Archive for the 'U.S. Supreme Court' Category
Once again, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s off-the-bench remarks are making waves. An exceptional and lengthy interview with the sharp-tongued jurist was published in New York magazine, and it has generated widespread comment.
The New York magazine piece is entitled, “In Conversation: Antonin Scalia: On the eve of a new Supreme Court session, the firebrand justice discusses gay rights and media echo chambers, Seinfeld and the Devil, and how much he cares about his intellectual legacy (‘I don’t').”
Gavel Grab can’t fairly capture the many, intriguing facets of this interview in a short post. Instead, readers may examine the original or select from an outpouring of coverage and commentary, sampled here: Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, “The Scalia interview reveals his remarkable isolation from anyone who doesn’t agree with him;” UPI, ”Scalia bemoans ‘coarser’ nature of American culture;” NPR, “Justice Scalia Talks Satan, ‘Seinfeld’ And Gays;” Daniel McCarthy in The American Conservative, ”Why I am a Scalia Skeptic;” Michael McGough in the Los Angeles Times, “Could it be Satan? Scalia says yes;” Politico, “Scalia interview: ‘Nasty’ time in DC;” CBS News, “Scalia talks about the devil, ‘Duck Dynasty’ and knowing when to retire;” and ABA Journal, “Scalia: The devil is getting ‘wilier’ and society is getting coarser.”
The Supreme Court was able to launch its new term on Monday despite a partial U.S. government shutdown in part by drawing on a pool of fees, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog reported.
An explanatory article by the Washington Wire said that generally, the nation’s highest court operates on a budget that is separate from the rest of the federal courts. But it has drawn during the shutdown on a pool of funds collected by the judiciary, which in turn gets part of its funds through fees. In addition, the federal courts have kept operating during the initial period of the partial shutdown by using funds from past appropriations by Congress that were not earmarked for spending in a specified time period.
There is no end in sight yet for the budget impasse that caused the partial shutdown, and leaders of the federal judiciary have said only that the courts would stay open, drawing on reserve funds, through about Oct. 15. After that, it is expected that the courts would be governed by a federal law permitting essential work to continue during a lapse in appropriations. Read more
Despite the U.S. government’s partial shutdown, the Supreme Court opened its new term today amid a flood of news media attention about the major cases it will hear and noting its shifting role when the government is facing paralysis.
The Washington Post reported that the court has a pivotal role at a moment in history when Congress is deadlocked. The court “resumes its role as the uneasy arbiter of America’s intractable social conflicts with a new docket that features battles over affirmative action, campaign finance and abortion, among other divisive issues,” reporter Robert Barnes wrote.
“This term is deeper in important cases than either of the prior two terms,” said Irving L. Gornstein, who directs the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University, according to the New York Times. That newspaper said a number of key precedents are at risk in new cases, especially in areas of law under revision by the court since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006. Read more
Forty-one percent of Americans, a plurality in a recent Gallup poll, considered the U.S. Supreme Court “just about right” ideologically, compared to 30 percent who judged it too liberal and 23 percent who found it too conservative.
The polling data was released shortly before the first week of the Supreme Court’s new term, and it reflected a close split in opinion about the performance of the high court. Forty-six percent approved of the way it has been doing its job, compared to 45 percent who disapproved.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. received a 55 percent approval rating in the latest poll. When it comes to trust in the branch of government headed by the Supreme Court, 62 percent expressed a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust compared to 37 percent expressing “not very much” trust or “none at all.” These opinions compared to lower levels of confidence in the executive (51 percent) and legislative (34 percent) branches.
“For a court looking to start a fresh term, these are hopeful signs that it may one day be back in the good graces of a majority of the country,” Gallup’s analysts wrote.
One of the first cases set to be heard by the Supreme Court in its new term, involving campaign finance, is getting extensive commentary and media attention. The case, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, is seen by some advocates as having “the potential to destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation,” the New York Times reported.
The case involves a challenge to aggregate federal limits on campaign donations to candidates and committees. Some analysts have called it a sequel to Citizens United, which in 2010 transformed the political landscape by removing key limits on election spending by corporations and labor unions.
“If you knock out aggregate contribution limits, you create a system of legalized bribery in this country,” cautioned Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. Read more
The U.S. Supreme Court formally announced that it will stay open through at least Friday, Oct. 4, even if the federal government shuts down this week amid a budget-writing impasse.
“In the event of a lapse of appropriations, the Court will continue to conduct its normal operations through October 4. The Court building will be open to the public during its usual hours. Further notice will be provided in the event a lapse of appropriations continues beyond October 4,” the court said on its website on Friday, according to SCOTUSblog.
The upcoming term of the high court is set to open on Monday, Oct. 7. Read more
Weighing in on a perennial debate, veteran legal analyst Lyle Denniston explores in a National Constitution Center blog post this question: “Should Supreme Court justices have limits on their time in office?”
Examining the language of the Constitution and of the Founders, Denniston sidesteps offering a direct answer to the question, or to recent advocacy by law professor Eric Segall of the Georgia State University College of Law. Segall recently wrote in a CNN opinion:
“In light of the crucial role the [Supreme] Court plays across the spectrum of social, legal and political issues, the question of how long our justices serve should be reexamined….Other countries use fixed terms, retirement ages or a combination of the two to achieve the necessary independence. There simply is no persuasive reason to allow government officials who have virtually unreviewable power to hold offices for life.”
But hold on a moment, Denniston responds, saying it’s necessary to look at the big picture. Given that judges “shall hold their offices during good behavior” according to the Constitution, he asks, what would be a proper substitute for the lifetime tenure intended to give them judicial independence? Read more
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told the New York Times, regarding the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history” (see Gavel Grab). But one legal expert is offering statistics to question Justice Ginsburg’s assertion.
At his Jost on Justice blog, Kenneth Jost (photo), Supreme Court editor of CQ Press, suggests that no matter who uses the term “activist” in discussing judges, it is “an inherently imprecise term.” He then goes further to challenge Justice Ginsburg’s judgment of the court based on the yardstick she has applied.
Take, Jost says, the high court’s rates for overturning laws passed by Congress. The Rehnquist Court (two per term) and the Burger Court (almost two per term) struck down laws passed by Congress at a faster rate than the Roberts Court (one-and-a-half per term), he writes. What’s more, Justice Ginsburg joined the Roberts Court majority six times in its striking down 12 laws passed by Congress. Read more
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, has repeated a vow not to step down from the court as long as her health permits. She went further in a New York Times interview to comment candidly about some cases decided by the court:
- Justice Ginsburg was outspoken in her criticism of the court’s ruling that invalidated a key part of the federal Voting Rights Act, and a section of the ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act that declined to justify that outcome under the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Generally speaking, she said, “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.”
- She made a mistake in 2009 when she joined a court opinion that paved the way for the more recent Voting Rights ruling. In hindsight, she should have adopted a distance from the language of the majority opinion in 2009, she said. She called the recent ruling “stunning in terms of activism.” Regarding action by legislatures in Texas and North Carolina to tighten voting laws, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, she said she was “disillusioned.”
Justice Ginsburg also did an interview with Bloomberg. The resulting article was headlined, “Ginsburg Embraces Gay-Marriage Rulings as Court Shuns Bold Moves.”
After a dramatic finale in which the Supreme Court released several high-profile rulings, it is facing renewed pressure to become more transparent in its proceedings, according to a lengthy USA Today article.
“There have been baby steps taken to make the court more transparent, but it is still in many respects the least transparent branch of the three branches of government,” Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told the newspaper.
But Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has firmly disagreed. “We are the most transparent branch of the government,” he said in 2011 (see Gavel Grab).
Leading proposals from lawmakers and watchdog groups include letting cameras in the courtroom, permitting a live audio broadcast of court proceedings, and formally adopting an ethics code (Gavel Grab has background).
Reporter Richard Wolf wrote that the court is not likely to change its procedures immediately, but the demands “could eventually help loosen up an institution that guards its privacy and autonomy.” Read more