One Small Victory at the Supreme Court

In a week when ideology trumped law at the Supreme Court not once but thrice with the Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision opening the door to endless disputes about ‘sincerely held’ and ‘closely held,’ the McCullen v Coakley decision allowing abortion protesters to intimidate right in the face, and  the Harris v Quinn decision enabling free-riders in union negotiated wages and benefits one small ruling, if only a ‘decline to hear,’ can be applauded.

An attempt to block one of California’s key climate change regulations, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from fuel, failed Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The regulation, known as the low-carbon fuel standard, requires oil companies to reduce the emissions associated with the fuels they sell in California, lowering emissions 10 percent by 2020. It has provoked fierce opposition from an unlikely alliance – the oil industry and Midwestern ethanol producers.

SF Gate: Baker

Christians 5 – the Rest of Us 4

The long term damage from a Supreme Court largely appointed by Republican Presidents over the past several decades  can scarcely be summarized. Though the recent decisions on Corporate personhood and unlimited political purchasing power are undoubtedly more immediately dangerous to a healthy democracy, yesterday’s ruling that sectarian prayer before governmental business meetings was not unconstitutional adds to the toxic waters rising in the country.

Two [Greece, NY] town residents sued, saying the prayers ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion. They said the prayers offended them and, in Justice Kennedy’s words, “made them feel excluded and disrespected.”

But Justice Kennedy said the relevant constitutional question was not whether they were offended. “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable,” he wrote. “Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.”  NY Times

So, I wonder, Justice Kennedy, if those who find the invocation of a deity, before talking about pot-hole fixing, to be mindboggling, and were to cover the ears with their hands, or put on ear-muffs during the prayer — would that be OK, too?  Protected?  Or say, a volunteer were to praise the forests and the rivers for three minutes, or perhaps the gnomes that live there — will that be protected?  Do the upstate Buddhists have the same right to offer public prayer before the assemblage as the Christians? Do the Hare Krishnas?

When they see an opening, they drive a wedge into it. Perhaps!  Maybe!  We can have an eastern Ukraine situation right here in the US of A….

The Voting Rights Act

In case the recent Supreme Court ruling eviscerating Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act left you shrugging your shoulders, it should not have.  Bad, very bad stuff.  For a good summary of the cauldron from which the most important civil rights legislation ever passed came from see Louis Menand’s New Yorker (July 8 & 15) article.

There were, in the end, three marches from Selma. Each was momentous. King was not present at the first, which took place on March 7, 1965—“Bloody Sunday.” Some six hundred marchers, led by John Lewis, of sncc, and Hosea Williams, of the S.C.L.C., set off from Brown Chapel and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Pettus was a Confederate general, later a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan), over the Alabama River. At the far end, they found arrayed before them more than a hundred and fifty armed men: state troopers, under Lingo’s command, and Sheriff Clark’s posse, some on horseback. Wallace had ordered Lingo to take “whatever steps necessary” to stop the march. The troopers wore gas masks and carried nightsticks; Clark’s men were armed with clubs, whips, and cattle prods. One carried a rubber hose wrapped in barbed wire. A number of white Alabamans had come out to watch the sport.

So had the press. It’s all on film. The marchers halt fifty feet from the line of troopers. They are told that they have two minutes to turn around and go back to their homes and churches, but, well before two minutes have passed, the troopers charge into the line, beating everyone in sight. They are followed by Clark’s men on horseback, then by the tear gas.

Forty tear-gas cannisters were fired that day. The marchers were chased for a mile back to Selma. Troopers fired tear gas into the Carver housing project; posse men rode their horses up the steps of Brown Chapel. That evening, forty-eight million television viewers watching “Judgment at Nuremberg” on ABC had the movie interrupted for a fifteen-minute film of the attack. There was no voice-over. The only sounds were the thuds of clubs, reports of tear-gas cannisters being fired, the rebel yells of Clark’s posse, and the constant, hysterical screams of the victims.

At least ninety marchers were wounded, and Lewis had a fractured skull, but the effect was achieved. The film left no room for hairsplitting about provocation. Unarmed men and women on a highway were set upon by uniformed men wearing gas masks and riding horses. The Pettus Bridge was a turning point in American race relations and American history.

The majority of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roberts, argued that the times had changed, that the pre-clearance needed to change voting rules or requirements , as spelled out by Section 4, was based on old data, that the South (11 states) was New, and could not be singled out for long-ago perpetrations.

Immediately, Texas announced it would put into place changes in voting requirements which the pre-clearance had not allowed.


Supreme Court Rules Human Genes May Not be Patented

The occasional good news surfaces


The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision that could shape the future of medical and genetic research and have profound effects on pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

It’s not a full bore win.  Synthetic DNA is patentable, but the ACLU, which brought the case, is celebrating.

The case arose when a group of medical researchers, associations and patients – represented by the American Civil Liberties Union – filed suit in 2009, saying human genes, including synthetically produced material, should not be patented.

They challenged seven patents owned by or licensed to Myriad on two genes – called BRCA1 and BRCA2 – linked to breast and ovarian cancer. A federal judge said the patents were invalid. An appeals court overruled that decision, and the case landed at the Supreme Court.

“Today, the court struck down a major barrier to patient care and medical innovation,” said Sandra Park of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Myriad did not invent the BRCA genes and should not control them. Because of this ruling, patients will have greater access to genetic testing and scientists can engage in research on these genes without fear of being sued.”  Reuters

The Supreme Court: Legal Judgment from Blogs and Tweets

Several commentators have broken the news of  the visible twitter trail from right wing opinionators to the tongues of the Supreme Court justices.  They are no longer immersed in studies of precedent and muscular legal thinking but are glued, apparently, to the latest in social media.

E.J Dionne in the Washington Post followed up a column on the activist right wing judges with another calling recent events in the GOP a stealthy coup.

[in the Oral Arguments] conservative justices repeatedly spouted views closely resembling the tweets and talking points issued by organizations of the sort funded by the Koch brothers. Don’t take it from me. Charles Fried, solicitor general for Ronald Reagan, told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein that it was absurd for conservatives to pretend that the mandate created a market in health care. “The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party . . .,” Fried said, “and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.”

The right’s stealthy coup

Chris Hayes, filling in for Rachel Maddow, on March 29, showed us that very trail:

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Break a Leash Law Be Strip Searched

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Strip Search

Anxiously waiting the GOP candidates so outraged by the loss of freedom created by requiring health care contributions to weigh in on this. Scrotum pat down for hidden pills following unpaid parking tickets? All mum so far…

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Supremes OK Environmental Catastrophe

“A mining company was given the go-ahead by the Supreme Court on Monday to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby 23-acre lake, although the material will kill all of the lake’s fish.

“The court said that the federal government acted legally in declaring the waste left after metals are extracted from the ore as “fill material” allowing a federal permit without meeting more stringent requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.

“Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the decision “great news for Alaska” and said it “is a green light for responsible resource development.” The Kensington gold mine 45 miles north of Juneau will produce as many as 370 jobs when it begins operation.

“But environmentalists feared the ruling could lead to a broader easing of requirements on how companies dispose of their mining waste.