Nel's New Day

June 30, 2016

Supreme Court Does a 180 Degree Turn

Supreme Court decisions looked hopeless just six months ago. Many of us feared that women would lose abortion rights, and domestic abusers could stomp around with their guns. Affirmative action, rights of unions, and continued Affordable Care Act provisions seemed impossible. What a difference one person makes! Antonin Scalia’s death in February left only eight justices—for a long time if the GOP has its way—and the tone flipped from devastation to optimism.

The 4-4 ties kept an injunction against the DHS immigration policy but saved public union dues, especially after the court refused to hear the case again. Ties don’t establish the law of the land; they don’t establish precedent. All they do is confirm a lower court ruling. The case about religious objections from Catholic nonprofits refusing insurance coverage for employees’ birth control was returned to a lower court to be fixed. These cases, however, did not destroy a progressive movement; two of these three cases just slowed its progression.

In at least three cases, however, a majority voted in favor of progressives, both times with Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. The zombie case Fisher v. University of Texas, returning from what should have been an earlier death, upheld the school’s affirmative action plan. Race can continue to be considered to increase college admissions of disadvantaged minorities because, as Kennedy recognized, diversity’s educational benefits cannot be reduced to exact numbers. Now affirmative action can be used if race-neutral alternatives are not enough and if race plays only a small part. The only other Supreme Court case, decided in 2003, warned of a 25-year deadline. This ruling has no such warning. The vote in this case was 4-3 because Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. With Scalia’s vote, it would surely have been a tie.

Women are cheering the 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down faux health requirements and “undue burden” for abortions in Texas. Law required clinic doctors to have “admitting privileges” in nearby hospitals and clinics to meet expensive, and unnecessary, standards for “ambulatory surgical centers” (ASC).  “Undue burden” was a standard set up for abortion restrictions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey almost 25 years ago, but the health issue set new law. Justices warned against state anti-abortion laws that claim to be for health reasons but don’t protect women’s health. Again Kennedy, for the first time supporting abortion rights for women, cast the deciding vote. If he had voted against Whole Woman’s Health, Texas could have kept closing all its clinics—now down to about 20 for 5.4 million of reproductive age.

This ruling affects laws in several states throughout the nation; almost half of them lied about health reasons in restricting abortion rights. The high court announced that it will not consider appeals from Mississippi and Wisconsin on laws similar to those in Texas, ending those unconstitutional laws. Alabama dismissed its appeal to keep its anti-abortion law. Laws are on hold in Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Other states are still fighting: Michigan providers are deciding whether to challenge the state’s ASC law, and Florida’s admitting privileges law goes into effect on July 1.

In question also are other anti-abortion laws such as waiting periods and mandated useless medical procedures preceding the abortion. In Indiana, a judge blocked the state’s new anti-abortion law. Planned Parenthood will work to block anti-abortion laws in eight states.

In Voisine v. United States, two men from Maine whose guns were removed after misdemeanor convictions in domestic violence argued that “reckless” conduct wasn’t enough for them to lose their guns. The high court disagreed, voting 6-2 that “a reckless domestic assault qualifies as a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

A little-mentioned Supreme Court decision in the media may have a long-reaching impact. A 4-4 tie in Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians upholds rulings from the higher Tribal court, the District Court, and the 5th Circuit Court that non-Tribal businesses and individuals can legally face civil suit in Tribal courts. Dollar General had signed a contract with the tribe swearing to uphold its health and welfare, and the manager of a Dollar General on the reservation molested a 13-year-old Tribal boy.

Limited authority of Tribal governments frequently leaves little recourse for victims of sexual attacks. Native American women in the U.S. are twice as likely to suffer sexual assault as other women in the nation, and 80 percent of these assaults are by non-Tribal men who can get off free because tribal courts cannot criminally prosecute non-Tribal members not intimately known to the victims. Federal authorities tend not to pursue these rape cases.  This problem was exacerbated 38 years ago by Oliphant v. Suquamish, in which the high court ruled that Tribal courts cannot criminally prosecute non-tribal members even when the crime is committed on the reservation, making race a de jure (legal) factor in these cases.

About Oliphant, Amy Casselman, author and former case work for the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, said:

“Reservations became hunting grounds. This creates a lot of different types of crime—drug production, drug trafficking, human trafficking—but the people who disproportionately feel this sense of predation are Native women. Sexual assault in the US is an overwhelmingly intraracial crime, meaning that rape happens overwhelmingly between two members of the same race. Native women are the one statistical anomaly.”

In the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act, Congress stipulated that Tribal courts only have the authority to prosecute non-Tribal sexual offenders who have pre-existing intimate relationships with the women they abused, purposely excluding from prosecution unknown predators who specifically seek out reservations to commit their crimes. The only course of action comes from civil suits.

The Supreme Court does not finalize this case that began 13 years ago; it merely allows the sexual assault case to move forward in tribal courts. But that is far more than Native Americans had before this decision. Full restoration of tribal sovereignty won’t happen until Congress passes a law or the high court overturns Oliphant.

The high court benefited women when it declined to hear a Washington state case in which pharmacists were told that their religious objections could not keep them from dispensing Plan B or other emergency contraceptives. That refusal to hear Stormans Inc. v. Wiesman allows women to get medication no matter what the person views of a pharmacy owner because the 9th Circuit Court had twice ruled in favor of women.

A Washington state judge has also ruled that public hospitals must provide abortions on side if they offer maternity services. The ruling supports the Reproductive Privacy Act, passed by voter initiative in 1991.

On the minus side, the tie allowing a Texas judge to keep his injunction against a DHS policy trying to stop some removals of immigrants appears to be a disaster for the president’s policies. According to noted judge Richard Posner, however, the decision may not make any changes. And as law professor Peter Shane wrote, the decision has nothing to do with executive decisions because it was an agency decision.

The Supreme Court dispensed two disasters in its last week. In Utah v. Strieff, a 5-3 ruling on gender lines overturned the Utah Supreme Court and ruled that an illegally detained person can be subject to lawful search and seizure if the person has a warrant for arrest. Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that this decision contradicts previous Court decisions that had deemed such evidence inadmissible as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” Sotomayor said that police can verify legal status at any time, that a person’s body is always subject to invasion, and that it legitimizes racial profiling:

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong.”

The worst ruling, however, may have been the unanimous exoneration of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell on a charge of corruption by overturning his conviction. Chief Justice John Roberts referred to Citizens United ruling that “ingratiation and access” were “not corruption.” McDonnell and his wife took expensive gifts, loans, and vacations worth more than $175,000 in return for favoring a diet-supplement business benefactor, but the court ruled that only formal and concrete government actions such as filing a lawsuit counts. Arranging meetings doesn’t, giving elected officials a blank check to trade for access. The case was returned to the lower court with the stricter standard but will most likely fail.

All except two of the progressive decisions described above would certainly have lost or had a tie if Scalia had voted. I would also ask if he might have swayed some of the justices toward his far-right position in argument if he were still sitting on the court. All in all, the outcome this year was much better than was expected when the session started last fall.

A message to people who agree with this man who said he wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton: “If that means Trump wins, it’s not my fault, the Democrats should have nominated a viable candidate.” Yes, it is your fault, and you will be enabling a GOP president to nominate Supreme Court justices worse than Antonin Scalia.

December 9, 2015

Scalia’s Affirmative Action Quote of the Week

 

Media pundits have concentrated on Donald Trump’s outrageous statement that he would keep all Muslims from entering the United States. Last month, Justice Antonin Scalia made a connection between LGBT people, pedophiles, and child abusers in a speech to first-year law students at Georgetown. Today he made outrageous—and dangerous—statements during arguments before the Supreme Court. Scalia is much worse than Trump–Scalia’s in control, Trump isn’t.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is interviewed by The Associated Press, Thursday, July 26, 2012, at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Antonin Scalia (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

In an affirmative action case out of Texas, the high court listened to lawyers debate the use of race in college admissions. Scalia’s statement:

“There are – there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to ­­ to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.

“One of – one of the briefs pointed out that – that most of the – most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too ­­ too fast for them.”

Talking about black students accepted under affirmative action programs, he said, “They’re being pushed into schools that are too advanced for them.” He added that black students benefit from a “slower track” because “it does not benefit African-Americans” who don’t succeed academically in schools that accepted them under affirmative action policies. He at least started a statement with “there are those who contend.” Nowhere in his statements, however, did he disagree with those contenders.

To summarize Scalia’s responses to today’s case, affirmative action is bad for black students because they’re not smart enough to succeed in good schools.

Fisher v. Texas comes from Abigail Fisher, who complained that she was denied admission to the University of Texas because she is white. A lower court found that she wouldn’t have been admitted under any circumstances, but the case has plowed its way up through the courts to the top deciders. The court sent the case back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last year in 2013, finding that the case needed to be re-examined under “strict scrutiny.” The lower court again found in the university’s favor, and, like a zombie, the case is back.

The university lets in the top ten percent of all high school graduating classes for 75 percent of the accepted students and then uses a process considering race and several other attributes such as socioeconomic status instead of only class rank for the remaining 25 percent. Hopwood v. Texas forbade the consideration of race in admissions in 1997 so the policy of accepting the top ten percent attempted to create racial diversity. Only class rank, however, could exclude a National Merit semifinalist who attended a high-achieving high school—thus the reason for a more holistic approach for part of the students accepted. Race was considered as one attribute after 2003 when the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action as constitutional. Race was added to add “minorities with unique talents and higher test scores to add diversity … to the student body,” according to the 5th Circuit decision.

Today conservatives argued that Texas cannot put race into the mix for a holistic decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the same argument as she did two years ago, that the supposedly “race-neutral” process of admitting the top 10 percent isn’t race-neutral because it makes virtue out of a long history of school and housing segregation and discrimination. Justice Sonia Sotomayor fiercely challenged Fisher’s attorneys.

Justice Elena Kagan was silent: she recused herself because she worked on the case as solicitor general. That brings the number of deciders down to eight—four dedicated conservatives, three progressives, and Justice Anthony Kennedy who has become the swing vote. Meanwhile, three of the conservatives already decided in opposing affirmative action, and Justice Samuel Alito argued that advocates for affirmative action are making racist or condescending judgment. Chief Justice John Roberts kept asking when racial discrimination remedies would no longer be necessary. (He was one of the judges who opened the door letting states discriminate against minorities in their constitutional right to vote by claiming that the Voting Rights Act, which would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, wasn’t necessary.) Roberts asked, “What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?”

The effects of a Supreme Court decision in Fisher will be long-reaching, affecting every university in the nation. There may not be a definitive ruling at this time either. Kennedy asked lawyers if the trial court should collect more evidence although he may have changed his mind later on. As he said, however, “We’re just arguing the same case [as in 2013]. It’s as if nothing had happened.”

Kennedy might have found it useful that 168 black and Latino students with grades as good or better than Fisher’s were also denied entry into the university that year. Fisher also turned down an offer to attend the university starting her sophomore year if she earned a 3.2 GPA at another Texas university school her first year.

The year that Fisher applied to UT, 92 percent of the students were admitted from the top ten percent of the in-state spots. She wasn’t one of them. Her grade point was average and her SAT scores not great. Fisher was represented pro bono in the lawsuit by Project on Fair Representation, funded by conservatives who want to do away with any affirmative action. The group also took the case to the Supreme Court that eradicated vital portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Fisher has already graduated from Louisiana State University, her second choice, and works in finance at an Austin firm. Her only harm, according to a news reporter who asked, is her inability to tap into the UT’s alumni network and perhaps missing out on a better first job. She seeks only the return of her application fee and housing deposit–$100 in damages. On the other hand, the organization representing her wants to use Fisher to attack the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. During the past 150 years, there has been no ban on laws and government programs that consider race. Project on Fair Representation wants to change that.

In a 1971 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that government could not mandate colorblindness when doing so would defeat the integration requirement of Brown v. Board of Education. In another case, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take race into account. There is no other way.” An increasingly conservative court has been involved in so-called reverse discrimination cases.

By now, the conservative portion of the court supports Roberts when he said, “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.” Basically, the Supreme Court may return to the 1956 Southern Manifesto by Strom Thurmond and Richard Brevard Russell to resist overturning school segregation with the equal protection clause.

Either the current Supreme Court rules in favor of the equal protection clause, or the Project on Fair Representation will go trolling for another self-proclaimed white victim to re-address the issue.

June 24, 2013

SCOTUS Decisions, Immigration Reform Amendment, Texas Anti-Abortion Continue

Although the Supreme Court did not deliver its rulings about marriage equality and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 today, they did divulge other decisions. SCOTUS did deliver a non-ruling on affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas. In the question of whether a white student suffered racial discrimination at the University of Texas, SCOTUS rejected a lower court’s approval of the school’s affirmative action plan but said that it will have to evaluate it again.

The constitutionality of race in university admissions, however, survived with the ruling that race may be considered as a factor as long as the policy is “narrowly tailored.” If “‘a nonracial approach . . . could promote the substantial interest about as well and at tolerable administrative expense,’” then the university may not consider race.

When states have banned affirmative action, the number of minority has drastically dropped. Today’s ruling allows universities to continue implementing diversity plans, but it does not preclude these state bans. In its next term, SCOTUS will review a Michigan ban that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down.

In his opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas compared any affirmative action to slavery. He has also said that he would vote to overturn the case next year upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action policy. That means he doesn’t need to listen to arguments next year because he’s already made up his mind.

Courtesy seems to have disappeared in SCOTUS. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented to the racial discrimination ruling, asserting that the lower court ruling should have been upheld. She also read a dissent to the case (below) which makes racial and sexual discrimination easier by raising the level of proof to establish retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

Part of Ginsburg’s dissent was a “hypothetical” (meaning drawn from a real case) when a female worker on a road crew was subjected to humiliations by the “lead worker” and who now has no remedy because of the court ruling. According to Garrett Epps, Justice Samuel Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head “no.” There are no cameras to show the incident, but Epps reported that the audience made audible gasps.

SCOTUS gave sexual and racial harassment a boost up in the workplace through today’s 5-4 ruling in Vance v. Ball State University. Thanks to five Supreme Court justices, a “supervisor” is defined as having the power to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

The definition eliminates all the people who still maintain power over employers through reporting their actions to employers—excuse me “supervisors.” One of these “non-supervisors” is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into having unwanted sex with him. Justice Elena Kagan also described the secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” That person is not a “supervisor” because it’s the “Head of Secretarial Services” who would fire her.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the five conservative justices also allowed employers a greater right to retaliate against victims of discrimination who report that they have suffered discrimination.

The Senate is working hard to discriminate against immigrants through its reform bill. In a desperate attempt to pass the bill, the Senate passed a motion to debate an amendment by 67-27 with 15 GOP “yes” votes that would ostensibly make the bill more palatable to conservatives. It’s a Christmas gift to Halliburton, as  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, because of the requirement for another 700 miles of fencing. Another piece of the amendment was doubling the number of border patrol agents to 40,000—one for each 1,000 feet of the southern border of the United States. The party that wants less government and spending cuts now helps support a bill that would cost an additional $46 billion.

Most of the publicity for the amendment came from the border security, but Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) managed other offensive provisions. One prohibits undocumented workers from counting past wages toward Social Security eligibility, and another prevents the government from providing welfare to immigrants until they become citizens. The provisions also called for an additional five-year ban on federal health subsidies under Obamacare for unauthorized immigrants who get a green card and tried to ensure these immigrants pay back taxes and penalties on any wages they earned while in the country illegally.

There may be more news about what’s buried in the 1,200-page amendment before the vote on Thursday or Friday.

Meanwhile, Texas GOP members are using a special legislative session to push through more restrictive anti-abortion regulations. (What happened to their love for small government?!) The proposed law would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks and shut down health clinics, leaving no place in western Texas—a very large area—to obtain an abortion. Women would have to travel at least 600 miles to get an abortion for any reason.

In a peculiar quirk, the bill’s sponsor, Jody Laubenberg (R) refused to support an exemption for rape because—ready for this?—she thinks that the rape kit, used to collect forensic data on the rapist for a prosecution, causes abortions. She said, “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out.” Laubenberg has displayed an even greater ignorance then Congressional legislators.

Someone needs to explain to Laubenberg that this is the procedures for use of the rape kit. A victim enters the hospital; staff collect bodily fluid, residue under the victim’s nails, and any relevant blood or hair samples for an investigation. Nobody gets “cleaned out.” States with abstinence-only sex education, such as Texas, have highly uneducated people, even elected legislators.

A survey found that 63 percent of registered voters don’t want any more anti-abortion laws, and 71 percent think that the legislature should worry about the economy and jobs instead of policing women’s reproductive rights. Almost three-fourths think that personal medical decisions about abortions should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians. Also, 57 percent said that they don’t trust the governor or the legislature to make choices about women’s health care. Eighty percent think that anti-abortion should not be legislated in special session. And this opposition is from both parties and the independents.

The Texas Assembly passed the bill at 10:40 am today. Legislative rules require a 24-hour wait until the Senate can bring it up. The Texas legislature has until tomorrow night to get the bill passed.

This last weekend, dozens of people stood in line in Atlanta to buy exclusive LeBron James sneakers. When a man carrying a gun harassed them, a man in line pulled his gun and fatally shot him. The shooter then got back in line to wait for his sneakers. Some of the people thought that he wanted to rob them. A witness said about the dead man, “Sounds like he brought it on himself.”

Nobody said anything the man being dangerous, just that it was okay to kill him. Police have said they will not be charging the shooter because it was “self defense.” No need to wound him or feel any remorse—just kill him. This is the gun culture of the United States. 

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