Archive for the 'U.S. Supreme Court' Category
Legal affairs journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. often agrees with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s votes, but vigorously questions whether one individual ought to be deciding by virtue of his “swing vote” on the high court some of the most important controversial issues in the land.
Taylor’s commentary in the Daily Beast is entitled, “Will This Man Make Gay Marriage Legal Everywhere? Justice Anthony Kennedy has more power than any president or justice in history to decree the law of the land. Agree with him or not, there is something wrong with this picture.”
What is wrong, Taylor asserts, is that “the exercise of such emperor-like power by a single man—one who (like his colleagues) has never been elected to any public office would have lost his seat long ago if justices had to be reconfirmed based on their records—has very little to do either with democracy or with the written Constitution.”
A mini-debate among analysts erupted over this question after Jeffrey Toobin wrote a sharp-edged New Yorker commentary entitled “Clarence Thomas’s Disgraceful Silence.” While Justice Thomas has made important contributions to the court’s jurisprudence, he said, the job of a justice is bigger than that. He said Justice Thomas by having “checked out” from oral arguments is failing to do his job and is “demeaning the Court.”
In the Los Angeles Times, editorial board member Michael McGough fired back that Toobin “doesn’t make much of a case for outrage over this admittedly odd behavior” and is notably weak in contending that the public deserves a window on a justice’s thought processes through oral argument. A superior window is available in the justice’s published opinions, he said. The justice “seems to be doing the most important part of his job,” McGough wrote. Read more
Special-interest groups are openly sizing up their chances to influence the next nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to NPR. With the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate potentially up for grabs in midterm elections, groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to People for the American Way are emphasizing Senate confirmation of high court nominees as they plot their next political moves. The conservative Committee for Justice “asserted that ‘filibustering a bad nominee will not be an option’ without a Senate takeover,” the piece notes.
The current jockeying is in marked contrast to what happened in 2010, NPR reports, when Republicans mounted very little opposition to the last nominee to the Supreme Court, Justice Elena Kagan. Meanwhile, Kagan recently credited her ascent to the Court to trailblazing civil rights advocacy by the Court’s eldest justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In a piece headlined “Kagan Says Her Path to Supreme Court Was Made Smoother by Ginsburg’s,” The New York Times describes overt discrimination battled by Ginsburg throughout her career.
What’s it really like to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court? According to the Sun Sentinel, Justice Samuel Alito told a West Palm Beach, Florida, crowd, it’s not what people might imagine.
“A lot of people, I think, have the impression that sitting on the bench and listening to oral arguments is the main thing we do,” Alito said.
“If people were to see me really at work, it would not be a particularly edifying spectacle. They would see me at my computer at eight in the morning in my pajamas.”
Another timely reminder of how courts matter comes in a New Yorker blog post by attorney Richard Socarides entitled “The Growing Impact of the Supreme Court’s Gay-Marriage Ruling.”
In United States v. Windsor last year, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a key section the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal benefits to gay or lesbian couples who are married. The court did not go so far as to find a constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.
Nonetheless, Socarides writes, “The sweeping significance of the Supreme Court’s landmark gay-rights decision in United States v. Windsor, last June, has become even more evident in the past month, thanks to a series of important lower-court decisions that have interpreted it broadly.” He chronicles these rulings and suggests that “the language of the Windsor decision may have been so powerful that the Court in fact accelerated a movement it sought to temporarily restrain.”
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama dialed back from the confrontational tone he used toward Supreme Court justices in 2010, and instead delivered a muted criticism of a court ruling, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire.
“Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened,” Obama said on Tuesday without pointing a finger specifically at the court over a 5-4 decision that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working to strengthen it.”
Jess Bravin blogged for the Washington Wire that TV camera operators apparently did not grasp immediately what the president was referring to and did not turn the cameras to catch the reaction of justices in the audience. Read more
What happens when a Supreme Court ruling turns out to be a real “disaster,” an unmitigated “blunder,” and everyone knows it? Adam Liptak addresses the intriguing question in a New York Times article about a new effort to overrule the court’s 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States.
The ruling has been widely discredited. It upheld an executive order that led to the removal from their homes and the internment of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Now plaintiffs seeking Supreme Court review of a 2012 federal law are also asking the court to examine whether it should overrule Korematsu. The law is the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012. It permits imprisonment of American citizens without trial if they’re suspected of terrorism crimes.
More than three decades ago, a congressional commission labeled the nation’s internment of Japanese-Americans “a grave injustice” driven by “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” It said that “the decision in Korematsu lies overruled in the court of history.”
The U.S. Supeme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a landmark constitutional case involving the president’s rights to make recess appointments of officials, and some news accounts suggested afterward that justices seemed skeptical of the arguments made by the U.S. solicitor general.
Almost a year ago, a lower federal court ruled that Obama overstepped constitutional boundaries when he made several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, in order to overcome Republican filibustering. The central issue involves presidential appointment power and conflicting interpretations of what a Senate “recess” means. Recess appointments by presidents over the years are not unusual, and modern-day presidents battling partisan opposition have used them more frequently.
The New York Times reported on Monday, ”Justices Voice Doubt on Obama Recess Appointments.” Other reports included USA Today, “Supreme Court skeptical of presidents’ appointments power”; Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, “Argument recap: An uneasy day for presidential power”; The Hill, “Recess appointments appear in jeopardy”; Associated Press, “President’s recess appointment power at high court”; Reuters, “U.S. justices skeptical about Obama labor board appointments”; and Bloomberg, “Obama’s Recess Appointments Questioned by U.S. Supreme Court.”
The U.S. Supreme Court “is as central as ever to the national debate,” despite a workload during the next 100 days that is relatively reduced, the Washington Post reports.
Reporter Robert Barnes points to a constitutional case involving presidential recess appointments that was to be argued on Monday, to the court’s recently halting a lower-court order that permitted marriages for same-sex couples in Utah, and to a soon-to-be decided case that could result in loosened restrictions on political campaign contributions.
“We’re in the middle of a quite remarkable period in the court’s history,” Washington lawyer and Supreme Court litigator Kannon Shanmugam said. “The court has had several cases implicating major issues of national debate each of the last few years. What that shows is that this is a court that’s not at all shy about tackling hot-button issues.”
Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby of Utah found that Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court halted further marriages for same-sex couples in Utah while state officials there appeal Judge Shelby’s ruling in the federal courts.
Utah had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block Judge Shelby’s ruling, saying he mistakenly created a new constitutional right for same-sex couples.
According to veteran legal journalist Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, Monday’s high court action “can be interpreted as an indication that the Court wants to have further exploration in lower courts of the basic constitutional question of state power to limit marriage to a man and a woman.” Denniston added that as a result of Monday’s ruling, “it now appears almost certain that the question of state power to bar same-sex marriages will not be before the Justices during the current Term.” Read more