Posts tagged: Supreme Court

From the Left and the Right on Argument and Collegiality

By , May 31, 2014 7:15 pm

Two recent interviews of two Supreme Court Justices, one on right–Clarence Thomas–and one on the left–Elena Kagan, both in agreement that you can disagree, yet be agreeable.

Here’s Kagan:

In the following video, Thomas also discusses civility on the Court. Because his comments come about 22:30 minutes into the video, I’ve cut and pasted that part of the transcript. Like Kagan, he praises the collegiality of his colleagues. A lesson for the rest of us maybe?

Thomas: You know, it should be mysterious. I can still remember the first time I set foot in that room and those doors closed. I mean, my goodness, it’s pretty daunting the first few times. Because that’s where the actual work and the decision-making takes place. It’s just the nine, there’s no staff, no recording devices. And we vote in descending order of seniority. It is a process in this city, normally when I was a staffer, you always had assistants around. And, people are engaged –they actually talk about the case. They actually tell you what they think and why. You record the votes. And there’s some back and forth– there’s more now. When Chief Justice Rehnquist was here, he moved it along very quickly. Now there’s more back and forth, more discussion. We normally have one break and there’s more discussion, off to the sides, about cases. And to see people who are trying their best to decide hard things and feel strongly about their view of it, is fascinating. And the thing that’s been great is, I just finished my 18th term, and I still haven’t heard the first unkind word in that room. And you think what we’ve decided–life and death, abortion, execution, war and peace, financial ruin, government relationship with citizens. You name it. We’ve decided it. And I still have not heard the first ad hominem in that room. It is an example of what I would have thought decision-making would be at the higher levels of civil government in all parts of our country.

SWAIN: What ensures that decorum?

THOMAS: The human beings on this Court, and people who, in one way or another, one degree or another understand that it’s not about them. It’s about the Constitution, our country, and our fellow citizens, that they don’t take themselves as seriously as they take the work of the Court.

SWAIN: We’ve learned a lot about the many traditions this Court holds and its processes that are passed down from Court to Court. And some of those happen in the conference room, such as the handshake. How important are symbols and traditions to the process that happens here?

THOMAS: I think the handshake, whether you’re in sports or church or other activities, it means something. It still means something. We can sense when somebody’s phony and they don’t mean it. These people, in this room, are genuine. It’s warm and professional. There’s always a handshake before we go on the bench. When we see each other and we haven’t– its the first time during the day– we always make sure to shake hands, whether it’s in public or in private. There’s sort of a sense of courtesy and decency and civility that’s a part of it. On the days that we work, whether we’re on the bench or we are in conference, we go to lunch together. In the early years when I first came here, we had that lunch in a small room off the main dining room. Justice O’Connor insisted that we have lunch every day when we were sitting. And she insisted, “Now Clarence, you should come to lunch.” And she was really sweet, but very persistent. And I came to lunch– and it was one of the best things I did. It is hard to be angry or bitter at someone and break bread and look them in the eye. It is a fun lunch; very little work is done there. It’s just nine people, eight people, whoever shows up having a wonderful lunch together. It is wonderful. So the traditions, I think, are important. It’s like traditions in our society, in our culture. They developed over time for a reason. And it helps sustain us in the other work that we do, I think. They help sustain us.

Here’s a link to the Thomas’s C-Span interview.

Cross posted from

And Now for Something Completely Different

By , November 1, 2013 10:37 am

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in the Supreme Court, you’re living at the right time. The Internet generally and particularly open the door to the court so that as early as the day of an oral argument, you can actually listen to the argument as you read the transcript of the argument. Obviously, if you can do that, you can also listen to older oral arguments, even arguments as old as Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision, or New York Times v. Sullivan, the decision that established the actual malice standard in defamation cases, or New York Times v. Nixon, the so-called Pentagon Papers case. It’s fascinating–at least to me.

Sometimes the arguments can be dry, but often some humor sneaks in and other times, you might hear a justice ask a question or an attorney tell a story that suddenly casts a decision into an entirely new light. That happened to me with the Boumediene v. Bush case, a case involving a detainee in Guantanamo and the Military Commissions Act. At the close of his rebuttal argument, Boumediene’s attorney, Seth Waxman, relates what he calls a “truly kafka-esque” story of a Mr. Bilgen, who had also been a detainee, accused of being a terrorist. The story is too long and complicated to repeat here, but you can listen to it here–beginning at the 80:11 mark of the argument. (Before you listen, you should know the meaning of the acronym CSRT.)

The technology the Court uses has improved over the years, so the recordings of oral arguments today are much better than they were, say, in the time of Roe v. Wade. In any case, take a look at (and even a tour) and take time to listen to some of these arguments.

The Court Upheld the Affordable Care Act: Some Good News

By , June 28, 2012 11:07 am

For all of you exulting about the Court upholding the Affordable Care Act via Congress’s enumerated powers to tax and spend, as Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse says, “Let’s not be distracted by the breadth of the taxing power. The American people exert tremendous political power against taxing. Look at the Tea Party. A political price will be paid — both for the tax and the deceit about imposing a tax.” She goes on to talk about how the Court applied the brakes on the seemingly ever-expanding Commerce power. Worth a read” target=”_blank”>Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse says,

Let’s not be distracted by the breadth of the taxing power. The American people exert tremendous political power against taxing. Look at the Tea Party. A political price will be paid — both for the tax and the deceit about imposing a tax.

She goes on to talk about the brakes the Court applied on the seemingly ever-expanding Commerce power. Worth a read.

Scalia Hits The Nail — And Hard

By , June 28, 2012 9:50 am

From Scalia’s dissent (at page 190 of the opinion), joined by Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas, in the Affordable Care Act case:

The Court today decides to save a statute Congress did
not write. It rules that what the statute declares to be a
requirement with a penalty is instead an option subject
to a tax. And it changes the intentionally coercive sanction
of a total cut-off of Medicaid funds to a supposedly
noncoercive cut-off of only the incremental funds that the
Act makes available.

The Court regards its strained statutory interpretation
as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast
judicial overreaching. It creates a debilitated, inoperable
version of health-care regulation that Congress did not
enact and the public does not expect. It makes enactment
of sensible health-care regulation more difficult, since
Congress cannot start afresh but must take as its point of
departure a jumble of now senseless provisions, provisions
that certain interests favored under the Court’s new design
will struggle to retain. And it leaves the public and
the States to expend vast sums of money on requirements
that may or may not survive the necessary congressional

The Court’s disposition, invented and atextual as it is,
does not even have the merit of avoiding constitutional
difficulties. It creates them. . . .

Hurrah for the limits the Court imposed on the Commerce Clause. Boo because the Court struggled so hard to find a tax. Double boo on a Congress that didn’t have the guts to call it a tax in the first place.

What’s Hard about That?

By , June 11, 2012 12:54 pm

In The New York Times today, Adam Liptak writes about the 2010 Citizens United decision and a challenge presented by a recent Montana Supreme Court case that challenges that decision–contrary to the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, but hey, nothing to see here.

In his write up, Liptak says the following:

In that same statement, Justice Ginsburg said the United States Supreme Court should now use the Montana case to weigh what the nation has learned since January 2010, when Citizens United overturned two precedents and allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions. The new case represented, she wrote, “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

What’s so hard about getting the bolded part right? What Liptak writes is misleading and could lead the unwary–all Times readers?–to think corporations can now give unlimited amounts of money to their favorite candidates. The bolded part is all the more misleading given that it’s followed by Justice Ginsburg’s quote that the large sums could “buy candidates’ allegiance,” again, giving the impression that the money will flow directly to the candidate.

What’s missing? The word “independent.” According to Citizens United, corporations and unions can make unlimited “idependent expenditures,” which Justice Kennedy says “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.” Thus, no money flows directly into a candidate’s pockets (and if it did, both candidate and corporation/union would be in trouble). And thus, the words “unlimited campaign spending” are misleading.

Note well that I’m not a Pollyanna. I realize that coordination could take place behind closed doors–subject, of course, to behing discovered. But that’s another post for another day. Today, I’m just pointing out the Liptak fudged. And that’s no good either.

UPDATE: By the way, it’s worth pointing out that according to former federal judge, now law Professor Michael McConnell, writing in The Wall Street Journal:

In a sense, Citizens United did have an important effect on the Wisconsin election. But the effect was almost exactly the opposite of what many pundits imply.

Labor unions poured money into the state to recall Mr. Walker. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NEA (National Education Association), the nation’s largest teachers union, spent at least $1 million. Its smaller union rival, the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), spent an additional $350,000. Two other unions, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union, which has more than one million government workers) and Afscme (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), spent another $2 million. Little or none of these independent expenditures endorsing a candidate would have been legal under federal law before Citizens United.

By contrast, the large spenders on behalf of Mr. Walker were mostly individuals. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these included Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s wealthiest businesswoman, who spent over half a million dollars on his behalf; Bob J. Perry, a Texas home builder, who spent almost half a million; and well-known political contributors such as casino operator Sheldon Adelson and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos, who kicked in a quarter-million dollars each. Businessman David Koch gave $1 million to the Republic Governors Association, which spent $4 million on the Wisconsin race.

These donations have nothing to do with Citizens United. Individuals have been free to make unlimited independent expenditures in support of candidates since the Supreme Court case of Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

I have seen no published reports of any corporate expenditures on behalf of Mr. Walker, though presumably the $500,000 Chamber of Commerce contribution to the Republican Governors Association fund came largely from corporate sources. Several groups also ran issue ads that presumably benefited Mr. Walker; these groups are not required to disclose their donors and may have received corporate contributions. Corporations and unions could run issue ads before Citizens United, as long as they did not clearly refer to a candidate.

For the most part, though, Mr. Walker’s direct, big-ticket support came from sources that have been lawful for decades.

His opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, got his support primarily from labor unions, whose participation was legitimized by Citizens United. Without that decision so demonized by the political left, Mr. Barrett would have been at even more of a financial disadvantage.

Interesting. (Emphasis supplied)

And Part of the Reason is the Doctrine of Separation of Powers!

By , February 24, 2011 9:32 am

Two quotes from this piece of campaign literature posing as journalism should be enough.

First, the writer, mischaracterizes Citizens United:

The nonprofit group Common Cause has complained that the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision on campaign financing last year – on a narrow majority backed by Thomas and Scalia – opened the door to heightened corporate contributions from the Koch empire. (emphasis supplied)

No, Citizens United only opened the door to independent corporate expenditures on things like political ads and such.

Second, the writer betrays an unfamiliarity with the basic constitutional doctrine of separation powers when he writes,

The group’s appeal for legislation faces political as well as potential constitutional hurdles, partly because members of the Supreme Court are now the final authority on the appropriateness of their ethical behavior. Decisions to recuse, or step away from deliberations, by tradition have been left up to the individual justices at the center of any complaint, contrary to the practice on most state supreme courts. (emphasis supplied)

The Supreme Court has always been the final authority on the ethical behavior of its members–unless and until such behavior warrants impeachment. To have it otherwise, would be to allow Congress the power to meddle in the affairs of the Court for political purposes, something the law professors involved in this bit of political theater and preemptive action should admit they’re doing.

I’m just guessing here, but I’m willing to be that you can look high and low and still won’t find any of the names of these 700 busybodies on a letter of this sort decrying the actions of a liberal Justice.

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