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The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The Supreme Court implicitly reaffirmed the right of government to regulate firearms. Thank goodness!

The latest term of the United States Supreme Court delivered a mixed bag of decisions that, on the whole, should please conservatives even if appearances may be to the contrary. For example, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) won a temporary reprieve but only because of the typically sloppy way the Trump administration went about trying to end it. They will undoubtedly try again.

And whilst a Louisiana law that imposed a needless requirement for doctors at abortion clinics in the state to have admitting privileges at hospitals was set aside, this was primarily on the grounds that it was virtually identical to a Texas law that had been struck down just four years ago. Chief Justice Roberts only joined the more liberal justices because he felt bound by precedent but not before opening the door to future abortion restrictions, challenges to, which suggested, may be viewed more skeptically.

Finally, the very welcome news that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does prohibit LGBTQ employment discrimination may be undermined by the court’s fulsome embrace of religious rights that may override those of the LGBTQ community in where the two clash in the future.

However, somewhat overlooked this term was the court’s decision not to hear challenges by the gun rights crowd to a plethora of state and local firearms restrictions much to the chagrin it has to be said of its most conservative members. This is very good news indeed since it appears to reaffirm the majority’s view in a SCOTUS dominated by conservatives that the misguided decision in District of Columbia v Heller upholding the individual right to own a firearm nevertheless does not preclude reasonable regulation of that right by the government. The key here is clearly the Chief Justice and I can think of three reasons why he has sided with the liberals/moderates on this issue.

First, Roberts is no doubt mindful of Heller’s assertion that the decision did not mean that the regulation of gun rights was foreclosed. Casting doubt on that element of Heller would serve to undermine the entire decision and make it appear as a meaningless, not to mention dishonest, gesture to those concerned about gun violence. Second, to go further than Heller itself and eviscerate the ability of federal, state and local governments to regulate firearms would simply invite a future more moderate court (and, yes, that day will come) to revisit Heller as a whole, thus undoing one of the Roberts’ court’s landmark decisions. By refusing to go to the extreme, Roberts may protect Heller and his legacy.

Finally, whilst his most conservative brethren are likely driven by ideology to the exclusion of common sense, I doubt that Roberts wishes his legacy to add substantially to the carnage of gun violence in a nation already plagued with far more than any other advanced society.

Whatever his reasons Roberts in this case has done an enormous service to the country by ameliorating the otherwise pernicious effects of Heller.

Red States seek to gut the Affordable Care Act and make Blue States more like them.

Red States seek to gut the Affordable Care Act and make Blue States more like them.

In this timely piece from the LA Times we learn about two working mothers, one in California and one in Texas, and their very different health care experiences thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults, or lack thereof, in their states. The California mum (Jenny) whose state enthusiastically embraced the ACA, has health coverage which kicked in last year when she was hospitalized from a severe infection. Texas on the other hand opted out of the Medicaid expansion and the Texan mum’s (Courtney) experience reflects that fact; without health coverage she’s not able to afford asthma inhalers nor dental treatment for a broken molar she received in a domestic dispute. Courtney’s been living on Orajel, she says.

In fact recent research has concluded that the Red States who refused Medicaid expansion suffered a higher mortality rate among near elderly low-income adults compared to states that expanded the program. The result is that the states who opted out likely sustained almost 16,000 avoidable deaths during the period studied. 

The fate of the ACA now rests in the hands of an ideologically extreme right-wing Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in California v Texas stemming from an effort by Texas and 17 other Red States joined now by the Trump administration to overturn the ACA. (The result will not be known until next year). It’s difficult not to see this as anything other than a continuation of an expanding war on Blue States who typically provide their citizens with more and better services. It’s bad enough that Texas and the others demonstrate such a studied unconcern for the health and well-being of their own residents, but it’s truly reprehensible that they’re driven to seriously damage that of low-income people in the rest of America. Apparently, Texas politicians will not rest until Jenny’s experience in California mirrors that of Courtney. Misery really does love company it seems.

And if Republicans win the November election, we can be assured that any chance of a meaningful replacement for the ACA in the event that SCOTUS throws it out will be just as dead as those 16,000 people who died prematurely. Nor should we forget that if the law falls, all who enjoy private health insurance will once again be subject to caps on their coverage, prohibitions on pre-existing conditions and the other means of victimization in the tool bags of the insurance companies. 

All of which is a strong reminder that the sooner we crush the GOP at the ballot box, the better it will be for our collective welfare.

Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision has Killed Democracy

Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision has Killed Democracy

If you live in Washington State and you watch any television at all, then you like me are sick of the non-stop negative campaign ads about Dino Rossi, Patty Murray, Dave Reichert, and all of the ballot intitiatives.  There have never been so many, they’ve never been aired as frequently, and they’ve never been so negative and mendacious.  And it’s only the mid terms.

Timothy Egan says it’s even worse in Colorado, and he explains the effects of the Citizens United decision:

But the Citizens United decision of the Roberts court has fundamentally changed how we choose our leaders and our laws, all for the worse.

Here’s what’s happened: Spending by interest groups in this fall’s senate races has gone up 91 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.  At the same time, spending by political parties has fallen 61 percent.

So corporations, whose sole purpose is to return money to shareholders, were given the legal right to be “natural persons” in our elections and are now overwhelming them.  But political parties, which exist to promote ideas and governing principles, have seen their voices sharply diminished.

Though Republican-leaning special interests are currently outspending the other side by a 9-to-1 ratio, Democrats will soon follow Karl Rove’s lead and learn to bundle and hide wealthy contributors.

I can’t wait until 2012.

First Corporate Person Candidate for Congress

First Corporate Person Candidate for Congress

The Washington Post reports:

The firm, whose clients include labor unions and environmentalists, is seeking to enter the Republican primary for the 8th District seat held by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).

The firm “wanted to run as a Republican because we feel the Republican Party is more receptive to our basic message that corporations are people, too,” Klein [the campaign manager] said, adding that his client has no particular beef with Van Hollen.

Van Hollen welcomes the competition. “The majority on the Court has made a mockery of our campaign finance laws, and Murray Hill is just mocking the mockers,” said Doug Thornell, a senior adviser to Van Hollen.

Murray Hill does face a couple of tiny problems in its effort to get elected to Congress.

For starters, candidates must officially register to vote as a Republican to run in a Republican primary in Maryland.  Late this week, the Montgomery County Board of Elections wrote to Murray Hill, informing the firm that its voter registration application had been rejected.

It seems the corporation does not meet the “minimum requirements” for voter registration, which include being a U.S. citizen and at least 18, according to Kevin Karpinski, a lawyer for the county elections board.

Just another case of The Man sticking it to Corporate America.

The odds are against Murray Hill, Inc.getting on the ballot, but I love the ad and I do think that somehow, someway, in the not-too-distant future, a corporation will find a way through the legal obstacles of registering a corporation to run for public office.  When that hapens, I can only hope it’s a corporation with the same goal in mind – to push the Supreme Court ruling to its limits, and get them to redraw the lines in a sensible way.  I’d start with the premise that corporations are not persons and should not have any rights to political speech.  In fact, they should not even be able to pay their damn lobbyists.  If we got them completely out of the picture, maybe we could get back to a country of people run by people for the people.

Oh, and yes… you can buy a campaign t-shirt.  I think I’ll order mine now.

Supreme Court’s Corporate Personhood Cases Built on False Pretenses

Supreme Court’s Corporate Personhood Cases Built on False Pretenses

A couple of weeks after the far-right activist Supreme Court erroneously ruled 5-4 that corporations have many of the same rights as living breathing citizens of this country, I finally found an article by Thom Hartmann that I remembered reading over seven years ago.  I found the article via an article on the Project Censored website

It was back in 1886 that a Supreme Court decision (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company) ostensibly led to corporate personhood and free speech rights, thereby guaranteeing protections under the 1st and 14th amendments.  However, according to Thom Hartmann, the relatively mundane court case never actually granted these personhood rights to corporations. (cut to Hartmann article)

[Excerpt from a letter penned by Abraham Lincoln] “As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.  I feel at this moment more anxiety than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Lincoln’s suspicions were prescient.  In the 1886 Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state tax assessor, not the county assessor, had the right to determine the taxable value of fenceposts along the railroad’s right-of-way.

However, in writing up the case’s headnote – a commentary that has no precedential status – the Court’s reporter, a former railroad president named J.C. Bancroft Davis, opened the headnote with the sentence: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteen Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Oddly, the court had ruled no such thing.  As a handwritten note from Chief Justice Waite to reporter Davis that now is held in the National Archives said:  “we avoided meeting the Constitutional question in the decision.”  And nowhere in the decision itself does the Court say corporations are persons.

Nonetheless, corporate attorneys picked up the language of Davis’s headnote and began to quote it like a mantra.  Soon the Supreme Court itself, in a stunning display of either laziness (not reading the actual case) or deception (rewriting the Constitution without issuing an opinion or having open debate on the issue), was quoting Davis’s headnote in subsequent cases.  While Davis’s Santa Clara headnote didn’t have the force of law, once the Court quoted it as the basis for later decisions its new doctrine of corporate personhood became the law.

… and from a few paragraphs earlier in the Hartmann article:

Corporations are non-living, non-breathing, legal fictions. They feel no pain. They don’t need clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, or healthy food to consume. They can live forever. They can’t be put in prison. They can change their identity or appearance in a day, change their citizenship in an hour, rip off parts of themselves and create entirely new entities. Some have compared corporations with robots, in that they are human creations that can outlive individual humans, performing their assigned tasks forever.

Isaac Asimov, when considering a world where robots had become as functional, intelligent, and more powerful than their human creators, posited three fundamental laws that would determine the behavior of such potentially dangerous human-made creations. His Three Laws of Robotics stipulated that non-living human creations must obey humans yet never behave in a way that would harm humans.

And from there I offer you two frames from today’s edition of This Modern World:

TMW Corporate American 2-3

Click on the frames or here to read the whole comic.  Go on now…

Supreme Court Rules that School’s Strip Search of 13-Year-Old Girl was Illegal

Supreme Court Rules that School’s Strip Search of 13-Year-Old Girl was Illegal

Duh…

The A.P. Reports:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a school’s strip search of an Arizona teenage girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.

In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said school officials violated the law with their search of Savana Redding in the rural eastern Arizona town of Safford.

Redding, who now attends college, was 13 when officials at Safford Middle School ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear because they were looking for pills – the equivalent of two Advils. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs and the school was acting on a tip from another student.

“What was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear,” Justice David Souter wrote in the majority opinion. “We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable.”

And you may ask yourself:  Why wasn’t this a 9-0 ruling?  Who was the lone dissenter?

If you guessed Justice pubic-hair-on-a-Coke-can Thomas, you were right!

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas found the search legal and said the court previously had given school officials “considerable leeway” under the Fourth Amendment in school settings.

Thomas warned that the majority’s decision could backfire. “Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments,” he said. “Nor will she be the last after today’s decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school.”

So will Safford Middle School or Vice Principal Kerry Wilson be held liable for conducting the illegal search? 

The court also ruled the officials cannot be held liable in a lawsuit for the search. Different judges around the nation have come to different conclusions about immunity for school officials in strip searches, which leads the Supreme Court to “counsel doubt that we were sufficiently clear in the prior statement of law,” Souter said.

“We think these differences of opinion from our own are substantial enough to require immunity for the school officials in this case,” Souter said.

The justices also said the lower courts would have to determine whether the Safford United School District No. 1 could be held liable.

There seems to be a whole lot of immunity being granted these days.  Everyone seems to be following the examples set by the lawless members of the Bush Administration who, except for Scooter Libby, have not been held accountable for anything.

More about the SCOTUS decision here.

Blow 4 Buddha

Blow 4 Buddha

What does that mean?  Is that “blow” like in “You know how to whistle don’t you”  Just put your lips together and blow?” Or is that “blow” as in “cocaine,” or is it blow like “fellate?”  Take your pick.

Nonsense?  Yes…  but not if you are a high school student.  Those words may be interpreted by an authority figure as loaded words that advocate something prohibited in a school policy.

Kind of like “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”  Does that phrase promote marijuana use?  Promote Christianity?  Nonsense?  definitely…  Is it likely to promote some kind of harm or disturbance that the government wishes to avoid?  Not likely.  Was it disruptive?  Not until the principle demanded that the students take it down.

But that didn’t stop the Supreme Court from ruling 5-4 against Joseph Frederick, the one student holding the banner that refused the principal’s order. Principal Morse wanted it down because she interpreted it to promote drug use, and she believed that schools should be able to enforce their zero-tolerance drug policies.  Okay, I’ll give them that authority on school grounds and at school functions.  But holding up an obliquely worded message designed to attract television cameras at an Olympic Torch Relay event on non-school property?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  5-4?  That’s a 9-0 vote in favor of a citizen’s right to free speech in any modern democracy.

Was it more offensive because it said “4 Jesus?”  Depends on what you believe.  Roberts did not mention it in his majority opinion.  But I have to think that if Hendrickson’s banner read “Bong Hits 4 Buddha” it would not have received much attention and a legal case, if any, would not have progressed to the Supreme Court.

If you are interested, you can read the whole Supreme Court opinion here.  I did, and I found that Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion (starting at page 45) made far more sense than Roberts’s majority opinion.

So drugs are bad, especially when mixed with Christianity.  What about sex?  Last I heard, the schools weren’t enforcing a zero-tolerance-for-sex rule and they weren’t testing kids to make sure they were virgins.  So could a principal prohibit students from hoisting a nonsensical banner mixing sexual innuendo during a similar event?

Someday we may find out.

So, what I suggest is that we further test the boundaries of student speech.  If you know any high school students, feel free to encourage them to see how far they can go with any of the following ambiguous messages:

Shoot Up 4 Shiva

Pipe Licks 4 Mary

Light up 4 Allah

Huff 4 Hosanahs

Eat Tabs 4 Yahweh

Mainline 4 Mwari

Cracking 4 Christ

Jello Shots 4 Jehovah

Sloppy Seconds 4 Agnostics

Adrenachrome 4 Atheists

Gonzales on the Hot Seat

Gonzales on the Hot Seat

Why is the ongoing discussion and political fight over the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors so important?

Former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson explained it quite well in a speech he made on April 1, 1940 to the United States Attorneys who were serving in each Federal Judicial District across the country.

The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. … While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.

The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman.  And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway.  A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.

Sure… the federal prosecutors serve “at the leisure of the president,” but it does matter why the Bush Administration dismissed eight prosecutors.  We need to know if Gonzales, under Bush’s orders, dismissed eight good prosecutors so that he could replace them with prosecutors that Jackson describes as the worst – one’s that act “from other base motives.” 

More about this after I’ve had time to read the transcript of Alberto Gonzales’s remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

NYT story here.

Bush Does Nothing

Bush Does Nothing

The Supreme Court ruled this week that the EPA could not sidestep its authority to regulate CO2 emissions unless it could prove there is no scientific basis to do so. 

Scientists around the world overwhelmingly agree that man’s burning of fossil fuels has greatly contributed to the level of CO2 in our atmosphere, and that the added levels of this heat trapping gas is a major cause of global warming.

Remember way back when Bush wasn’t the president?  Back in September 2000 he was just running for president and, during his campaign, he pledged to “establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.”

Well he flip-flopped on that promise just a few months into his first term when decided against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol agreement.  The nations that were on board were none to happy with Bush’s change of policy, especially after Christine Todd Whitman had just met with many European leaders and assured them that the Bush Administration was serious about limiting the emissions of greenhouse gasses.

169 countries went ahead and ratified the treaty in spite of Bush’s refusal to sign on the nation that emits the largest quantity of greenhouse gases.

So what did Bush have to say today?

“Whatever we do,” he said, “must be in concert with what happens internationally.” He added, “Unless there is an accord with China, China will produce greenhouse gases that will offset anything we do in a brief period of time.”

So since China might not do anything, then we’ll do nothing?  Gee… that’s a great strategy.  If the other biggest polluter in the world won’t be good, then we won’ either.  If every nation followed our petulant president’s lead, nobody would do anything, and we’d all live happily ever after on the shores of Kansas.

Bong Hits for Free Speech

Bong Hits for Free Speech

Some people think that if you are a high school student, you are a second-class citizen not afforded the inalienable right of free speech granted to you by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Today’s papers report that Joseph Frederick, a senior at Juneau Douglas High School in 2002, was suspended from school for ten days because he held a banner across the street from the school during a 2002 Olympic torch relay that read “BONG HITS FOR JESUS.”  He was actually suspended five days for the banner incident and another five days for “invoking free speech rights and quoting Thomas Jefferson to school officials about the suspension.” (link)

Principal Deborah Morse claims she was exercising her duty to enforce rules of conduct when she confiscated the nonsensical banner from Frederick and suspended him from school.  Frederick filed suit challenging the suspension.  He lost in Federal Court, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor.

That didn’t stop Morse from taking her case to the Supreme Court for a ruling on how far the school can go to enforce its drug-message policy.

Do you want to know who filed on behalf of the Juneau school district?  Of course you do.  It’s none other than the monomaniacal Kenneth Starr.  He took the case pro bono.  He should lose this case, but who knows what else he’ll uncover about Frederick during his “investigation.”  He’s probably subpoenaed all of Frederick’s freinds, teachers, employers, ex-girlfriends, etc. in an effort to come up with something personal about him so he can write another book that ends up having nothing to do with the case.

Eric Hagen, one of the attorney’s in Starr’s office said, “It makes it a little harder when teachers and principals in their daily duties might be subject to a damages lawsuit and be held personally liable.”

Since when is it an educator’s daily duty to restrict a student’s right to free speech off of school grounds?  I’d say never. 

Note to Deborah Morse:  If you want to avoid getting sued for violating rights granted to every American in the First Amendment, don’t violate their rights.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear this case in late February.