ideology formally or tacitly authorizes the use of state and local government police powers—by police, prosecutors, judges, prison guards–to engage in wholesale violations of American constitutional and international human rights. Federal prosecutors and federal judges engage in abuses, including on presumably-rare occasions of actual illegality, but now, finally, at least there’s the possibility of actual scrutiny of federal prosecutorial excess. There remains no working mechanism by which federal or state judges will be investigated for actual illegality in relation to their judicial office, unless the conduct involves an overt monetary bribe or express monetary extortion; judges themselves operate within a statutory system whose very essence is cover-up by their colleagues, and every attempt, including by members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, to change this statutory sham vis-a-vis federal judges is batted down with cries from several Supreme Court justices, including the two Clinton appointees, about judicial independence. (Freedom! Liberty! Judicial Independence!)  As if an independent office of inspector general, as statutory proposals would establish, couldn’t distinguish between unethical or outright illegal conduct and, well, everything else.  And wouldn’t be forced to do that.

About a month ago, Simon Lazarus of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote an article in The New Republic titled “John Roberts’ Supreme Court is the Most Meddlesome in History” and subtitled “How radical libertarianism is reshaping the bench.” I remember thinking when I saw that article that the primary title is correct but the subtitle is not. Certainly there are some radical libertarians—those who want to eliminate virtually all taxes, federal and state, an virtually all government regulations and civil and criminal prohibitions, federal and state, and who also are, as Waldman puts it, talking about Ferguson. And who want to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. But best as I can tell, they’re not Republicans, and they’re certainly not federal judges, much less federal Supreme Court justices. Accepting their pose as libertarians, without the modifying adjective “economic,” is buying their marketing campaign.

Freedom! Liberty! Libertarianism! The new and improved variety, marketed as the late 18th century strain. Back from the future. I guess.

What most of this crowd actually is is sort of classic-fascist-light, not libertarian. By which I don’t mean that they’re Nazis; Nazism was (and is) only one brand of fascism. I mean fascism more along the lines of the Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco variety—a pairing of a muscular state police force left to its own (and the dictator’s) devices, and moneyed interests whose support the dictator an his party needed. Modern U.S. neo-federalism, a.k.a. “states’ rights!”–i.e., the right of state and local government officials and employees to violate individual, non-Republican humans’ constitutional rights—is libertarianism only in a George-Orwell-comes-to-Madison-Avenue sense, but it underpins much of Tea Party/Supreme Court libertarianism, if only ostensibly.

One of the most stunning sentences I’ve ever read in a Supreme Court opinion, a sentence that has not received nearly the amount of attention in the general news media or by Democrats that it deserves, is John Roberts’ express statement in the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, this year’s Citizens United sequel, that extremely wealthy campaign donors become “constituents”–constituents, in the literal election-law, voter-ID sense–of members of Congress not by living in the senator’s state or in the representative’s district but instead by buying access and the right to author proposed legislation. Ordinary folk are constituents only of the elected officials in whose voting jurisdiction they have their primary (for most people, their only) residence, but the Koch brothers are the constituents not just of Kansas’s senators and Wichita’s congressional representative but also of any other senators and congressional representatives that they choose to co-opt as their legislative proxy, for a fee. This, Roberts said, is at the heart of our democracy.

Which indeed it now is, formally and officially, as per the Supreme Court. It’s at the very heart and soul of our democracy these days–our democracy, alone among democracies, since ours is the only democracy in which this flavor of freedom!, liberty!, is packaged as libertarianism. It’s a specialty flavor that would be recognized by 1930s Europeans for the albeit-milder iteration of the political ideology that it really is. And that is recognized, I’d bet, by most close observers of the Supreme Court’s state-courts’-and-state-prosecutors’-and-local-police-officers’-and-state-and-local-prison-guards’-rights-to-violate-individuals’-constitutional-rights-because-the-Constitution’s-structure-requires-it jurisprudence.

This ideology is libertarian only as some characters in Lewis Carroll’s novels, or the Koch brothers, would define that word.  Or as five current Supreme Court justices do, as suits their focused interest of the moment.  Or of the Conservative Legal Movement era, which has in fact been very focused for more than three decades now.  So any moment will do.

Pick your moment.  Any moment.  They sure do.  Just call what you’re doing anything but what it actually is.

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Conservative-Legal-Movement Law Is Really Just a Kaleidoscope

After taking a nearly-month-long hiatus from blogging here about legal issues, and blogging only very lightly about other things, I posted this controversial post last Friday and participated in a lengthy comments thread.  The final comment of mine, in reference to some of the preceding comments of others and of mine, reads:

A final point on this subject: Whatever the predominant ethnicity of the brutal “states’ rights” culture of much of the South, an important indication that its core is not ethnicity but instead the defense of the “right” of states to allow slavery, or to allow whatever brutality they want to allow, is that (as I said above) Appalachia itself, which has a very large Scots-Irish population, actually had (I believe) very few plantations.  West Virginia, after all, was not a Confederate state, and northern Kentucky had large contingents of soldiers who joined the Union army.

I don’t think this is an ethnicity legacy. I think it’s a plantation-culture political and cultural legacy—one that is at the very essence of the Conservative Legal Movement, whether its adherents are from the South or instead from, say, New Jerseyupstate New York and Northwestern Indiana, or northern California.  The attribution of the current, funhouse-bizarre states’-rights legal movement to the alleged “structure” of the Constitution is a pre-Civil War, and therefore pre-Reconstruction Amendments, construct.  It should be recognized for the machination of constitutional law that it is.

So much of Conservative Movement constitutional and statutory-interpretation law is really just a kaleidoscope—false statements of factsleight-of-hand redefinitions of standard-English words and of earlier-defined legal standards, comedy-routine-caliber the-knee-bone-is-connected-to-the-thigh-bone-which-is-connected-to-the-hip-bone (whether or not it actually is) Dictionary games, malleable-as-needed Court-created legal doctrines, and a deeply institutionalized look-the-other-way-at-everything-but-Conservative-Movement-claims ethos.

What a cesspool.

A carefully crafted one, in fact.

Enough said.  For the moment.

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Alito’s (really) weird lobbying hobby, and its chaotic results

As we will show, Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.” But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people. For example, extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. Protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation protects all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being. And protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies.

In holding that Conestoga, as a “secular, for-profit corporation,” lacks RFRA protection, the Third Circuit wrote as follows:

“’General business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or           employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions                separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.’ 724 F. 3d, at 385 (emphasis added).”

All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, “separate and apart from” the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.

— Samuel Alito, writing for the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc.

What the judge who wrote the Third Circuit opinion that the Court reversed yesterday meant, obviously, is that general business corporations do not, irrespective of the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. The sentence was inarticulate, but its following sentence made clear that that judge was distinguishing the ability to believe from the ability to taken actions. In any event, irrespective of what the Third Circuit judge meant, the fact remains–and Alito states–that a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.

The desired ends of for-profit corporations is to make a profit, not to practice or advance a religion.  Alito’s right that it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. It also is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection, for human beings, related to the purpose of the corporation.  Which for Hobby Lobby and other for-profit corporations, is to make money.

Alito then explains via sleight of hand that in enacting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) Congress intended to include for-profit corporations as protected “persons”:

As we noted above, RFRA applies to “a person’s” exercise of religion, 42 U. S. C. §§2000bb–1(a), (b), and RFRA itself does not define the term “person.” We therefore look to the Dictionary Act, which we must consult “[i]n determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise.” 1 U. S. C. §1.

Under the Dictionary Act, “the wor[d] ‘person’ . . . include[s] corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.” Ibid.; see FCC v. AT&T Inc., 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 6) (“We have no doubt that ‘person,’ in a legal setting, often refers to artificial entities. The Dictionary Act makes that clear”). Thus, unless there is something about the RFRA context that “indicates otherwise,” the Dictionary Act provides a quick, clear, and affirmative answer to the question whether the companies involved in these cases may be heard.

We see nothing in RFRA that suggests a congressional intent to depart from the Dictionary Act definition, and HHS makes little effort to argue otherwise. We have entertained RFRA and free-exercise claims brought by nonprofit corporations, see Gonzales v. O Centro Espírita Beneficiente União do Vegetal, 546 U. S. 418 (2006) (RFRA); Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U. S. ___ (2012) (Free Exercise); Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520 (1993) (Free Exercise), and HHS concedes that a nonprofit corporation can be a “person” within the meaning of RFRA. See Brief for HHS in No. 13–354, at 17; Reply Brief in No. 13–354, at 7–8.19

This concession effectively dispatches any argument that the term “person” as used in RFRA does not reach the closely held corporations involved in these cases. No known understanding of the term “person” includes some but not all corporations. The term “person” sometimes encompasses artificial persons (as the Dictionary Act instructs), and it sometimes is limited to natural persons. But no conceivable definition of the term includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.20Cf. Clark v. Martinez, 543 U. S. 371, 378 (2005) (“To give th[e] same words a different meaning for each category would be to invent a statute rather than interpret one”).

No conceivable definition of the term includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but not for-profit corporations–other than the definition that Alito provided in that first paragraph I quoted and the paragraph preceding the one in which he says that no conceivable definition of the term includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.* The statute isn’t called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for nothing; it’s called that because it intends to restore the right to humans to engage in religious practices that the Supreme Court then-recently had removed–in the case at issue, the right to use peyote in certain religious ceremonies.  The nonprofit religious entities in each of the earlier cases that Alito cites were religious organizations–they were established for the purpose of joining together to practice a religion, not to make a profit on secular goods or services. The statement that Congress intended to include secular for-profit corporations as protected under the RFRA is a false statement of fact and is absurd.

There most certainly is something about the RFRA context that “indicates otherwise.”  The something is that the statute concerns freedom of religion by, as Alito concedes, human beings, and that there was no conceivable understanding by anyone at the time that this law was enacted that secular corporations–whether nonprofit or for-profit–practice religion or hold religious beliefs.  HHS created a workaround for religious nonprofits, not because they are nonprofits but because their reason (or at least an important reason) for their very creation and membership is the practice of religious beliefs by their human members.

Alito’s opinion strongly implies that corporations have First Amendment rights only as derivative of their human owners.  As I said in my post yesterday, and believe all the more today, both of Alito’s opinions–Harris v. Quinn as well as Hobby Lobby–appear to have been written as majority or plurality opinions decided on constitutional rather than on statutory grounds, and converted into purely statutory rulings after the initial votes among the justices and assignment of the opinions to Alito.  Alito apparently lost one or two members of his bare majority or four-member plurality late in the game in each case, and substantial parts of each of the final opinions.

And I am not the only one who is saying that. Nor the only one who thinks the respective resulting opinions are barely coherent. And as a ruling solely interpreting the RFRA as intended by Congress to protect religious beliefs of “persons” who are actually secular corporations, Hobby Lobby is Lewis Carroll-level nonsense.

But I am gratified that Alito, in a majority opinion, has acknowledged that constitutional and statutory rights of corporations are solely derivative of their human shareholders’ constitutional and statutory rights.  I’ve been arguing here at AB for years now, including in posts about Hobby Lobby in the last few months, that Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United intimated exactly that by saying that corporations have First Amendment speech rights because they are associations of people; the corporation’s free-speech rights are derivative of its shareholders’. And I’ve been saying, as I did once again in my post yesterday, that corporate CEOs have no legitimate right to exercise proxy First Amend speech rights of shareholders without the shareholders’ authorization.  Including shareholders, or legitimate proxies for shareholders, such as public-employee pension fund managers.

I’m also gratified–deeply, in fact–that the examples Alito used to illustrate his point that corporations have legal rights only in order to protect their human owners, officers and employees were the examples that I’ve used in several AB posts discussing the purpose of legal protections conferred by the legal fiction of corporate personhood. Extending Fourth Amendment protection to corporations indeed protects the privacy interests of employees and others associated with the company. And protecting corporations from government seizure of their property without just compensation does protect all those who have a stake in the corporations’ financial well-being.

But I, unlike Alito, have noticed that Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment (property seizure without just compensation) protections are extended to corporations because the corporate computers, office files, and such that are protected under the Fourth Amendment, and the corporate property protected under the Fifth Amendment, relate to or exist because of the purpose of the corporation: to run a business and, for for-profit ones, make a profit.  Secular for-profit corporations rarely own church properties, and if they do, it’s as rental real estate. Corporate shareholders, officers and employees benefit from Fourth Amendment protections for corporate property at the office, but their personal property–a cell phone, a personal laptop, a purse, a briefcase, a jacket with pockets, family photos–that is in their office on corporate property or in a corporate-owned vehicle or in their homes is protected solely by their own, not any corporate, Fourth Amendment rights.

Alito’s statements are preposterous.  But, in my opinion, they also preclude extension of Hobby Lobby corporate religious rights to publicly held corporations.  Alito doesn’t try to reconcile his statement that corporate legal rights derive from the humans who are employed by the corporation as well as by its owners and officers with the fact that the ruling allows the corporation to adopt the religious beliefs and practices solely of its owners irrespective of its employees’ religious beliefs. For that reason, I wonder whether even the part of the opinion singing the praises of legal rights derived from humans associated with the corporation was written by another justice–Kennedy, maybe–and inserted shortly before the opinion was released.

Either way, the formal conflating of owners’ rights and corporate rights does strike me (as I said in my post yesterday) as enabling and even inviting further piercing of the corporate veil, in ways that may not make the Chamber of Commerce very happy.

*Sentence typo-corrected to insert a missing “no” in the second half, and edited slightly for clarity. 7/1 at 8:56 p.m.

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First-Reaction Thoughts About Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn

I haven’t read the opinions, concurrence, or dissents in either Hobby Lobby or Harris v. Quinn, so these comments are based on news summaries and quick commentaries by others.  But the biggest surprise in Hobby Lobby, I think, is the express approval, in the opinion and in Kennedy’s concurrence, of HHS’s on-the-fly setup devised in (I think) 2012 as a workaround to allow nonprofit religious organizations (e.g., Catholic colleges) to avoid directly providing the insurance coverage while still enabling the employees to receive the coverage.

The 5-4 outcome of the case apparently relied on this; it was not dictum. Kennedy’ concurrence makes that clear.  (Which is itself a surprise, given Kennedy’s virulent dissent two years ago to Roberts’ opinion upholding much of the ACA itself.)

This is really important, not just as it applies to the contraception issue but also because the HHS-devised workaround has, of course, been attacked by the right as exceeding the authority of the ACA.  As have the other several HHS-promulgated tweaks to the substance of the statute and to its implementation (for example, delays in requiring certain mandates). The Hobby Lobby opinion effectively accepts as legally permissible these substantive and timing HHS-created modifications by HHS to the ACA.

The other thing that strikes me is that, although one commentator writing a few minutes after the release of the opinion thinks otherwise, the opinion does, I think, open the door to diminished corporate-veil protections.

The opinion did not address the First Amendment free-exercise-of-religion clause.  Instead, it interpreted a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration ACT (RFRA) as protecting closely held for-profit corporations.  The statute provides that “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”  The opinion holds that corporations are “persons” within the meaning of the statute.

The commentator–one of the SCOTUSblog folks writing on their live blog as the Court was in session this morning; I can’t remember who, though–pointed out in answer to a question that the opinion interprets a federal statute and that corporate-structure/corporate-veil statutes are state statutes. The opinion doesn’t alter those state statutes.

But it does, I would think, enable and even invite other incursions through the corporate veil, via federal or state statute or state-court interpretation of rights of potential litigants.

The opinion also apparently tacitly acknowledges, without actually deciding, that First Amendment rights of corporations are solely derivative of their owners’ First Amendment rights, and therefore cannot be treated as though delegated to the personal choices of the CEO.  Thus, the ruling in Hobby Lobby is limited to very-closely-held for-profit corporations.  This obviously is a concession to the dismay expressed by many, many people (certainly myself included, here at AB) at Citizens United’s cavalier delegation of individual publicly-held-corporate shareholders’ First Amendment speech rights to the corporation’s CEO for purposes of donating corporate money to political campaigns. Corporate shareholders, including pension funds, are now entitled to sue to block corporate political donations.

Although Alito wrote the majority opinion in both Hobby Lobby and the other case decided today, Harris v. Quinn, neither opinion reflects what he had hoped for.  Harris, like Hobby Lobby, was decided on as narrow grounds as possible–on grounds that avoid constitutional interpretation and that are decided on other grounds limited in scope to, really, the specific facts in the case.

In my post yesterday on Harris, I suggested the possibility (albeit remote, I thought) that Harris could follow somewhat in the footsteps of an opinion in a case called Bond v. United States, decided on June 2.

The majority voted to hear Bond, intending to use it to make a sweeping Conservative-Movement-cause constitutional pronouncement and overrule a longstanding Supreme Court precedent.  But instead, somewhere along the way after the case was argued and John Roberts had assigned himself to write the opinion, one of the five Republicans–I suspect that it was Roberts himself–had a change of heart. Roberts’s opinion has vestiges of the original draft, but decides the case on other (liberal, actually) grounds.  What was intended initially as a major federalism (i.e., states’ rights to violate federal constitutional rights that the political right don’t care about) ruling based upon the alleged structure of the Constitution ended up as a blow to rampant abuse of prosecutorial discretion.  Hooray.

In Harris, the Conservative-movement cause was not neo-federalism but instead the decimation of labor unions, especially of public-employee ones.  The mechanism was to be the First Amendment speech clause, and Alito, who openly coveted the assignment to write the opinion–earlier, in another case, he said he wanted to overrule a 1977 Court opinion, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that was the foundation of the relevant aspect of current labor law–had indicated at the argument in January that he thinks the very existence of public-employee unions violate the First Amendment.

But the best-laid plans went somewhat awry again, and this time apparently it was Scalia (of all people) who threw the first wrench. Scalia reportedly made it known at the argument that the First Amendment speech challenge to the “agency fee” concept in union representation of non-union employees in “union shops”  just doesn’t make sense, in his opinion, even if the union is a public-employee one.

My guess is that Scalia originally agreed only with the bare outcome, but on the limited grounds on which Alito’s opinion ultimately rests: that under the specific Illinois law at issue, the 1977 opinion that approved the “agency fees” didn’t apply to the employees at issue in Harris–home healthcare employees paid by the state’s Medicaid system–because they are employees partially of the state and partially of the customer. My guess also is that somewhere along the way, Alito lost another vote for what was to be his four-justice plurality opinion; one of the four jumped ship and joined Scalia. Alito then was compelled to effectively adopt Scalia’s concurrence as the bottom line–the ruling–in his opinion, but was not compelled to remove the reams of dictum from it that Kagan, in her dissent reportedly mocks at length.*

If my speculation is correct, the substance of the Harris opinion bearing Alito’s name was dictated, literally, by Scalia. In any event, this wasn’t quite the day of victory for Alito & Friends that they had envisioned.  Really, it wasn’t even close to that.

—-

*Typo in sentence corrected, 7/1 at 1:34 p.m. 

UPDATE: Most of what I wrote in this post based on the early summaries and analyses of the opinions, but before I had read the opinions themselves, holds up surprisingly well, I think.  I don’t think you can read the opinion in Harris without recognizing the real likelihood that most of Alito’s opinion was written as one overturning Abood, maybe as a plurality or maybe as a majority opinion, and then one or two of the justices who had signed on to overturning Abood changed his mind.

I hope to write an update post later today, though. 7/1 at 1:37 p.m.

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Shaken, Not Stirred: The Supreme neo-Framers (likely) will continue their perversion of the First Amendment speech clause tomorrow.

In an email this morning, Bill H asked me whether I know much about a case called Harris v. Quinn, in which the Supreme Court will announce the likely 5-4 majority’s ruling tomorrow.  I responded:

I know LOADS about it, Bill, and wrote about it–and about a bizarre comment by Alito during the argument on the case–right after the argument back in Jan. and have mentioned it two or three times since then.  It is really striking that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to consider the claim: that requiring public employees to pay a fee (not the full union dues, but instead some small percentage of the membership dues as compensation for the union’s legal obligations by which employees who opt out of membership nonetheless gain the benefits of the union contract (pay, benefits, job protections), violates the employee’s First Amendment speech rights.

But what’s downright stunning is that at the argument, Alito said he believed that the very existence of public-employee unions violates the First Amendment because–seriously; he said this–the non-member union-contract beneficiary might want small government.  This, from someone whose first official act as a justice was to join Kennedy (the opinion’s author), Scalia, Thomas and Roberts in ruling that a district attorney did not violate an assistant district attorney’s First Amendment speech rights by retaliating against him for writing an internal memo saying that he believed that a cop had falsified some evidence in obtaining a search warrant.  That opinion, in a case called Garcetti v. Ceballos, was and remains extremely controversial–it was shocking, really–and played a key role in a case, called Lane v. Franks, that the Court decided two weeks ago.

I suggested in my posts about Harris and about that comment by Alito’s during the argument that the non-union beneficiary of a public-employee union contract had the option of quitting his job or refusing the negotiated benefits in order to reduce the size of government.

I had predicted from the outset that the opinion in Harris would be issued on the same as the opinion in Hobby Lobby, so that news coverage of Hobby Lobby would overwhelm coverage of Harris, and I was right. Because of the way in which the Court divvies up majority-opinion-writing among the justices, it is clear that Alito was assigned to write the opinion in Harris.

There is a (very) outside chance that one justice changed his mind since the week of the argument (when the vote was taken and the majority-opinion-writing was assigned), and that someone other than Alito therefore is writing a 5-4 opinion rejecting the outrageous First Amendment claim.  Something sort of like that happened in a case called Bond v. US, argued last Oct. and decided [on Jun. 2], a case that they planned to use to advance their states’-rights juggernaut but instead ended up making an important statement about abuse of prosecutorial discretion–a ground on which they never, ever, would have even considered agreeing to hear the case (okay, maybe they would have, but only because the prosecutor was a federal one, not a state one; but even so, probably not).  In that case the actual outcome didn’t change, nor did the author of the opinion (Roberts), but the basis for the ruling, and the statement of law, changed significantly.

I call Bond the Stirred, Not Shaken opinion.  I have a theory about the reason for Roberts’ late change of heart, and I’ve been intending to post in-depth about it but haven’t yet.

I do expect an outrageous 5-4 opinion by Alito in Harris, though.

Yes, the undermining of public-employee unions–like state-courts’ rights to baldly violate individuals’ non-gun-ownership, non-religious, non-real-estate-regulation-er-takings constitutional rights, and to supersede Congress’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment powers to buttress, say, individuals’ voting rights–is definitely on the List of Circa 1983 Movement Conservative Legislation-via-Supreme-Court-Pronouncement THINGS TO GET DONE.

And done, these things will get. Now that the chief justice has expressly conceded that their end game has been all along a Court-mandated plutocracy in which legislators’ constituents are those who pay to become one, irrespective of any connection between the location of the constituent/benefactor’s voting residence and the legislator/beneficiary’s legislative district–now that these five justices have used the First Amendment speech clause to formally institute a poll tax, and redefined the term “constituent,” and therefore “democracy,” beyond former recognition*–it’s time for them to get back to other uses of the newly reconstructed First Amendment speech clause.  In the name of the Framers.

The original ones, of course!

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*In his Apr. 2 opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, Roberts redefined “constituent” as an American who, irrespective of place of residence, donates to a political campaigns in sufficient amounts to buy the candidate or incumbent’s proxy vote on legislation, and “democracy” as plutocracy.  The specific statement is:

[C]onstituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and respon­sive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.

Ergo–voila! It’s official; we have a plutocracy.

Just in case you were wondering.

[Clarification added 6/29 at 5:08 p.m.]

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Chris Cillizza Misses the Point. (The most important point, anyway.)

Anecdotal evidence, the basis of so much journalism prior to the rise of the data movement and still, to my mind, over-relied upon — is just that: anecdotal. Roughly 65,000 people voted in the Cantor-Brat primary; Brat won by more than 7,200 votes. Assuming that what a non-scientific sample  of 1, 10 or even 100 people in the district thought about Cantor (or Brat) in the run-up to the race — the shoe-leather reporting prized by Carr — was indicative of how 65,000 people were planning to vote seems to me to be somewhat misguided. (Now, if all 100 people a reporter talked to in the district loudly derided Cantor as an out of step liberal, then I take back my previous point. But, my guess is that wouldn’t have happened.)

Should I have seen Eric Cantor’s loss coming?, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, today

I assume that Cillizza is, as he says, responding to New York Times writer David Carr’s column on Monday, “Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot,” rather than also to, say, my AB post from Wednesday, in which I discuss Carr’s column and note that what the national news media missed, but what the local political reporters Carr mentions recognized, was not simply local antagonism toward Cantor but, to an apparently substantial extent, local antagonism toward Cantor because he is the very embodiment of the politician who shares John Roberts’ particular view, stated expressly in his opinion two months ago in McCutcheon v. FEC, of who or what a politician’s “constituent” is.

In my post on Wednesday (picked up in full elsewhere, I’m glad to see), I noted that the in-depth analysis of it by political several political journalists now that the post-Canter-defeat dust has settled is that critical to Brat’s victory was an anti-plutocracy theme and that Cantor provided the perfect foil for it. Most of the articles discussing this say that the Chamber of Commerce–an explicit target of Brat’s during the campaign, and other major players among the Republican business constituency, who Roberts described in McCutcheon as constituents entitled to secretly help draft legislation by dint of their ability to purchase that right, concur and are springing into action.  As Gail Collins summarized it in her New York Times column yesterday:

The defeat of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, terrified many of the party establishment’s supporters, particularly since Cantor’s opponent ran against Wall Street, big business and bank bailouts.

It’s a problem, if you’re a big-money donor, to be worried that your party is being taken over by crazy people who will alienate the voters in a national election by opposing immigration reform and contraception. It’s a catastrophe to be worried that it’s being taken over by economic populists.

Cillizza and, I suspect, a number of other professional political analysts remain wedded to what is quickly becoming an outdated model.  They’re missing some important handwriting on the wall, which is that huge swaths of the public are dismayed at the meaning of “constituency” and “democracy” as defined in the New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, edited by Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.  As I said in my Wednesday post:

Call McCutcheon v. FEC the new poll tax. I do.  After all, John Roberts, in a surprising bit of honesty, described it in his opinion for the majority as pretty much that in his opinion in that case earlier this year. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption,” he wrote, quoting Anthony Kennedy’s the Court’s decision in Citizens United, and then explained:

“They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

But Cantor’s constituents–the ones that Roberts says should dictate Cantor’s policy positions and write legislation he proposes–couldn’t vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last week. The district is too far away for them to commute to Wall Street, or to Wichita, KS, or downtown Houston, or Raleigh, NC.  And surprisingly, it turns out that Brat actually ran what was in large part a progressive economic-populist–an anti-plutocracy–campaign highlighting who exactly Cantor’s  constituents (to borrow Roberts’ term) are.  So, now that that is being widely reported and is sinking in, hedge-fund types and the Chamber of Commerce crowd apparently indeed are starting to pray.

Apart from the obvious reason for the definitional chasm between Roberts & Co. and most people embedded in that statement by Roberts–specifically, the definition of “democracy”–add to the rapidly growing list of Roberts’ casual redefinitions of common words this new definition of “constituent,” one disembodied from residency in the candidate or officeholder’s actual election jurisdiction.

Cantor was beaten, in substantial part, it certainly appears, by Citizens United and McCutcheon–by a backlash toward the political system that is now, bizarrely but expressly, institutionalized as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence.  Turnout was very heavy, far heavier than it was in the primary in that district two years ago, when apparently all the candidates were fine, thank you very much, with poll-tax democracy.

I titled that post “David Brat, et al. v. John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.”  And in the last two paragraphs, I elaborated upon the title, writing:

Brat, for his part, appears to be about to run a general-election campaign consisting mainly of slogans and non sequiturs.  No surprise, of course; slogans, cliches, non sequiturs are the very essence of the current Republican Party–both factions of the Tea Party/Republican Party. The Paul Ryan/Koch brothers/Chamber of Commerce faction and also, because of the mutual exclusivity of its premises, the (newly named) David Brat faction. That’s simply the nature of this beast.

But the divorce case originally known as Movement Conservatives v. Movement Conservatives, filed June 10, 2014 in the Richmond, Virginia Court of Public Opinion, is a class action.  I just checked the docket for the case, and it’s now called Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives.  And already, there have been several amicus briefs filed on behalf of the petitioners.  And the Supreme Court may not decide the outcome of it after all.

That last sentence is true; the Supreme Court has lost control of the narrative on this.  It has tried, but unsuccessfully, to decree new non-legal definitions of “corruption,” “democracy,” “constituent,” “person,” and “speech.”  It is losing its case in the courts of public opinion in most jurisdictions around the country; that much already is clear.  But the Court will decide, very possibly–in other litigation; actual imminent litigation, in Wisconsin state court and very possibly in federal court–whether or not two key provisions of Wisconsin state, and of still-standing federal, campaign-finance statutes violate five Supreme Court justices’ view of the First Amendment within the peculiar prism of their definitions of those words.

Best as I can tell from news reports in the last 24 hours, the apparently forthcoming state prosecution of a few people involved on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislators in the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011 and 2012, and perhaps of Walker himself, will necessarily involve challenges by the defendants to the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s (and possibly eventually to the federal government’s) statutory prohibitions against consort between election campaigns and PACs purporting to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and unaffiliated with a political party or candidate.

The PACs are not subject to donor-amount limits, and they also can qualify for non-profit tax status if they meet a low bar for what constitutes “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare”.

But whether operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, as “social welfare” is defined by most people, or instead as it will be defined in New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, these groups embody a central feature of democracy as defined in the April 2, 2014 edition of that Dictionary—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. And Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who were subject to possible recall adopted the very definition of “constituent” included in the current edition of the New Dictionary. Most of the people and groups with which they appear to have been coordinating were Walker’s and the legislators’ constituents only in the newly defined sense.  They were not residents of Wisconsin and therefore could not show a valid photo ID at a polling place in Wisconsin. (They would have to vote by absentee ballot.)

But Walker & Friends still remain a bit too precocious in one respect.  The Court’s majority has not yet redefined “democracy” to include as a central feature a First Amendment right of constituents (under either definition, traditional or new) to hide their identity when contributing directly to a political campaign.  And it well may not do so.  Kennedy indicated in his opinion in Citizens United that he does not believe that secret donations to campaigns embody a central feature of democracy.  Uh-oh.

Ultimately, though, what matters most is the outcome that civil litigation, Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives, because not all five of the current editors of the New Dictionary are young and healthy–and because of the political facts illustrated by the surprisingly high turnout in the open primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and the predominant campaign theme of the winner.  But I don’t expect Chris Cillizza to get that.

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David Brat, et al. v. John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.

Uh-oh, hedge fund managers and Goldman Sachs partners.  Obviously, few of you are evangelical Christians.  So this guy, who wants good markets, has his sights set on you.  But, luckily not on that carried-interest tax-benefit thing y’all get to use, praise the Lord.

So maybe you hedge-fund types can skip church again this Sunday, after all.

— David Brat’s Golden Rule, me, Angry Bear, Jun. 13

I was wrong. The dust is all but settled now, six days after Brat’s highly unexpected defeat of Eric Cantor, and it looks like what defeated Cantor was not that he was too liberal for Tea Party tastes.  It was instead that he was too Establishment-Conservative for a spontaneous, makeshift coalition of Tea Partiers, liberal Democrats (it was an open primary; it was not limited to Republican voters), and others who reject the practice–and the now-formal claim by five Supreme Court justices–that it is necessary and desirable in our constitutional democracy that legislation and other government policy be dictated by those who can afford to buy it.

Call McCutcheon v. FEC the new poll tax. I do.  After all, John Roberts, in a surprising bit of honesty, described it in his opinion for the majority as pretty much that in his opinion in that case earlier this year. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption,” he wrote, quoting Anthony Kennedy’s the Court’s decision in Citizens United, and then explained:

They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.

But Cantor’s constituents–the ones that Roberts says should dictate Cantor’s policy positions and write legislation he proposes–couldn’t vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last week. The district is too far away for them to commute to Wall Street, or to Wichita, KS, or downtown Houstonor Raleigh, NC.  And surprisingly, it turns out that Brat actually ran what was in large part a progressive economic-populist–an anti-plutocracy–campaign highlighting who exactly Cantor’s  constituents (to borrow Roberts’ term) are.  So, now that that is being widely reported and is sinking in, hedge-fund types and the Chamber of Commerce crowd apparently indeed are starting to pray.

Apart from the obvious reason for the definitional chasm between Roberts & Co. and most people embedded in that statement by Roberts–specifically, the definition of “democracy”–add to the rapidly growing list of Roberts’ casual redefinitions of common words this new definition of “constituent,” one disembodied from residency in the candidate or officeholder’s actual election jurisdiction.

Cantor was beaten, in substantial part, it certainly appears, by Citizens United and McCutcheon–by a backlash toward the political system that is now, bizarrely but expressly, institutionalized as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence.  Turnout was very heavy, far heavier than it was in the primary in that district two years ago, when apparently all the candidates were fine, thank you very much, with poll-tax democracy.

Actually, even before I wrote my post last Friday I had read an article in the Washington Post by Jia Lynn Yang, titled “Why Cantor’s loss is especially bad news for big business,” detailing Brat’s campaign and challenging the presumption that he won mainly on a  standard-issue far-right anti-immigration, Cantor-is-too-liberal-for-the-Tea-Party platform.  But because his cliche-ridden Ayn Rand, anti-tax, anti-government-regulation positions and loopy justifications for them–which were the subject of most of my Friday post–are, let’s just say, hard to reconcile with such things as, y’know, regulation of banks and hedge funds and objections to the fact of legislation being written by the Koch brothers and the Chamber of Commerce, I figured that the initial analyses were right: Cantor was defeated because he voted to end the government-shutdown and to increase the debt ceiling and wasn’t quite hard-line enough on immigration, and therefore flunked the purity test.

particularly jarring hallmark of the current Supreme Court majority’s aggressive Movement Conservative restructuring of American law in the image of 1980s Republican Party platforms is these justices’ spontaneous, unsupported declarations of fact upon which they claim to base the rulings.  These are statements of fact for which there is no support in the case record. Facts such as what motivates elected public officeholders, and also facts about people’s opinions, perceptions, conclusions concerning matters such as the effect of huge campaign contributions on the politician-beneficiaries, that are, most people recognize, contrary to actual fact.  Most people who are not a Movement Conservative Supreme Court justice and who are not named the Mad Hatter consider the idea of large campaign contributions in exchange for legislation that they offer the very essence of political corruption in a Democratic system.

And some of those people live in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and voted in the Republican primary there last week, for Brat, entirely or largely because he campaigned against Cantor as Evidence Exhibit A belying Kennedy’s and Roberts’ weirdly loose pronouncements of fact in Citizens United and McCutcheon.  The lobbyists and big-money donors that Cantor met with for breakfast on the first Tuesday of each month and that he dined with at steakhouses were indeed his true constituents, and Roberts’ pretense that they or their corporations reside in the Richmond, VA area is not even just a syllogism like so much else Roberts claims; it’s patently, tangibly false.

Sure, the pronouncements of fact in Citizens United and McCutcheon were just window dressing, sort of a nod to the idea that they were not really overturning Supreme Court precedent, just refining it–a John Roberts routine that has become an eye-roller.  But actual people do see through it.  As long as the Tea Party was united in going along with this, all was fine.  But now something has happened: the Tea Party itself is split.  There is a growing contingent, apparently now reaching a politically significant number, that is anti-plutocracy.

I’ve thought ever since McCutcheon was released in early April that the Democratic congressional candidates should simply read two or three sentences from that opinion at their rally and include the sentences in some of their ads.  Brat himself didn’t do that, exactly, but statements made throughout his campaign directly countered the factual claims of the Supreme Court bare-majority.

Ultimately, because that part of his message can’t be reconciled with the standard Tea Party dogma or with the part of the pro-corporate Republican message that he parrots, his political message is incoherent.  And in some respects, as in the quotes from an academic paper of his that were the main subject of my post last Friday, they’re weird and flaky. I don’t know how statements like those I quoted from his academic paper manage to pass as academic research; they were overt statements of his political and religious beliefs, not the result of economic or political science research, but they were in a purported academic paper and not (apparently) repeated in his campaign. The fact is that you can’t reconcile Ayn Rand’s philosophy of little or no regulation of corporations and Wall Street, no social safety net, and extremely low taxes with Brat’s campaign promise to represent ordinary people as against the policy dictates of oligarchy and plutocracy.  And it is a fact; you can’t.

Nor can you reconcile it with the mindless states’-rights cliches, whether issued by Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts or by David Brat.  Apart from the aggressive three-decades-long states’-rights-to-violate-fundamental-constitutional-rights-of-individuals-as-long-as-those-rights-aren’t-part-of-Movement-Conservative-dogma dogma–which is now, finally, being rejected by fairly broadly by younger libertarians (read: too young to believe that it’s still the Reagan era) even of the right–the fact is that ALEC writes swaths of legislation for Republican state legislators.

In a June 12 Politico article, this one titled “Dave Brat and the Rise of Right-Wing Populism,” the writer, Geoffrey Kabaservice, points out that Laura Ingraham, “appearing on Brat’s behalf at a campaign event on June 3, even rejoiced that ‘Some people on the left are gonna work with us! I’d rather work with some people on the left today than work with some people in the GOP establishment who scorn us.’” The article’s subtitle is “Cantor’s loss isn’t about immigration or personality. There’s a bigger story.”

There certainly is.  And several similar articles make the same point, in detail. One, titled “Why Big Business Fears the Tea Party,” a June 15 Politico article by Michael Lund, says:

The primary election defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor by the little-known Tea Party conservative David Brat has shocked business and financial elites as well as politicians and pundits. Conservative intellectuals such as Tim Carney have been arguing for a while that the right should adopt a new populism that targets “crony capitalism” and the collaboration of public and private elites at the expense of workers and small businesses. Brat is the first conservative candidate to have achieved a major electoral success by taking this line. He denounced Cantor for being too close to Wall Street and K Street, explained business support for immigration reform as a ploy for cheap labor and demonized the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

In his views about the minimum wage, Social Security and Medicare, Brat is a fairly conventional libertarian, but he became the first candidate to oust a sitting House majority leader since the post was created in 1899 not by speaking the libertarian argot of Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek but by deploying the populist language of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan.

With that kind of talk, Brat and like-minded militants on the right are undermining the philosophy of market populism that has united the Main Street and Wall Street wings of the Republican party since the days of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Market populism recycles the ideology of classic Jeffersonian populism—but expands the definition of the virtuous, self-reliant yeoman to include not only small business owners but also big business executives and capitalists.

“Sooner or later,” Lund continues, “the authentic Jeffersonians in the market populist coalition were bound to notice that the actual agenda of conservative politicians has less to do with the needs of small business owners and small farmers than with the desires of big companies and the financial industry.”  They’ve now noticed, he says, and want to swap business-friendly market populism for real populism, terrifying the business community.  And also terrifying Lund, who points out that conservative populists have the wrong answers, and that Jeffersonian populism is irrelevant in America and has been for a very long time.

Yes, for a very, very long time.  The theme that ties together the contradictory parts of Brat’s brand of populism is its inherent fallacy: the claim that what matters is not the goal or effect of the particular policy but instead whether it is the federal government that is promulgating the policy. Most people outside the rightwing bubble recognize this as ridiculous, at least when you are specific about the policy. Including so-called working-class whites under the age of about 36 (i.e., milliennials, few of whom listen to rightwing talk radio and what the national Fox News shows); a new, comprehensive poll confirms this. And also confirms that, increasingly, older Rust Belt blue-collar whites, too, recognize this.

Additional post-Cantor-defeat articles illustrate the point. In one, called “A Cantor Effect for Businesses and the G.O.P.,” published in the New York Times on June 14, the writers, Jeremy W. Peters and Shaila Dewan put together a list of similarities between what is increasingly referred to as the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party and rightwing economic and civil-liberties populism, and a list of where the two groups diverge (very substantially) on economic issues.  The left’s economic populism isn’t libertarian.  The goals of economic populism–however much they state as their goal bringing economic power back to ordinary people–can’t be achieved through the anti-federal-government mantras of the right.

Which is a fundamental reason why we are heading, at a fast pace, into a progressive political era that is, in most respects, the very antithesis of the legislative agenda thinly disguised as constitutional law pushed so obsessively by five of the nine Supreme Court justices, for whom it will always, always, be 1988.

Only the federal government can regulate the financial industry–not only hedge funds and banks but also credit card companies, the latter two groups which were gouging small businesses as well as consumers to their heart’s content before legislation was enacted during the first two years of the Obama presidency, by a Democratic Congress, circumscribing those practices.

Only the federal government can regulate the student loan industry.  Only the federal government can provide the states with funding to support state university systems sufficiently to render those institutions once again financially accessible to the non-upscale.

Only the federal government can provide healthcare coverage to the elderly, and a secure, if small, pension benefit.

Only the federal government can provide the vast sums for extensive long-term medical and other scientific research. Or did.

On point after point–those, and many others–it is the liberal position, not the Koch position or the Brat position, that has support from vast majorities of the public.  Most people want clean drinking and bathing water and clean air, the dramatic slowing of climate change, safe consumer and food and pharmaceutical products, national parks, public walking trails, endangered species saved, public schools that are competitive with those in other advanced economies.  Most people want safe highways and bridges and modern, efficient infrastructure.  Most people believe that the federal government should play a role in enabling efficient export trade.

Most people don’t want generic clichesgibbergish banalities, and non sequiturs by public officials and candidates–a point made by Matt Bai in another post-Brat-victory analysis and, pre-election, by astute local reporters covering that campaign. So many people are so very tired of that.  But that is necessity in a political system whose real constituents are–as John Roberts said–those who play outsized roles in funding political campaigns.  Out of the mouths of Movement Conservative justices claiming to speak for the Republic’s founders.

Brat, for his part, appears to be about to run a general-election campaign consisting mainly of slogans and non sequiturs.  No surprise, of course; slogans, cliches, non sequiturs are the very essence of the current Republican Party–both factions of the Tea Party/Republican Party.  The Paul Ryan/Koch brothers/Chamber of Commerce faction and also, because of the mutual exclusivity of its premises, the (newly named) David Brat faction. That’s simply the nature of this beast.

But the divorce case originally known as Movement Conservatives v. Movement Conservatives, filed June 10, 2014 in the Richmond, Virginia Court of Public Opinion, is a class action.  I just checked the docket for the case, and it’s now called Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives.  And already, there have been several amicus briefs filed on behalf of the petitioners.  And the Supreme Court may not decide the outcome of it after all.

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The Etymology of the Cooptation of ‘Freedom’ by the Tea Party

Readers of my AB posts know that a recurring theme of mine is the right’s cooptation of the word “freedom” to disembody the word from actual physical freedom–e.g., from imprisonment–or from personal choice, and to instead define it as a Reagan-era Conservative Legal Movement checklist.  And that these folks achieve this by declaring it mandated by the Constitution’s “structure,” an oddly phantom foundation visible only to them. It’s a pernicious gimmick that five current Supreme Court justices are using to effectively rewrite the Constitution.

In a lengthy article published yesterday in the New Republic, Cass Sunstein, a former longtime University of Chicago law professor, then an Obama-administration official, and now a law professor at Harvard, deconstructs the provenance of this stunningly successful gimmick. The article is called “The Man Who Made Libertarians Wrong About the Constitution: How Richard Epstein’s highly influential, highly politicized scholarship cemented Tea Party dogma.” The occasion for it is a review of a newly published book by the man in question: Sunstein’s former University of Chicago law school colleague Richard Epstein titled “The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government.”

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