Reprinted with permission from Alternet
U.S. Supreme Court justices, in theory, are supposed to avoid being overtly partisan. Although they're nominated and confirmed by partisan politicians their general goal is appear above the fray, deciding cases on the basis of the facts and the law, rather than political ideology.
But Justice Samuel Alito, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, is drawing vehement criticism for a Federalist Society speech that, critics say, was full of flat-out partisanship and Fox News-like fear-mongering.
On Thursday night, Alito gave the keynote address at the Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention, which was strictly an online event this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And according to Slate's Mark Joseph Stern, Alito "abandoned any pretense of impartiality in his speech, a grievance-laden tirade against Democrats, the progressive movement, and the United States' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alito's targets included COVID-related restrictions, same-sex marriage, abortion, Plan B, the contraceptive mandate, LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, and five sitting Democratic senators."
Alito is done. That was easily the most political speech I’ve ever seen delivered by a Supreme Court justice. Wow… https://t.co/CmHG89Ueyr— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1605231518.0
Stern notes that Alito started the speech by slamming the U.S. Judicial Conference's effort to forbid federal judges from being members of the Federalist Society, an alliance of right-wing attorneys. Alito claimed that liberals are trying to "hobble the debate that the Federalist Society fosters" and claimed that law school students who join that organization are telling him that they "face harassment and retaliation if they say anything that departs from the law school orthodoxy."
"Remarkably, Alito did not just grouse about the outcome of certain cases, but the political context of those decisions — and the broader cultural and political forces behind them," Stern explains. "Although the justice accused several Democratic senators of being unprofessional, he himself defied the basic principles of judicial conduct."
Stern points out that Alito, during his speech, was highly critical of governors who have issued stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements in their states because of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacking them as "previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty." According to Stern, Alito painted President Barack Obama's administration as hostile to freedom of religion.
It should be noted, however, that Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama are known for being churchgoing Christians. The former president is far from an atheist, let alone a militant one. But Obama has stressed that freedom of religion under the U.S. Constitution offers protections to people of all religious stripes — from Protestants and Catholics to Muslims to Buddhists — and protects the civil liberties of atheists and agnostics as well.
"Alito waded into fierce political debates over public health during a pandemic, reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, and other issues that routinely come before his court," Stern observes. "It is wildly inappropriate for a justice to assume the role of Fox News commentators, and unwise in light of progressives' mounting doubt about the Supreme Court's legitimacy."
Here is Justice Alito complaining that the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision has crushed the free speech o… https://t.co/uRBr5cCbYY— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1605233172.0
And here is Justice Alito defending Masterpiece Cakeshop’s Jacks Phillips for refusing to bake a cake for a same-se… https://t.co/e7NvdhT3vo— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1605235323.0
Gabe Roth of Fix the Court, a group that is highly critical of the Supreme Court's move to the far right, issued a statement slamming Alito's Federalist Society speech.
"Full of disinformation on the state of the First Amendment, how women's reproductive systems work and the goals of a milquetoast judicial ethics proposal, Justice Alito's speech Thursday was more befitting a Trump rally than a legal society," Roth wrote.
According to Roth, "Alito's decision to speak about COVID's impact on religious exercise is unconscionable at a time when cases concerning this very topic remain active at the Supreme Court and across the federal judiciary. If there were enforceable recusal standards at the High Court, this would be a ripe opportunity for a motion to disqualify. Last night proved once and for all that the Supreme Court needs a formal code of conduct."
More criticism of Alito's speech has come from Esquire's Charles P. Pierce, who wrote, "Alito hit all the wingnut G spots — marriage equality, 'religious liberty,' lying about the Plan B contraceptive, the jackboots of social media descending on honest conservative voices, why criticism equals 'censorship,' the protocols put in place by besieged state governors for dealing with the pandemic, and 'celebrity chefs.' It was such a grotesque partisan performance that you almost forgot to wonder why in hell a sitting Supreme Court justice was addressing a political pressure group in the first place.
Here are some Twitter comments on Alito's speech:
Alito's speech is actually making the best argument for Court reform. There's just no good justification for a syst… https://t.co/Oqn9Ctvh8V— Dan Epps (@Dan Epps) 1605233833.0
@mjs_DC Following Alitos logic in the Cakeshop case; A Jewish man may have been denied the opportunity to open a ba… https://t.co/p10geqqdYk— M.McMahon (@M.McMahon) 1605244732.0
@mjs_DC Wow. Alito really feels emboldened by the "protection" of having the additional conservative Catholics on t… https://t.co/U9nHUTVO1t— Patricia Adams (@Patricia Adams) 1605246143.0
@mjs_DC CONSERVATIVES: We have the right to refuse business to people who are LGBTQ! We need to ban abortion! ALSO… https://t.co/eObsLnBeq1— Democracy Is not a state. It is an act. (@Democracy Is not a state. It is an act.) 1605257407.0
@mjs_DC So the argument by a Supreme Court Justice to allow systemic discrimination to continue in the US is that S… https://t.co/SzB2k7f1CR— Mary Beth Miotto MD MPH (@Mary Beth Miotto MD MPH) 1605271226.0
Right. That’s the funny thing about Alito’s piously self serving defense of an “independent judiciary.” Alito doesn… https://t.co/Ok5pzcYCi2— Richard Yeselson (@Richard Yeselson) 1605248787.0
Here is a member is SCOTUS openly supporting homophobia & bigotry and conflating it with speech. In Alito’s mind, a… https://t.co/LRWmYjplyU— Samira Ahmed (@Samira Ahmed) 1605238485.0
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