Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Beginning Of The End

Looking at some of the reactions to the Supreme Court’s non-decision on marriage equality by the anti-equality folks — outragejudicial activism by unelected judges, a violation of God-given rights, and so on — tells me that the battle for same-sex marriage is coming to the end the way I thought it would: by the slow inexorable march, state by state, court battle by court battle, until finally the freedom to marry is as ordinary as any other exercised right.

The losers are outraged because they believed that they had the right to encode their bigotry and religious prejudice into law.  They also have gone over the top because they hear the distant approach of oblivion.  It won’t happen overnight; history tells us that overcoming pride and prejudice (h/t Jane Austen) takes a long time.  But they know the jig is up and the anti-gay movement will in time become as relevant and forceful as the temperance movement.

This may not be the solution some of us wanted: a firm holding from the Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment, contrary to Sen. Cruz’s assertion, does guarantee equal protection under the law and that marriage, established as a fundamental right in cases going back generations, should be available to all citizens regardless of genitalia.  Those who criticize the Court for not taking up the case should understand that in order to do so they had to have conflicting rulings: a ruling for and a ruling against.  So far no federal bench has sided with the anti-same-sex side, therefore there’s no decision to make, and they let the lower courts rulings stand.  In baseball, it would be called a walk-off: there’s no need to have the final out when the winning run has scored and the other team has no more at-bats.

They’re going to go out in the same way they came in, though.  They will grift the foolish and the fearful of their money and hope to hang on to their cash while desperately finding some other line of work.  They know that the lies they tell and the fundamental misstatements about the make-up of our government are meant only for their pigeons.  They carry on about “unelected judges,” knowing full well that the federal judiciary doesn’t face the voters for a very good reason: they — at least it is to be hoped — should not be swayed by political or financial ambition (even if that concept has been put to the test by the current Supreme Court).  Judicial activism is clearly in the eye of the beholder.  These same people praised the genius of the Court when it decided that corporations themselves can hold religious beliefs and that a checkbook is the same thing as a soapbox; two decisions that legal scholars of every stripe agree were outside the scope of the original cases.  And while appealing to heaven and the Almighty make for some thunderous rhetoric and get the money flowing, using a religious argument to enforce an untenable violation of the Constitution should automatically disqualify it from consideration.

A federal court could rule against marriage equality and that could set up a hearing before the Supreme Court.  But yesterday’s move basically opened the door and hundreds of couples have already tied the knot in places such as Virginia, and Utah (!); states that up until yesterday morning did not have marriage equality.  Even the losers concede that undoing those bonds would be impossible.

This is not the end.  Florida still has the ban — for the moment — as do nineteen other states.  But it is only a matter of time, and I’m not talking years.  It will be months, perhaps weeks now.

Monday, October 6, 2014

SCOTUS: Not To Decide Is To Decide

The United States Supreme Court has basically legalized marriage equality in 30 states without having to rule on it.  Via TPM:

By declining to take up gay marriage in the current term, the Supreme Court left intact lower court decisions legalizing gay marriage and cleared the way for same-sex marriage in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

The justices on Monday did not comment in rejecting appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. No other state cases were currently pending with the high court, but the justices stopped short of resolving for now the question of same-sex marriage nationwide.

The court’s order immediately ends delays on marriage in those states. Couples in six other states — Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — should be able to get married in short order. Those states would be bound by the same appellate rulings that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review.

That would make same-sex marriage legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

Experts and advocates on both sides of the issue believed the justices would step in and decide gay marriage cases this term.

The justices have an obligation to settle an issue of such national importance, not abdicate that responsibility to lower court judges, the advocates said. Opting out of hearing the cases leaves those lower court rulings in place.

This is great news for marriage equality in those states and sets a precedent for the courts that are reviewing pending cases.  On the other hand, it leaves other states such as Florida still on the side of heterosexism.

By dodging the issue in this way the Court avoids — for now — the process of a hearing and a ruling.  It would be very hard to imagine that once they’ve made this non-ruling and allowed the states to immediately grant licenses to same-sex couples that they would reverse themselves.  Once the genie is out of the bottle, it ain’t going back in without a good reason.

Frankly, I wish they would have taken it up and made a definitive ruling on the scale of Roe v. Wade.  This leaves a patchwork of state laws and rulings on the issue, meaning that the states will be forced to deal with it on their own.  Many states were quietly hoping that SCOTUS would pick up this hot potato so they wouldn’t have to.  But they have just handed it back to them.

That said… Hooray!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Reading

First Monday in October — This year’s Supreme Court term could decide the marriage equality question.  Adam Liptak in the New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Monday returns to work to face a rich and varied docket, including cases on First Amendment rights in the digital age, religious freedom behind bars and the status of Jerusalem.

Those cases are colorful and consequential, but there are much bigger ones on the horizon.

“I’m more excited about the next 12 months at the Supreme Court than about any Supreme Court term in its modern history,” said Thomas C. Goldstein, who argues frequently before the court and is the publisher of Scotusblog.

In the coming weeks, the justices will most likely agree to decide whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, a question they ducked in 2013. They will also soon consider whether to hear a fresh and potent challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which barely survived its last encounter with the court in 2012.

The terms that concluded with those rulings riveted the nation. Now the two issues may return to the court — together.

“This term could become the ‘déjà vu all over again’ term of the century,” said Pratik A. Shah, a Supreme Court specialist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is entering his 10th term, and it is one that could define the legacy of the court he leads. Should the court establish a right to same-sex marriage, it would draw comparisons to the famously liberal court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, said David A. Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

“It is only a slight overstatement to say that the Roberts court will be to the rights of gays and lesbians what the Warren court was to the rights of African Americans,” Professor Strauss said.

Petitions seeking review of decisions in the marriage and health care cases have already been filed. They may be joined in short order by ones on abortion and affirmative action.

“The prospect that every major social issue will collide before the justices may be historic,” Mr. Goldstein said.

The Unlucky Seven — G.O.P. governors who may get the heave-ho next month.  John Nichols in The Nation:

The headlines immediately following the “Republican Wave” election of 2010 focused on Congress, where Democrats lost control of the House. But attention quickly shifted to the states, where a new class of Republican governors, often working with allied legislative majorities, began implementing agendas far more extreme than those of their compatriots in gridlocked Washington.

That extremism has made many of these Republican Wave governors vulnerable in 2014—so vulnerable that billionaire campaign donors and business interests are scrambling to save them. Recent revelations of secret meetings organized by the Koch brothers and secret donations to groups like the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee confirm the connections—and the sense of urgency. But even a massive spending spree may not keep these governors in office.

That’s because what’s good for campaign donors has not been good for GOP-led states, many of which trail the national average in job creation. In some states, such as Kansas, economic stagnation is so severe that moderate Republicans are endorsing Democratic gubernatorial nominees who promise to stop catering to out-of-state special interests and to focus on education and jobs.

The failure of the GOP austerity agenda stands in stark contrast to the success of states where Democratic governors have invested in infrastructure, services and schools. California’s Jerry Brown and Minnesota’s Mark Dayton, both of whom replaced Republican governors four years ago, are well ahead in the polls. While some Democratic governors are in tight races, perennially embattled Illinois Governor Pat Quinn edged ahead of Republican Bruce Rauner in a mid-September Chicago Tribune survey, at least in part because of a campaign warning that Rauner would impose on Illinois the right-wing policies that are widely seen as having slowed growth in neighboring Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker began his tenure in 2011 by attacking public employees and their unions and securing a budget that slashed spending on education and public services. He advanced laws restricting access to women’s reproductive health services, establishing harsh voter-ID requirements, undermining environmental protections, and generally rubber-stamping the agenda of corporate-funded groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Walker made big news, but his extremism was hardly unique. Michigan’s Rick Snyder used “emergency manager” laws to dismantle democracy in Detroit and other cities and signed an anti-labor “right to work” law in the home state of the United Auto Workers. Maine’s Paul LePage told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” hired corporate lobbyists to help him rewrite regulations, and intervened so aggressively against unemployed workers that the US Labor Department had to step in. Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett hit all the wrong marks by appointing cronies to key positions, making statements that offended women and Latinos, attacking unions, and scrapping the state’s school funding formula in a move that led to devastating cuts.

Corbett’s misdeeds are so well known that he’s trailing as far as twenty points behind Democrat Tom Wolf, a businessman running as an ardent advocate for public education, a supporter of unions and a champion of manufacturing. Walker, Snyder and LePage are all locked in what the RealClearPolitics “Poll of Polls” ranks as toss-up races, as are Republican Wave governors Rick Scott of Florida, Nathan Deal of Georgia and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

History from Hendrik Van Loon — Charlie Pierce harks back to a storyteller of yore.

In his recent documentary about the Roosevelt family, Ken Burns alluded to a gentleman named Hendrik Van Loon. (At one point, Burns put up the front page of a newspaper with Van Loon’s byline.) The name alone was enough to get our house a’stir. (It is now my third-favorite name in American political history behind Elihu Root and Thurlow Weed.) So, the family Internet sleuth worked dark magic and we discovered that Van Loon was quite the character. Journalist. Author. Early and prolific anti-Nazi. Friend and confidante of FDR. And winner of the very first Newbery Medal (in 1922) for The Story Of Mankind, a young people’s book that delivered exactly what its title said it would deliver. The book was massive, and it sold massively. It was made into a movie starring Ronald Colman and the Marx Brothers, and Van Loon’s family added chapters to the original all the way up into the 1990′s. Van Loon went on to write other formidable doorstops for young folks including The Story Of The Bible and Tolerance. Van Loon did not condescend to the young reader’s allegedly short attention span, as we discovered as the books began arriving at our house this past week. Hendrik Van Loon’s readers were readers for the 15th round, they were.

It turns out that Van Loon is a remarkably discursive, and utterly eccentric, stylist, following his peculiar muse to fascinating and unmapped literary acreages. He has a positive gift for off-the-wall historical comparisons and, occasionally, he appears to be having his readers on. These characteristics, of course, made him an instant favorite at this shebeen, so much so that we have decided to give him his own space in the hopes of introducing his distinctive prose stylings to another generation which, we hope, will imitate them so as to confound their English teachers, baffle the gang at the Educational Testing Service, and raise holy hell with education “reformers” everywhere.

Our debut offering comes from The Story Of The Bible, in which Hendrik points out to his readers that, as far as Tacitus was concerned, the religious fervor of the devotees of a certain itinerant preacher in distant Judea was something of a sideshow, given the major events of the day. Van Loon writes:

The Christ in question had probably been a preacher in some obscure little synagogue in Galilee or Judaea. Of course, there was more than a probablilty that Nero had been too severe. On the other hand, it was better not to be too lenient in such matters. And there the question rested, as far as Tacitus was concerned. He never mentioned the offending sect again. His interest was entirely academic and such as we might take in the trouble between the Canadian Mounted Police and those strange Russian sects which inhabit the western portion of that vast empire of forests and grain fields.

Today’s Assignment: Why Jesus Christ Is Like The Mounties. Discuss.

Doonesbury — Welcome home.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Athesists Need Not Apply

Via TPM:

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court gave its blessing to local governments that want to open their public meetings with religious prayer.

It was a victory for the town board of Greece, N.Y., which stressed that it was fighting not just for Christian prayer but for the right of all people express their views regardless of their faith. In a 5-4 ruling along ideological lines, the Court ruled against the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs, who argued that the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Less than four months later, the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren’t well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.

Seeking to “avail itself of the Supreme Court’s recognition” that government prayer is constitutional, the new policy restricts opening remarks to “assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.”

Translation: atheists and agnostics need not apply. And unless the board clerk decides that your faith has an “established presence” in the New York town of fewer than 100,000, you may not deliver an invocation.

I realize that it takes a lot of study of the law and you really have to be good at it to get appointed to the United States Supreme Court, but if the five men who ruled in favor of the town Greece didn’t see this coming, then they’re idiots.

Of course there’s always the possibility that they knew that this would happen but ruled in favor anyway.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For

Sarah Ruden in Salon points out that if Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to be compelled by the government to pay for something they say violates their religious beliefs, why do people who object to war have to pay for the military?

The upshot of the ruling is that Hobby Lobby and other businesses with conservative religious owners do not need to pay for what the Affordable Care Act mandates as full coverage for family planning. The public interest in affordable and accessible healthcare is not compelling enough to override the private belief that contraceptive methods including (but apparently not limited to) the IUD and the morning-after pill are murder. Well, I’m a pacifist, and I say that warfare is murder, and I don’t want to pay for it; and in recent decades the public interest in my paying for it hardly looks compelling.

Quakers have a long history of refusing to pay taxes for the military, and many of them have gone to jail for their beliefs.  Is it too much of a leap to say that now there’s precedent for those of us who would not want our money to go to war to be able to choose not to pay for it?

I’ve made this argument before in a different context.  Being gay and being denied various benefits because of that, why should I pay all of the taxes I owe if I’m to be denied the things I’m paying for with them?  If I had a partner here in Florida (hope springs eternal) and I wanted him to have the spousal benefits of marriage such as property inheritance, he couldn’t have them.  Up until last June, thanks to the Supreme Court overturning DOMA, he would have been denied survivor’s benefits from Social Security.  But still, I don’t have the full and equal protection of the law that straight people have, so why should I pay full fare?  It’s like paying for a first class ticket but ending up in coach next to a screeching baby and an air-sick cat.

All SCOTUS rulings have unintended consequences, but this Court seems to be particularly short-sighted in their ruling, Justice Ginsburg’s dissent notwithstanding.  The harsh reality is that the courts have never sided with the view that an individual’s rights are more compelling than what they deem to be “the greater good.”  Unless, of course, you’re crafting for Jesus.

HT to Gray Lensman.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Didn’t See This Coming

Oh, gee, no one could have predicted that when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and their right to corporate religion that it would have unforeseen consequences, now did they?

No, we’re not talking about a Christian college objecting to signing a paper.  We’re talking about something like this.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison “prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan.”

[...]

“Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons – human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien – enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the lawyers argued in court papers. 

In its controversial Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the contraception insurance coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – violated the rights of “closely held for-profit corporations,” if a company’s owners object to birth control on religious grounds. The court, which decided the case 5-4, said that the mandate “substantially burdens” the corporation’s exercise of religion in violation of RFRA.

Did we miss that part of the ruling that says RFRA applies to Christians only?

Maybe the Supreme Court should have listened to this guy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Bitter Pill

The consensus among the commetariat about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case seems to be a collective “Well, it could have been worse.”

Yes, the court could have decided that for-profit companies have the same religious rights as a person — much as they did in the Citizens United case, giving free speech rights to corporations — but instead narrowly found that closely-held companies — those that aren’t publicly traded, basically — could, on contraception only, get away with dictating to their employees what kind of birth control they could use.  But still telling us that it could have been worse isn’t much consolation, and the ramifications go far beyond just some Christians who don’t know much about IUD’s but know a hell of a lot about minding the way other people spend their money.

There is some good points made by people who know the law trade far better than I do about what this ruling means, including Eric Loomis at LGM and Kate McDonough at Salon.  From the latter:

To sum it up, five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers. That women can be denied a benefit that they already pay for and is guaranteed by federal law. That contraception is not essential healthcare. That corporations can pray. That the corporate veil can be manipulated to suit the needs of the corporation. That bosses can cynically choose à la carte what laws they want to comply with and which laws they do not. Each specific finding opens a door to a new form of discrimination and unprecedented corporate power. If you think this ruling won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think these corporations are going to stop at birth control, you’re kidding yourself.

(By the way, it should be noted that not just women use birth control.  I may be gay, but I do know that men have a part to play in the reproductive process, and their lives can be impacted by making it harder for people to have access to contraception as well.  Also, the pill isn’t just for birth control.  There are a number of other medical reasons for taking it.  That tidbit of news seemed to escape the grasp of Justice Alito et al.)

The Republicans are rejoicing, not just because this is seen as a smackdown for Obamacare and a win for their Religious Reich handlers, but because now they can campaign on preserving the sanctity of corporate faith and family values.  Yeah, that will really win with the womenfolk vote.  Going into the elections of 2014 and 2016 embracing the morals framed in 19th century era patriarchy will win the day, I’m sure.  As Steve Benen notes,

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve won your big case at the Supreme Court, and positioned yourself this election as the 21st century political party that supports restrictions on contraception access. The party saw a political landmine and decided to do a victory dance on it. We’ll see how this turns out for them.

 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Judgment Day – Updated

Today is the day that the Supreme Court will hand down two very important rulings.

The Hobby Lobby case will decide if for-profit companies can claim a religious exemption for health insurance coverage they say makes the Baby Jesus cry.

The challenge was brought by the Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood, a cabinet maker. Both sued for relief from a mandate under Obamacare that profit-making businesses include emergency contraceptives for female employees in their insurance plans at no extra cost. They said the requirement to cover contraceptives like Plan B and Ella violates their religious liberty.

The Court is also set to rule on whether or not public employee unions can basically survive.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, is about the constitutionality of “agency fees” charged by public sector unions to all workers in a unionized setting, even non-union members. These fees are essential to their operation.

The Hobby Lobby case isn’t so much about religious freedom as it is about control.  The healthcare law does not require the employers to pay for their workers’ birth control; it allows the employees to avail themselves of contraception at no extra cost.  But somehow the family that owns Hobby Lobby sees that as the road to the abortion clinic and objects to what their employees can do with their own insurance.

If the Court rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, it could set the stage for any company to claim a religious exemption as the reason for doing anything they want to their employees, including denying benefits to couples — same sex or otherwise — if they’re not in keeping with their personal religious beliefs.

In the case of the public unions, the Court will decide if people who benefit from the unions without having to belong to them should pay a fee for those benefits.  If they don’t, then the unions could go broke.  That’s not something this Court, with its apparent love for the corporate manifest destiny, seems to be too concerned about.

Stay tuned; I’ll try to update the rulings as they come in.

UPDATE: The Court narrowly held for Hobby Lobby in a 5-4 decision, saying that “closely-held” corporations can opt out of contraception coverage based on religious grounds.  Stand by for a bunch of corporations becoming “closely-held.”  All the Republican-appointed justices — who happen to be men — decided for Hobby Lobby; the four appointed by Democrats voted against it, with some powerful dissenting opinions.

In the public union case, the Court ruled that non-union employees can’t be forced to pay fees to the union.

PS: Any guesses on who might be retiring from the Court after this term?  Ginsburg?  Scalia (if only)?

Friday, June 27, 2014

But Not For Thee

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Massachusetts’ buffer zone law around abortion clinics violated the First Amendment.

“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the decision, concluding that the law violates the First Amendment. “Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history.”

Oddly enough, the Supremes don’t have a problem keeping their fellow citizens away from them.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, maintains a tight perimeter: “No person shall engage in a demonstration within the Supreme Court building and grounds.”

Supreme Court buffer zone 06-27-14

I think it’s about time someone had a serious conversation with the Court about both irony and hypocrisy.

Short Takes

Droning on in Iraq: Political leaders are looking for someone to replace the current prime minister.

Syria: President Obama requests $500 million for rebels.

SCOTUS: The Court ruled against President Obama’s recess appointments and struck down abortion clinic buffer zones.

Arizona firefighter families sue over deaths.

End of the road for India’s iconic Ambassador automobile.

R.I.P. Howard Baker, 88, former Republican Senator from Tennessee.  Classy guy who couldn’t get nominated in the G.O.P. today.

The Tigers swept the Rangers 6-0 and extend their streak to seven wins.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Short Takes

Dam Close — ISIS is closing in on Haditha Dam, the second largest in Iraq.

Iran is said to be secretly supplying Iraq with weapons.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo TV service, saying it violated copyright.

Also, the Court unanimously ruled that cell phone searches by police must come with a warrant.

The N.F.L. has lifted the cap on payments to concussion victims.

Diane Sawyer is leaving the anchor desk at ABC.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-6.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama — The U.S. will have all its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Ukraine — Rebels are sustaining big losses.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that IQ tests alone are not proof of mental disability in death penatly cases.  The case originated in Florida.

More deaths in Nigeria are blamed on Islamic extremists.

Price tag to clear Detroit’s blighted buildings — $850 million.

The Tigers beat Oakland 6-5.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just Another Political Entity

That’s the verdict of a poll done recently about the Supreme Court.

Wide majorities disagree with the recent 5-4 party-line rulings that have upended a century of campaign finance law and tilted the rules in favor of the extremely wealthy and major corporations. The landmark Citizens United ruling was opposed by a whopping 80-18 margin. The more recent McCutcheon decision, which lifted caps on total giving, was said by a 51 percent majority to be likely to create more corruption, while 8 percent suggested it would lead to less.

By a 60-36 spread, those surveyed said that Supreme Court justices were more likely to be carrying out a personal or political agenda than working to render a fair and impartial judgment, an opinion that cut across party lines. John Roberts swore before Congress during his confirmation hearings that he had great respect for precedent. But once confirmed as chief justice, he embarked on a remarkable run of conservative judicial activism that has favored the wealthy while undermining affirmative action and protection for voting rights.

The tipping point seems to be the ruling on Bush v. Gore which handed the election of 2000 to George W. Bush with the approval of the 5-4 court majority, and it’s only gotten more noticeable since then.  Further examples are the gutting of the Voting Rights Act last year and the Michigan affirmative action case, which said that the way to cure racism was to say that there really isn’t any racism anymore so why worry about it?

Of course the conservatives can point to rulings and claim there was a liberal bias on the court: Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, school prayer, and Loving v. Virginia, thereby proving the point that it’s only judicial activism when it’s a ruling you don’t like.  But the Roberts court seems to be much more bolder about it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stalking Your Pray

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that it’s not unconstitutional for a town meeting to begin with a prayer.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that a town in upstate New York had not violated the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian and who sometimes used distinctly sectarian language. The prayers were ceremonial, Justice Kennedy wrote, and served to signal the solemnity of the occasion.

The ruling cleared the way for sectarian prayers before meetings of local governments around the nation with only the lightest judicial supervision.

[...]

Justice Elena Kagan said in dissent that the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.”

She said the important difference between the 1983 case and the new one was that “town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens.”

She did not propose banning prayer, Justice Kagan said, but only requiring officials to take steps to ensure “that opening prayers are inclusive of different faiths, rather than always identified with a single religion.”

Town officials in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, said members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, however, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. Some prayers were explicitly sectarian, with references, for instance, to “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”

I don’t think anyone expected this particular court to rule any differently, and while it is annoying that yet again the majority of this court seems to be of the attitude that if it’s okay with the white Christian men it’s okay for the rest of us, it’s not the assault on the First Amendment that some are making it to be.

I think it’s a bit of a Pyrrhic victory for the god-botherers: the Court is basically saying that the opening prayer is ceremonial, like the Pledge of Allegiance, and has no impact whatsoever on the business before the town.  Folks pay polite attention to the chaplain while they’re trying to find the mute button on their cell phone and promptly forget anything the cleric said.

If I were one of those people that believed prayer is a holy moment of communion with the Supreme Being and deserving of sacred solemnity, I’d be pissed off that the Supreme Court thinks it’s little more than a brief addition to the agenda wedged in between the announcement of the meeting of the finance committee and the community bake sale.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Short Takes

In the Ukraine, the acting president gives up hope of controlling the eastern part of the country.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia.

Elections were held in Iraq.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin asked for an independent investigation into the botched execution.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia misquoted his own words in his dissent on the Clean Air Act ruling.

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins, 71, actor in Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Tigers beat the White Sox 5-1.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Out of Touch

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t mince words when she dissented from the 6-2 ruling upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions.  She read it from the bench and there’s no doubt that she was directing her words at the Chief Justice.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter. [Emphasis added]

The Chief took note:

The dissent states that “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.” … But it is not “out of touch with reality” to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and—if so—that the preferences do more harm than good. To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wish away, rather than confront” racial inequality. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.

A little touchy, are we?

There would be no need in this country for affirmative action if there hadn’t been 300 years of racial discrimination and majority-enforced segregation at nearly every level of government and education.  It wasn’t wiped out by two laws and court rulings fifty years ago; it is still rampant and insidious today.  Just because the white patriarchs who never felt the sting or stigma of racial discrimination think affirmative action isn’t necessary any more doesn’t make it so.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Up Denial River

George F. Will can be so darn cute sometimes.

Fox News contributor George Will on Sunday argued that the United States Supreme Court had inadvertently made President Barack Obama’s health care reform law unconstitutional when the justices ruled that it was not unconstitutional.

[...]

“On May 8, here in the second-most important court in the land — the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — there will be an argument that this is objectively a revenue measure,” Will explained. “The Supreme Court said as much, a tax measure.”

“It did not originate in the House. And under the standards of origination, the whole thing is unconstitutional,” he added. “So this argument, again, is far from over.”

Of course by “cute” I mean pathetically laughable.