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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: samuel alito

Can The Supreme Court's Ratings Sink Lower? They Just Did

The U.S. Supreme Court notched yet another all-time low in its approval rating, this time in a Quinnipiac University poll.

The survey found that a 54 percent majority of Americans disapprove of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job, while just 35% approve.

Registered voters expressed nearly the same level of discontent at 36 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval—the lowest job approval among registered voters in the survey since Quinnipiac began asking the question in 2004.

It's yet another new low for a court that has seen its reputation take an abrupt nosedive ever since it overturned a 50-year precedent on abortion rights this summer.

In June, Gallup found public confidence in the high court had sunk to just 25 percent, a historic all-time low since Gallup began tracking the measure in 1973. Confidence in the court stood at 45 percent in that May '73 survey, taken just months after the high court had established a constitutional right to abortion in its January ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Evangelical Pastor: 'Stealth Missionaries'  Corrupted The Supreme Courto (VIDEO)

The Rev. Rob Schenck was once deeply involved in the Christian right movement and white evangelical efforts to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the evangelical Protestant minister has grown increasingly critical of the Christian right and the anti-abortion movement that he was once a part of.

Moreover, he is speaking out against the Christian right’s campaign to lobby Supreme Court justices in the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Schenck alleges that evangelical Christian fundamentalists knew what the High Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby would be before that decision was publicly announced, and that the leak came from either Justice Samuel Alito or his wife — an allegation that Justice Alito has vehemently denied. And Schenck discussed that allegation when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, December 8.

The Independent’s Alex Woodward, reporting on Schenck’s testimony, explains, “An evangelical minister and former longtime anti-abortion activist told members of Congress that he helped recruit wealthy conservative donors to serve as ‘stealth missionaries’ at the U.S. Supreme Court, where they developed friendships with conservative justices that aligned with the group’s ‘social and religious’ views. The ‘overarching’ goal of Robert Schenck’s ‘Operation Higher Court’ sought to ‘gain insight into the conservative justices’ thinking and to shore up their resolve to render solid, unapologetic opinions,’ he told the House Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony on 8 December.”

Operation Higher Court was the lobbying campaign of Faith and Action, the Christian right group that Schenck was a part of for many years.

Woodward notes that Schenck “testified to the Committee that his group suggested tactics like meeting with justices for meals at their homes and at private clubs to build relationships and advance their perceived common objectives.”

Schenck told House Judiciary Committee members, “I believe we pushed the boundaries of Christian ethics and compromised the High Court’s promise to administer equal justice. I humbly apologize to all I failed in this regard. Most of all, I beg the pardon of the folks I enlisted to do work that was not always transparently honest.… I’m here today in the interest of truth telling.”

The December 8 hearing wasn’t strictly about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby or Operation Higher Court’s campaign to influence Supreme Court justices. It was about Supreme Court ethics in general, and Schenck now believes that it was unethical for Supreme Court justices to be interacting with Christian right lobbyists.

Watch the video of Schenck’s December 8 testimony below or at this link.


Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

House Judiciary Panel Will Investigate 'Troubling' Charges Against Justice Alito

The Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor and former anti-abortion activist, alleges that back in 2014, he learned of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby weeks before the decision was formally announced — and that he heard about it from evangelical donors and lobbyists Donald and Gayle Wright, who allegedly discussed the case with Justice Samuel Alito and his wife.

The bombshell allegation that Alito or his wife leaked the High Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling comes at a time when public trust in the Court has reached record lows and the Court is still facing widespread condemnation for its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade after 49 years. And the House Judiciary Committee, on Thursday, December 1, announced that it plans to hold a December 8 hearing that will probe Alito’s alleged leak in the Hobby Lobby case.

Journalist Paul Blumenthal, in HuffPost, reports, “The Committee’s announced hearing follows a back-and-forth between the two top committee Democrats overseeing the courts, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and the Court over the lobbying campaign and the Court’s lack of a binding ethics code. The two lawmakers concluded that the Court refused to answer their questions and threatened to provide the oversight that the Court was not doing for itself.”

Alito has flatly denied that either him or his wife discussed the Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in advance with Donald and Gayle Wright. And Gayle Wright has also denied Schenk’s allegation, saying that it is “patently not true.”

Nonetheless, Sheldon and Johnson believe that Schenk’s allegation needs to be thoroughly investigated. In a statement, the Democratic lawmakers wrote, “If the Court.... is not willing to undertake fact-finding inquiries into possible ethics violations, that leaves Congress as the only forum.”

Blumenthal notes that “a coalition of more than 60 progressive groups, including Demand Justice, Planned Parenthood (and) NARAL Pro-Choice” sent a letter to Whitehouse and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin urging them to hold hearings in the Senate and ask Schenck to testify. The reporter quotes Demand Justice President Brian Fallon as saying, “This scandal is just the latest in a long line of ethical failures the Court itself refuses to deal with. House Judiciary is right to move quickly to investigate, and Senate Democrats should plan to take up the mantle in the new year.”

If Democratic leaders in Congress hold hearings on Schenck’s Hobby Lobby allegations in 2023, it will be in the U.S. Senate rather than the U.S. House of Representatives — as Democrats narrowly lost their House majority in the 2022 midterms but held their majority in the Senate and may even expand that majority if Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeats Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election in Georgia on Tuesday, December 6. The new GOP-led House will be seated on January 3, 2023; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York has been chosen as House minority leader, and the current House minority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, is hoping to become House Speaker.

In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday night, November 30, Whitehouse said of the Supreme Court, “We will continue to pursue oversight, including oversight into these latest troubling allegations. The people of the country deserve real answers from justices we trust to wield the power of the highest court in the country. We won’t give up until we get those answers. So, across the street over there, they had better get used to it.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Evangelical Leader Says Justice Alito Leaked Supreme Court Decision

Rev. Rob Schenck has written a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts informing him that Justice Samuel Alito leaked the outcome of a critical 2014 Supreme Court ruling that gifted corporations with religious rights and allowed them to deny health care to employees. The revelation of Alito’s leak in that case adds weight to the likelihood that he also leaked the draft text of the decision destroying the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.

Schenck is an evangelical minister and author who was told in advance about the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby after a friend of his dined with Alito. According to the letter, after learning of the pending ruling, Schenk was able to use the information to prepare material and statements in advance for when that ruling was announced. He even contacted the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, before the ruling was released, to let them know how it was going to go.

Rev. Schenck wants Chief Justice Roberts to keep that in mind when searching for who leaked a draft version of Alito’s Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization of Jackson opinion.

Considering there may be a severe penalty to be paid by whoever is responsible for the initial leak of the recent draft opinion, I thought this previous incident might bear some consideration by you and others involved in the process.

The leak of the draft decision in Dobbs was more than just a breach of Supreme Court tradition and security. By putting out a version of the opinion that was incredibly harsh, and which went far beyond the limits of what many had expected in the ruling, that draft put a stake in the ground that may have forced even conservative members of the Court to move faster than they had wanted in completely demolishing Roe and the entire concept of privacy rights.

Many have suspected that this is exactly why the leak was made in the first place; not to warn people about what was coming, but to put conservative members of the Court into a position where they either signed on, or were marked out as traitors to the anti-abortion cause. In short, there was a lot more to gain for Alito to have leaked the decision he wrote, than for any of the more moderate members of the Court to have made the text available before the justices made their final decisions.

As The New York Times reports, both Dobbs and the Hobby Lobby case were “triumphs for conservatives and the religious right.” Not only did the Dobbs decision shatter a right that had been in place for 50 years, and repudiate the ruling of that past Court, but the Burwell case elevated the religious rights of corporations above those of employees. It continued the wall of protection that corporate owners enjoy, but allowed their religious preferences to leak through that wall so that they could refuse to include, not just abortions, but even contraceptives in their health care plans. It was one of a string of rulings that have made corporations into ungovernable super-citizens.

Alito reportedly leaked the ruling on the Hobby Lobby case to a small group of supporters and religious rights advocates. However, the leak of the Dobbs opinion was made to the public, dropping like a bombshell into national politics when it was published in full by Politico. In September, Joan McCarter reported that the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion was still being investigated, but Justice Neil Gorsuch revealed that the outcome of that investigation might “not be made public.” Which would seem to limit the possible consequences of the leak to something less than a slap on the wrist. That there has been no announcement of findings seven months after the opinion was released makes it seem more likely that no public report is forthcoming.

By releasing his information concerning Alito and making public his letter to Roberts, Schenck, who was not supportive of the outcome in Dobbs, would seem to have returned at least some pressure for Roberts to treat the leak with the serious attention it deserves.

This wasn’t just a betrayal of the Court’s security, it was a deliberate effort to manipulate the outcome of a decision still in progress. If Alito actually used this leak to strong-arm other justices into signing onto his extremist position … surely that’s something the public should know. And if the Court decides to hand down no punishment for this, that’s also something the public should know.

Another reminder of just how leaky the Roberts court has been.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Alito Delivers Partisan Speech Warning Of His Post-Roe Targets

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito made a big splash with his first public remarks since eviscerating abortion rights in the United States. Alito’s comments—made at a legal conference in Rome—mocking the world leaders who spoke out against the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade drew the most attention, but he also offered a screaming warning about his intentions for future decisions.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders—who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said, before going on to single out British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (joking, “he paid the price”) and Prince Harry (not actually a leader).

This was striking, for sure. “Alito apparently didn’t see the need to come across as a dispassionate and fair-minded justice,” Steve Benen wrote of the comments. “Rather, his audience saw a politician giving a political speech, deriding other politicians who dared to disagree with him, and patting himself on the back for having succeeded on a political goal.”

It’s not the first time, either. Benen pointed to a string of past speeches Alito has given that have each seemed surprisingly political for a Supreme Court justice. It’s almost like Alito is operating as a partisan. And now, with his latest speech, he’s telling the world that he does not care that his decision singlehandedly damaged the Supreme Court’s standing with Americans or the world. Since Alito’s decision in Dobbs, support has grown for reforming the court, while its favorability has plummeted.


But not only is Alito mocking the outrage over what he’s already done, he sent a signal about what he’s prepared to do, railing against “hostility to religion” and saying, “ultimately, if we are going to win the battle to protect religious freedom in an increasingly secular society, we will need more than positive law.”

Looking at those comments, legal analyst Chris Geidner tweeted, “When Sam Alito says something like this, that's a sign that the fundamental ways the Supreme Court majority has already eviscerated the Establishment Clause in favor of the Free Exercise Clause are just the first steps he wants the court to take.”

What Alito is telling us with his mockery, his arrogance, his absolute lack of pretense that he’s equally weighing free exercise of religion with other rights, is that he doesn’t care. He’s here as a political figure and he’s going to shape the country’s laws to fit his political preferences as long as he has that power. Senate Democrats should take this as a dare, and they should step up with the reforms the nation’s voters are already embracing.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Constitutional Right To Abortion

Washington (AFP) - The US Supreme Court on Friday ended the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shreds half a century of constitutional protections on one of the most divisive and bitterly fought issues in American political life.

The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that enshrined a woman's right to an abortion, saying that individual states can now permit or restrict the procedure themselves.

"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives," the court said.

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said "abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.

"The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion," he said.

Dissenting were the three liberals on the court.

The ruling will likely set into motion a cavalcade of new laws in roughly half of the 50 US states that will severely restrict or outright ban and criminalize abortions, forcing women to travel long distances to states that still permit the procedure.

The opinion shredded the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the nation's highest court that said women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy over their own bodies.

Alito's opinion largely mirrors his draft opinion that was the subject of an extraordinary leak in early May, sparking demonstrations around the country and tightened security at the court in downtown Washington.

Barricades have been erected around the court to keep back the protesters gathered outside -- after an armed man was arrested on June 8 near the home of conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The court's ruling goes against an international trend of easing abortion laws, including in such countries as Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia where the Catholic Church continues to wield considerable influence.

Victory For Religious Right

It represents a victory of 50 years of struggle against abortion by the religious right but the anti-abortion camp is expected to continue to push for an outright nationwide ban.

The ruling was made possible by the nomination of three conservative justices to the court by former Republican president Donald Trump -- Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The case before the court was a Mississippi law that would restrict abortion to 15 weeks but during the hearing of the case in December several justices indicated they were prepared to go further.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have adopted so-called "trigger laws" that will ban abortion following the move by the Supreme Court.

Ten others have pre-1973 laws that could go into force or legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.

Women living in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion or obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where the procedure remains legal.

Several Democratic-ruled states, anticipating an influx, have taken steps to facilitate abortion and clinics have also shifted their resources.

Travel is expensive, however, and abortion rights groups say abortion restrictions will severely impact poor women, many of whom are Black or Hispanic.

The 'Great Cuckold' Who Inspired Alito's Contemptuous Opinion

Think about it this way: If Justice Samuel Alito gets his way, and the Trumpist Supreme Court majority voids Roe vs. Wade, many states will be forced to begin criminal investigations of women who suffer miscarriages. Don’t give me that crying act, sweetheart. In this state, abortion is murder.

After all, it’s not as if the police have anything better to do.

Exactly how the authorities are supposed to know who’s pregnant to begin with is a tricky question. Maybe doctors will be required to turn them in. Call them “mandatory reporters,” like teachers who encounter child abuse.

And what about those home pregnancy tests? Maybe they’ll need to be taken under official supervision. Perhaps pharmacists can be deputized.

Hippocratic Oath be damned.

In the spirit of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Republican state legislators are considering prosecuting women who travel, say, from Missouri to Illinois for legal abortions. Can we expect Texas to administer pregnancy tests at the Mexican border—going and coming? Otherwise, there could be as many gynecologists as cut-rate dentists in Juarez.

Look, if all this sounds like a bad joke, I wish it were. Most Americans believe that there’s a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. The very austere Justice Alito, however, assures us that’s not so. His draft opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent granting American women reproductive freedom, astringently points out that the word “abortion” does not appear in the text.

Of course, neither do the words “cellphone” or “woman.” Women participated in the Constitution’s, pardon the expression, gestation not at all. They played no role in 18th century American political life—one of the many reasons Constitutional “originalism” makes so little sense. Slavery too.

The overall tone of Alito’s draft opinion was best described by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic: "Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification."

In my view, turning government over to law school all-stars was never a good idea. Rationalizing the irrational is what they do. Indeed, I suspect Alito himself is as good a suspect as any for who leaked the fool thing to the media, placing maximum pressure on his colleagues to affirm it.

And speaking of irrationality, Alito’s 92-page opinion relies for much of its historical analysis on 17th century English jurist Matthew Hale, who pronounced the abortion of a “quick child” a “great crime.” (A “quick child” is a fetus whose mother can feel its movements, that is, five or six months along.) Polls show most Americans would agree, but more about that to come.

Among historians and legal scholars, Matthew Hale is notorious for having also decreed that a man can’t rape his wife, as a woman cedes property rights to her womb at marriage. He also presided over one of England’s most notorious witchcraft trials in 1662, sentencing two elderly widows to be hanged.

Some learned authority, no?

Hale's 17th century biographer John Aubrey wrote that the eminent jurist’s first wife “made a great cuckold of him,” but that’s neither here nor there, and I’m ashamed of myself for mentioning it. For whatever cause, he definitely had an attitude about women.

The main reason Americans think there’s a right to privacy is the Fourth Amendment, which affirms that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Think about it: What could possibly be a person’s own damn business more than the decision of whether or not to bear a child? Do you really want the government to monitor your neighbor's intimate life? Your own? If you’re like most Americans, no, you pretty much don’t.

So often in the forefront, Oklahoma has already imprisoned a woman who had a miscarriage after taking illegal drugs—a Native American woman, naturally. It’s hard to imagine them investigating debutantes.

Regardless, polls have shown that the great majority agrees with Bill Clinton’s formulation that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” More than two-thirds of respondents told a 2018 Gallup poll that they wouldn’t like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. Most favor little or no restriction on first trimester abortion, but feel quite differently about late term procedures—pretty much the standard courts have established in the decades since 1973.

Now minority leader Mitch McConnell tells reporters that a post-Alito Republican Senate “certainly could legislate in that area.” Which can only mean, Michael Tomasky deduces in The New Republic, “that Republicans are contemplating a federal law to make abortion illegal—everywhere.”

New York, California, everywhere.

And what then? President Biden vetoes it, the 2024 presidential turns on it, and the USA ruins a lot of women’s lives and tears itself to pieces.

Fresh Supreme Court Leak Reveals Roberts' Role In Abortion Decision

There's now another big leak from The United States Supreme Court, and this one's being unapologetically linked to the court's conservative wing. The Washington Post has a new story in which multiple sources describe how Chief Justice John Roberts was planning to further carve away at Roe v. Wade by giving the court's approval to the Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, but wanted to dodge overturning Roe completely.

The Supreme Court's other conservatives, however, essentially told him to pound sand. They wanted a full end to Roe, which is Justice Alito got the plum role of writing a hard-edged, theocratic-premised decision declaring federal abortion rights to be dead based squarely on the premises of his own personal religion and the rantings of an infamous 17th century misogynist and witch hunter.

This is not new news: That Roberts was not on board with the full ramifications of what the Alito wing of the court is pressing for was evident from Alito's draft opinion, which would not exist if Roberts was in the majority because Roberts would never have assigned the most controversial decision of his tenure to the archconservative crackpot Alito to begin with. Alito is known for authoring spite-riddled opinions riddled with dishonesty and omissions to get to his desired end point, which is often simply a long-winded declaration that my personal religious beliefs are supreme and your religious traditions are invalid. He is the voice of the reactionary Republicanism that justifies coup attempts and declares that laws mean different things based on whether a Republican or a non-Republican will be inconvenienced by them. An extremist, through and through.

What's more interesting is that now the court is leaking again, and this time it's quite obviously an intentional leak by conservatives to either prop up Roberts' fast-eroding dignity or to further brag of the conservative wing's willingness to erase Roe outright.

"But as of last week, the five-member majority to strike Roe remains intact, according to three conservatives close to the court who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter," reports the Post. Oh, so now numerous people "close to the court" are leaking information about the court's private deliberations and politics—and we're even allowed to know that it is in fact "conservatives" close to the court who are doing the leaking.

"A person close to the court’s most conservative members said Roberts told his fellow jurists in a private conference in early December that he planned to uphold the state law and write an opinion that left Roe and Casey in place for now. But the other conservatives were more interested in an opinion that overturned the precedents, the person said."

That's a pretty huge leak! (In the before times, it would have been considered such an abhorrent breach of current deliberations that the Post would seek out a conservative crank like Michael Luttig to moan about the "historic" and "tragic" breach of the "confidential deliberative process"—which the Post does, at the end of the piece, so Luttig can say those things about the original Alito leak but not this one. Conspicuously: Not this one.)

So now we've got a whole set of conservatives privy to the court's internal deliberations who are all coming out at once to assert that Roberts wanted to again sabotage Roe by chipping away at its foundations, allowing Mississippi to enact an encompassing 15-week ban despite Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but he was unanimously rejected by the court's other conservatives who all voted to erase Roe entirely.

The motive that comes easiest to mind, when wondering why so many people close to the court are willing to leak deliberations to the press even as John Roberts orders an investigation into the leak of the Alito draft, is legacy-polishing. Roberts may be pressing this new leak himself, in an attempt to distance himself from the extremists and signal to Republican powerbrokers in the Senate and elsewhere that no, he indeed tried to stop his fellow conservatives from doing the most election-rattling thing, and he is still committed to his own brand of judicial activism that knocks away precedents incrementally rather than all-at-once. It is an approach that has allowed Roberts to claim plausible deniability even as the extremism of the opinions themselves keep getting ratcheted up, and one that has damped public anger at his party's reactionary actions by premising each one on an assortment of caveats that muddle the true scope of the outcome.

In this scenario, it's Roberts who is pressuring his allies to leak to the press for entirely self-serving reasons. He's long been devoted to preserving the alleged independence and dignity of the court—even as Republican presidents and senators stuff his court with new members who don't give a damn about those things but instead were chosen for their willingness to embrace extremist opinions—and could be pushing this story as pushback to calls to expand the court, impose term limits, or make other reforms to bring the court into something even vaguely resembling the modern era.

But that's a pretty weak reason for once again shattering the supposed all-important prohibition against leaking internal court decision-making, and there's another possible motive for the leak, from other possible leakers. It is possible the Alito draft was leaked by some conservative close to the court, perhaps some conservative anti-abortion extremist and activist who is married to one of the most conservative justices and who has already shown a willingness to break the laws in any manner the extremists desire, or maybe even not that person, and it is possible that this new leak featuring multiple "conservative" court sources is a simple case of bragging.

The court's most extremist members won, and there's not a damn thing anyone on the court or off it can do about it, and because of that one of the defining culture wars of the last half century is about to be "won" by its devoted soldiers. It doesn't require much imagination to believe that the court's conservatives have been bragging mightily among themselves and to their allies about this outcome, and it doesn't require much imagination to believe that those to whom they've bragged are even now gearing up for very gaudy victory celebrations.

So yes, perhaps those allied with the court's most reactionary justices would be quite happy to leak to the press that John Roberts tried everything in his power to keep the extremists from taking the "boldest" possible action, and not only did the reactionaries reject him, the group even assigned the ever-nasty Alito to write the nastiest majority opinion he and his clerks could muster.

We now know for a fact that multiple "conservatives" close to the court are leaking like the Moskva. Will condemnations again roll in? Will Roberts launch a second investigation to parallel the first?

Well, no. But we still know that it's court-connected "conservatives" doing the leaking because that's how they're willing to identify themselves to us. We just don't know whose boots they're trying to polish by doing it.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos