Free Markets, Free People

SCOTUS

SCOTUS – all Americans have the right to keep and bear arms

In a rather interesting ruling which, unsurprisingly, split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court today made it clear that all Americans enjoy the full right and benefit of self-defense guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment.  Mary Katharine Ham notes part of the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito:

Alito writes in part, “Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is “the central component” of the Second Amendment right,” while allowing, as in Heller, for sensible gun ownership restrictions.

Alito went on to write:

We repeat those assurances here. Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.

Of course, the crack left by that sentence will be fully exploited by municipalities and states, calling whatever they try to do "sensible gun ownership restrictions". But Alito makes it clear that the Bill of Rights, as incorporated under the Constitution, doesn’t mean that states have the right or authority to radically change the intent of the constitutional guarantees they provide citizens:

"The relationship between the Bill of Rights’ guarantees and the States must be governed by a single, neutral principle. It is far too late to exhume what Justice Brennan, writing for the Court 46 years ago, derided as “the notion that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the States only a watered-down, subjective version of the individual guarantees of the Bill of Rights.”

Or, screw with this ruling at your own peril.

As mentioned, the court split 5-4.  Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent:

He disagreed with the majority that it is a fundamental right, and said the court was restricting state and local efforts from designing gun control laws that fit their particular circumstances, and turning over all decisions to federal judges.

"Given the empirical and local value-laden nature of the questions that lie at the heart of the issue, why, in a nation whose constitution foresees democratic decision-making, is it so fundamental a matter as to require taking that power from the people?" Breyer wrote. "What is it here that the people did not know? What is it that a judge knows better?"

Well that’s a simple one, Justice Breyer – because rights aren’t something one votes on.  A right is something one either has or doesn’t.  What Breyer is suggesting is it should be up to a majority to “vote” to take away the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution.  In my ideological neck of the woods, that dog won’t hunt.

~McQ

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SCOTUS – Miranda means you have to say "yes" to silence

The Supreme Court decided yesterday, in a narrow vote, that if you want to remain silent – and stop police from peppering you with questions – you have to say you wish to remain silent (and thereby legally end the police questioning).

Our newest Supreme Court Justice, Sotomeyer, dissented saying this ruling “turns Miranda upside down.”

“Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent — which counterintuitively requires them to speak,” she said. “At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so. Those results, in my view, find no basis in Miranda or our subsequent cases and are inconsistent with the fair-trial principles on which those precedents are grounded.”

That’s what happens when the word “right” is thrown around haphazardly as it is in today’s culture. What Sotomeyer is attempting to do (and what the court has done in the past) is imbue a legal privilege with the mantle of “right”. Telling someone they have the option of remaining silent has nothing to do with a right. It is a privilege our legal system has granted to those who’ve been arrested so they won’t incriminate themselves mistakenly.

There’s nothing wrong with requiring an acknowledgement that they wish to invoke the privilege of silence. There is likewise nothing wrong with assuming they aren’t invoking it by their silence. They must speak when they’re asked if they understand the Miranda warning, and they must speak to acknowledge their desire for a lawyer. There’s certainly nothing wrong with speaking to say you are invoking the legal privilege of silence.

It’s an “opt in” situation (just as speaking up for a lawyer). Otherwise, police are free to assume that privilege isn’t being used and can continue to try to question the suspect.

I see no right – in real terms – violated by this ruling. And I assume that the Miranda warning will be modified to say that the person arrested must clearly state they choose to be silent and that will be recorded or attested too. The simplest way is verbally followed up by a standard form invoking the privilege and signed by the defendant. I don’t see a problem there.

BTW, Elaina Kagen, now a SCOTUS nominee, had this to say about the case to the court as solicitor general:

“An unambiguous-invocation requirement for the right to remain silent and terminate questioning strikes the appropriate balance between protecting the suspect’s rights and permitting valuable police investigation.”

I agree.

~McQ

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SCOTUS strikes down ban on animal cruelty videos

And it wasn’t even close – 8-1.  The court finding is based in the First Amendment right of free speech.

So – who do you suppose the lone dissenter was?  I would almost bet you won’t guess correctly.  I didn’t.

Anyway, the court found that the law was overly broad and while aimed at outlawing some dispicable videos known as “crush videos” (as an aside, when you read what a crush video is, you will indeed understand that there are some very sick people in this world).  However, the law could also be used to prosecute hunting videos as well. 

The government had argued that “certain categories of speech deserve constitutional protection depends on balancing the value of the speech against its societal costs”.

Writing for the majority Chief Justice John Roberts explains why the court rejected that argument:

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits,” Roberts wrote. “The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.”

Or said another way, the court refused to allow the government to institute arbitrary or “ad hoc” standards that “balance relative social costs and benefits”.  One can, or should be able to see the very slippery slope to where that sort of reasoning leads – and it certainly could lead to serious restrictions of the right to free speech depending on how government deicides to “balance” those costs and benefits in the future.  Remember – the First Amendment is a restriction on government, not the people.  And the court enforced that.

The lone dissenter?  Sam Alito who wrote:

“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes.”

The prosecute the criminal for the crime he has filmed for you.  I can think of nothing that stops the law from doing that.  And that has nothing to do with restricting the First Amendment.

~McQ

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Possible SCOTUS picks

Daniel Foster at NRO lays out what most people feel are the most probable picks by President Obama for the upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court:

Merrick Garland -  a former federal prosecutor and current D.C. Circuit appeals judge. A Clinton appointee, Garland is well-liked by Democrats and even some Republicans in the Senate.

Elena Kagan – The first-female Solicitor General and probably first-runner-up for the Sotomayor seat, Kagan has a record of the kind of cagey jurisprudence that is ideal for a tough confirmation battle. She is well-respected by just about everybody on both sides, but lacks the paper trail that would reveal just how far to the left she’d sit.

Diane Wood – Another Clinton appointee, considered the heaviest liberal counterweight to the conservative Chicago Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dominated by Richard A. Posner. Wood was a colleague of President Obama at the University of Chicago Law School.

Pamela Karlan – A professor at Stanford Law School, Karlan is a longshot once was described by the New York Times as a “snarky. . . Antonin Scalia for the left.” Karlan is openly gay, and an outspoken liberal.

As Foster says, Pamela Karlan is probably the least likely of the 4 listed to be nominated, but still a possibility.  Since it is a liberal seat that’s being filled, the current balance won’t change.  From what I’ve read, the least liberal of the bunch is Garland, and, as Foster implies, is the one with the most reasonable chance of confirmation of the four.  If he’s the nominee, I’d imagine that the GOP won’t put up that much of a fight.  If, however, any of the other three should be nominated, expect a fight.  Also expect the usual charges of sexism to be thrown out there during that fight.

~McQ

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SCOTUS Chief grumbles

Chief justice John Roberts is obviously not happy about the SCOTUS being the focus of an attack by the President during the State of the Union address recently and said so in answer to a question after a lecture at the University of Alabama law school:

Responding to a University of Alabama law student’s question, Roberts said anyone was free to criticize the court, and some have an obligation to do so because of their positions.

“So I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum.

“The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”

Breaking from tradition, Obama criticized the court’s decision that allows corporations and unions to freely spend money to run political ads for or against specific candidates.

The whole point, of course, is the term “breaking from tradition”. What Roberts objects too isn’t the criticism, it’s the manner and place in which the criticism was leveled. I think it is a fair point.

And it is interesting to me that the one who got heat from the press was Justice Alito for mouthing the words “not true” – not Barack Obama for “breaking from tradition”.

My guess is this year’s SOTU may be the last one for some of the justices, at least for the near future:

“I’m not sure why we’re there,” said Roberts, a Republican nominee who joined the court in 2005.

Justice Antonin Scalia once said he no longer goes to the annual speech because the justices “sit there like bumps on a log” in an otherwise highly partisan atmosphere. Six of the nine justices attended Obama’s address.

I’d bet it may be 3 of 9 next year. The Supreme Court isn’t a subordinate branch of government. It is a co-equal branch. I can imagine the outcry from the administration if the court criticized the administration and its policies from the bench. That sort of criticism is traditionally avoided. It also points out that Obama’s confrontational attitude isn’t only reserved for the GOP. And for a post-partisan president who claims to want to change the way business is done in Washington, this isn’t the way to do that.

That said, I wouldn’t want to be representing the administration in the SCOTUS anytime soon on a controversial issue that the court must hear. I would imagine that some on the court will come as close as tradition allows to making the point that two can play this game. Of course the difference will be it won’t be on national TV in prime time.

~McQ

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SCOTUS prepared to “incorporate” 2nd Amendment via 14th?

It appears that may be the case as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Chicago gun ban case (McDonald v. Chicago).  Great write up at the SCOTUSblog if you haven’t read it.  Per Lyle Denniston, the court appears to be leaning toward incorporating the individual right to keep and bear arms interpretation of the amendment nationally:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed poised to require state and local governments to obey the Second Amendment guarantee of a personal right to a gun, but with perhaps considerable authority to regulate that right.  The dominant sentiment on the Court was to extend the Amendment beyond the federal level, based on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “due process,” since doing so through another part of the 14th Amendment would raise too many questions about what other rights might emerge.

Make sure you read the whole thing as there’s lots of interesting discussion about why most feel that will be the final decision of the court. Also note that while it is believed the court will incorporate the 2nd Amendment as an individual right, it will leave state and local governments with, as Denniston says “considerable authority to regulate that right”. That part of it, I’m sure, will continue to be fought in the courts over the years. But if this turns out as it appears it might, it will be an almost fatal blow to the “2nd Amendment is a collective right” crowd.

~McQ

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SCOTUS Kills McCain-Feingold. Lady Liberty Smiles

The Democrats and the NY Times are howling about the SCOTUS decision which effectively rendered the anti-First Amendment McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law moot.

Essentially their argument boils down to “the public is too stupid to be able to separate the political wheat from the chaff and must be protected from political advertising by corporate entities with an agenda”.

Of course, advertising by politicians with an agenda is just peachy keen.

Reality: anyone or any group which advertised during a political campaign has an agenda.  In America, per the 1st Amendment, they have the freedom to pursue it.  Or should have that freedom, anyway.  McCain-Feingold limited or prohibited that freedom and what SCOTUS did to overturn those prohibitions is long overdue.

Judge Andrew Napalitano gives us a good rundown of the ruling:

The Supreme Court today invalidated its own 20 year old ruling on group political contributions and it also invalidated a portion of the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance law. The 20 year old ruling had prohibited all political expenditures by groups such as corporations, labor unions, and advocacy groups (like the NRA and Planned Parenthood). Ruling that all persons, individually and in groups, have the same unfettered free speech rights, the Court blasted Congress for suppression of that speech. Thus, from today forward, all groups are free to spend their own money on their own political campaigns and to mention the names of the candidates.

The Court also threw out the portion of McCain-Feingold that had permitted persons to contribute to Political Action Committees (PACs), but barred those PACs from using those funds in the sixty day period preceding an election. Since that sixty day period preceding the election is the most vital in any campaign, the Court held that the prohibition on expenditures during that time was a violation of the free speech guaranteed to all persons, individually and in groups, by the First Amendment.

Thus, as a result of the ruling today, all groups may spend their own money as they wish on their own campaigns, but they still may not–as groups–contribute directly to political campaigns. The direct political contribution prohibition in McCain-Feingold was not challenged in this case, thus its constitutionality was not an issue before the Court. Groups will thus effectively be running and financing their own campaigns for candidates on their own.

That means the FEC no longer has a say in what is or isn’t appropriate or who can or can’t run what during an election season. Apparently, according to Napalitano, one of the questions asked by Justice Scalia which elicited an answer from the FEC infuriated most of the justices:

During the course of oral argument on this case in October in the Supreme Court, one of the FEC’s lawyers replied to a question from Justice Antonin Scalia to the effect that the FEC could ban books if they were paid for by corporations, labor unions, or advocacy groups. This highly un-American statement in the Supreme Court–that the federal government can ban books–infuriated a few of the justices.

Anyone reading this want to raise their hand and back book banning?

Democrats are concentrating their ire on the fact that the court found that a corporation has the same right to express itself as an individual. It is another battle in their long war against corporate America.   It’s not an effective or particularly compelling argument.  A PAC isn’t an individual but enjoyed the same advertising rights as an individual.  Why shouldn’t a corporation enjoy them as well?   So don’t get balled up in their nonsense argument.  The fact remains that free speech doesn’t discriminate.  It means free speech for all, regardless of what group or entity represented.

This is a long overdue dismantling of a anti-liberty law.  Most people understand that fundamental truth.  And most people also understand that government should not be in the business of deciding who can or can’t speak out during a political campaign.  In fact, the fundamental purpose of the 1st Amendment was the protection of political speech.  Congress seems to have lost sight of that.

Any argument for the reinstatement of this law or any law which resembles it is an argument to limit political speech.   While you may not be happy with the fact that you’ll now see even more advertising than before, it is a fundamental victory for liberty and those that love liberty should applaud it.

~McQ

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Challenging The Health Care Reform Bill On Constitutional Grounds – Is It Really An Option?

One of the more dishonest ways the Congress is able to portray various spending bills as not adding to the deficit or being revenue neutral is to push mandates onto the states and have them pay a large portion of the cost. That way, that cost is hidden from the original numbers churned out by Congress and validated by the CBO. That’s the case in this health care bill and one of the primary reasons Sen. Ben Nelson sought an exemption for his state of Nebraska before he’d support the current Senate bill.

Well that’s not sitting well with any number of states going through hard financial times right now and seeing even more spending mandates coming their way in the health care reform legislation. They’re threatening to go to court if what they’re calling the “Cornhusker Kickback” is left to stand in the legislation:

Thirteen state attorneys general have sent a letter to Congress threatening legal action against health care reform unless a provision in the Senate bill given to Nebraska is removed.

The provision is known as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” because it gives Nebraska a permanent exemption from paying for Medicaid expenses that would be required of all the other states. This means that taxpayers in other states would be paying for an increase in Nebraska’s Medicaid population. Medicaid is a federal-state health care program for the poor.

“This provision is constitutionally flawed,” the attorneys general wrote. “As chief legal officers of our states we are contemplating a legal challenge to this provision and we ask you to take action to render this challenge unnecessary by striking the provision.”

I bring this to your attention because I think this may be the primary way those who oppose the health care bill will have to fight it once it has passed – in court.  There are all sorts of problems and pitfalls with such a strategy.  But I’m also of the opinion much of the bill is “constitutionally flawed” and wide open to challenge. Of course, given the rather liberal interpretations of that document in the past by SCOTUS, it’s rather difficult to predict whether challengers will have any success. However, I think the mandate to buy health insurance, for instance, is something which can be challenged on constitutional grounds. And obviously these 13 States Attorney Generals think they have constitutional ground to challenge the kick back (I wish they’d challenge the mandate to the states instead).

We’ll see, but supposedly that’s what the court is there for – although since Kelo, I’ve had very little confidence in the court’s actual desire or aim to uphold the actual intent of the document.

~McQ

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Sotomayor – The New “Conservative” Justice?

Move over Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, here comes Sonia Sotomayor.

I’m not sure who that was appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the woman everyone expected. As Sen. Lindsey Graham said:

“I listen to you today, I think I’m listening to [Chief Justice John] Roberts.”

She talked about “settled law”, precedent, how a justice must set aside their emotions, even to the point of saying she disagreed with Obama’s declaration that in judicial decisons, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.”

Perhaps the most unconvincing portion of her testimony, however, was her defense of the “wise Latina woman” comment. She began by declaring that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor couldn’t have meant what she said when she said “a wise old man and wise old woman would agree on a judicial case’s outcome”. Surely, Sotomayor reasoned, if one of them came to a different conclusion, that wouldn’t mean they were unwise.

She claims her statement was a “rhetorical flourish which fell flat”. She pointed out that she was trying to inspire mostly Latino audiences when she included her “flourish” in a speech. A reminder of that so-called “rhetorical flourish” that was supposedly aimed at the O’Connor maxim:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Yeah, I’m having difficulty with the connection as well. She went on to say:

“What I was talking about was the obligation of judges to examine what they’re feeling as they’re adjudicating a case and to ensure that that’s not influencing the outcome,” Sotomayor told Sessions. “We have to recognize those feelings and put them aside.”

Really? That’s what Sotomayor was talking about? Then I agree that it was indeed a rhetorical flourish which fell flat because I got precisely the opposite meaning from what she originally said.

Apparently she figured it was time to declare that whatever she said it should make no difference, because you see –

“To give everyone assurances, I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has equal opportunity to become a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experiences.”

Maybe it was just me, but I felt that Ms. Sotomayor was saying pretty much whatever the task demanded yesterday. I’m not at all assured that she believes anything she said in her “assurance” above. I thought her explanation about the “wise Latina” remark was poor at best.

That’s not to say she won’t be confirmed for the SCOTUS. She most likely will. In fact, I’d bet on it. However, that doesn’t mean she’s fooled anyone with the show she’s putting on during her confirmation hearings.

~McQ

Sotomayor Overturned? (Update)

From Twitter a minute ago:

NYT NEWS ALERT: Supreme Court Rules for White Firefighters in Affirmative Action Case

This could give new legs to the opposition of Sotomayor’s nomination.

Again, developing …

UPDATE:  The Washington Post confirms.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

I’d say that’s a fairly significant ruling and certainly the opposite of what Sotomayor held. Of course, if Sotomayor was on the court right now (and hadn’t had to recuse herself for hearing the case in a lower court) she wouldn’t have made any difference since David Souter, the justice she’s slated to replace, voted in the minority.

More here.

~McQ