Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Supreme Bunch of Thugs for Plutocracy

I was born just a few years after Brown v Board of Education, and for most of my life the Supreme Court was the lodestone, the guiding light of liberal social justice in this country.

Thanks to the Warren Court, I grew up and reached middle age in a country where no one could legally deny me the right to an equal education, to the right to vote, to live and work where I wished, to legal representation, to birth control, to political dissent, to protection from police invasion, to an abortion on demand.

That all started disappearing when RayGun made Rehnquist Chief Justice. But even with Thomas and Scalia, half-century-old rights prevailed.

Until now.

From the Nation:

The sad irony is that, rather than serve its traditional role as the institution of government where those shut out of the political process can find a voice, the Court has used its rulings to strengthen the already deafening voices of the wealthy and powerful. At the same time, it has insulated itself and the lower federal courts from the pleas of the politically disfavored by slamming shut the courthouse doors.
Here is a list of ten areas in which the Court has failed those Americans most in need of its protection.
§ Access to justice: Georgetown law professor David Cole recently wrote that “what most defines the Roberts Court may be its hostility to courts themselves.” In case after case, the Court has erected new hurdles for those who have been harmed and seek redress in the courts. It has allowed companies to use fine print to take away the right to trial by a jury or a judge for consumers and employees; it has also made it more difficult for victims of corporate wrongdoing to band together, and made it easier for claims of relief to be thrown out of court at the earliest stages. As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in dissent in one such case, the “nutshell version” of the message for those seeking to stand up for their rights in court is: “Too darn bad.”
§ Business: The Roberts Court has made Mitt Romney’s statement that “corporations are people, my friend,” a central component of its jurisprudence. It has imbued corporations with the right to religious expression, as well as the right to free speech through political advertising and unlimited political spending. Spurred on by an elite Supreme Court bar largely in the service of wealthy corporate clients, the Roberts Court has become the most pro-business Supreme Court in generations. According to a study written in part by conservative Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, the five conservatives on the Roberts Court are all among the top ten most pro-business justices since 1946—with Alito and Roberts ranking first and second.
§Workers’ rights: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in 2013 that the majority of the Court “is blind to the realities of the workplace.” That blindness has manifested itself in decisions limiting government employees’ free speech and collective-bargaining rights; barring Lilly Ledbetter’s claim for decades of pay discrimination; raising the bar for proving age discrimination; preventing more than 1 million Walmart employees from having their day in court to allege gender discrimination; limiting the availability of overtime pay; redefining “supervisor” to allow employers to avoid liability; and making it more difficult for employees to prove retaliation by their employers.
§ Voting rights: The Roberts Court ripped the heart out of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. In a stunning display of judicial hubris, the Court dismissed the 15,000-page congressional record in support of the act, as well as the language of the Fifteenth Amendment, which empowers Congress to enforce the right to vote free of racial discrimination. The decision was the culmination of a career-long mission by the chief justice to undermine the act, which he fought to limit as a young lawyer in the Reagan administration. And it has unleashed a torrent of state voter-suppression measures that target African-Americans, Latinos, the poor and the young.
§ Guns: The Court struck a blow against those living in communities plagued by gun violence when the majority held for the first time that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to gun ownership and struck down the gun-violence-prevention laws enacted in Washington, DC. This “law-changing decision,” in the words of then-Justice John Paul Stevens, upended decades-old Supreme Court precedent on which hundreds of judges had relied.
§ Religion: The Roberts Court has drawn sharp lines favoring believers over nonbelievers and majority believers over minority believers. The Court has upheld the practice of beginning town meetings with a (Christian) prayer, denied taxpayers standing to challenge a public-subsidy program that gave money to private (Christian) religious schools, and reversed a decision prohibiting the display of a cross in a federal park. Also, as Justice Ginsburg wrote in her Hobby Lobby dissent, “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises…can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” In other words, they can impose their religious views on the rest of us.
Although the Court’s docket for its tenth term is not yet complete, it already includes cases that could deprive some 13 million low-income Americans of the subsidies they need to afford health insurance; affect whether as many as 8 million LGBT Americans in thirty-three states can marry; dilute the power of minority voters; permit employers to force women to choose between healthy pregnancies and their jobs; and make it much more difficult to remedy housing discrimination.
John Roberts turned 60 in January. Because of lifetime tenure, we may be looking at another two decades or more with Roberts as chief justice. But two of his fellow conservative justices—Scalia and Kennedy—are 78. It is likely that the next president will nominate their replacements, as well as those for 81-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 76-year-old Stephen Breyer. The 2016 presidential election is likely to determine the Court’s direction for at least a generation. Will it be a Roberts Court in which the chief justice is consistently in the majority, or will it be one in which Roberts plays the role of dissenter as he watches a progressive majority remedy the damage of his first decade? The voters will decide.

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