Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clarence Thomas: The courage of his convictions

Justice Clarence Thomas has now served on the Supreme Court for 18 years, longer than most of the other 109 men and women who have sat on that high bench. Yet he remains an enigma to many. In the court’s open hearings he sits mute while most of his colleagues pepper counsel with questions. Yet he can be seen trading quips with his seatmate, Justice Stephen Breyer — a hint of the gregarious Clarence Thomas whose close friends describe him as a man with a wide-ranging intellect and gutsy sense of humor that takes flight in what they call “The Laugh.”.....

At first Thomas was dismissed as a clone of Justice Antonin Scalia. But today even liberal analysts of the court concede that he has set his own course. His opinions show an original and consistent approach to the law, and their distinctive prose — disciplined and graceful, but not flashy — indicates they are not the products of his law clerks but of the justice himself.

Two themes that run through his years on the court are illustrated by two of his opinions announced in the last full week of the court’s term last month. One of them was a dissent from the court’s 8-1 decision on the Voting Rights Act, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. The other was his opinion for the court in a 5-4 decision on maritime law, Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend.

The first theme is that, as in Northwest Austin, Thomas has been willing to stand alone, or nearly alone, even against his natural allies. Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion, with concurrences by seven other justices, raised serious doubts about the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires Justice Department approval for changes in election laws in states that had low voter turnout in elections from 1964 to 1972. Thomas zeroed in on the issue the court sidestepped and argued that the law was unconstitutional. This was consistent with his view back in 1994 that almost all Voting Rights Act cases had been wrongly decided — and with his general willingness to overturn previous high court decisions he regards as wrong.

But it’s not fair to charge, as some critics have, that Thomas ignores past discrimination against blacks. His dissent paints a vivid picture of white Southerners’ “concerted acts of violence, terror and subterfuge to keep minorities from voting” from the 1870s to the 1960s, and endorses the court’s upholding the original provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

At the same time, he has objected to racial preferences in government contracting because they “stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority,” and in a 1995 case, he wrote, “It never ceases to amaze me that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior.”

In the Atlantic Sounding case, he agreed with the four justices generally labeled liberal that an injured seaman may sue for punitive damages for “failure to pay maintenance and cure” — an admiralty law term. Thomas had similarly agreed with the liberals on the meaning of the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines. As in that earlier case, Thomas’ opinion went far back in history, citing English and American cases decided in 1676 and 1784 and interpreting the Jones Act of 1920.

Thomas’ willingness to write lonely opinions and to be guided by history has sometimes helped to change the law. For example, his 1997 concurring opinion setting out recent legal scholarship on the Second Amendment right to bear arms laid the groundwork for the court’s 2008 decision overturning the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. In setting his own course in case after case, Thomas has also done more than his detractors understand to change the course of the law.

The likely confirmation of Sotomayor and the possibility of future Obama appointments could change the balance on a court that has been closely divided on many major cases. But that seems unlikely to change the thrust of Thomas’ jurisprudence. He may write more dissenting opinions and fewer concurrences, but his insistence on going his own way may if anything become more pronounced. At the same time, his tendency to go back to first principles and to re-examine the origins of the law may prove, over time, persuasive and influential in ways surprising to both his critics and admirers — just as he has surprised both in his first 18 years on the court.



Sotomayor's Selective Empathy

She's not empathetic at all. She's just an arrogant racist

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is wrongly being sold by Team Obama as an "empathetic nominee." This adjective is shown a farce when one examines her record in two noteworthy cases involving Jeffrey Deskovic and Frank Ricci. In these instances, she acted callous and indifferent to the injustice and suffering of these men.

As a 17-year-old young man, Deskovic was convicted for the murder and rape of a classmate despite a negative DNA test. He ended up serving 16 years in prison before he was ultimately exonerated after additional DNA evidence proved another man was guilty. A good portion of his life was taken away by a justice system with Sotomayor playing judge.

Despite Deskovic serving 10 years in prison, Sotomayor refused to hear two of his valid appeals. These appeals were based on DNA evidence and coerced testimony. A county clerk gave his attorney inaccurate information and his attorney filed the appeal petition four days late. The court refused to hear this appeal, so the lawyer appealed the decision before Sotomayor's court, arguing that the error was the fault of the clerk; therefore, the case ought to be heard given Deskovic's innocence. Sotomayor ruled against hearing Deskovic's appeal, effectively sentencing an innocent man to six more years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

“Despite Sotomayor’s rhetoric, her ruling in my case showed a callous disregard for the real-life implications of her rulings,” Deskovic says. “She opted for procedure over fairness and finality of conviction over accuracy. Many of the victims of wrongful convictions serving long sentences had exhausted their appeals long before they were exonerated. In how many of those cases did Sotomayor vote to refuse to even consider evidence of innocence?” Even though Sotomayor displayed a callous indifference to the suffering of this innocent man, Obama wants people to ignore this case and confirm her immediately because she is a “wise Hispanic Woman.”

Another case showing her lack of empathy and poor judgment is the Frank Ricci firefighter case. Frank Ricci is a Connecticut firefighter with dyslexia who studied many difficult and challenging hours, due to his disability, to pass a written test. Along with the passing of the test came a promotion but Ricci’s aspirations for advancement quickly vanished as he watched the city throw his results away because no minorities passed the test and they didn’t want to get sued for discrimination. Sotomayor and her court agreed with the city and were willing to punish a white firefighter who succeeds just because minority candidates did not perform well on the test.

By allowing this discrimination and racism, Sotomayor proves herself to be anything but empathetic.



The Seinfeld Hearings

How Senators could, but probably won't, make the Sotomayor confirmation a show about something

If you suspect this week's Senate confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor will be, like "Seinfeld," a show about nothing, you are probably right. To understand why, we need to revisit an era that remade how lawyers and the public think about law, and especially the Constitution.

In the 1930s, academics developed a philosophy they called "legal realism" to undercut judicial resistance to "progressive" statutes such as laws restricting the hours a baker or a woman could work. Legal realism elevated just results over the rule of law. It saw analysis of "the law" as an after-the-fact rationalization that allowed reactionary judges to conceal their empathy for the oppressed. Because legal realists believed judges inevitably made law when they ruled, they thought judges should decide cases with progressive ends in mind.

At the same time, and somewhat inconsistently, realist progressives also condemned judges who declared progressive federal and state laws to be unconstitutional as judicial activists who were thwarting the will of the people. Never mind that the Supreme Court was only tepidly enforcing the original meaning of the Constitution and was upholding the vast majority of enlightened regulations. Any interference of the will of the people was deemed to be undemocratic.

Today we live in a legal world in which many progressives and conservatives share the legal realists' preoccupation with results. So justices must be chosen who will reach the politically correct results or opposed because they will reach the wrong results. Judicial confirmation hearings are thereby turned into a game of gotcha, with questioners trying to trip up the other side's nominees, and nominees quite properly refusing to reveal the only thing their inquisitors truly care about: how they would rule in particular cases that are likely to come before the Court.

But postures must be assumed and questions must be asked. So senators and nominees opine about two empty concepts. The first is "stare decisis" or precedent: Will the nominee follow the hallowed case of U.S. v. Whatchamacallit or not?

Of course, the legal realists detested precedent, which in their time stood in the way of their progressive agenda. Nothing has really changed. Both sides only want to respect the precedents that lead to the results they like. No one thinks justices should follow every precedent, so the crucial issue is picking and choosing which to follow and which to ignore. But how? Well, by the results, of course.

Now, when it comes to the meaning of the Constitution, I agree that precedent should not bind the Supreme Court. The written Constitution remains fixed, regardless of whether past decisions have gotten its meaning wrong. I am grateful that the Supreme Court reversed Plessy v. Ferguson -- the 1896 case that gave us "separate but equal" and an unconstitutional system of racial apartheid. Unfortunately, neither Democratic nor Republican senators will decry the post-New Deal rulings that transformed our constitutional order from what Princeton professor Stephen Macedo has called "islands of [government] powers in a sea of rights" to "islands of rights in a sea of [government] powers." Unless they can explain how we know which precedents to follow and which to reverse -- apart from liking the results -- all pontificating about "stare decisis" is really about nothing.

The second empty issue to be discussed is the bugaboo of "judicial activism" and its conjoined twin, "judicial restraint," which today's judicial conservatives have inherited from New Deal progressives. But what exactly is "activism"? Is it activism when any popularly enacted law is held unconstitutional? Neither Democrats or Republicans truly believe this, however, since they want judges to strike down laws as unconstitutional when doing so leads to the ["]right result["] (but not when it doesn't). So judicial activism means thwarting the "will of the people" when critics agree with the people, while they complain about the "tyranny of the majority" when they disagree.

We can do better.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings do not have to be about either results or nothing. They could be about clauses, not cases. Instead of asking nominees how they would decide particular cases, ask them to explain what they think the various clauses of the Constitution mean. Does the Second Amendment protect an individual right to arms? What was the original meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment? (Hint: It included an individual right to arms.) Does the 14th Amendment "incorporate" the Bill of Rights and, if so, how and why? Does the Ninth Amendment protect judicially enforceable unenumerated rights? Does the Necessary and Proper Clause delegate unlimited discretion to Congress? Where in the text of the Constitution is the so-called Spending Power (by which Congress claims the power to spend tax revenue on anything it wants) and does it have any enforceable limits?

Don't ask how the meaning of these clauses should be applied in particular circumstances. Just ask about the meaning itself and how it should be ascertained. Do nominees think they are bound by the original public meaning of the text? Even those who deny this still typically claim that original meaning is a "factor" or starting point. If so, what other factors do they think a justice should rely on to "interpret" the meaning of the text? Even asking whether "We the People" in the U.S. Constitution originally included blacks and slaves -- as abolitionists like Lysander Spooner and Frederick Douglass contended, or not as Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed in Dred Scott v. Sandford -- will tell us much about a nominee's approach to constitutional interpretation. Given that this is hardly a case that will come before them, on what grounds could nominees refuse to answer such questions?

Of course, inquiring into clauses not cases would require senators to know something about the original meaning of the Constitution. Do they? It would be interesting to hear what Sen. Al Franken thinks about such matters, but no more so than any other member of the Judiciary Committee. Such a hearing would not only be entertaining, it would be informative and educational. After all, it would be about the meaning of the Constitution, which is to say it would be about something.




Sotomayor faces easy route to confirmation: "The Supreme Court confirmation prospects of Judge Sonia Sotomayor appeared good Sunday as one Democratic senator said he expects her to receive more votes than the hefty majority for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Republicans indicated they don't expect a filibuster. The Senate Judiciary Committee starts at 10 a.m. Monday the confirmation hearing of Judge Sotomayor to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. Judge Sotomayor, a member of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has met with 89 senators. "She has wowed people," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "She is going to be approved by a large margin." Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said he doubts Judge Sotomayor will have a fate similar to another Hispanic nominee to the federal bench, Miguel Estrada, whose confirmation was filibustered by Democrats seven times. "We're not going to filibuster Judge Sotomayor like the Democrats did Miguel Estrada, who would have been on the Supreme Court, I would have predicted, if he had not been filibustered and denied an up-or-down vote," Mr. Cornyn said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think she'll have an up-or-down vote."

Out of Alaska: “Palin has a devoted following. No Republican politician energizes GOP crowds as much as she does. When I saw her speak at the Vanderburgh County Right to Life dinner in Evansville, Indiana, in April, Palin was practically mobbed by well-wishers and autograph seekers. The conservative movement is rudderless, and social conservatives in particular would like a powerful spokesman for their cause. The social issues may not have played much of a role during Palin’s governorship, but once she is free from office she can emphasize them as much as she likes. One lesson from Barack Obama’s candidacy is that a politician should seize his (or her) moment. Elite opinion, remember, thought that Barack Obama wasn’t ready to run for president in 2008. He should sit back, the argument went. Gain seasoning. Master a few issues. Wait for his turn. But Obama understood that when you do that, you end up being Joe Biden. Obama understood that once the spotlight is on you, it’s foolish to let it pass on to someone else. He ignored the naysayers. He launched his campaign. Now he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Mandating Unemployment. Congress prepares to kill more jobs: "Here's some economic logic to ponder. The unemployment rate in June for American teenagers was 24%, for black teens it was 38%, and even White House economists are predicting more job losses. So how about raising the cost of that teenage labor? Sorry to say, but that's precisely what will happen on July 24, when the minimum wage will increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55. The national wage floor will have increased 41% since the three-step hike was approved by the Democratic Congress in May 2007. Then the economy was humming, with an overall jobless rate of 4.5% and many entry-level jobs paying more than the minimum. That's a hard case to make now, with a 9.5% national jobless rate and thousands of employers facing razor-thin profit margins.There's been a long and spirited debate among economists about who gets hurt and who benefits when the minimum wage rises. But in a 2006 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, economists David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Bank reviewed the voluminous literature over the past 30 years and came to two almost universally acknowledged conclusions. First, "a sizable majority of the studies give a relatively consistent (though not always statistically significant) indication of negative employment effects." Second, "studies that focus on the least-skilled groups [i.e., teens, and welfare moms] provide relatively overwhelming evidence of stronger disemployment effects."

Socialized medicine will stifle innovation: "The normal critique of socialized medicine is to point out that people have to wait a long time for . . . treatments in places like Britain. And that's certainly a valid critique . . . . The key point, though, is that these treatments didn't just come out of the blue. They were developed by drug companies and device makers who thought they had a good market for things that would make people feel better. But under a national healthcare plan, the "market" will consist of whatever the bureaucrats are willing to buy. That means treatment for politically stylish diseases will get some money, but otherwise the main concern will be cost-control. More treatments, to bureaucrats, mean more costs . . . . It's ironic that the same Democrats who were pushing the medical prospects for stem-cell research during the last election are now pushing a program that will make such progress far less likely."

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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