Nel's New Day

October 2, 2022

New Supreme Court Term: Repeal the 20th Century (Part I)

The U.S. Supreme Court launches the 2022/23 year of conservative decisions this coming week, and scandals grow as more information comes out about both justices and their spouses. (Above: President Joe Biden and Vice-president Kamala Harris, center, with Supreme Court justices; below left: illustration by João Fazenda) )

The best known may be Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Thomas Justice, who still declares that the 2020 presidential election was overturned, even to the House January 6 investigative committee. With extensive work to overturn the elections through texting and other contacts with both federal and state officials and legislators, she has political connections with over half the anti-abortion organizations lobbying the justices and operates a consulting business including conservative activist groups with interest in Supreme Court decisions as clients. She hides names of clients and how much money she gets from them but maintains she never talks to her husband about the court while he votes in her favor.

More information came out this summer about the beer-swilling, Hillary Clinton-hating, sobbing caricature regarding the complete lack of vetting for the lifetime term to tell everyone in the U.S. how to behave. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) was pushing his hand-picked agencies to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed and ignored 4,500 comments about him, many of them about his sexual assault, were sent into a tip line about him. None of them was investigated because DDT-appointed FBI director Chris Wray sent them to DDT and claimed that the FBI lacked authority to further investigate Kavanaugh. Yet Wray used “proof” that doesn’t clearly state any restrictions.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who earlier ruled a trucker driver must die because leaving his rig in the cold was illegal, was so eager to push “religious freedom” that he ruled for a praying football coach based on the lies that a lawyer told the high court. He also ignored testimony about the coach coercing players into joining the prayers. Gorsuch declared that prayer is protected by “free speech,” making it “doubly protected,” two clauses against one. He sees himself protecting Christians against a government “hostile” to religion.  

Justice Samuel Alito used religion to outlaw abortion using religious opposition to abortion by a 13th-century judge and a 17th-century Puritan judge who burned witches and supported marital rape. Alito calls secularism “secular orthodoxy” with anti-Catholic prejudice.

The background of Justice Amy Coney Barrett is steeped in the tiny, rigid Catholic group People of Praise rejecting homosexuality, practicing ecstatic Christian traditions like speaking in tongues and called a “covenant community.” She’s so secretive about her husband’s work that she redacted his business name in her most recent disclosures. In contrast, her husband prominently displays his wife’s name on the website of the boutique firm advertised as a “white-collar criminal defense, internal investigations, and complex commercial litigation [across] virtually every industry.” The justice objected to any guidelines for spouses because they wouldn’t “be very happy.”

Even the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, Jane Roberts, is active in the political world as a legal head-hunter at Macrae representing high-powered attorneys looking for jobs in wealthy firms. A former managing partner at a firm hiring her said the firm hoped for a benefit from employing her to share networks. Jane Roberts also represented top government officials at federal agencies with direct interests in court business.  

Justices have great latitude in what they must include on their disclosure forms, a way to conceal conflicts of interest, and some of them omit expensive dining and access to luxurious vacation homes. The religious organization Faith and Action bragged about using wealthy couples to “wine and dine” conservative Supremes, helping them to feel “more secure” in pushing a faith-based legal agenda. None of these expensive meals, club visits, and plush vacation properties appears on the justices’ disclosure forms. An excuse is the pitiful salaries for justices–$274,200 for associates and $286,700 for the chief—compared to millions for elite attorneys in private practices.

Despite multiple efforts, the only law regarding conflicts of interest for justices in the past decade has added the requirement for judges and justices to report stock trades on their disclosures. Previously, Roberts was upset about the problems in federal courts’ ethics practices after conflicts of financial interest in almost 700 instances over nine years and suggested more “rigorous” ethics training programs. Now he declares the high court hasn’t lost its legitimacy, it’s just that the public disagrees with what they’re doing.

Roberts spent part of the summer trying to convince people that he was part of—certainly not leading—a legitimate court, but the GOP Senate clarified that SCOTUS is a political group by ignoring President Obama’s nominee and pushing through DDT’s picks from the Federalist Society. The five justices follow GOP guidance; Roberts just trails along with them.

Justices greet the all-time low court’s ratings, according to conservative Gallup polling, with defiance. Only 40 percent approve of its job performance, down nine points from last year, with 58 percent disapproving while conservative justices say they should ignore any public opinion. Dropping 20 percent from two years ago, only 47 percent cite “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the government’s judicial branch—the lowest ever rating by six percent. Plus 42 percent find the court too conservative, up 22 points from 2016 before DDT and the GOP Senate added Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

Justice Elena Kagan tried to explain the problem with the high court:

“If, over time, the Court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that is a dangerous thing for democracy… The very worst moments have been times when judges have even essentially reflected one party’s or one ideology’s set of views in their legal decisions. The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is the Court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process.”

Alito, in essence, told her to shut up, saying that “implying that the Court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”

After taking away women’s reproductive rights, the Supremes plan high-profile cases this year to turn the country into a far-right theocracy and remove democracy. They’ve already taken away women’s reproductive rights and maintain that Congress can’t make laws. Issues thus far this year:

Voting Rights: Using the earlier overturning of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, districts with predominantly Black voters are disappearing, and the Supremes will increase the trend by legalizing racial gerrymandering and doing away with Black legislators. Equally—or more—dangerous, a major case this year could turn over all election decisions to state legislatures, eliminating any involvement from judges, governors, state supreme courts, even voter initiatives. The court could permit legislators to give electoral votes to a candidate of a candidate who lost the state’s popular vote.

Clean Water/Environmental Protections: The Clean Water Act doesn’t define “waters of the United States” in prohibiting discharges of pollutants so the high court can permit polluting wetlands bordering a river or lake and connections between two bodies of water such as creeks and ditches. In a less conservative court, the last case on the subject, Rapanos v. United States (2006), had no majority and thus no decison.

Affirmative Action: Another two cases can forbid universities to completely consider race in student admissions, possibly even overturn race-based hiring initiatives at private companies. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) ruled that universities can take limited account of race to block an inferior educational experience for all students, but the new Supremes love to overturn recent cases while looking to decisions from the 17th century.

Medicaid: With current law, the federal government funds much of poor people’s healthcare if states and health providers comply with patient protection guidelines. The lawsuit, which could erase these rules, is from a woman who wants a nursing home to give her husband, who has dementia, “powerful and unnecessary psychotropic medications for purposes of chemical restraint,” currently against the federal Medicaid law.

Cultural Genocide of Native Americans: In the past, the U.S. used the Constitution to “Christianize” supposed “heathens” and removed Native children from their homes to erase their cultural knowledge. To stop these practices, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 requires that children removed from their homes must be placed with an American Indian family, preferably with the child’s extended family or at least their own tribe. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs in three red states don’t want to comply with ICWA’s requirements. The current court sees established precedents as optional and sometimes a nuisance/ A ruling could upend relations between the government and federally recognized tribes.

Immigration: The Supremes wants to overturn federal law and remove control of immigration enforcement policies from the Department of Homeland Security after a conservative Texas judge said that would be okay. Even if the Supremes rule in favor of federal law, they have already taken the right from the DHS secretary and support a GOP excuse for impeaching Biden by accusing him of focusing on only migrants deemed a “threat to public safety.”

LGBTQ Rights: Religious conservatives also want to erase LGBTQ people. Two SCOTUS rulings favoring discrimination have been narrow, but the current court prefers a shotgun—or an AR-17—approach. The court returns to wedding cakes—specifically designing them. The question is whether the new court will rule that all “religious liberty” is good even if it broadly discriminates. Sensing a friendly high court, Melissa Klein and her husband are also asking the Supremes to take an Oregon case charging them a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple who had been together for ten years. Online funding brought them almost $500,000, and now they complain about being poor. The high court could also overturn the 2013 Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing marriage equality, and 35 states still have laws banning same-gender marriage. A May 2022 Gallup poll revealed that support for same-sex marriage is at 71% – an all-time high.

And the Supremes have just started; their docket has more room. They also might take a few minutes here and there to make a ruling in a shadow docket, not bothering with any arguments or testimony. 

More in Part II.

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