SCOTUS

RNC Faith Liaison: Supreme Court Will Bring Religious Right Voters To Trump

The Republican Party’s faith outreach director, former South Carolina GOP chair Chad Connelly, says conservative Christians will vote for Donald Trump based on the future of the Supreme Court.

The biggest thing on evangelicals’ minds, I think, is the fact that we’re gonna be looking at a Supreme Court that could be vastly different going forward. And electing somebody like Hillary Clinton, who is obviously biased against the things that most evangelicals, Christians believe in, would be disastrous for religious liberty, for property rights, gun rights, religious freedom and stuff like that. I think it’s gonna settle out just fine and our folks will go our way.

Connelly told CBN’s Heather Sells that his friends and fellow church members had been split among Republican candidates, but that voters have now “given us two choices.” Trump’s plans to meet with Religious Right leaders and activists next month are, said Connelly, a sign that Trump knows you “don’t leave anybody out, especially not the base.”

Connelly travels the country encouraging pastors to register their congregants to vote and convince them to cast ballots based on a “biblical worldview.” Like speakers at virtually every Religious Right gathering, he said that what’s happened to the country “is literally our fault” because pastors haven’t preached aggressively enough. “Voting is not political,” he said, “it’s spiritual. It’s our witness and testimony to the community of what we believe in.”

He said he doesn’t think conservative pastors going to sit on the sidelines any more. He tells pastors, “Get your people registered and talk to them about the issues of the day and then make sure they go vote those issues in the voting booth.”

I spoke at a church…not long ago where the pastor kind of apologized to his congregation before he introduced me. He said he’d been preaching for 39 years and had never tried to connect the dots of the things going on with biblical worldview, and he said, “that’s gonna change.”

Asked whether Trump should apologize to Latino Christians who have been offended by his rhetoric, Connelly said, “I’ll leave his campaign decisions to him” and pivoted back to the Supreme Court.

I’ve been with Latino and African American and Anglo pastors all over the nation and they see this Supreme Court deal as a very big thing. You know the next president’s gonna probably appoint two, maybe three, and potentially four Supreme Court justices. That’s a 50-year decision for Christians out there.

To those conservative Christians who aren’t happy with their choices, Connelly says, “no man’s perfect.” But he says that people who are upset about Planned Parenthood and “judges rewriting God’s definition of marriage” should realize that “the Republican Party is the natural home for people of faith.”

Says Connelly, “I mean, let’s face it...it may be 100 years before the other party swings back and pays any attention to Christian values and biblical values like you and I care about.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd also cited the Supreme Court in defending his decision to meet with Trump in June:

This election is about who will appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices. This election is about the dignity of human life from the womb to the tomb. This election is about the most significant religious freedom concerns in American history. I'm not about to sit at home on Election Day because I'm accountable to God and, I believe, I am accountable to my fellow Americans to vote. This is why I am meeting with Donald Trump, and why I would be willing to also meet with Hillary Clinton.

Liberty Counsel: Send Money To Help Roy Moore Resist Supreme Court Marriage Tyranny

Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group that is actively promoting efforts by right-wing judges, lawmakers and activists to nullify U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion and marriage equality, is raising money for its ongoing support of suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. As Miranda reported yesterday, Moore’s backers are holding a rally on Saturday to support his defiance of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. 

In a direct mail letter, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver warns that Moore and other Christian leaders “are facing intense backlash for upholding God’s unwavering TRUTH.”

“In Alabama and across America, state judiciaries and legislatures are standing up against the federal judiciary, resisting tyrannical rule and upholding the moral law of God,” writes Staver, who asks for money to “defend Christian leaders who are being targeted by deep-pocketed, radical activists.”

Staver says “you and I must continue to pray and take an active stand against the forces destroying the foundations of our nation.” More from his letter:

I support Chief Justice Moore’s action that sends a “shot across the bow” regarding the Supreme Court’s egregious 5-4 marriage opinion on same-sex “marriage.” The United States Constitution does not prohibit states from affirming the natural crated order of one man and one woman joined together in marriage.

Like Daniel in the lion’s den, Chief Justice Moore is being persecuted for his faith by liberal legal professionals and radical LGGBT activists. But like Daniel, Chief Justice Moore will not bend, having faith that God will protect those who seek and follow His Word.

Staver asks recipients of the letter to sign and return (along with some money) a “Vote of Confidence” letter to Moore, which says in part:

Thank you for not bowing your knee to the U.S. Supreme Court’s egregious 5-4 marriage opinion on same-sex “marriage.” No civil authority, including the U.S. Supreme Court, has the authority to define marriage as anything but the union of one man and one woman!

I pray that God continues to guide and protect you, and to give you and other Christian leaders the continuing strength to turn the tide of immorality sweeping our nation.

Staver also includes a card reminding people to pray for Moore that he suggests placing in your Bible or on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.

 

Samuel Rodriguez Gives Trump Chance To 'Redeem The Narrative' With Latinos

Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez has a consistent political strategy: position himself as a nonpartisan advocate committed “not to the agenda of the elephant or the donkey but the lamb,” all while trying to convince Hispanic Christians to support socially conservative causes and politicians.

You might think that the immigration-reform-promoting Rodriguez would be in a bind with immigrant-demeaning Trump as the Republican nominee. But even though Rodriguez has been publicly critical of Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, he seems to be positioning himself to encourage Hispanic evangelicals to support the Republican candidate. He has said Trump blew it with his early campaign rhetoric and that the candidate must “redeem the narrative” with Latinos.

This week Bloomberg reported that Trump would be delivering a videotaped message to be shown at this weekend’s meeting of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), which Rodriguez heads, and whose board includes Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver. The pro-immigrant group America’s Voice called on Rodriguez not to let Trump deliver a message to the group given Trump’s “hateful, incendiary rhetoric directed at our communities.”

(Just days ago, Trump attacked NHCLC board member Russell Moore, a leading Southern Baptist official, as a “nasty guy with no heart.” Rodriguez, who co-authored with Moore a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies last July, said at the time that “an attack on Russell Moore is an attack on the entire evangelical community.”)

Rodriguez told the Washington Post earlier this week that he would wait to see if the message was “respectful” before deciding whether to show it. Today it is clear that Trump has satisfied Rodriguez, because the NHCLC put out a press release saying the group would show video messages from Trump and from Hillary Clinton on Friday evening.

While Rodriguez says he will not endorse a candidate, it’s hard to take him seriously as some kind of honest broker between the staunchly pro-choice Clinton and the muddled punish-the-woman Trump, who has said he would nominate Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.  As we recently noted, Rodriguez has said, “I’m going to vote for protecting the Supreme Court from judges that are activists, that run counter to our Judeo-Christian value system.” And he has made it clear that he believes Hispanic Christians must make opposition to abortion, not support for immigrant families, the basis of their vote.

In an interview being promoted by Glenn Beck’s The Blaze today, Rodriguez doubles down on that message, saying it would be “morally reprehensible” for Christians to vote for a candidate who supports Planned Parenthood, saying they would need to “repent.”

“I want to speak to every single African American, Latino, and Anglo Christ follower who believes in biblical orthodoxy — how can we justify supporting anything — be it Republican or Democrat — that in any way, form or shape defends Planned Parenthood?”

Trump has repeatedly praised Planned Parenthood but says he wants to defund the women’s health organization unless they agree to stop providing abortion services.

Rodriguez told The Blaze that it would take “a miracle” for Trump to win over the Latino community, but suggested it could be possible if he apologizes and chooses a Hispanic running mate, mentioning Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Ted Cruz.

The supposedly nonpartisan Rodriguez has filmed a video promoting the Republican Party’s faith-outreach project. Only 16 percent of American Latinos identify themselves as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center, but they are more likely than other Hispanics to vote Republican.

Samuel Rodriguez: Getting Conservative SCOTUS Trumps Immigration Reform

As head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Samuel Rodriguez has worked to get more Latino voters, especially evangelicals, to back conservative candidates, while at the same time trying to get Republicans to stop trash-talking Latino immigrants and back immigration reform.

But it appears that Rodriguez has thrown his lot in with Donald Trump, the very candidate who kicked off his campaign by trash-talking Latino immigrants and calling for mass deportations.

While he may be an outspoken advocate of immigration reform, when push comes to shove, as it has with Trump’s all-but-certain nomination, Rodriguez makes it clear that he is first and foremost a Religious Right culture warrior.

Rodriguez pushes the Religious Right line that religious freedom is threatened in America. There is an attempt to “silence Christians” in America, he says, and Christians cannot sit out elections because “today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.” He also believes there is a spiritual battle under way to “annihilate” the family.

In the end, his advocacy for immigrant families takes a back seat to his opposition to legal abortion and marriage equality. He said as much at an Evangelicals for Life event in January, telling Latinos that it’s fine to march for immigration reform —“as long as it’s not amnesty or illegal immigration; we need to stop that” — but “we must be above all things pro-life.”

Although Rodriguez manages to cultivate a public image as a nonpartisan bridge-builder, he regularly partners with some of the most extreme voices within the Religious Right. The stridently anti-gay Liberty Counsel serves as NHCLC’s official “legislative and policy arm” and Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver serves as an NHCLC board member and its chief legal counsel. Last fall Rodriguez called Cindy Jacobs, who has predicted a new civil war between God-loving and gay-loving states,  “one of the most anointed voices, prophetic voices in the Kingdom of God.”

In a story last week by right-wing pundit Todd Starnes of Fox News, Rodriguez dismissed talk by some evangelical leaders that Christians should, in the words of pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Of evils choose none.” Rodriguez says not voting is “sacrificing your Christian worldview on the altar of political expediency. It is silly to talk about not voting for either candidate. Every single Christian should vote.”

And while Rodriguez doesn’t mention Trump by name, it is clear that he will not be voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders:

“I will vote my Christian values,” Rodriguez said. “It’s life, the family ethos, it’s religious liberty, it’s limited government. That’s the person I’m going to vote for.”

Rodriquez conceded that the 2016 candidates are not his “dream team” – but he’s only concerned about one issue – the Supreme Court.

“I’m going to vote for protecting the Supreme Court from judges that are activists – that run counter to our Judeo-Christian value system.”

This is a very different message than Rodriguez conveyed in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in July, which he co-wrote with Southern Baptist official Russell Moore, where he described Trump as an unchristian, unethical and unelectable politician.

Trump tweeted earlier this week that Moore is “a terrible representative of Evangelicals” and a “nasty guy with no heart!”

Unlike Rodriguez, Moore is standing by his opposition to Trump.

 

Trump Turns To Far-Right Heritage Foundation For Future Supreme Court Nominees

While many Americans grimly wonder which would be worse for the country, President Donald Trump or President Ted Cruz, one issue isn’t providing much help: Both candidates are making it clear that their potential nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court would be terrible.

We reported yesterday on Cruz’s suggestions that he would nominate his best friend in the Senate, Utah’s Mike Lee. Under his extreme views of the Constitution, much of what the federal government does is unconstitutional, including Social Security and Medicare.

What about Trump? Last year, Trump called Clarence Thomas his favorite justice. This year, he declared Justice Antonin Scalia’s death a “massive setback” for the conservative movement and joined right-wing conspiracy theorists in raising suspicions that Scalia had been murdered.

Last month Trump tossed out the names of two right-wing appeals court judges, William Pryor and Diane Sykes, as two potential nominees from a Trump administration. Pryor calls Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona, two landmark cases protecting the rights of women and criminal defendants, respectively, “the worst examples of judicial activism.” Sykes, like Pryor, has upheld damaging voter ID laws. She also argued that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to receive government subsidies regardless of whether they engage in discrimination.

Now, Trump is pledging to release a list of seven to 10 potential justices from which he commits to choosing a nominee – and that list is being put together with help from the far-right Heritage Foundation. Heritage is a massively funded right-wing powerhouse that is home to, among others, anti-marriage-equality activist Ryan Anderson, who is urging social conservatives to resist the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.

Heritage and its more explicitly political arm Heritage Action have demanded even greater obstructionism from congressional Republicans. Even before Scalia’s death, the group had urged the GOP to refuse to confirm any executive branch or judicial nominations except for appointments dealing with national security. Heritage senior fellow Hans von Spakovsky has even demanded that Scalia be allowed to “vote” – even though he is dead – on a case that right-wing activists were hoping the court would use to destroy public sector unions.

Trump met in Washington yesterday with congressional Republicans, and at a press conference he pushed back against accusations by Cruz that he couldn’t be counted on to name a conservative to the court. “Some people say maybe I’ll appoint a liberal judge,” he said. “I won’t.” He promised that his nominee would be “pro-life” and “conservative.”

Trump also explicitly warned (or taunted, depending on your view) Republicans opposed to his nomination that if they support a third-party candidate against him, they will allow a Democrat to name Supreme Court justices who “will never allow this country to be the same.”

Among the Republicans huddling with Trump? Heritage Foundation president and former Sen. Jim DeMint.

PFAW Targets Sen. Pat Toomey for Supreme Court Obstruction with Robocalls from Alfre Woodard

In a robocall released today by People For the American Way, award-winning actress Alfre Woodard calls Pennsylvania voters urging them to contact Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) and demand that he give fair consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. As the call states, Sen. Toomey has declared that he won’t fulfill his constitutional duty and instead falsely asserts it’s “not that big a deal” if the Supreme Court vacancy lasts for over a year.

“Sen. Toomey’s irresponsible obstruction is inexcusable,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “The Constitution is very clear that it’s the job of Senators to give fair consideration to Supreme Court nominees, and there’s certainly no exceptions during election years. Not only is it a ‘big deal’ if Sen. Toomey and his fellow Republican Senators refuse to do their jobs, it’s a crisis of constitutional proportions.”

This is the second set of robocalls that PFAW has launched on this issue. In February, Martin Sheen called Wisconsinites targeting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) for his obstruction on the Supreme Court vacancy.

Listen to the call here: 



A transcript of the recording for today’s Pennsylvania calls reads:

Hi, this is Alfre Woodard, calling on behalf of People For the American Way.

When there’s a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the Constitution is clear about what happens next: the President nominates a new Justice and the Senate gives that nominee fair consideration.

But Republicans, including Senator Pat Toomey, are playing politics with the law and saying they won’t fulfill their constitutional obligation. Toomey even said it’s “not that big a deal” to leave the ninth Supreme Court seat empty for more than a year!

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Call Senator Toomey at (202) 224-4254, and tell him you expect him to put his Constitutional duties first—and give fair consideration to President Obama’s nominee.

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

###

Dolores Huerta, PFAW Respond to SCOTUS Decision to Hear DACA+, DAPA

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to review the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), People For the American Way board member and civil rights legend Dolores Huerta stated:

“The Supreme Court made the right decision today to give millions of immigrant children and families, who are suffering greatly because of the threat of deportation, their day in court. By following the law and upholding DACA+ and DAPA, the Court can protect millions of immigrant children and parents from the threat of deportation. These actions fall well within President Obama’s Constitutional powers, and the Republican governors promoting this lawsuit are trying to use the courts to push a political agenda. The United States should not be in the business of separating families or deporting parents from their children. That’s shameful, and I hope the Supreme Court will do the right thing by upholding DACA+ and DAPA.”

People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan added:

“This case is a powerful reminder of the importance of the Supreme Court—and that the future of the Court is at stake in 2016. In this case, the Justices have a choice between following the Constitution or pushing an extreme ideological agenda. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen too many cases in which they’ve put politics above the law. Upholding the president’s actions should be an easy call, but thanks to the far-right bloc on this court this program may well come down to the views of a single justice. When voters go to the polls in 2016, they should remember that they’re not just selecting a president to serve for four years; they’re choosing the next justice who could shape the court for a generation. The future of immigrant families and so many others could be determined by whether Americans choose to pull the Court back from the extremism of the last decade or allow the GOP and its right-wing allies to capture the Court for the foreseeable future.”

###

 

New Report Examines Supreme Court’s Ideological Agenda for Corporations and Unions

A new report released today by People For the American Way Foundation explores how the Supreme Court’s extreme pro-corporate agenda over the years has been matched by increasingly dangerous attacks on working people.

Corporations, Unions, and Constitutional Democracy” by PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin explores how the Roberts Court’s right-wing majority has established a precedent for privileging corporations over individuals, while at the same times twisting First Amendment doctrine to undermine the right of workers to band together to win fair treatment in the workplace.

“In recent years, we’ve seen an increasingly extreme pro-corporate agenda from the Supreme Court, most notably in Citizens United,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way Foundation. “What hasn’t received as much attention is the Court’s relentless attacks on working people. Today, the Friedrichs case represents the most deliberate attempt yet to replace the Court's longstanding precedent with an ideological pro-corporate agenda."

As Raskin writes in the report:

“The First Amendment has become the fulcrum of major constitutional decision-making related to both corporations and unions. It is the magical source of the unprecedented new political rights and powers conferred on corporations by Citizens United. It is also the putative basis of legal and juridical attacks on unions and their right to collect agency fees from workers they represent. It will be the terrain of struggle over growing efforts to grant dissident shareholders opt-out rights and objector rebates equivalent to what union objectors enjoy today.”

Raskin, who serves as a constitutional law professor at American University Washington College of Law and a Maryland State Senator, in addition to his role as PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow, is available to discuss the report and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Please contact media@pfaw.org to schedule an interview.

You can find the full text of the report at: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/corporations-unions-and-constitutional-democracy-when-it-comes-politics-ro

###

Glenn Beck Hopes President Ted Cruz Will Appoint Sen. Mike Lee To The Supreme Court

Sen. Mike Lee called into Glenn Beck's radio program today, where Beck raised the prospect of Lee finding himself with an appointment to the Supreme Court should Sen. Ted Cruz become president, which Lee said is something for which he would be "highly flattered" and "very grateful."

When Beck raised the possibility of Lee being nominated to the Supreme Court, the Utah Republican responded that obviously any "law geek" in America would be flattered by such an offer and he would be no exception, saying that if such a scenario comes about, "we'll see what happens."

Beck and cohost Pat Gray were positively giddy about the prospect of putting Lee on the court for the next 50 years because it would drive the left insane, while Lee admitted that he would certainly "not be their first choice."

Beck responded that he has had personal conversations with Cruz about the need to confirm people like Lee to the Supreme Court and Cruz has promised Beck that he has the "guts" to try and do exactly that.

"I believe him," Beck said of Cruz's pledge before telling Lee that "I'm hoping to see you in robes some day."

At World Congress of Families, Anti-Choice Activists Celebrate Victories & Map Strategy To Overturn Roe v Wade

The first day of the World Congress of Families summit in Salt Lake City was focused on restricting access to abortion — the program described the day’s theme as “the value of life in all its stages and conditions.” 

During one anti-abortion panel, Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life — which Miranda once described as a sort of ALEC of the anti-choice movement —  celebrated the movement’s recent successes and mapped out a cultural and legal strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, a strategy grounded in portraying abortion as harmful to women and the pro-life movement as pro-women.

Yoest told the audience to be encouraged, citing a graph from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute showing that “more abortion restrictions have been enacted since the tidal wave election of 2010 than were enacted in the entire previous decade.” Said Yoest, “I’m really proud of this progress, because it comes from a deliberate strategy that we have enacted as a movement to concentrate on state legislatures.”

Yoest said after the 1983 failure to pass a constitutional amendment in Congress, activists convened their own congress and strategized.

“We came up with a strategy and emerged with a plan: focus on the statehouses and test the limits of Roe v. Wade. The story of the next several decades is one of trench warfare and gaining ground under the radar.”

This summer, she said, the Planned Parenthood videos have provided an “earthquake” which gives anti-abortion movement an opportunity to move forward strategically. [See PFAW’s report on the anti-Planned Parenthood attacks.] The legal strategy is aimed at Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writing that overturning Roe would come with a “certain cost” to women who rely on it. “As pro-lifers, we need to understand that that’s the way he thinks, and his fellow justices on the court,” said Yoest. “But they are ignoring that there is a certain cost to the culture of death.”

Yoest said abortion brings women grief and dramatically increases a woman’s suicide risk. “What an Alice in Wonderland world that we live in where the defenders of so-called women’s health are the promoters of abortion. Let’s call them abortion harm deniers.”

Yoest cited Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing in dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart that “women cannot enjoy equal citizenship status” without access to abortion. And she quoted a feminist author telling women who have had abortion that she hopes they will begin to know their own power.

Ladies and gentlemen, our strategy for the next decade must engage this debate. Abortion for women is not power; it is poverty….

This is our way forward. We must engage a mother-child strategy. The mother-child strategy is rooted in a very careful study of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence. The court has told us pretty clearly what they think about abortion. Going back again to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they told us that the state has two areas of legitimate interest: one is protecting the health of the woman and two is protecting the life of the fetus that, according to them, may become a child. Anything that we bring before two courts – the court of public opinion and the Supreme Court — must engage both of these elements, both the mother and the child.

We must keep coming back to what we know to be the truth: pro-life is pro-woman.

Yoest paraphrased a saying by G. K. Chesterton —  seemingly the most quoted conservative at the conference — saying that fairy tales are “more than true,” not because they tell us dragons are true, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. “The culture of death,” she concluded,” is a dragon that must be beaten.” 

Americans Will Know Who to Blame If the Roberts Court Wrecks Our Healthcare System

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Some Supreme Court cases are really tough ones, with important, difficult, and complex legal questions about constitutional meaning or statutory interpretation, where justices have to choose between two powerful and compelling arguments. Sometimes the court is called upon to resolve an issue that has divided the circuit courts. Other times there is a lower court ruling so at odds with logic or precedent that it needs to be reviewed and corrected.

And then there's King v. Burwell, the Affordable Care Act subsidies case being argued this week.

Those challenging the law have an extremely weak legal case, there is no split in the lower courts, and there is no clearly wrong lower court ruling that needs to be corrected. This is a meritless case that was ginned up by conservatives seeking to enlist the Supreme Court in their political efforts to destroy the ACA. That at least four justices voted to hear the case is ominous enough. But a victory for the challengers would make it more clear than ever that political considerations are infecting a majority of the court.

Some background: Section 1311 of the ACA directs states to establish health insurance exchanges, creating competitive markets in every state for people to buy affordable insurance no matter where they live. But Congress also recognized that states might choose not do this, so Section 1321 says that in those cases the federal government should set up the exchange instead. The purpose of doing this was to ensure that even if states declined to set up an exchange pursuant to Section 1311, fully functional stand-ins would exist. This is essential to the structure of the law: The financial model relies on competitive markets with affordable insurance being available in every state.

To ensure affordability, the law also establishes subsidies for people below a certain income level to make sure they can buy insurance, which is necessary for the entire structure of the ACA to work. One subsection of the law establishes some key definitions, including an "eligible taxpayer" who is entitled to these subsidies, and the main criterion is income level. Try as you might, you won't find anything there saying that eligibility is at all tied to where someone lives.

A separate subsection says how to calculate the amount of the subsidy. Bizarrely, the conservative opponents of the ACA say that it is here that Congress chose to establish an enormously important additional eligibility criterion that, for some reason, they didn't put in the eligibility section: You have to live in a state that has set up its own exchange, rather than in one where the state has allowed the federal government to set it up instead.

This strange interpretation of the ACA depends on a deliberate misunderstanding of the subsidy provision's stating that the amount is based on the monthly premiums for a policy purchased through an exchange "established by the state under [section] 1311" of the ACA. But to interpret this provision the way the anti-Obamacare activists do, we'd have to deliberately blind ourselves to how it clearly fits with the ACA as a whole.

So we're supposed to pretend that Congress didn't specifically empower the federal government to set up fully functional stand-ins for state exchanges in states that declined to create them. And we're supposed to think that Congress hid a critically important criterion for subsidy eligibility in a section on calculating the subsidy amount. And we're supposed to accept that Congress intended to undercut the financial viability of the law and thwart its central purpose of providing affordable health care to all. As D.C. Circuit Judge Harry Edwards wrote, "[i]t is inconceivable that Congress intended to give States the power to cause the ACA to crumble."

No one could possibly believe that. You can't possibly look at the text of the Affordable Care Act and interpret it in the way that its enemies have conjured up.

And as journalists like Glenn Kessler have pointed out, congressional Republicans who today insist that Congress intended for subsidy eligibility to depend on what state you live in were saying nothing of the sort when the law was being debated. Their statements at the time show they assumed subsidies would be available nationwide.

It is also clear that state legislators -- regardless of party -- deciding whether to set up their own exchanges never contemplated the possibility that choosing to let the federal government do it would deny much-needed subsidies to people in their state. In fact, that point is made quite effectively in an amicus brief authored by the Constitutional Accountability Center on behalf of members of Congress and state legislatures.

When this nonsensical lawsuit was heard at the Fourth Circuit, it was rejected by a unanimous panel of judges. In his concurring opinion, Judge Andre Davis wrote:

What [the ACA opponents] may not do is rely on our help to deny to millions of Americans desperately-needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose, as revealed by the wholeness and coherence of its text and structure, could not be more clear.

Yet when the ACA opponents appealed to the Supreme Court, at least four justices (the minimum required to grant certiorari) agreed to hear the case.

It would be nice to believe that the only reason was to issue a 9-0 ruling slapping down this lawsuit and condemning those who would abuse the court system by seeking to enlist federal judges in their political fights. Unfortunately, this is the Roberts court, a court with a history of bending the rules, twisting the law, and doing whatever it takes to get to an outcome beneficial to conservative and corporate interests. With cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, Ledbetter, Shelby County, and so many others, a narrow 5-4 majority has made opponents of the Affordable Care Act think they could gin up a meritless case and carry the day.

If the Roberts Court chooses to sabotage millions of Americans' access to health care, the consequences will be catastrophic for many everyday people, and possibly fatal to some. While there may be Americans who weren't paying attention to some of the wrongly decided cases noted above, it is hard to imagine any American missing this one -- and not knowing exactly who to blame.

PFAW Foundation

The Supreme Court's 2014-2015 Term: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and to preview some of the important cases the Court will be hearing this year. The call was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney. PFAW’s Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon reviewed highlights of his recent report previewing the Supreme Court’s upcoming term and answered questions from members. Also on the call and answering questions were Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Among the cases Gordon previewed were Young v. UPS, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, Mach Mining v. EEOC, Holt v. Hobbs, and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama / Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. The issues addressed in these cases range from employment discrimination and workers’ rights, to religious liberty and voting rights.

He also discussed potential cases that the Court could still add for this term, which included cases on marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, and contraception coverage by religious nonprofits—the “sequels to Hobby Lobby.”

Members’ questions focused on how the country can move forward to change some of the more damaging decisions like Citizens United, and what each person could do to effect change and impact the courts. Emphasizing what is at stake this election, both PFAW President Michael Keegan and Gordon called on people to vote in November because “when you vote … for the Senate, you are voting for the next Supreme Court justice.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW

Holding The Religious Right To Its Own Standard

A few weeks ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was speaking to students at the University of Minnesota Law School when she made the rather straightforward observation that if 6th Circuit Court of Appeals follows other recent court decisions and strikes down gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, then the prospects of the Supreme Court taking up the issue of marriage equality would be less likely in the near term.

The reasoning behind this statement is that if appellate courts consistently strike down such bans, then the Supreme Court will not need to get involved right away whereas, if the 6th Circuit were to uphold such bans, that would create a conflict among recent appellate rulings and so, as Ginsburg said, "there will be some urgency" for the Supreme Court to take up with issue in order to address those conflicting rulings.

There is nothing controversial or improper about this obvious observation, but anti-gay Religious Right groups have seized upon it to launch a campaign demanding that Ginsburg recuse herself from any Supreme Court case involving the issue of marriage equality on the grounds that she has violated the Judicial Code of Conduct by "making public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action."

As Liberty Counsel, which first launched this effort, declared:

“In casting a vote publicly before the case is even heard, Justice Ginsburg has violated the Judicial Code of Conduct,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “It is now her duty to recuse herself from cases involving same-sex marriage.”

According to Canon 2 of the Judicial Code of Conduct, “A judicial employee should not lend the prestige of the office to advance or to appear to advance the private interests of others.”

Canon 3(D) declares, “A judicial employee should avoid making public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action.”

“Justice Ginsburg’s comments implied that the merits of the state constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man and one woman were such that the Supreme Court would have to overturn them with haste, if upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Staver. “This is an inappropriate comment for any judicial employee, much less a Supreme Court Justice!”

The call has since been echoed by the Foundation for Moral Law, Faith 2 Action, and the American Family Association, where Bryan Fischer and former Liberty Counsel attorney Steve Crampton recently discussed the need for right-wing activists to "beat on our pots" in order to create so much political pressure on Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan that they have no choice but to recuse themselves from any such cases.

In fact, just yesterday, Fischer wrote a column arguing that Ginsburg and Kagan would be "committing a federal crime" if they did not recuse themselves:

The Supreme Court will, perhaps even in this session, take up the issue of sodomy-based marriage. If it does, justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan will have an obligation to step off the bench for those cases on the grounds that their impartiality has been severely compromised.

Both have performed sodomy-based “wedding” ceremonies. Kagan performed her first one on September 22 of this year, and Ginsburg has done the deed multiple times, including at least one in the Supreme Court building itself. Thus they have clearly tipped their hand by their actions as well as their words. They have publicly demonstrated that their minds are already made up on the issue. It is inconceivable that either of them now would vote against the “marriages” they themselves have solemnized. They would stand self-condemned.

...

[T]he necessity for Kagan and Ginsburg to recuse is not just a matter of fairness or rightness. It’s also a matter of law. They have a statutory obligation to recuse. If they refuse to step off the bench when and if marriage cases come before them, they would be breaking federal law. They would be, from a strictly legal standpoint, committing a federal crime. Their sacred responsibility is to uphold the law, not break it.

So it was with great interest that we read this article in The Washington Times yesterday reporting on remarks made by Justice Antonin Scalia at Colorado Christian University in which he stated that the separation of church and state is "utterly absurd" and the idea that the government must remain neutral on the issue of religion is "just a lie":

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday that secularists are wrong when they argue the Constitution requires religious references to be banished from the public square.

Justice Scalia, part of the court’s conservative wing, was preaching to the choir when he told the audience at Colorado Christian University that a battle is underway over whether to allow religion in public life, from referencing God in the Pledge of Allegiance to holding prayers before city hall meetings.

“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said.

“That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way,” Justice Scalia said. “And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.”

...

“We do him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies,” Justice Scalia said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.”

The biggest danger lies with judges who interpret the Constitution as a malleable document that changes with the times, he said.

“Our [the court‘s] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said. “That’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution.”

Given that Scalia was very clearly "making public comment" in a way that directly relates to a whole host of church-state separation questions that could potentially come before the Supreme Court at any time, we trust that these Religious Right groups will now demand that he recuse himself from any such cases as well, right?

What Hobby Lobby Shows Us About the Supreme Court and Civil Rights Laws: Winners and Losers in the Roberts Court

Share this article:

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

In its recent decision in Hobby Lobby, the conservative 5-4 majority -- Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy -- did something that may appear very unusual. In divided cases, these five justices have the reputation for interpreting very narrowly laws passed by Congress to protect civil rights. So why did they interpret so broadly the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law passed by Congress to protect the important civil right of religious freedom? The answer, unfortunately, is all too clear. Comparing Hobby Lobby with the two rulings in civil rights law cases issued by the Court over the last year, the key factor that explains how the conservative majority ruled is not precedent, the language of the statute, or congressional intent, but who wins and who loses.

Let's start with last year's rulings, both of which concerned Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which bans employment discrimination. In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the majority ruled very narrowly in interpreting Title VII, deciding that the only way that employees can prevail on a claim that they have been fired in retaliation for raising job bias claims is to prove that they would not have been discharged "but for" the retaliatory motive. This was despite the fact that in order to strengthen Title VII, Congress added language to the law in 1991 to make clear that plaintiffs should prevail if they show that discrimination was a "motivating factor" in a job decision. As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissecting Justice Alito's attempt for the majority to draw a distinction between retaliation and other claims under Title VII, the net effect of the majority's ruling was to make it harder to prove a Title VII retaliation claim than before the 1991 law and with respect to other civil rights statutes that don't explicitly mention retaliation. The 5-4 majority had "seized on a provision adopted by Congress as part of an endeavor to strengthen Title VII," she concluded, "and turned it into a measure reducing the force of the ban on retaliation."

In Nassar, in ruling against a doctor of Middle Eastern descent in a case also involving egregious ethnic and national origin discrimination, Alito disregarded clear legislative history and language showing Congress' broad intent, as well as the interpretation of the law by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Interestingly, towards the end of his opinion, Alito appeared to reveal a key consideration behind the majority's decision. The ruling was important, he explained, to "the fair and responsible allocation of resources in the judicial and litigation systems." After all, he pointed out, retaliation claims "are being made with ever-increasing frequency," although he did not even consider how many have been proven meritorious. Agreeing with the EEOC and the plaintiff on the "motivating factor" standard, he wrote instead, "could also contribute to the filing of frivolous claims." As Justice Ginsburg put it, the majority "appears driven by zeal to reduce the number of retaliation claims against employers."

The other 2013 Title VII ruling also reflected an extremely narrow reading of the law. Vance v. Ball State University concerned a complaint by an African-American woman that she had been subjected to racial harassment and a racially hostile work environment. Under prior Title VII Court rulings agreed to by both conservative and moderate justices, the employer itself is often liable for such harassment claims when the harassment is committed by an employee's supervisor. But in Vance, in an opinion by Justice Alito, the familiar 5-4 Court majority significantly narrowed Title VII. It ruled that such vicarious employer liability applies only when the harassment is committed by a manager who can fire or reduce the pay or grade of the victim, not when it is committed by a manager who does not have that power but does control the day-to-day schedules, assignments, and working environment of the victim.

As Justice Ginsburg explained in dissent, the majority's holding again contradicted guidance issued by the EEOC as well as Congress' broad purpose to eliminate workplace discrimination. In fact, she pointed out, not even the university defendant in Vance itself "has advanced the restrictive definition the Court adopts." But again, Alito's opinion betrayed part of the majority's true motives. Its narrow interpretation would be "workable" and "readily applied," Alito explained. And it would promote "the limitation of employer liability in certain circumstances."

Something very different happened in the next Supreme Court case interpreting a Congressional civil rights statute: 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

In that case, the same 5-4 majority that narrowly interpreted Title VII in Vance and Nassar adopted a very broad interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). All nine justices agreed that RFRA was enacted by Congress in response to the Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith, which restricted the protection of religious liberty by the Court under the First Amendment. But the 5-4 majority in Hobby Lobby ruled that RFRA provides "very broad protection for religious liberty" - "even broader protection than was available" under the First Amendment in pre-Smith decisions. As Justice Ginsburg put it in dissent, the majority interpreted RFRA "as a bold initiative departing from, rather than restoring, pre-Smith jurisprudence." She explained further that this broad interpretation contradicted the language of the statute, its legislative history, and a statement by the Court in a unanimous ruling in 2006 that in RFRA, Congress "adopt[ed] a statutory rule comparable to the constitutional rule rejected in Smith."

This difference in statutory interpretation was critical to the majority's ruling in Hobby Lobby -- that for-profit corporations whose owners had religious objections to contraceptives could invoke RFRA to refuse to obey the Affordable Care Act's mandate that they provide their employees with health plans under which contraceptives are available to female employees. As Justice Ginsburg explained, no previous Court decision under RFRA or the First Amendment had ever "recognized a for-profit corporation's qualification for a religious exemption" and such a ruling "surely is not grounded in the pre-Smith precedent Congress sought to preserve." The 5-4 majority's broad interpretation that RFRA applies to for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby was obviously crucial to its holding.

In addition, however, the 5-4 majority went beyond pre-Smith case law in another crucial respect. Before a person can claim an exemption from a generally applicable law under RFRA, he or she must prove that the law "substantially burden[s] a person's exercise of religion." According to the majority, the corporations in Hobby Lobby met that standard by demonstrating that the use of certain contraceptives that could be purchased by their employees under their health plans would seriously offend the deeply held religious beliefs of their owners. As Justice Ginsburg explained, however, that ruling conflicted with pre-Smith case law on what must be shown to prove a "substantial burden." In several pre-Smith cases, the Court had ruled that there was no "substantial burden" created by, for example, the government's use of a social security number to administer benefit programs or its requirement that social security taxes be paid, despite the genuine and sincere offense that these actions caused to some religious beliefs. As Justice Ginsburg stated, such religious "beliefs, however deeply held, do not suffice to sustain a RFRA claim," except under the extremely broad interpretation of RFRA by the 5-4 Court majority.

As in the Title VII cases, Justice Alito's opinion for the 5-4 majority in Hobby Lobby was revealing about some of the majority's underlying concerns. In explaining the majority's decision to interpret RFRA as applying to for-profit corporations, Justice Alito noted that "[w]hen rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people" - in this case "the humans who own and control those companies" in the Hobby Lobby case. As Justice Ginsburg observed, the 5-4 majority paid little attention to the Court's pronouncement in a pre-Smith case that permitting a religious exemption to a general law for a corporation would "operate[e] to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees" of the corporation.

Even though the Supreme Court's 2013-14 rulings that interpreted civil rights laws passed by Congress may seem different, a common theme animates them all. Whether the 5-4 majority interpreted the statutes broadly or narrowly, the losers in all of them were women, minorities, and working people, and the winners were employers and corporations. In the majority's own words, the result is the "limitation of employer liability" under laws like Title VII designed to protect workers and the "protecting" of the "humans who own and control" corporations under RFRA.

Since all these rulings interpret Congressional statutes, not the Constitution, Congress clearly has the authority to reverse them. In fact, Congress has done exactly that with respect to other 5-4 rulings by the Court that misinterpreted civil rights statutes to harm women and minority workers and benefit their corporate employers. As recently as 2009, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reversed a flawed 5-4 ruling that severely restricted workers' ability to file equal pay claims under Title VII. Congress is already considering legislation to reverse many of the effects of Hobby Lobby, a corrective effort that Senate Republicans have blocked by a filibuster to prevent the full Senate from even considering it. In our currently divided Congress, immediate prospects for the passage of such remedial legislation may not appear promising. But it is important to recognize the current 5-4 majority's pattern of favoring corporations and harming workers in its decisions interpreting federal civil rights laws, and to recognize and act on the ability to reverse these harmful rulings.

PFAW Foundation

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Dissenting For Democracy

Share this:

 

"The Federalists have retired into the Judiciary as a stronghold … and from that battery all the works of republicanism are to be beaten down and erased."
—Thomas Jefferson, 1803

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Introduction

Baptizing Big Business

Defending Democracy and the Right to Vote

Defending Laws that Protect the Rights of Women and Men in the Workplace

Protecting Civil Liberties Against Big Brother Bureaucracy

Conclusion

Introduction

In the dismal 2013-14 Supreme Court Term in which the conservative majority wiped out aggregate campaign contribution limits (McCutcheon v. FEC), undercut the power of unions (Harris v. Quinn), and approved lopsided sectarian religious invocations in public meetings (Town of Greece v. Galloway), one big consolation was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s devastating indictment of the majority in her seething dissenting opinion from perhaps the worst decision of the Term, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

In Hobby Lobby, of course, the runaway conservative faction, for the first time in American history, determined that for-profit business corporations have religious rights and then used this epiphany to grant corporate owners the power to deny contraceptive coverage to female employees under the Affordable Care Act, the major Obama-era accomplishment which the Right reviles and never tires of attacking.

Justice Ginsburg, fighting young at age 81, was having none of it and methodically destroyed the thin arguments of Justice Alito in a 35-page opinion that should be required reading for anyone who still cares about the rule of law in America.  The highlights of her comprehensive takedown of the majority show a Supreme Court Justice who richly deserves her title by virtue of her devotion to the rule of law and the rendering of justice and fairness to the people.

But Ginsburg’s masterful dissent in Hobby Lobby is not a lone shot in the dark; she is likely to complete her tenure on the Court being known as the Great Dissenter from the jurisprudence of the ruling conservative faction. Although Ginsburg obviously prefers to speak for freedom and equal rights when in the majority—see, for example, her magisterial opinion in United States v. Virginia (1996), striking down the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute—she does not shy away as a dissenter from blowing the whistle on the logical fallacies, doctrinal inconsistencies and rank hypocrisies that inform the opinions of her colleagues when they are transforming the powers of corporate America or trashing the rights of working people and minority groups.

This report canvasses, in addition to her brilliant dissent from Hobby Lobby, some of Ginsburg’s most important recent dissenting opinions whose logic still awaits vindication. One blistering dissenting opinion, the one she filed in Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), planted the seeds for a dramatic political and legislative reversal of the Court’s conservative majority in Congress. Another notable dissent of Ginsburg’s still awaiting change is one in which the oldest member of the Court speaks powerfully for the civil liberties of the youngest Americans in the context of school drug testing, Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (2002).

Moreover, from last term, this report examines several forceful opinions Ginsburg lodged in dissent against three appalling anti-civil rights decisions: Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which ravaged the Voting Rights Act; and Vance v. Ball State University (2013), and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar (2013), both of which undermined Title VII civil rights protections for people in the workplace. Assailing her conservative colleagues’ indifference to the situation of working people, castigating them from the bench for their tortured reasoning, and inviting Congress to reverse the damage they inflicted, Ginsburg showed that she remains at the top of her game.

While the Roberts Court majority continues its rampage against the constitutional, reproductive, and civil rights of the American people, Ginsburg not only calls out the real-world implications of this reactionary judicial activism but carefully spells out a path for corrective legislative action and for the elaboration of a principled jurisprudence in the future. Her progressive constitutional philosophy always places the equal rights and liberties of the people at the heart of the Court’s work and demonstrates a dynamic respect for Congress’ exercise of its enumerated powers to promote strong democracy, robust civil rights, and an inclusive economy.

 

Baptizing Big Business

BURWELL
V.
HOBBY LOBBY STORES INC.
(2014)

"In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."

In this well-chosen sentence that opens her dissenting opinion in Hobby Lobby, Justice Ginsburg explains how the majority decision, which authorizes business corporations to deny contraceptive care to millions of women employees, also generally rewrites American law to furnish corporations an all-purpose excuse for not complying with public laws. 

Of course, the immediate victims of this breathtaking new orthodoxy are women, and Ginsburg, perhaps the greatest women’s rights lawyer of the 20th century, emphasizes the gender-based injury of the new doctrine. 

“The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation,” she writes, quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, “has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”  Congress acted on this basic understanding when it provided for coverage of women’s preventive care in the Affordable Care Act and  the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) followed through by issuing regulations requiring group health plans to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  As Senator Durbin put it, “This bill will expand health insurance coverage to the vast majority of [the 17 million women of reproductive age in the United States who are uninsured] . . .  .This expanded access will reduce unintended pregnancies.”

Yet, the owners of Hobby Lobby claimed that it would violate the corporation’s personal religious rights (I know, this makes no sense) to allow 13,000 employees under the company’s group insurance plan to access certain contraceptives, including IUDs, that the corporation’s five owners consider to be sinful.  The exemption that the owners were granted, Ginsburg writes, will “deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”

Ginsburg demonstrates how the majority’s theological joyride depends on an indefensible reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  That Act was meant to “restore the compelling interest test for deciding free exercise claims” in the wake of Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. V. Smith (1990), but not in any way to begin treating for-profit business corporations like the flesh-and-blood people of the United States when it comes to religious rights.   

Ginsburg shows that there is zero support in RFRA’s legislative history for the idea that it endowed business companies with the personal rights of religious worship and free exercise.  Furthermore, until this brazen litigation was brought, “no decision of the Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.”

Moreover, Ginsburg observes, the “absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.”  Then she grabs the bull by the horns, revealing to America that the Hobby Lobby opinion is just a farcical copy of the tragic error committed in Citizens United (2010), the decision that pretended that corporations have the political free speech rights of citizens in order to endow CEOs with the power to spend treasury money in elections.

She quotes Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous statement from the Dartmouth College case in 1819 defining a corporation as “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,” and Justice Stevens’ stinging and obvious words from his dissenting thoughts in Citizens United: corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”         

Ginsburg then brushes away Justice Alito’s attempt to confuse the issue by citing cases where religious non-profit corporations—that is, churches!—have been granted religious free exercise protection.  Of course this is the case, she points out, because these are religious entities enacting the religious practices and values of the people who belong to them.  The Court’s “’special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations . . . is just that,” she says. “No such solicitude is traditional for commercial organizations.  Indeed, until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in the commercial, profit-making world.” (internal citations omitted)

The reason for this is clear. “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith,” Ginsburg writes. “Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations.” Ginsburg thus raises the obvious question: do business corporations now have a RFRA right to discriminate in hiring and firing based on religion? It follows logically from the majority’s awful opinion.

Nor does Ginsburg try to hang on to the thin reed offered by the majority at one point to suggest that its reasoning might extend only to “closely held” corporations (which are actually the vast majority of corporations anyway) as opposed to publicly traded ones.  “Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private,” she writes.

After obliterating the central fallacy of the Court’s reasoning, Ginsburg proceeds to show how, even if the corporations in the case were “persons” within the meaning of RFRA, they did not have their religious rights violated by the Obamacare contraceptive insurance provisions.

To begin with, those provisions do not “substantially burden” the corporation or corporate owners in the exercise of their religion, which is the rigorous standard Congress established in RFRA. Conceding the sincerity of the Hobby Lobby owners’ objections to certain kinds of contraceptives, Ginsburg shows that nothing in the ACA makes them use such contraception, change their beliefs about these methods, or alter their religious practices in any way. The owners are in the same position as the Native American father in Bowen v. Roy (1986), who lost his case challenging the Government’s use of his child’s Social Security number as a violation of his sincere religious belief that his child’s sacred spirit is profaned by its reduction to a number and by its use in this fashion. There, Ginsburg points out, the sincere religious adherent lost because the Government’s administrative mandate and program “placed no restriction on what the father may believe or what he may do.” (emphasis added, internal citations omitted) Similarly, Hobby Lobby’s owners can believe and do whatever they want, except they may not have their company opt out of a federal law that does not impair their own religious practice. Hobby Lobby employees who share the religious views of the owners are under no obligation to use the sinful contraceptive devices, and their use by other employees does not affect the religious worship or practice of the owners, managers, or fellow employees.

Even if you pretend that there is a substantial burden on the company, Ginsburg writes, “the Government has shown that the contraceptive coverage . . . furthers compelling interests in public health and women’s well being,” a point so concrete, specific and demonstrable that the majority does not even bother to contest it.         

So, finally, Ginsburg refutes the majority’s claim that the contraceptive coverage requirement fails to satisfy RFRA’s “least restrictive means test”—in other words, the claim that the Government could have promoted contraceptive health without this mandate.  But, here, Ginsburg is devastating, showing that “there is no less restrictive, equally effective means that would both (1) satisfy the challengers’ religious objections to providing insurance coverage for certain contraceptives . . .and (2) carry out the objective of the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement, to ensure that women receive, at no cost to them, the preventive care needed to safeguard their health and well being.”  Ginsburg dismantles the majority’s reliance on the idea that the government itself should pay for any religiously offensive insurance as a less restrictive means.  That solution would force creation of another bureaucracy and a series of “logistical and administrative obstacles” put up in the path of women seeking comprehensive health care.

  “And where is the stopping point to the ‘let the government pay’ alternative?” Ginsburg reasonably wonders.  “Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work?  Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?” (case citations omitted)

Ginsburg closes her dissent with a discussion of United States v. Lee (1982), a case in which an Amish employer unsuccessfully challenged having to participate in the Social Security system by withholding taxes for his employees.  Although the majority dismissed the relevance of this “tax case,” the Lee Court “made two key points” that Ginsburg shows neatly dispense with all the bogus claims in Hobby Lobby

First: “When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”  Second: “allowing a religion-based exemption to a commercial employer would ‘operate to impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.’” 

Mobilizing cases from the past, Ginsburg suggests that the Court’s decision opens the door to the discredited but once-popular claims by restaurant chain owners that they should not be forced to serve black patrons if they have a religious objection to race-mixing or by for-profit health clubs that want to discriminate against women working without their husbands’ or fathers’ consent, not to mention all the suddenly viable claims against the ACA by “employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others).”

The Supreme Court thus delivers a mess to America in Hobby Lobby by carrying over the political fallacy in Citizens United to the religious field.  Justice Ginsburg renders the mess in its full glory.

 

Defending Democracy and the Right to Vote

SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA, Petitioner
V.
Eric H. HOLDER, Jr., Attorney General, et al.
(2013)

"In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."

The most stinging defeat inflicted on voting rights in at least a decade came last term with the majority’s invalidation in 2013 of the preclearance coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision effectively wiped out the major provision of the most important voting rights law in American history. The ruling revealed the Court’s hostility to the institutional infrastructure of African-American political empowerment and the role that Congress has played in securing the right to vote against conservative white resistance.

Joined in dissent by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg was having none of it. She systematically refuted the majority’s distorted view of history, its remarkably cavalier assault on the powers of Congress, and its thoroughgoing illogic. She was unsparing of the radicalism of the majority’s error:  “It cannot tenably be maintained that the Voting Rights Act, an Act of Congress adopted to shield the right to vote from racial discrimination, is inconsistent with the letter or spirit of the Fifteenth Amendment, or any provision of the Constitution read in light of the Civil War Amendments. Nowhere in today’s opinion ... is there clear recognition of the transformative effect the Fifteenth Amendment aimed to achieve.”

Ginsburg painstakingly reconstructed the history of violent and nonviolent suppression of black voting rights after the Civil War and stated, “Early attempts to cope with this vile infection resembled battling the Hydra. Whenever one form of voting discrimination was identified and prohibited, others sprang up in its place.” The preclearance mechanism in the Voting Rights Act was the principal instrument for dismantling the ever-changing tactics of racial vote dilution, trickery, and intimidation.

But Justice Ginsburg showed that the attacks on voting rights never ceased and that the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 was based on congressional review of voluminous reports of ongoing assaults on voting rights. Ginsburg wrote:

“Surveying the type of changes stopped by the preclearance procedure conveys a sense of the extent to which § 5 continues to protect minority voting rights. Set out below are characteristic examples of changes blocked in the years leading up to the 2006 reauthorization:

  • In 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter registration system, ‘which was initially enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise Black voters,’ and for that reason, was struck down by a federal court in 1987.
  • Following the 2000 census, the City of Albany, Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ found to be ‘designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength … in the city as a whole.’
  • In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town's election after ‘an unprecedented number’ of African-American candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.
  • In 2006, this Court found that Texas’ attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore ‘the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation,’ and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA. In response, Texas sought to undermine this Court's order by curtailing early voting in the district, but was blocked by an action to enforce the § 5 preclearance requirement.
  • In 2003, after African-Americans won a majority of the seats on the school board for the first time in history, Charleston County, South Carolina, proposed an at-large voting mechanism for the board. The proposal, made without consulting any of the African-American members of the school board, was found to be an ‘exact replica’ of an earlier voting scheme that, a federal court had determined, violated the VRA. DOJ invoked § 5 to block the proposal.
  • In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to delay the election in a majority-black district by two years, leaving that district without representation on the city council while the neighboring majority-white district would have three representatives. DOJ blocked the proposal. The county then sought to move a polling place from a predominantly black neighborhood in the city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly white neighborhood outside city limits.
  • In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prosecute two black students after they announced their intention to run for office. The county then attempted to reduce the availability of early voting in that election at polling places near a historically black university.
  • In 1990, Dallas County, Alabama, whose county seat is the City of Selma, sought to purge its voter rolls of many black voters. DOJ rejected the purge as discriminatory, noting that it would have disqualified many citizens from voting ‘simply because they failed to pick up or return a voter update form, when there was no valid requirement that they do so.’

“These examples, and scores more like them, fill the pages of the legislative record. The evidence was indeed sufficient to support Congress’ conclusion that ‘racial discrimination in voting in covered jurisdictions [remained] serious and pervasive.’ 679 F.3d, at 865.5

“Congress further received evidence indicating that formal requests of the kind set out above represented only the tip of the iceberg. There was what one commentator described as an ‘avalanche of case studies of voting rights violations in the covered jurisdictions,’ ranging from ‘outright intimidation and violence against minority voters’ to ‘more subtle forms of voting rights deprivations.’ This evidence gave Congress ever more reason to conclude that the time had not yet come for relaxed vigilance against the scourge of race discrimination in voting.”

Ginsburg also displayed a steely resolve to put the facts of real-world race discrimination in the face of a Court that is determined to covers its eyes. Consider this striking report from Justice Ginsburg, drawn from a federal district court case:

“A recent FBI investigation provides a further window into the persistence of racial discrimination in state politics. See United States v. McGregor, 824 F.Supp.2d 1339, 1344–1348 (M.D.Ala.2011). Recording devices worn by state legislators cooperating with the FBI’s investigation captured conversations between members of the state legislature and their political allies. The recorded conversations are shocking. Members of the state Senate derisively refer to African-Americans as “Aborigines” and talk openly of their aim to quash a particular gambling-related referendum because the referendum, if placed on the ballot, might increase African-American voter turnout. See id., at 1345 (legislators and their allies expressed concern that if the referendum were placed on the ballot, ‘[e]very black, every illiterate’ would be ‘bused [to the polls] on HUD financed buses’). These conversations occurred not in the 1870's, or even in the 1960's, they took place in 2010. The District Judge presiding over the criminal trial at which the recorded conversations were introduced commented that the ‘recordings represent compelling evidence that political exclusion through racism remains a real and enduring problem’ in Alabama. Racist sentiments, the judge observed, ‘remain regrettably entrenched in the high echelons of state government.’”

Ginsburg’s final judgments on the performance of the Court were withering. She did not flinch from linking the regressive nature of the Court’s jurisprudence to the return of disenfranchisement and voter suppression, and she revealed her understanding of the tragic side of American history. She wrote:

“The Court criticizes Congress for failing to recognize that ‘history did not end in 1965.’ But the Court ignores that ‘what’s past is prologue.’ W. Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 2, sc. 1. And ‘[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ 1 G. Santayana, The Life of Reason 284 (1905).”

And she openly declared that members of Congress had acted with greater professionalism in reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act than her Supreme Court colleagues in the majority did in dismantling it:

“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court's opinion today.”

Defending Laws that Protect the Rights of Women and Men in the Workplace

Because Justice Ginsburg cut her teeth as a lawyer on fighting for equal rights and fairness in the workplace, she knows what having strong federal labor laws means for working-class Americans who report to a boss every day.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the essential anti-discrimination law protecting women and racial minority groups at work and establishing a framework for workplace fairness. But Title VII has been under ceaseless attack by right-wing forces ever since it was passed. Today, the five conservatives on the Roberts Court are looking for every opportunity to undermine its essential terms, and the 2012-13 term was especially brutal on the statute. In the following two key cases where the conservatives cut back on the protections available to workers under Title VII, Justice Ginsburg dissented sharply, insisting that congressional intent was being thwarted and the interests of workers thrown under the bus. These dissenting opinions register an echo of what was perhaps Justice Ginsburg’s greatest dissent so far, the blisteringly effective opinion she filed in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. (2007).

Maetta VANCE, Petitioner
V.
BALL STATE UNIVERSITY
(2013)

“The ball is once again in Congress’ court to correct the error into which this Court has fallen, and to restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens today.”

Under Title VII, when an employee is subject to workplace harassment at the hands of their supervisor, the employer is liable. This ensures that victims of harassment have a remedy, and it also gives companies a financial incentive to remedy harassment after the fact and take action to discourage it before it occurs.

In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court conservatives dealt another blow to Title VII, ruling that the class of “supervisors” held accountable under the statute includes only those managers who have the power to fire employees or reduce their salaries—and not those managers who actually control employees’ day-to-day schedules, work assignments, and working environments. In one fell swoop, the conservatives thus lopped off a big chunk of anti-discrimination law, making the workplace a more hostile and dangerous place for Americans, especially women.

Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, completely demolished the shoddy reasoning of the majority. The decision, she wrote, “ignores the conditions under which members of the work force labor, and disserves the objective of Title VII to prevent discrimination from infecting the Nation's workplaces. ... Until today, our decisions have assumed that employees who direct subordinates’ daily work are supervisors.”

Using the vivid and appalling language that comes with the territory of sexual harassment, Ginsburg discussed case after case where harassers controlled women’s work schedules, workloads, and work lives, showing that the employers in these cases would now escape direct Title VII liability because the harassers did not have the power to hire and fire.

  • Ginsburg wrote about elevator mechanic’s helper Yasharay Mack, who was mercilessly harassed by James Connolly, the “mechanic in charge,” who “commented frequently on her ‘fantastic ass,’ ‘luscious lips,’ and ‘beautiful eyes,’ and, using deplorable racial epithets, opined that minorities and women did not ‘belong in the business.’ Once, he pulled her on his lap, touched her buttocks, and tried to kiss her while others looked on.” Mack’s serial harasser “lacked authority to take tangible employment actions against mechanic's helpers, but he did assign their work, control their schedules, and direct the particulars of their workdays. When he became angry with Mack, for example, he denied her overtime hours. And when she complained about the mistreatment, he scoffed, ‘I get away with everything.’” The majority decision nullified supervisor liability in cases like this.
  • Ginsburg told the grim story of Clara Whitten, an employee at a discount retail store in Belton, South Carolina: “On Whitten's first day of work, the manager, Matt Green, told her to ‘give [him] what [he] want[ed]’ in order to obtain approval for long weekends off from work. Later, fearing what might transpire, Whitten ignored Green’s order to join him in an isolated storeroom. Angered, Green instructed Whitten to stay late and clean the store. He demanded that she work over the weekend despite her scheduled day off. Dismissing her as ‘dumb and stupid,’ Green threatened to make her life a ‘living hell.’ Green lacked authority to fire, promote, demote, or otherwise make decisions affecting Whitten’s pocketbook. But he directed her activities, gave her tasks to accomplish, burdened her with undesirable work assignments, and controlled her schedule. He was usually the highest ranking employee in the store, and both Whitten and Green considered him the supervisor.”
  • Ginsburg told the story of Donna Rhodes, a seasonal highway maintainer for the Illinois Department of Transportation responsible for plowing snow during winter months. Michael Poladian, a “Lead Worker,” and Matt Mara, a “Technician” at the maintenance yard, harassed Rhodes. “In her third season working at the yard,” Ginsburg wrote, “Rhodes was verbally assaulted with sex-based invectives and a pornographic image was taped to her locker. Poladian forced her to wash her truck in sub-zero temperatures, assigned her undesirable yard work instead of road crew work, and prohibited another employee from fixing the malfunctioning heating system in her truck. Conceding that Rhodes had been subjected to a sex-based hostile work environment, the [Illinois] Department of Transportation argued successfully in the District Court and Court of Appeals that Poladian and Mara were not Rhodes's supervisors because they lacked authority to take tangible employment actions against her.”

Ginsburg was blistering in her judgment of the damage wrought by five conservative male Justices. “As anyone with work experience would immediately grasp, [the harassers in these cases] wielded employer-conferred supervisory authority over their victims. Each man's discriminatory harassment derived force from, and was facilitated by, the control reins he held”; “Exhibiting remarkable resistance to the thrust of our prior decisions, workplace realities, and the EEOC's Guidance, the Court embraces a position that relieves scores of employers of responsibility for the behavior of the supervisors they employ”;  “Faced with a steeper substantive and procedural hill to climb, victims like Yasharay Mack, Donna Rhodes, Clara Whitten, and Monika Starke likely will find it impossible to obtain redress. We can expect that, as a consequence of restricting the supervisor category to those formally empowered to take tangible employment actions, victims of workplace harassment with meritorious Title VII claims will find suit a hazardous endeavor. Inevitably, the Court's definition of supervisor will hinder efforts to stamp out discrimination in the workplace ... the Court, insistent on constructing artificial categories where context should be key, proceeds on an immoderate and unrestrained course to corral Title VII.”

Ginsburg again demonstrated that her deeply felt professional passion is to serve the cause of constitutional and legal justice, affirmatively calling on congressional lawmakers to continue to “correct this Court's wayward interpretations of Title VII. ... The ball is once again in Congress’ court to correct the error into which this Court has fallen, and to restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens today.”

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER, Petitioner
V.
Naiel NASSAR
(2013)

“What sense can one make of this other than ‘heads the employer wins, tails the employee loses?’"

In another decision whose illogic and injustice Justice Ginsburg protested in 2013, the five-justice conservative majority pulled a rabbit out of a hat and found that, under Title VII, workers alleging retaliatory discharge for complaining about job discrimination must show that the retaliatory motive was not just a “motivating factor” in their firing but the “but for” cause, a nearly impossibly stringent standard to meet. The case, which involves egregious ethnic and national origin discrimination against a doctor of Middle Eastern descent, established that plaintiffs facing retaliatory discrimination must essentially not show just that employers acted in order to punish them for exercising their civil rights but that this was essentially the only purpose they had.

This decision marked a dramatic departure from the text of Title VII and a coherent reading of its terms. The statute considers it discrimination whenever “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” is “a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.” This language was adopted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which was designed to address a Supreme Court decision that sharply cut back on the scope of Title VII by forcing plaintiffs to prove that they would not have been fired or demoted without the presence of the discriminatory motivation. Congress wanted to be certain that, to be actionable under Title VII, discrimination would have to be only a “motivating factor” in the adverse employment action and not necessarily its “but-for cause.” Thus, prior to this ruling, it was considered enough under Title VII to show that discriminatory animus plays some role in a worker’s discharge or demotion, because it should be playing none at all. Critically, the rule Congress intended to restore in 1991 was not confined to substantive discrimination but presumably applied as well to retaliatory discrimination—that is, discrimination against workers who exercise their Title VII anti-discrimination rights. This is the way that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) had always understood the law to operate.

But the Roberts Court majority, in another one of its dismal 5-4 specials, found that the more stringent standard openly repudiated by Congress still operates when it comes to retaliation claims. “In so holding,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in dissent, “the Court ascribes to Congress the unlikely purpose of separating retaliation claims from discrimination claims, thereby undermining the Legislature’s effort to fortify the protections of Title VII.” This holding, she observed, is “at odds with a solid line of decisions recognizing that retaliation is inextricably bound up with status-based discrimination.”

In her comprehensive and devastating dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Ginsburg demonstrated that this ruling had no basis in statutory language, legislative history, EEOC practice, or relevant case precedent. Ginsburg tore apart the majority’s sloppy, cut-and-paste job of analysis: “It is strange logic indeed to conclude that when Congress homed in on retaliation and codified the proscription, as it did in Title VII, Congress meant protection against that unlawful employment practice to have less force than the protection available when the statute does not mention retaliation. It is hardly surprising, then, that our jurisprudence does not support the Court's conclusion.” She showed that the conservatives had turned Title VII on its head: “Jurors will puzzle over the rhyme or reason for the dual standards. Of graver concern, the Court has seized on a provision adopted by Congress as part of an endeavor to strengthen Title VII, and turned it into a measure reducing the force of the ban on retaliation.” Nor was she shy about telling us what was really going on with the Court’s decision: “In this endeavor, the Court is guided neither by precedent, nor by the aims of legislators who formulated and amended Title VII. Indeed, the Court appears driven by a zeal to reduce the number of retaliation claims filed against employers.” Perhaps most blistering and memorable of all was this zinger on the Court’s doctrinal somersaults: “What sense can one make of this other than ‘heads the employer wins, tails the employee loses?’”

Recognizing again that the rights of workers is what matters the most, not just the terribly weak debating tactics of the majority, Ginsburg called for Congress to come to the rescue again of the nation’s major civil rights law in the workplace: “Today’s misguided judgment, along with the judgment in Vance v. Ball State Univ., should prompt yet another Civil Rights Restoration Act.”

Lilly M. LEDBETTER, Petitioner
V.
The GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO., INC.
(2007)

“This is not the first time the Court has ordered a cramped interpretation of Title VII, incompatible with the statute’s broad remedial purpose. … Once again, the ball is in Congress’ court. As in 1991, the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”

If Ginsburg’s passionate call to action on Title VII helps inspire Congress to act to reverse its recent mistakes, it will be a replay of Justice Ginsburg’s experience dissenting in Lilly M. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), when the whole country followed her ferociously principled dissent and Congress went to work right away to reverse the Court’s disastrous decision.

Writing for herself and Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer, Justice Ginsburg pointed out the absurdity of this interpretation, which rewards discriminators for their deception. She argued that each act of issuing a discriminatory paycheck clearly renews and continues the original discrimination. Ginsburg minced no words: “The Court asserts that treating pay discrimination as a discrete act, limited to each particular pay-setting decision, is necessary to ‘protec[t] employers from the burden of defending claims arising from employment decisions that are long past.’ But the discrimination of which Ledbetter complained is not long past. As she alleged, and as the jury found, Goodyear continued to treat Ledbetter differently because of sex each pay period, with mounting harm.” Ginsburg pointed out to the conservatives that it was Ledbetter who was the victim of discrimination in the case—not Goodyear: “Her initial readiness to give her employer the benefit of the doubt should not preclude her from later challenging the then current and continuing payment of a wage depressed on account of her sex.” Ginsburg’s forceful dissent laid the groundwork for a huge public education campaign across America in 2008 to reverse the Court’s pinched interpretation of Title VII. This campaign helped turn the tide of public opinion against both right-wing economics and right-wing judicial activism. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was signed on January 29, 2009, the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. By all accounts, Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion was instrumental in making it happen.

Protecting Civil Liberties Against Big Brother Bureaucracy

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 92 OF POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY
V.
LINDSAY EARLS
(2002)

“Notwithstanding nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas disturbing the peace and quiet of Tecumseh, the great majority of students the School District seeks to (drug) test in truth are engaged in activities that are not safety sensitive ...”

In the 21st century, governmental and corporate assaults on personal freedom and privacy are replete and constant. For many conservatives, Big Brother tactics are fine when the people whose rights are being trampled are students, prisoners, workers, criminal defendants, and others who lack the kind of social power the conservatives respect. But Justice Ginsburg stands up for civil liberties across the board, even for high school students, reminding everyone that freedom is at the heart of what it means to be an American under our Constitution and Bill of Rights. At a time when Justice Ginsburg’s age is being debated in public, it should not escape notice that she is a great champion on the Court of the rights of young Americans.

In the 2002 case of Board of Education School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Lindsay Earls, Justice Clarence Thomas delivered an opinion for the majority upholding the constitutionality of a high school imposing mandatory drug tests on all high school students in competitive extracurricular activities, including the Future Farmers of America, band, choir, the academic team, and cheerleading. The majority compared this policy to the facts of a 1995 case where the Court upheld random urinalysis drug tests for students involved in school sports, given the risk of immediate physical harm to athletes and those with whom they play, the lessened privacy expectations inherent in public school locker rooms and showers, and the school district’s demonstrated drug problem with students in school athletics. Justice Ginsburg had concurred in that case.

But in the 2002 case, joined by Justices Stevens, O’Connor, and Souter, Justice Ginsburg dissented, arguing that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment because it “is not reasonable, it is capricious, even perverse [because it] targets for testing a student population least likely to be at risk from illicit drugs and their damaging effects.”

Displaying her famous humor and dry wit, Ginsburg lampooned the majority’s effort to liken the situation of students in chorus, orchestra, and Future Farmers of America to varsity football and basketball players, who are engaged in a dangerous, high-risk sport and are used to situations of “communal undress.” Responding to the argument that members of the Future Farmers of America “handle a 1500-pound steer” and participants in Future Homemakers of America “work with cutlery,” Ginsburg wrote: “Notwithstanding nightmarish images of out-of-control flatware, livestock run amok, and colliding tubas disturbing the peace and quiet of Tecumseh, the great majority of students the School District seeks to test in truth are engaged in activities that are not safety sensitive to any unusual degree.”

She also gently but pointedly chided the majority for using reasoning that could apply to all school children, despite the Vernonia opinion’s having gone out of its way to explain why school sports programs could be distinguished from other elements of going to school: “Had the Vernonia Court agreed that public school attendance, in and of itself, permitted the State to test each student’s blood or urine for drugs, the opinion in Vernonia could have saved many words.”

Ever attentive to the real-world implications of the Court’s rulings, Ginsburg reproached her colleagues for upholding a policy that is not only repressive but severely counterproductive: “Even if students might be deterred from drug use in order to preserve their extracurricular eligibility, it is at least as likely that other students might forgo their extracurricular involvement in order to avoid detection of their drug use. Tecumseh’s policy thus falls short doubly if deterrence is its aim: It invades the privacy of students who need deterrence least, and risks steering students at greatest risk for substance abuse away from extracurricular involvement that potentially may palliate drug problems.”

Conclusion

In our day—as in Thomas Jefferson’s and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s—conservative forces in the country have turned the Supreme Court and the judiciary into their “stronghold,” and from that battery they work to nullify and neutralize progressive legislation and well-established constitutional rights. Given how much progress Americans have made over the last half-century on voting rights, workplace rights, equal pay and civil liberties, the Roberts Court is doing far more damage to democratic progress than any Court since the Lochner era, when judicial conservatives wiped out progressive workplace laws and economic regulation.

Justice Ginsburg has emerged as a crucial and powerfully eloquent voice for protecting the legislation produced by the civilizing movements of our time. She has also continued to spell out a constitutional vision that includes robust democracy, an inclusive economy, and ample civil liberty for all of us.

As an impassioned and thorough dissenter, Ginsburg continues a visionary tradition that goes back to Justice William Johnson, who was nominated to the Court by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804 and launched the practice of filing dissenting opinions; Justice John Marshall Harlan, whose dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) insisted that Jim Crow segregation was unconstitutional because “in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens”; and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose prescient dissent from the fateful Lochner decision, which struck down wage and hour legislation (1905), argued that the case was “decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain.” Like her constitutional forerunners, Ginsburg painstakingly demonstrates how an errant majority has trampled constitutional justice and equality.

With her stirring rhetoric and sly humor, Justice Ginsburg provides anyone listening in Congress, as well as her colleagues and successors on the bench and, above all, the American people themselves, an alternative “vision of democracy and the Constitution,” which is the hallmark of a great dissenter, as Professor Mark Tushnet argued in his book on the subject, I dissent. This alternative constitutional vision is essential today because the conservatives routed in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 have “retired into the Judiciary as a stronghold,” where they try to beat down and erase all progressive legislative and judicial victories just as their forebears did. Ginsburg’s vision is the opposite of the constitutional philosophy held by the Roberts Court majority, which defends corporate and government power over individual rights and liberties and always manages to find a reason to discard federal and state laws that seek to promote democracy and the common good.

Whenever Justice Ginsburg chooses to leave the Court, it will be a loss to her country. Win, lose, or draw, she never takes her eyes off the prize.

 

The Supreme Court’s Attack on Working Women

The following is a guest blog by Beth Huang, 2010 Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in two critical cases with major implications for working women. The Supreme Court ruled once again that corporations are people, this time conferring religious rights that trump workers’ rights to access full healthcare. In a dissent to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted “that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Justice Ginsberg’s dissent reveals the real impacts of denying coverage of contraception for low-wage working women -- something the slim five-justice, all-male majority fails to comprehend.

To compound the attack on working women, five male Justices severely undermined the ability of care workers – 95 percent of whom are women – to collectively bargain in the case Harris v. Quinn. This assault on working people stems from the Justices’ view that the care workers in the case are not “real” public employees and thus the union cannot charge the appropriate agency fee to all of them for its bargaining services. This ruling serves the interests of anti-worker extremists at the expense of these invaluable workers who care for our families and our children.

It’s clear: a majority of Justices are trampling over the rights of working women. In light of these attacks, it’s time to organize for gender equity and economic justice for working women.

Back in 2010 when I was a student, Young People For helped me develop organizing skills that have led me to effectively advocate for and with women and workers. Through my work in student labor organizing as an undergraduate and since graduation, I have seen that workers’ rights are women’s rights, from having access to comprehensive healthcare to having a voice on the job. To build an economy that works for today’s students and youth, we need to organize locally and train new leaders in the broad effort to advance our agenda for gender equity and economic justice.

At the Student Labor Action Project a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, we’re doing just that by building student power to advance an agenda that protects the rights of current workers and promotes a more just economy for students to enter when they graduate. Our campaigns focus on demanding funding for public higher education, which we know is a major source of good jobs and upward mobility for women and people of color; pushing back on Wall Street profits that fuel the student debt crisis; and raising the working conditions for Walmart workers, 57 percent of whom are women.

The Supreme Court’s decisions last week underscored the urgency of organizing for these changes. Women’s access to equal rights, power in the workplace, and comprehensive healthcare depends on it.

PFAW Foundation

Unpacking Hobby Lobby & Other SCOTUS Decisions: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a special telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court term that wrapped up this Monday and to unpack some of the critical decisions handed down by the Court this year. The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg, as well as Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Discussing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Raskin explained the case and the damaging implications of the 5-4 decision. Highlighting the “extreme and extravagant” claim made by Hobby Lobby that its religious rights were violated, Raskin described the court’s decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act covers “closely held” corporations and noted that this creates a “dangerous expansion of corporate personhood.” Raskin described how this exemplifies the Court in the Citizens United era, where the far right Justices regularly find ways to rule so they can enhance the power of corporations.

Mincberg also provided background on RFRA and explained how the law was distorted and expanded in this decision far beyond what anyone had in mind when it passed by an enormous bipartisan majority 20 years ago.

Members wanted to know what actions can be taken to help address the imbalance in the Court and the troubling decisions made by the Roberts’ Court in the last few years. Baker addressed the issue of rebalancing the Court, emphasizing the importance of presidential elections on the Court’s make-up.

The telebriefing also covered the recent decisions in McCullen v. Coakley, NLRB v. Noel Canning, and Harris v. Quinn, underscoring the Court’s decisive move to the right.

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.

 

PFAW

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

PFAW

Postcard from Arizona to John Roberts: Money Corrupts

In a week in which the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the reality of money corrupting politics, a story out of Arizona provides a clear example of the insidious influence of the private prison industry and its campaign contributions. 

Arizona has been at the forefront of bad prison policy and big profits for private prison companies. People For the American Way’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” explored how Arizona officials’ political and ideological commitment to prison privatization overrode good policy and common sense. Unbelievably, faced with evidence that privately run prisons were costing taxpayers more, not less, than state-run prisons, some legislators moved to stop the state from collecting the data.

This February, we wrote about Politico’s coverage of the private prison racket. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” author Matt Stroud asked, “So why do we keep giving them our business?” One answer is that the industry spends a fortune on lobbying and campaign contributions.

This week’s story shows how those investments can pay off. According to the Arizona Republic, House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanaugh tried to slip a last-minute $900,000 earmark for private prison giant GEO Group into the state budget. The company is already expected to get $45 million this year under contracts with the state that guarantee the company at least a 95 percent occupancy rate, “virtually ensuring the company a profit for operating its prisons in Arizona.” The state Department of Corrections said the extra money isn’t needed, but Kavanaugh heard otherwise from the company’s lobbyists. GEO executives gave Kavanaugh more than $2,500 in 2012.

The good news is that the Senate Appropriations Committee dropped the extra funding “following an uproar of criticism from Arizonans.”

PFAW

Women Justices Press Important Questions During Hobby Lobby Arguments

Crowds of activists and advocacy groups gathered outside while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc. case.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not shy away from asking difficult questions that demonstrate the broad implications this case could have. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan voiced concerns regarding the implications of a ruling for the first time in our nation’s history that for-profit corporations have religious rights. Both justices questioned whether this decision would allow companies to deny access to coverage of not only contraceptive methods, but also of other lifesaving procedures employers might object to on religious grounds—like blood transfusions or vaccines.

The Huffington Post quotes Justice Kagan as saying, “There are quite a number of medical treatments that could be religiously objected to… Everything would be piecemeal, nothing would be uniform.”

Pushing the issue further, Justice Sotomayor asked, “How are courts supposed to know whether a corporation holds a particular religious belief?”

Similarly, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

was a law that was passed overwhelmingly [by] both houses of Congress. People from all sides of the political spectrum voted for it. It seems strange that there would have been that tremendous uniformity if it means [corporations are covered].

She added…

[T]here was an effort to adopt a … specific conscience amendment in 2012, and the Senate rejected that… That amendment would have enabled secular employers and insurance providers to deny coverage on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions. It was specifically geared to secular employers and insurance providers. And that…was rejected.

Justice Kagan noted that RFRA was considered non-controversial when it passed, an unlikely reaction if it had been understood to open the door to employers citing religious objections to complying with laws relating to sex discrimination, minimum wage, family leave, or child labor.

Justice Kagan also noted that women are “quite tangibly harmed” when employers don’t provide contraceptive coverage. This decision, however, could have far-reaching implications beyond women’s reproductive rights since this case deals with some of the same core issues seen in “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s, as we pointed out yesterday morning.

PFAW Foundation
Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious