United States Supreme Court

Prayer and the First Amendment

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Bravo to Roy Costner IV!  Valedictorian of his class at Liberty High School in Liberty, South Carolina, he tore up his approved speech which did not mention God, and spoke about his Christian faith, reciting the Paternoster:

After speaking for a bit, the senior cut to the quick.

“Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young  adults that we are today,” Costner said in his speech. “I’m so thankful that  both my parents led me to the Lord at a young age. And I think most of you will  understand when I say…”

Costner then proceeded to recite a full-length version of the Lord’s Prayer,  the pivotal Christian prayer that is attributed to Jesus in the both the Gospel  of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew.

The audience members began to cheer tentatively and then heartily once they  realized what Costner was saying. The applause eventually became so loud that it  drowned out Costner’s voice.

At the end of the prayer, after Costner says, “Amen,” the audience breaks  into another round of wild applause.

Go here to The Daily Caller to read the rest.  The absurdity of Federal judges acting as censors of student speeches at commencement stems from a 6-3 decision of the Supreme Court in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (2000) in which the majority banned student led prayer at football games as an establishment of religion.

Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote a scathing dissent that began:

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom JUSTICE SCALIA and JUSTICE THOMAS join, dissenting.

The Court distorts existing precedent to conclude that the school district’s student-message program is invalid on its face under the Establishment Clause. But even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the Court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life. Neither the holding nor the tone of the opinion is faithful to the meaning of the Establishment Clause, when it is recalled that George Washington himself, at the request of the very Congress which passed the Bill of Rights, proclaimed a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Presidential Proclamation, 1 Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, p. 64 (J. Richardson ed. 1897). Continue reading

A Ravenclaw, not a Gryffindor (Updated)

For those conservatives tenaciously clinging to the idea that Chief Justice John Roberts is playing some masterful game of chess that will end only with the liberals on the Court, in Congress, and in the White House brought to their knees in humiliating defeat, well, I’m not even sure the Chief is up for a rousing game of checkers. According to Jan Crawford’s piece, Roberts’ change of heart was motivated in large part to concerns over media pressure. So, the Chief Justice of the United States, according to this report, was cowed into upholding Obamacare because he was afraid of how the Court – and especially he – would look.

It has been rightly pointed out that Crawford relied on two anonymous sources, and therefore this story should be taken with some fine grains of salt. It’s certainly a plausible story, but an unconfirmable one.

Fine. It is possible that the Chief Justice wasn’t cowed by media or executive pressure. But even if the Chief Justice was not particularly pressured to decide in favor of Obamacare, it’s not beyond reason to suggest that he was still concerned about the institutional prestige of the Court, as well as a respect for the other two branches of government. Thus he concocted a rather far-fetched legal argument in order to justify declaring as constitutional a statute he knew at heart was not constitutional. So the more charitable interpretation of Roberts’ behavior is not that he’s a coward, but rather an activist who decided to rewrite a statute from the bench in order to avoid embroiling the Court in a partisan political battle.

There is a third option: John Roberts legitimately believed in the argument he made about the statute’s constitutionality.

Which is the option in which the Chief Justice looks like a chess playing genius again?

The title of the post, by the way, comes from my wife’s suggestion that President Bush nominated a Ravenclaw when he should have nominated a Gryffindor. It’s certainly more logical than anything I heard the Chief Justice say last week.

Update: It occurs to me that there is a fourth avenue of “defense,” and that is Roberts made a brilliant political calculation by forcing Obama to defend the health care law as a tax. Put aside the question of whether or not that would be an astute political maneuver. If that were indeed Roberts’ intention, than that hardly speaks well as to his character as Chief Justice. If he decided to uphold the law only to enable its use as a partisan club against the president, then the Chief Justice would have engaged in behavior that would justify his removal from the bench. So his defenders might want to think twice about that line of attack, at least insofar as they posit that he willfully engaged in such politicking.

By the way, if you’re still unsure of what to think of John Roberts’ thought process, look who was helping him along and now has his back.

Kmiec, a rare conservative supporter of Obama in 2008 who served as his ambassador to Malta, said he thinks Roberts sought out Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote but didn’t spend much time trying to sway Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Alito. Roberts, he said, probably didn’t worry about being punished by the conservatives.

“Roberts is a bigger man than that,” Kmiec said. “He might smile and recognize that was what they were doing, but he’d also just appreciate that was their way of making a statement. But he’d not chase the tail of the dog to try to turn it around.”

Kmiec, who served a resource to Roberts as he lined up his current two-week teaching trip to Malta, said he thinks Roberts would prefer that the story of the court’s internal deliberations get out “rather than keeping it so secret that it’d have caused some hard feelings among the chambers.”

“I think he knows in his heart that he’s reached a good decision for the well-being of the court and I don’t think he’s earned any long-term enmity of the conservatives,” Kmiec said. “If anything, this will give him more bargaining ability for years to come on both sides.”

Well if he’s got Doug Kmiec on his side, what more can a man ask for than that?

Of Kidney Stones, the Obamacare Decision and Election 2012

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I was primed today for the Obamacare Decision.  I made certain that I had no court hearings today, and my appointments were not starting until 10:00 AM.  Alas my third kidney stone decided to make its appearance at 7:00 AM.  By 9:00 AM I was suffering from truly memorable pain.  I stayed home from the law mines and had my secretary reschedule all my appointments except the 2:00 PM which was in the nature of an emergency.  Nursed by my wife, and my doctor who opened his office early for me, God bless him, I soon had in my system very strong painkillers and Flowmax.  By 1:30 PM I still felt like bayonets were probing my nether regions, but duty is duty and my wife drove me to my office for the 2:00 PM appointment.  By the end of it at 3:00 PM I was feeling semi-human, the pain killers and the Flowmax working their magic.

As for the Obamacare decision, a plain text copy of the decision may be read here, the majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts is both brilliant and wrong.  His exposition of how th individual mandate violates the Commerce Clause is magnificent.  His transformation of the mandate into a tax was clever and wrong.  The idea that something is a tax if it is used as a penalty to compel behavior is imaginative and absurd.  Go here to read an examination of the decision shorn of legal gobbledygook.  Lost in the hubbub over this part of the decision is that Roberts had a majority of the court rule that states could refuse to take part in the Medicaid expansion, a key part of Obamacare, and that Congress could not punish them by taking away all their Medicaid money.  Go here to read an analysis of that portion of the decision. Continue reading

ObamaCare Ruling Watch

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When the decision of the Supreme Court is released tomorrow at 9:00 AM Central Time I will do my best to link to the decision and have some commentary, work permitting in the law mines.  Now of course we can only guess what will happen.  Few things are more futile than attempting to guess what a court will do, but it is fun!  I share in the conventional wisdom that the Court will likely strike down the mandate but uphold the rest.  From a political standpoint, although it would be a travesty under the Constitution, I would prefer that the Court uphold the whole thing, since I think it would ignite a firestorm among conservatives and lead to a devastating defeat for Obama in the fall.  Well, we will see what happens tomorrow.

Obama Bullies Supreme Court

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Obama gave us a preview today of the tactics he will use if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare.

In his first public comments about the case since the justices took it up last week, Mr. Obama appeared to be framing the political argument he would make should he have to face voters this fall after a loss at the high court.

“For years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or the lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” he said at a news conference. The health-care case is a good example of just that, he said. “And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.”

White House officials have said they were reluctant to appear to lobby the Supreme Court, which is partly why the president didn’t speak out on the case until after it was argued before the court last week. Continue reading

Day 2 of Oral Argument on ObamaCare: Train Wreck For the Administration

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Day 2 of oral argument on ObamaCare.  Go here to read the transcript.  Go here to listen to an audio recording of the oral argument.  Today’s argument focused on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the argument did not seem to observers to go well for the Obama administration.   Jeffery Tobin, CNN’s legal analyst, put it succinctly:

This was a train wreck for the Obama administration,” he said. “This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. I’m telling you, all of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong… if I had to bet today I would bet that this court is going to strike down the individual mandate.”

Toobin added that he felt that U.S. Solicitor General David Verrilli simply wasn’t prepared for the conservative justices.

“I don’t know why he had a bad day,” he said. “He is a good lawyer, he was a perfectly fine lawyer in the really sort of tangential argument yesterday. He was not ready for the answers for the conservative justices.”

Toobin also said he thought Justice Kennedy, the perennial swing vote, was a “lost cause” for supporters of the health care reform law. Continue reading

One of Our Black Robed Masters at Work

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Fred Biery, a Bill Clinton appointee, is a Federal District Judge down in Texas.  In order to satisfy two village atheist parents of a student who contend that their 18 year old “child” will be irreparably damaged if any prayer escapes any lips during his high school commencement ceremony, Biery has banned all prayer at the high school commencement of the Medina Valley Independent School District on Saturday.  This includes the Judge censoring the speech of the valedictorian of the graduating class, Angela Hildebrand, a Catholic, who wished to say a prayer in her speech.

Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order against the Medina Valley Independent School District also forbids students from using specific religious words including “prayer” and “amen.”

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the ceremony.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the school district is in the process of appealing the ruling, and his office has agreed to file a brief in their support.

“Part of this goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in this country,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News Radio, saying the judge wanted to turn school administrators into “speech police.”

I’ve never seen such a restriction on speech issued by a court or the government,” Abbott told Fox News Radio. “It seems like a trampling of the First Amendment rather than protecting the First Amendment.”

Judge Biery’s ruling banned students and other speakers from using religious language in their speeches. Among the banned words or phrases are: “join in prayer,” “bow their heads,” “amen,” and “prayer.”

He also ordered the school district to remove the terms “invocation” and “benediction” from the graduation program.

“These terms shall be replaced with ‘opening remarks’ and ‘closing remarks,’” the judge’s order stated. His ruling also prohibits anyone from saying, “in [a deity’s name] we pray.”

Should a student violate the order, school district officials could find themselves in legal trouble. Judge Biery ordered that his ruling be “enforced by incarceration or other sanctions for contempt of Court if not obeyed by District official (sic) and their agents.”

The Texas attorney general called the ruling unconstitutional and a blatant attack from those who do not believe in God — “attempts by atheists and agnostics to use courts to eliminate from the public landscape any and all references to God whatsoever.”

“This is the challenge we are dealing with here,” he said. “(It’s) an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting while at the same time demanding from the courts an increased yielding to all things atheist and agnostic.”

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