Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court Politics

It was a big -- and telling -- day at the high court even without the highly anticipated Affordable Care Act decision, which is now expected to be issued on Thursday.  As I wrote earlier, Justice Scalia's raving dissent about state sovereignty in the Arizona immigration case starkly illustrates that he is more of a political operative than an impartial judge.

And, not surprisingly, Scalia's obeisance to states' rights was nowhere in evidence in another case decided today, a case in which a 5-4  majority struck down Montana’s 100-year-old anti-corruption law banning corporate spending on elections without ever hearing arguments in the case.  As Nicole Flatow at American Constitution Society summarized:  "Although Montana’s law was intended to combat corruption in election spending, the five-justice majority held in a paragraph-long decision that this case was controlled by Citizens United, which found that independent expenditures by corporations 'do not give rise to corruption.'” 

Flatow points out that, "A supermajority of Montanans thought otherwise when they passed the Corrupt Practices Act in 1912," and as Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent, “Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”
Breyer's dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, pointedly concluded as follows:
Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case. But given the Court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration. Consequently, I vote instead to deny the petition. 
And there you have it.  As Amy Davidson notes, "Breyer is saying that he does not trust the majority enough to even listen, and would rather that it not hear the case at all; since he was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, that means the four of them didn’t believe that a single of the other five Justices had been at all chastened by the consequences of Citizens United."

And so, E.J. Dionne pleads:
Will everyone please finally admit conservatives actually don’t care a whit about states’ rights unless invoking states’ rights happens to be helpful to the conservative agenda? Conservatives on the court have become complete and utter hypocrites on the matter of what states can and can’t do.

This has stuck in my craw for a long time. Recall that the Supreme Court had absolutely no qualms about telling the state of Florida in 2000 that there was no way it could recount its votes in a fashion that would be satisfactory, and never mind that the Florida Supreme Court had ruled in favor of recounts. Those recounts might have gotten in the way of George W. Bush’s elevation to the presidency. Face it: If states’ rights are inconvenient to the outcome conservatives want, conservative justices will find a way to supersede them.
James Fallows recently wrote with regard to the Affordable Care Act case that "confidence in the very idea that the Roberts majority will approach this as a "normal" legal matter, rather than as one more Bush v. Gore front in the political wars, grows ever harder to maintain."

Which leads Ed Kilgore to draws what to me is the most critical lesson, whatever happens with the health care decision:
But it’s becoming more obvious each day that the judicial counter-revolutionaries of the Supreme Court don’t need the crisis atmosphere that they used to justify Bush v. Gore to continue its legacy. Indeed, it seems to have become the only precedent the majority reliably respects. Maybe they will surprise us all on Thursday and step back from the brink. But without question, if another seat on the Court falls their way, the constitutional substructure of every 20th century social accomplishment from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Act to the Clean Air Act to the right to an abortion is in immediate danger. And anyone who remembers that strange night in 2000 when the Court’s Republican appointees decided to seize the opportunity to choose a president should not be surprised.


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