Time to reshape the Supreme Court.

February 27, 2014

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Duncan Lock, Dflock (Own work).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Duncan Lock, Dflock (Own work).

It is no big secret that the President has struggled to get his executive branch and judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate over his time in office. The incessant blocking effort by the minority Senate Republicans halted any attempt to diversify the courts prior to Reid’s ‘nuclear option’. In fact, over half of all filibustered nominees for executive branch and judicial positions – since before the White House was even built – have taken place during President Obama’s five years as President. The effect of this staggering conservative grip on power can be seen in most evidently in the decisions handed down by the courts. From those decisions, we can see that corporate America has a dedicated team batting for their side in the courtrooms of the United States.

In 2010, the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee threw up a surprising result, in which the US Supreme Court used the First Amendment to strike down restrictions of corporations and unions using treasury money to finance political expenditure. This contradicted several previous court precedents, and Judge Stevens – one of the four Supreme Court dissenters – argued that the winning conservative majority had expanded the scope of the question they were addressing, to give themselves an opportunity to change the law. The dissenters argued that the threat of big moneyed corruption – essentially, vast sums of money spent on campaigns exchanged for Congressional votes – was a big enough reason to place limits on corporate expenditure. This was ignored, and the court applied First Amendment rights to corporations; entities that can’t vote, can’t be thrown in prison, are completely amoral, and whose purpose it solely to make money, and have never taken too kindly to democratic accountability. The court essentially decided that corporations are people.

In 2007, the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. led to the US Supreme Court finding in favour of corporate interests discriminating on basis of gender. Lilly Ledbetter was hired by Goodyear in 1979, retiring in 1998. During those years, she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. This led to further inequality in her social security, and overtime pay. She only learned of this inequality toward the end of her career. The Supreme Court ruled that because she didn’t file suit within 180 of her first paycheck, she couldn’t sue for gender discrimination. The Supreme Court thus ruled in favour of corporate interests, when it conflicts with gender equality.

In 2011, the case of PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, the Supreme Court ruled that generic-drug companies cannot be held liable under state law, for failing to give full label warnings of potential side effects of the drugs they produce. This came about after Gladys Mensing sued PLIVA for failing to report the dangers of the drug they were producing, which led to Gladys developing a completely irreversible neurological movement disorder. The Supreme Court found in favour of PLIVA, even if PLIVA failed to notify the FDA of new health risks.

Time after time, the Roberts court in the United States rules largely in favour of corporate interests, ignoring past precedents, or just completely overturning previous finance, labor, health, environment, and tort law. Citizens United, Ledbetter, PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, Exxon-Valdez, Sorrell vs. IMS Health, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, Gross v. FBL Financial Services AT&T Mobility v. Concepción. The list is endless. And usually results in a 5-4 decision in favour of corporate interests. This is a direct result of the conservative grip on power over the courts in the US.

The constant threat of filibuster meant the President’s field of eligible candidates significantly withered, and professional diversity, nonexistent. According to research by the Alliance for Justice, of President Obama’s 281 judicial nominees, only 10 have experience in representing labor and worker interests in disputes. Only four of the 56 circuit judicial nominees have worked as public defenders, compared to 21 as prosecutors. Around 85% of President Obama’s judicial nominees to be confirmed have worked as Corporate attorneys or prosecutors. Of the 177 judicial nominees to the district courts, only 8 worked previously in a public interest role. A staggering 71% of President Obama’s district court nominees have worked primarily with corporate interests. The problem is clear; the courts lack professional diversity.

It is perhaps true that Reid’s Senate ‘nuclear option’ opened opportunities for incredibly talented judges from all walks of life, with experience representing individual workers and consumers rather than just corporate interests, to enter the district and circuit courts without fear of filibuster, but as it stands right now, the courts of the US lack that much needed diversity. As of today, there are 29 vacancies for the district courts, and six for circuit courts. Selection committees for the judiciary on a state level should be using this time to promote professional diversity, and specifically encouraging those with public interest backgrounds to apply. Reid’s nuclear option – requiring a simple majority to confirm nominees rather than a filibuster proof majority – presents a wonderful opportunity for Democrats to push for a far more diverse judiciary – not just in terms of racial, gender, and sexuality diversity, but also professional experience – and a unique opportunity to change the power balance in the US for the better.


Bad Day for Bigots III: DOMA Struck Down.

June 26, 2013

Cheers rang out across America today. Firstly, the wonderful filibuster in the Texas State Senate by Senator Wendy Davis, defeating the anti-women bill, and secondly, the Supreme Court has just struck down The Defence of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, 17 years after President Clinton signed it into law. Most recognise the incredible step forward for human equality and progress and the right to love that SCOTUS has affirmed today. Predictably, certain people were not too pleased with the ruling. I thought I’d post some of my favourite right winged meltdowns from the World of social media. And what better place to start than Fox News:

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– This overly dramatic nonsense is brought to you by Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who seems to be under the impression that his definition of ‘God’ has the right to legislate, in a secular democracy. Not only that, but he seems to be complaining, whilst completely clean shaven. This of course being in direct contradiction – or, direct overruling – of God’s law found in Leviticus 19:27. Theocrats tend to ignore Biblical rules not pertaining to discriminating against same-sex couples.

Here are a few of my favourite post-DOMA freakouts:

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– “Becoming Sodom and Gomorrah” (a place that didn’t actually exist) needs to be added to my list of terrible things same-sex marriage will lead to according to conservatives. This list so far includes; marrying your duck, marrying your computer, a lesbian Queen with an artificially inseminated heir, and a US radio DJ vomiting continuously.

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– Another that relies on a Christian interpretation only of the word ‘marriage’. So culturally narrow, and so wrong to impose this one religious concept of marriage on a secular nation. Marriage, of course, has many different definitions throughout history (as I note here). Enshrining a Christian definition only, institutionalising a Christian understanding of marriage, completely shatters the wall between Church and State, and could not be any more anti-constitutional if it tried. Theocracy is not an American value.

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– Massive population losses? Because heterosexual people will all now decide they’re gay?

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– Are the Supreme Court Justices not aware that we should be basing all rational discourse on dust man and rib lady myths? If not, why not?

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– As well as dust man and rib lady myths, why aren’t the Supreme Court framing law around principles of IKEA furniture assembly?

This guy is entertaining all by himself. He appears to be having a homophobic meltdown. One of those “he’s protesting a lot…… perhaps he has something to hide” sort of meltdown:
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And he continues, in a somewhat more flirtatious style:
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– Southern States were pretty overruled in the 1860s too. Are we going to suggest that shouldn’t have been the case? Institutional bigotry is acceptable, if the majority who benefit from it say so? Really? Denying equality under the law based on biological differences like race, or gender, or sexuality, is not a States Rights issue. Conservatives do not get to decide the superiority of one race, or gender, or sexuality. Permitting the same rights that they themselves have always enjoyed, to another group, takes nothing away from their rights. And of course, the repeal of DOMA simply means States now rule on same sex marriage. So, a victory for States Rights as well as equality.

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– Yes! Exactly! You must be exactly what you support. Support women’s suffrage? You must be female. Are you pro-life? You must be a fetus! Support 1960s civil rights movement? You must be a racial minority. Support funding for NASA? You must be an astronaut! That’s how supporting things works.

Here’s a few more overly dramatic, end times tweets to enjoy:

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And my absolute favourite of them all:
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From the bigoted, to the ridiculous, to the incredibly funny, we see that progression, is still met with mind blowing overly dramatic, conservative meltdowns. We should check back with them in a years time to note if any of their marriages have failed due entirely to same-sex marriages, or if Jesus has returned, wrapped in a Confederate flag, unleashing end times on California. Naturally, God will take revenge through right winged commentators, insisting that perfectly natural weather cycles are actually His wrath.

Today is a wonderful day, for liberal, progressive, secular, Constitutional America. It is a wonderful day, for the battle for equality, and natural human rights. But it is a terribly bad day for bigots.

For ‘Bad Day for Bigots’ part I, click here. For Part II, click here.