John Roberts

Two Cents on Tinfoil (Chief Injustice)

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at New York University School of Law, 20 November 2015. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)

To the one, who really likes Chief Justice John Roberts?

No, I mean, sure, you know, his wife and all, but still, is there any one of us who not only isn’t disappointed by Roberts’ general unreliability but, also―in counterpoint to the proposition that one must be doing something right if everyone is complaining―comprehends his underlying legal and juristic outlook well enough to properly endorse it?

To the other, there is this:

What explains the rise of Donald Trump? The right-wing blogosphere has a theory: Trump’s success in taking over the Republican party was caused by Chief Justice John Roberts’ contempt for the rule of law.

The argument, put forth in slightly different forms in recent days by Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett and Cato Institute scholar Ilya Shapiro, goes like this:

Roberts knew that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was unconstitutional. He even said so in his majority opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius, the case that upheld Obamacare, with Roberts casting the decisive vote. But, after declaring that Obamacare violated the Commerce Clause, Roberts invented a different constitutional argument under the taxing power to save the law, even though he knew that argument was wrong.

He did this because Roberts doesn’t believe judges should overturn laws enacted by political majorities, even when those laws violate the Constitution. Roberts in effect told conservative voters to go elect their own Constitution-trashing strongman, instead of asking courts to restrain tyrants such as Obama and Trump.

Paul Campos apparently drew the short straw over at Salon, and had to spend enough time picking through right-wing tinfoil to figure out what the hell they were saying. And while we owe him thanks, we also might beg pardon if the striking stupidity he describes seems unbelievable, a word here intended to mean, “pretty much what we expect”.

Here’s the tricky part:

The vast majority of constitutional law scholars don’t believe Obamacare violates the Constitution, but never mind that. The far loopier claim is that John Roberts, of all people, upheld Obamacare because he doesn’t believe in striking down democratically-enacted laws. This is the same Roberts who provided the deciding vote to gut the Voting Rights Act, to overturn decades-worth of campaign finance laws, and to strike down gun control legislation, to name just a few of the many cases in which Roberts has shown no hesitation to overturn the decisions of political majorities.

Er―ah … yeah. I’ll just be over in the corner, muttering to myself. Something about matters of fact and opinion.

That, and a potsherd wrapped in tinfoil wrapped in neurotic crisis.

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Image note: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at New York University School of Law, 20 November 2015. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM))

Campos, Paul. “This is the dumbest Donald Trump theory yet: It’s all about John Roberts”. Salon. 13 May 2016.

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Justice

People celebrate inside the Stonewall Inn, an iconic gay bar recently granted historic landmark status, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Today.

This is our honor.

• There is, of course, the decision itself: Obergefell v. Hodges (14-556)

• Or perhaps a headline: “Gay Marriage Supporters Win Supreme Court Victory”

• The author: “Kennedy: The Gay Marriage Justice”

• Another headline, this one somewhat overstated: “Texas Pastor Says He Will Set Himself On Fire In Protest Over Gay Marriage”

• Dissents or temper tantrums? “‘Ask the nearest hippie’: The conservative SCOTUS justices’ opinions on marriage equality are hilariously bitter”

• And why not ask a hippie? “We Asked the Nearest Hippie About Scalia: It Was David Crosby”

• Unfit for duty: “To avoid marrying gay couples, some Alabama counties have stopped marrying everyone”

• GOP presidential timber, part one: “Constitutional Remedies to a Lawless Supreme Court”

• Fifty-four years, cookie dough, and Stonewall celebrations: “From Ice Cream To Ian McKellen: Reactions To Same-Sex Marriage Ruling”

• GOP presidential timber, part two: “Jindal: ‘Let’s just get rid of the court'”

• GOP presidential timber, part three: “Scott Walker calls for Constitutional amendment to let states define marriage”

• What a real President of the United States sounds like: “Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality”

I would at this time raise a glass to homophobic traditionalists from Sea to Shining Sea; without your dedicated, horrifying zeal, we might never have come this far. Indeed, your own cruelty and hatred shepherded this day.

Drink up, dreamers of hatred and supremacism; you’re running dry.

Then again, we also know you’re nowhere near finished, at least in your own minds. We’re here. We will hold the line. We know you’re targeting children, now, and we will hold the line.

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Image note: People celebrate inside the Stonewall Inn, an iconic gay bar recently granted historic landmark status, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Showtime!

Contemplation of Justice

Yes, friends, the Big Show is underway. We’ll try to give Obergefell v. Hodges and its consolidated cohort appropriate consideration later in the day, but for now it is enough to point to SCOTUSblog’s live coverage.

Early analyses are available in the press, but transcripts will come later in the day.

That said, there are still two points worth noting. First, Justice Kennedy apparently brought the adoption question to bear; as the anti-gay argument has given so much focus to procreation, parenthood, and biological parentage, one wonders what they think of adoption.

Secondly, we might note that the question of sex discrimination arose. The issue has been staring at us the whole time, waiting to be summoned into the light, but such simple views of gay marriage and gay rights have generally been disdained for being so simple that they might settle the issue early, before politicians and advocates have had a chance to make some money trying to scare the hell out of people with fantasies about being forced to be gay and other such absurdity. Word is that Chief Justice Roberts asked the question.

Both these points have special significance in my outlook; I am gratified to hear they have a place in the discourse.

Additionally, a protester reportedly got close enough to the Justices to tell them they would burn in Hell, or some such.

Today sounds very much like a good day.

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Goldstein, Tom, Eric Citron, and Tejinder Singh. “Live blog: Obergefell v. Hodges”. SCOTUSblog. 28 April 2015.

The Countdown: Weekend Edition

Contemplation of Justice

There are a few things here:

The Defense of Marriage Act decision overshadowed another 2013 case―Hollingsworth v. Perry―that could have determined whether states could ban same-sex marriage.

The case concerned a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that barred same-sex couples from marriage. But Roberts, writing for the majority, dismissed the case, holding that the challengers did not have the legal standing to bring it to the court.

The ruling left in place a lower court decision that had invalidated Proposition 8 and thus paved the way for same-sex marriage in California. Roberts’ lesbian cousin, who lives in California, sat in the courtroom during arguments in the Prop 8 case.

Few people predicted that the issue would return so quickly to the Supreme Court, but waves of lower court judges―sometimes citing Windsor―struck down the state bans.

Ariane de Vogue is not wrong. It seemed strange at the time; the Hollingsworth outcome was one of my anti-prophet moments. When the case was selected, I actually told a friend it wouldn’t make sense for the Court to take the case and then punt. And, yet, here we are.

(more…)

Morbid Hilarity (King v. Burwell Throwback Mix)

That King v. Burwell has even made it to the Supreme Court becomes even more of a mystery; the cynicism of the case is plainly apparent; even Justice Scalia is reduced to cheap politicking.

Perhaps, then, we ought not be surprised at Ian Millhiser’s report for ThinkProgress, which runs under the lovely title, “The Lawyer Telling The Supreme Court To Gut Obamacare Explained Why He Should Lose In 2012”, should surprise nobody:

On Wednesday, a lawsuit seeking to defund much of the Affordable Care Act appeared to hit a roadblock when Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed concerns that the plaintiffs’ reading of the law is unconstitutional. Though Michael Carvin, the lead lawyer challenging the law, attempted to extract himself from this roadblock, he quickly ran into an entirely different obstacle — his own past writings.

Attorney Michael Carvin, who argued King v. Burwell before the Supreme Court of the United States, 3 March 2015, on behalf of plaintiffs hoping to overturn the Affordable Care Act, in an undated photo.  (Image credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Carvin claims, in a case called King v. Burwell, that Obamacare should be read to deny tax credits that enable millions of Americans to afford health insurance in states that elected not to set up their own health exchange (under the Affordable Care Act, states have “flexibility” to decide whether to set up their own exchange or to allow the federal government to do so). During oral arguments on Wednesday, however, several justices raised concerns about the catastrophic damage Carvin’s reading of the law could inflict on those states’ insurance markets ....

.... Carvin tried to downplay the risk that consumers would simply stop buying plans in the law’s health exchanges if the tax credits were cut off, claiming that these consumers would still be attracted to exchange plans by the fact that the exchanges offer “one-stop shopping” for people looking to buy insurance. He also claimed that Congress wasn’t worried about the risk of death spirals if the tax credits get cut off. According to Carvin, “there’s not a scintilla of legislative history suggesting that without subsidies, there will be a death spiral.”

But Carvin himself sang a very different tune three years ago. Indeed, Wednesday was not the first time he’s stood in the well of the Supreme Courtroom and asked the justices to gut the Affordable Care Act. Carvin was also one of the lead attorneys in NFIB v. Sebelius, the first Supreme Court case attacking the law.

In a brief filed in NFIB, Carvin explained that “[w]ithout the subsidies driving demand within the exchanges, insurance companies would have absolutely no reason to offer their products through exchanges, where they are subject to far greater restrictions.” And, contrary to his more recent suggestion that Congress never envisioned any danger if the tax credits are cut off, Carvin wrote in 2012 that “the insurance exchanges cannot operate as intended by Congress absent those provisions.”

In a subsequent brief, Carvin elaborated that “the federal subsidies are the incentive to participate in the exchanges, and without those subsidies, there will be no mechanism to sustain the exchanges.” He also seemed to contradict his central claim that different states are treated differently depending on whether their exchange is operated by a state or the federal government. The Affordable Care Act, according to the Michael Carvin of 2012, “enables uniform and acceptable federal premium subsidies”.

(more…)

The One About How Nine Justices Walk Into a Bar ….

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia testifies before the House Judiciary Committee's Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee on Capitol Hill May 20, 2010 in Washington, DC. Scalia and fellow Associate Justice Stephen Breyer testified to the subcommittee about the Administrative Conference of the United States. (Photo: Stephen A. Masker)

“Congratulations, Congress, you’ve literally sunk to the level of a punch line.”

Steve Benen

The proposition that Congress is a punch line strikes few as new material. Even the idea that a Solicitor General would take the shot is not so strange. Yet Steve Benen makes the point about Justice Scalia’s blithe view of the 114th Congress:

Scalia wasn’t kidding. “I don’t care what Congress you’re talking about,” he added. “If the consequences are as disastrous as you say, so many million people ­­ without insurance and whatnot – yes, I think this Congress would act.”

On a purely theoretical level, this is not ridiculous. Major new laws have routinely needed minor technical fixes for generations, and many of these corrections are intended to bring clarity to ambiguous phrases. Under normal circumstances, the King v. Burwell case wouldn’t even exist because Congress would have clarified the ACA structure years ago.

And, again in theory, if the Supreme Court were to decide in this case that the statute needs clarification, a sane, mature, responsible legislative branch would simply add a few words to the ACA law and ensure that consumers receive the same insurance subsidies they’re receiving now.

But that’s all the more reason to understand exactly why Scalia is wrong.

Perhaps it is Justice Scalia who is the punch line. Then again, neither is that news.

(more…)

The Growing Scandal of King v. Burwell

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2008, file photo, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., is seen in Providence, R.I.  Turned away at the Supreme Court, congressional Republicans sketch a filibuster-proof strategy to repeal the nation's health care law in 2013.  But it hinges on two uncertainties ― Mitt Romney capturing the White House and the party seizing even narrow control of the Senate (AP Photo/Stephan Saviola, File)

Sometimes the lede buries itseslf; the point will hide in plain sight. It is an easy thing to do, hiding in plain sight, when nobody is looking for you:

The Supreme Court has developed elaborate tests to determine if plaintiffs have standing to sue. But their essence, Justice Antonin Scalia once observed, is a four-word question: “What’s it to you?”

To get into court, it is not enough to be unhappy about something. Only people with a direct stake in a dispute have standing to sue.

Which brings us to the four plaintiffs in the latest threat to President Obama’s health care law, to be heard next week. Recent news reports have raised the question of whether any of them has a dog in the fight.

But it is not clear that the Supreme Court will address that question, which could determine the outcome of the case. The court’s recent decisions have been inconsistent and provide few clues about what it might do. The court is sometimes accused of being opportunistic in using the standing doctrine to avoid legal questions it wants to duck, but ignoring the issue when it is eager to weigh in.

(Liptak)

Two sentences; did you miss them?

No, really, this is important: “But it is not clear that the Supreme Court will address that question, which could determine the outcome of the case. The court’s recent decisions have been inconsistent and provide few clues about what it might do.”

One of the hallmarks of the Roberts Court is its disrespect for standing case law and precedent. The Chief Justice is an example of why the longstanding conservative complaint about liberal judicial activism is a swindle. John Roberts seems to apply more of an “if it feels good, do it” attitude to the judiciary, but at the same time he’s conscious of appearances, which is why conservative majorities on the Court will occasionally do that weird thing where they overturn case law but then disclaim that they’re not overturning anything, such as we’ve seen in Ricci (Civil Rights Act) and Texas (Voting Rights Act). And there is also the conservative majority’s clear tendency to throw cases for politics by carving out one-time exceptions to the law, such as we saw in Safford, in which a school was forgiven a sex offense because ignorance is bliss and, well, why would a young girl be upset by adults forcing her to strip down so they can leer and prod at her body, and Ricci, in which the New Haven Civil Service Board followed the law but was held in fault for doing so.

One of the reasons this Court is so hard to predict is, in fact, its inconsistency. And the reason it is hard to pin down that inconsistency is because it is so inconsistent. To the one, it is not a purely institutionalist streak. To the other, it is not purely traditionalist. Rather, it seems Chief Justice Roberts is happy to keep pushing the image of calling balls and strikes just as long as nobody points out that the strike zone keeps changing.

The Constitution is John Roberts’ playground, nothing more. Inconsistency will be the hallmark of his chiefdom. (more…)