Supreme Court

Robert Bork: Requiescat in Pace

 

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If the Constitution is law, then presumably its meaning, like that of all other law, is the meaning the lawmakers were understood to have intended.  If the Constitution is law, then presumably, like all other law, the meaning the lawmakers intended is as binding upon judges as it is upon legislatures and executives.  There is no other sense in which the Constitution can be what article VI proclaims it to be: “Law….” This means, of course, that a judge, no matter on what court he sits, may never create new
constitutional rights or destroy old ones.  Any time he does so, he violates not
only the limits to his own authority but, and for that reason, also violates the
rights of the legislature and the people….the philosophy of original
understanding is thus a necessary inference from the structure of government apparent on the face of the Constitution.

Robert Bork

 

Robert Bork, one of the titans of American Law, has died.  The foremost expert on anti-trust,  and a champion of originalism in regard to the Constitution, Bork was appointed by President Reagan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  In 1987 he was nominated by Reagan for the Supreme Court.  In a campaign of lies and personal vilification spearheaded, fittingly enough, by Senator Edward M. Kennedy his nomination was defeated.  If he had been confirmed, Roe v. Wade would now be merely a bitter memory.  Continue reading

Supreme Court Justices in Church? We Can’t Have That

At the Bench Memos blog at National Review, Mathew Franck linked to a rather hysterical screed written by Marie Griffith. The object of Griffith’s scorn: the annual Red Mass that takes place at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC before the opening of the Supreme Court term. Griffith is not at all pleased that two-thirds of the Supreme Court attended the latest Red Mass a couple of weeks ago.

Last Sunday, September 30, witnessed one of the most vivid and, to many (emphasis mine), disturbing examples of this religion/politics paradox.

Right out of the gate we get some good old-fashioned intellectual dishonesty. Who are the “many” that are disturbed by this visual? I would wager that the overwhelming majority of people have no idea that this Mass even exists, and that a scant few who are aware of its existence are very bothered by it. Rather than taking ownership of an opinion and writing that she is offended by the Red Mass, Griffith assigns a feeling to a mythical many. It’s a passive aggressive trick employed when a writer either lacks the guts to openly state their feelings, or when they want to conjure up support for an opinion that is not wildly shared by actual open beings.

She continues: Continue reading

The Worst Supreme Court Selections in American History

Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, as well as his vote to overturn much of Arizona’s illegal immigration law, has made conservatives think that yet again a Republican president was bamboozled. Personally I think it’s a bit early to completely write off the Chief Justice. For most of his tenure he’s been a fairly reliable conservative vote, and there is still much time (presumably) before he retires. Then we will be better able to assess his legacy.

It did get me thinking, though. What are the worst Supreme Court selections in history? I’m looking at this question in terms of the president doing the selecting. Someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a doctrinaire liberal, wouldn’t make the cut because no doubt she has voted in much the way Bill Clinton would have wished when he picked her. Similarly, I do not include someone like John Paul Stevens. Though over time he veered much further to the left than Gerald Ford or his Attorney General , Edward Levi (who basically made the selection) could have anticipated, Stevens’ jurisprudence was not that radically removed from Ford’s own preferences. In fact, Ford wrote of Stevens:

For I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thrity years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court. I endorse his constitutional views on the secular character of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, on securing procedural safeguards in criminal case and on the constitution’s broad grant of regulatory authority to Congress. I include as well my special admiration for his charming wit and sense of humor; as evidence in his dissent in the 1986 commerce clause case of Maine v. Taylorand United States, involving the constitutionality of a Maine statute that broadly restricted any interstate trade of Maine’s minnows. In words perhaps somewhat less memorable then, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” Justice Stevens wrote, “There is something fishy about this case.”

He has served his nation well, at all times carrying out his judicial duties with dignity, intellect and without partisan political concerns. Justice Stevens has made me, and our fellow citizens, proud of my three decade old decision to appoint him to the Supreme Court. I wish him long life, good health and many more years on the bench.

Well, if Ford was willing to base his legacy on his choice of John Paul Stevens, then I’m happy to call Gerald Ford a miserable failure.

This, then, is a list of the biggest mistakes in Supreme Court selection.  Continue reading

The Worst Supreme Court Decision of All-Time

As bad as yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was, it doesn’t hold a candle to one handed down twenty years ago today. On this date in 1992, the Court decided the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. People might be disappointed with John Roberts right now, but the fury at Justices O’Connor and Kennedy, and to a lesser extent Souter, after they voted to uphold Roe v. Wade dwarfs that.

Ed Whelan links to post by Michael Stokes Paulsen in which he calls Casey the worst Supreme Court decision of all-time. Part one is here, and part two is here. I wholeheartedly agree. I also ranked Casey as the worst when compiling my list of the worst decisions of all-time. Sure, there have been several atrocious decisions handed down by the Court, and Paulsen highlights some of the worst defenders in part one. But what makes Casey so egregious is the combination of the sheer awfulness of the decision from a constitutional perspective, as well as the devastating real world impacts it had.

Paulsen details all that is wrong with the decision. The plurality opinion relied on stare decisis to reach its conclusion, treating the doctrine as though it were sacrosanct. If you listened to the plurality you would come to the conclusion that Court had never struck down a decision it considered to be wrongly decided. What’s more, the plurality opinion is simply a mess of contorted logic, rightfully mocked by Scalia in his brilliant dissent. Most damning, it ensured the continued legal protection of abortion, dooming millions more unborn children to their premature death.

I’ll leave you to read both articles in their entirety.

Roe v. Wade may have made abortion legal in all 50 states, but Casey entrenched that decision. Worse still, it did so in a way that made the Roe majority opinion seem like a masterwork of originalist logic by comparison.

The Majority Opinion that Became a Dissent

If you had told me before the day started that John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy would have penned differing opinions on the Obamacare case, and that I’d be siding with the latter’s opinion, I would have said that you were nuts. Alas, it appears that John Roberts is the new Anthony Kennedy.

Ed Whelan has speculated that Chief Justice Roberts changed his vote at the last minute, and therefore the dissenting opinion was originally the majority opinion. He has a follow-up post that posits another theory supporting that notion, which also explains how that could be logistically possible. Having now fully digested the dissenting opinion, I am just about 99 percent certain that John Roberts did indeed change his vote, and that the dissenting opinion was the majority opinion until the Chief Justice changed his mind.

Frankly, the dissent just doesn’t read like a dissent at all. As Whelan points out, the dissenting opinion repeatedly alludes to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as the dissent. In fact, the dissenters barely alludes to the Chief Justice’s opinion at all until the very end. The final couple of pages are a scathing attack on the majority’s opinion, heretofore unmentioned. It certainly seems like the dissenting Justices felt jilted by the Chief Justice, thus the unusually harsh rhetoric of the final few paragraphs of the dissent. Another sign that the dissenters were in the majority comes on the second page: Continue reading

The Chief Justice’s Ruling: A Gross Expansion of Federal Power

Conservatives looking for some kind of victory in today’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. (the Obamacare case) are pointing to two aspects of Chief Justice John Roberts’s rulings. First, a majority of the Court ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional under the commerce clause. Second, the Court ruled that the Federal Government could not force the states to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, the Court narrowed the scope of Congressional power in two different arenas.

Indeed, 44 pages of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion are absolutely constitutionally sound. During the course of the opinion the Chief Justice made the same argument that many individual mandate opponents have been making for months: you cannot create an economic activity in order to regulate it under the commerce clause. “The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. If the power to ‘regulate’ something included the power to create it, many of the provisions in the Constitution would be superfluous.” The Chief Justice latter adds that the individual mandate “does not regulate an existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce.” Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.” Furthermore, “[a]llowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation, and – under the Government’s theory – empower Congress to make those decisions for him.”

Roberts further tears into the logic of those defending the mandate on commerce clause grounds by pointing out that other activity – such as people not eating a healthy diet – does far more to raise health care costs than does failure to have health insurance. Therefore, under the government’s logic, “Congress could address the diet problem by ordering everyone to buy vegetables.” Therefore, the government’s arguments with regards to the commerce clause are ultimately unsupportable.

The problem with those taking the rosy view; however, is that the Chief Justice’s opinion is 59 pages. The Chief takes a detour roughly halfway through the opinion that is so unfathomable, it almost reads as if an entirely different person wrote the opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts holds that despite the statutory language, the penalty for failure to buy health insurance can more accurately described as a tax. This, despite what the language of the bill actually says, and what President Obama himself even said. And that’s also in contradiction of what had just been argued when discussing the anti-Injunction act. As Carrie Severino puts it:

The main holding of the case is that the mandate is upheld as a proper exercise of the taxing power. This is a decidedly awkward result, as the first section of the result explains that the mandate is not a tax for the purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. During the oral argument the courtroom erupted in laughter when the solicitor general was asked how he could argue that the mandate was not a tax on Monday but was on Tuesday. In the end, the court chose that implausible — even laughable — result in a fairly explicit attempt to hold the mandate constitutional.

Jeff Goldstein also mocks this bit of legal jujitsu. Intentionalism is a concept that he blogs about frequently, and he rightfully calls out the Chief Justice for his violation of the concept.

According to the CJ, a penalty is indeed a tax when it can be viewed as a tax for purposes of a ruling.  Meaning, a penalty is a tax when a Justice decides to rewrite the law to turn a penalty into a tax.  Which he justifies because the way the penalty looks to him suggests that “reasonable”  people (or philosopher kings) can, if they squint — and if they ignore the intent that turned the law into law in the first place, and turned a set of marks into a set of signs, into language — see a tax.  How that is “reasonable” is anyone’s guess:   we know in no uncertain terms that Obama and the Dems who passed the law didn’t devise the mandate as a tax (despite what they later argued); for one to conclude that it is reasonably possible to “read” a penalty as a tax,  therefore, what c0mes to count as “reasonable” must be redefined as “ignoring what we know to be true”.  And that seems antithetical to “reason.”

Roberts has chosen to see a tax where a penalty was intended — thereby rewriting the law and turning it into a new text, one which he intends, though he incoherently and disingenuously suggests that he is finding meaning in the text that can “reasonably” be ascribed to it.

Roberts justifies this change in terminology by noting that the amount of the penalty that would be levied would not be punitive – in fact the cost of paying the penalty would often be less than the cost of buying health insurance. And since the so-called penalty would not be burdensome, it’s not really penalizing behavior.

Yeah.

But the most egregious aspect of this decision, and one which an astounding number of commentators seem to be missing, is that the Chief Justice has massively expanded the use of the taxing power. Roberts asserts that “taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new.” He then rattles off a list of things that are taxed heavily in order to change behavior, including cigarettes. The problem with this is that people have to buy cigarettes in order to be taxed. This “tax” is applied to people who don’t make a purchase. In other words, the federal government is taxing non-activity. It is the same exact logic that the government used to justify the mandate under the commerce clause. All Roberts has done is shift the authority under the Constitution which justifies government intervention.

Then Roberts makes the astounding claim, also amazingly echoed approvingly in certain quarters, that “While the individual mandate clearly aims to induce the purchase of health insurance, it need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS.” (emphasis mine)

I’m actually embarrassed for the Chief Justice here. Surely he is not as incapable of making a logical progression as this statement suggests he is. But let’s make this crystal clear. If you do not purchase health insurance, you will be penalized, err, “taxed.” If you fail to pay that tax at the end of the year, what do you suppose happens to you? Does the IRS send you a series of letters pleading with you to “please, pretty please, with a cherry on top, please pay your tax?” Do they put little frowny faces at the bottom of these letters? Does the Commissioner of the IRS stand outside your window with a boom box blaring “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, the rain pelting him as he cries out “Please, just pay this tax which, by the way, should in no way be construed as a penalty?”

Oh, that’s right, you go to jail. So you totally have the right to not buy health insurance, and there’s absolutely no punishment for failure to pay the tax. This assumes, of course, you always wanted to share a very small space with a drug dealer named Zeke. Just think of this as a government-funded vacation where you may, or may not, have discomfort walking towards the end of the vacation. You see – what a bargain!

The Chief Justice makes several more spurious claims. He notes that “tax incentives already promote, for example, purchasing homes and professional education.” But tax incentives are reductions in the level of taxation for making certain purchases. Your taxes are not increased when you decide to rent a house instead of purchase one.

Roberts observes that the “Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated in the Constitution.” Really? The income tax was made allowable only through the 16th Amendment, but it’s not a tax merely for existing. It’s a tax that only applies if you earn money – in other words, it’s a tax that applies only when you engage in the activity of earning your daily bread. It’s not a “mere existence” tax, and it’s certainly not a taxation of non-activity.

According to Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the ability to issue direct taxes apportioned among the several States, but the Chief Justice himself declares that this is not a direct tax.

Section 8 of Article I states:

Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Again, I fail to see how that justifies taxation of non-activity. The idea that this kind of tax would have been countenanced by the same people (by and large) who fought the War of Independence is laughable on its face.

Attempts to sugarcoat this opinion are wrongheaded. In many ways, Roberts’ basing his decision on the tax power is worse than if he had relied on the Commerce Clause, for he has actually expanded the reach of the federal government in a way heretofore unseen. It’s true that Roberts and the four dissenters limit the reach of the commerce clause, but in reality they haven’t done much more than what the Rehnquist Court did in the mid-90s in the Lopez and Morrison cases in limiting the scope of the Commerce Clause. No new ground has been broken, and no old precedents were over-ridden. Much the same can be said with respect to the Medicaid ruling. On the other hand, the Chief Justice has broadened the taxing power so that it can now be applied to non-activity. Long story short, the federal government has more power today than it did yesterday. That is the most chilling aspect of this decision.

I believe that the commenter cthemfly25 has it right in the comments on my previous post:

Congress can always use taxing authority to undermine the constitution.  And if a tax can be used to undermine the constitution and modulate and control social behavior, then the all powerful central government can use its unmitigated taxing power to regulate religion (there is no way applying Roberts’ logic that the religious mandate could be struck down), regulate home schooling or private schooling (“taxed” for not teaching homosexual curriculum), regulate the size of families (taxed for having more than two kids), regulate food or beverage consumption (taxed based on calorie intake), regulate fuel consumption (“taxed” for excessive fuel consumption), regulate choice of consumer goods such as vehicles (“taxed” for not purchasing a “green” car),—–regulate from a central authority any human or civic activity under the rubric of “taxation”.

Perhaps the Anti-Federalist Brutus was right, after all, about the taxing power under the Constitution.

This power, exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every comer of the city, and country — It will wait upon the ladies at their toilett, and will not leave them in any of their domestic concerns; it will accompany them to the ball, the play, and the assembly; it will go with them when they visit, and will, on all occasions, sit beside them in their carriages, nor will it desert them even at church; it will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will attend him to his bed-chamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office, or his study; it will watch the merchant in the counting-house, or in his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and in his work, and will haunt him in his family, and in his bed; it will be a constant companion of the industrious farmer in all his labour, it will be with him in the house, and in the field, observe the toil of his hands, and the sweat of his brow; it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people, and in all these circumstances, in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them, will be GIVE! GIVE!

 

Et Tu, Ioannes?

The Supreme Court has ruled the individual mandate is constitutional as a tax. So the individual mandate is not a permissible use of the commerce clause; however, it is appropriate for Congress to levy a tax that essentially forces taxpayers to buy health insurance.

I will have to wait until I read the entire opinion before rendering judgment, but at first blush this looks like a terrible defeat for the rule of law.

By the way, it looks like it was a 5-4 decision. Kennedy voted with Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Let that sink in.

Correction: I am now reading that it was 6-3. Honestly, I’m reading a lot of conflicting reports, so I’ll refrain from further commentary until I read the opinions.

Correction to the Corrction: Nope, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia would have decreed the entire act unconstitutional. It was John Roberts who saved Obamacare.

And now I offer my apologies to all those I scolded for critiquing the John Roberts selection. You were right. I’ve thus changed the post title.

SCOTUS Update: No Decision on PPACA, Most Provisions of AZ Immigration Law Struck Down (Updated)

The Supreme Court’s decision on the individual mandate will be delivered on Thursday. Based on who has authored opinions thus far this term, it is highly likely that the majority opinion will be delivered by Chief Justice Roberts. Even if that is the case, that does not mean that the individual mandate is doomed.

Today the Court did deliver an opinion on the Arizona immigration law, striking down three of the four major provisions. The Court permitted the “show your papers” provision, though the language suggests that it must be applied narrowly. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court. The case was decided 5-3, with Justice Kagan recusing herself. Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented. The opinions can be found here.

The Court also ruled that juvenile convicts cannot be subject to life in prison without parole. As Shannen Coffiin quipped, next “look for the Court to decide that juvenile offenders cannot be sent to their room without possibility of their supper.” The decision is here.

In another case, the Court ruled that its Citizens United decision applies to a Montana state law.

All in all, today’s decisions remind us that, no matter how the Court rules on the individual mandate, the Court is still a bloody mess.

I hope to have further analysis of the Arizona case later today.

Update: Reading through the opinions now in the Arizona case, and I just want to note that Alito agreed with the majority in declaring Section 3 of the AZ law (which forbids the “willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document”) to be preempted by federal law. Both Thomas and Scalia would have upheld all four sections of the law.

Update 2: And the fig leaf that the Court gave to the state of Arizona proved to be of little use:

The Obama administration said Monday it is suspending existing agreements with Arizona police over enforcement of federal immigration laws, and said it has issued a directive telling federal authorities to decline many of the calls reporting illegal immigrants that the Homeland Security Department may get from Arizona police.

Administration officials, speaking on condition they not be named, told reporters they expect to see an increase in the number of calls they get from Arizona police — but that won’t change President Obama’s decision to limit whom the government actually tries to detain and deport.

Shorter headline should be, “Obama to Arizona: Drop Dead.”

 

Sons of Cain: St. Michael, Knights of Longinus, and Bohemians

Can you answer the Teaser Questions at the end?

When I asked my political science and history buff, numerical mechanics expert, Special Ops retired military officer husband to recommend his favorite author so I could read it, it was a wifely effort to show love, to get to know him better. He answered, “Tom Clancy,” and handed me Debt of Honor and Executive Orders, an overwhelming 2,500 page paperback brick stack. My eyes bugged out.

But hey, I’m committed, so I read Tom Clancy’s masterpiece tale, and my hesitation turned into enthusiasm. The technical world of national warfare, really the pitting of good and bad individual leaders against each other, was fascinating and caused me to rethink the meaning of pacifism. Through the characters, I developed an appreciation for the courage and humility required of good leaders. Tom Clancy is a master at teaching through storytelling because his novels are exhaustively researched, reality-based fiction. The two-part story (only part of a bigger series) centers around a terrorist attack in which a hijacked Boeing 747 is flown directly into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, decapitating the government. It is interesting to note that the books were published four and six years before September 11, 2001. Many people wondered about the prophetic nature of the book because it turned out to be more real than anyone anticipated. Tom Clancy understands the mentality of his characters, deeply.

Reading Val Bianco’s novel, Sons of Cain, was kind of like that, except Mr. Bianco brings a spiritual fullness to his work that makes it eternally pertinent. It is not nearly as tedious as working through a Clancy military novel, but the progression of the story ushers the reader into a life-changing experience, beckoning a more thoughtful dive into current world events and what goes on the minds of those who cause them. It makes spiritual warfare tangible and present, yet with an inspiring catechetical quality. I no longer wonder how to think of angels and demons, and I can almost see the “spiritual space” in the battle of good and evil when I consider how and why certain events happen the way they do. Are there large and terrible demons with their claws dug deeply in the heads and abdomens of men, preying on their minds and souls, coercing them to malice and perceived power, even as it makes them feel sick? Think about it! Continue reading

The Left Suddenly Uncomfortable with Concept of Judicial Review

Don has covered President Obama’s not too subtle threat to the Court that it not dare strike down all or even part of Obamacare.  Yesterday he somewhat toned down his remarks, but still managed to step in it.

At an appearance this afternoon, a reporter asked Obama a question following up on yesterday’s comments: “Mr. President, you said yesterday that it would be ‘unprecedented’ for a Supreme Court to overturn laws passed by an elected Congress. But that is exactly what the court’s done during its entire existence. If the court were to overturn the individual mandate, what would you do, or propose to do, for the 30 million people who wouldn’t have health care after that ruling?”

Obama’s answer to the question was that he expects to win in court, and “as a consequence, we’re not spending a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies.” He went on to talk at some length about the “human element”–that is, people who would supposedly suffer in the absence of ObamaCare. Message: Obama cares, though not enough to spend “a whole bunch of time planning for contingencies.”

But the most interesting part of his answer was the beginning, in which he tried to walk back, or at least clarify, his statement from yesterday. He spoke slowly, with long pauses, giving the sense that he was speaking with great thought and precision: “Well, first of all, let me be very specific. Um [pause], we have not seen a court overturn [pause] a [pause] law that was passed [pause] by Congress on [pause] a [pause] economic issue, like health care, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce. A law like that has not been overturned [pause] at least since Lochner,right? So we’re going back to the ’30s, pre-New Deal.”

As James Taranto points out, this response is wrong on multiple levels.  The case that Obama cites in fact pre-dates the New Deal by a good thirty year.  Second, the full title of the case – Lochner vs. New York – tells us that this was a case involving state law, not federal legislation.  As Taranto further explains, there have been plenty of Supreme Court cases in which the high court struck down state laws, some dealing with economic matters.  And there of course have been plenty of cases where the Court has in fact declared federal statutes unconstitutional.  In fact two cases in the late 90s – US v. Lopez and US v. Morrison – directly implicated the commerce clause, and in both cases the Court rendered a 5-4 decision overturning acts of Congress which relied upon the commerce clause for their justification.

But other than that, I guess Obama was spot on.

The broader issue, other than Obama’s seeming ignorance of constitutional law, is that the left has suddenly decided that they don’t much care for this concept of judicial review. Continue reading

Hollow Victories

There is some excitement that oral arguments are going well for opponents of Obamacare.  Though oral arguments are not perfectly indicative of how the Supreme Court will vote in the end, there is some cause for guarded optimism.  That being said, even if the Court completely strikes down Obamacare, it will be something of a hollow victory.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is no other correct course of action for the Court to take than to strike down the individual mandate and thus effectively kill Obamacare.  It is one of those remarkable monstrosities that happens to be both bad policy and unconstitutional.  The problem is that something this monumental is essentially being decided on the whims of a single Justice.  How did we reach the point where our basic liberties come down to what Anthony Kennedy may have had for breakfast one day?

I don’t mean to be flip, but it feels like we’ve taken a very wrong turn somewhere along the line.  Continue reading

Assessing Potential Supreme Court Vacancies

Supreme Court appointments have been a relatively muted issue during the campaign.  It might be worth taking a look at the Court and in order to see where we might be headed over the course of the next presidential term.  I will be listing Justices in order from least to most likely to retire over the next four years.  Letter in parentheses indicates party of the president under which they were appointed.

John Roberts (R), Samuel Alito (R), Sonia Sotomayor (D), Elana Kagan (D):  All recent appointments, and all relatively young.  None of these guys are going anywhere anytime soon barring a catastrophic health crisis.

Clarence Thomas (R): Even though he recently started his third decade on the Court, Thomas is still fairly young, as he won’t turn 70 until 2018.  He is the Justice most committed to completely overturning decades of bad precedents, and I have a hunch he’d like to be on the Court to help shape those future rulings.  There is a tiny sliver of a chance he could retire if a Republican wins the presidency, but it would be a fairly big surprise.

Antonin Scalia (R), Stephen Breyer (D): Scalia and Breyer are fairly close in age.  Scalia turns 80 at the end of the next presidential term, and Breyer is two years his junior.  Scalia would also be completing his 30th year on the Court in 2016.  Both are still vigorous and active.  Neither will retire if a member of the opposite party wins the forthcoming election, and I would put the odds of retirement at just under 50/50 if someone from their party wins.  I would imagine Scalia would share some of Thomas’s desire to be able to shape opinions, so he might hang on through the next term.

Anthony Kennedy (R):  The Court’s swing vote, he is just a few months younger than Scalia and has served just one less year on the Court.  His retirement would be the game changer, and whoever gets to pick his replacement could be altering the course of the Court for the next thirty years.  It doesn’t matter which party controls the White House, the confirmation fight over his replacement will be a bloodbath, and I would fully expect a filibuster effort.

Will he retire, and will he peg his retirement to whoever is in the White House?  He’s a moderate, but he was appointed by a Republican.  Ultimately Kennedy will probably decide upon his retirement in the same manner as he decides most of his votes: by flipping a coin.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (D): The only one of the eight clear ideoloigical justices who could retire during an administration of the opposite party.  She is the oldest member of the Court, and she has had some health problems in recent years.  I personally have seen her up close a couple of times, and she looked incredibly frail – and this was several years ago.  But she is still fairly vigorous, even travelling to Egpyt in order to tell the Egyptians how rotten our Constitution is.  She has evidently indicated a willingness to retire at 82, the same age as Louis Brandeis.  That would occur in 2015.

If Barack Obama wins re-election, I would put the odds at just about 100 percent that she will retire over the next four years.  Even if  a Republican wins the White House, health issues might force her hand.  If that happens, the confirmation battle will be just as intense, if not more so, than for whoever would replace Kennedy.

Ultimately the question we have to ask is which of the candidates is likely to go to the mats when it comes to a Supreme Court nomination battle?

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