Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Reading

Open the Floodgates — Jeffrey Toobin on how Chief Justice John Roberts orchestrated the Citizens United ruling.

Supreme Court cases become landmarks in different ways. Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 gay-rights decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, began with a trivial contretemps in an apartment building just outside Houston. On the other hand, the importance of the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic achievement of the Obama Presidency, was apparent as soon as it was filed. (A decision is expected in June.) The result in Bush v. Gore was important, but the reasoning turned out to be perishable; the decision has not been cited again by the Justices.

In one sense, the story of the Citizens United case goes back more than a hundred years. It begins in the Gilded Age, when the Supreme Court barred most attempts by the government to ameliorate the harsh effects of market forces. In that era, the Court said, for the first time, that corporations, like people, have constitutional rights. The Progressive Era, which followed, saw the development of activist government and the first major efforts to limit the impact of money in politics. Since then, the sides in the continuing battle have remained more or less the same: progressives (or liberals) vs. conservatives, Democrats vs. Republicans, regulators vs. libertarians. One side has favored government rules to limit the influence of the moneyed in political campaigns; the other has supported a freer market, allowing individuals and corporations to contribute as they see fit. Citizens United marked another round in this contest.

In a different way, though, Citizens United is a distinctive product of the Roberts Court. The decision followed a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the Justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case. The case, too, reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court. It was once liberals who were associated with using the courts to overturn the work of the democratically elected branches of government, but the current Court has matched contempt for Congress with a disdain for many of the Court’s own precedents. When the Court announced its final ruling on Citizens United, on January 21, 2010, the vote was five to four and the majority opinion was written by Anthony Kennedy. Above all, though, the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.

How to Steal an Election — Fred Grimm notes that it’s not illegal immigrants who are voting; it’s people who aren’t there at all.

Turns out the Division of Elections, working with outdated information from the DHSMV, has been demanding that county elections supervisors purge a number of legal citizens, both natural-born and naturalized, from the voter lists. On Thursday, the Division of Elections announced it was giving up on the use of outdated driver license records. Instead, it promised to check the state’s voter rolls against the immigrant records compiled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Apparently, without checking first with the feds. The New York Times reported Friday that Homeland Security, citing both legal and technical obstacles, was not keen on sharing info with Florida.

Florida seems to be spending a lot of time and effort and money trying to stomp out theoretical corruption instead of going after actual, real-life voter fraud. In 2011 the Legislature passed a 128-page election “reform” bill that cut back on early voting, put new restrictions on third-party registration groups (like that famously subversive League of Women Voters), and eliminated the long-honored practice in Florida of allowing voters who have moved since the last election to register the change of address at the polls on election day.

None of this gets at the actual source of voter fraud — an art that Miami knows well.

The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize deconstructing the 1997 Miami election after Joe Carollo won a majority at the polls but lost to Xavier Suarez with his very suspicious 2-to-1 advantage in absentee votes. That ‘s how it’s really done. How elections are pilfered. With absentee ballots.

American Art in Cuba — The blockade doesn’t keep art from crossing the Florida Straits.

In the echoing cobbled walkway of an 18th-century fort that is home to part of the 11th Havana Biennial, an insistent clang emanates from an artwork in which a bronze bird continually hits a boat propeller with its beak. Behind that noise floats the melody of a Cuban son played by a trio. And then, above it all, comes another kind of sound: American voices, crying out in English, “Look at that!” and “I want you to see this!”

For much of the 2000s, President George W. Bush all but shut down travel between the United States and Cuba, and with it the stream of American art lovers who had helped nourish the Cuban art scene. But since President Obama began lifting many of the Bush-era restrictions on travel in 2009, the traffic has been flowing again over the bridge that links the American and Cuban art worlds.

Cuban officials say that more than 1,300 Americans — collectors, curators, dealers and others — have registered to attend this year’s biennial, close to the high reached in 2000, after the Clinton administration loosened years of travel restrictions. Under the recent changes, Cuban-Americans may visit whenever they want, and, as of last year, the United States government has expanded legal travel for other Americans, who may arrive on programs intended to foster contact with ordinary Cubans.

“We’re seeing a lot more foreign visitors this year, and among them a lot more Americans,” said Sandra Contreras, who runs the Villa Manuela gallery here. The change has been a boon, she added, explaining, “Even though we’ve developed markets in Europe and Latin America, American collectors are still our principal buyers.”

Doonesbury — Ghost Writers in the Sky.