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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of August 11



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Barkett’s mental age, Ninth Circuit dysfunction, and New York Times standards:
  
Aug. 112006—In a separate opinion in Henyard v. McDonough, Eleventh Circuit judge Barkett, reaching out to address an issue that she concedes (with considerable understatement) “may not be directly before us,” opines that the Eighth Amendment should be construed to bar the death penalty for murderers “with a mental age of less than eighteen years.”  What exactly Barkett means by “mental age” is confused.  At one point, she quotes, with seeming approval, a definition of “mental age” as the “chronological age equivalent of the person’s highest level of mental capacity.”  But she inconsistently equates it with “emotional level” and says that “even high IQ in an adult defendant” is compatible with “a mental age of a child.”  Her test appears to be whether a murderer shares a “child’s inability to understand why the rules exist, to appreciate the consequences of breaking them for herself and for society, and to consistently make judgments based on the foregoing.” 

Barkett’s test virtually ensures that most heinous murderers will be deemed to have a mental age below 18.  Indeed, she states that there is “no dispute” that Richard Henyard—who carjacked a mother and her two daughters (ages 7 and 3), raped and shot the mother, and shot and killed the daughters—has a mental age below 18.

Barkett’s test would seem to establish that she has the mental age of a child.  Does This Week perennial Barkett “understand why the rules exist”?  Does she “appreciate the consequences of breaking them”—through her lawless judicial activism?  Does she “consistently make judgments based” on those understandings?  From the evidence that pervades This Week entries, the answers are no, no, and no.

  
Aug. 151938—Stephen Gerald Breyer is born in San Francisco.  An expert on regulation and a professor at Harvard Law School, Breyer serves from 1979 to 1980 as chief counsel to Teddy Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  His reward:  On November 13, 1980—after Ronald Reagan has defeated Jimmy Carter in his bid for re-election and after Republicans have won control of the new Senate—Carter nominates Breyer to a newly created seat on the First Circuit.  His nomination is promptly confirmed.  In 1994 President Clinton appoints Breyer to replace retiring justice Harry A. Blackmun on the Supreme Court.  (See This Week for July 29, 1994.)  His jurisprudence has been aptly described by one perceptive critic as “judicial willfulness masquerading as judicial deference.” 
  
Aug. 161996—One reason that the Ninth Circuit is so dysfunctional is that it fails to make responsible use of its en banc procedures to override panel rulings that conflict with Supreme Court precedent.  In his opinion in Wicklund v. Salvagni, Judge Stephen Reinhardt rules that the judicial-bypass provision of a Montana statute requiring parental notice for minors’ abortions is unconstitutional under the Ninth Circuit’s 1991 ruling in Glick v. McKay.  Reinhardt rejects the argument that the Glick ruling was contrary to Supreme Court precedent and does not raise the possibility of en banc review.  

In a per curiam ruling (in Lambert v. Wicklund), the Supreme Court, seeing no need for briefing or oral argument, unanimously reverses the Ninth Circuit holding on the ground that it is “in direct conflict with our precedents.” 

1999—By a vote of 4 to 3, the Ohio supreme court rules (in State ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward) that tort-reform legislation violates separation-of-powers principles and the ever-malleable single-subject rule. 

  
Aug. 172006—In what one expert commentator aptly labels a “transparently political screed,” Michigan federal district judge (and Carter appointee) Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program is unconstitutional.  Displaying its usual regard for the truth, the next day the New York Times editorial page praises Taylor’s “careful, thoroughly grounded opinion.”  Alas for the paper’s poor editorialists, the following day the Times runs a front-page article—“Experts Fault Reasoning in Surveillance Decision”—that reports that “[e]ven legal experts who agreed with [Taylor’s] conclusion” say that her opinion “overlooked important precedents, failed to engage the government’s major arguments, used circular reasoning, substituted passion for analysis and did not even offer the best reasons for its own conclusions.”  (How’s that for “careful” and “thoroughly grounded”?)  Even Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, in the course of self-indulgently criticizing Taylor’s critics for self-indulgent criticism, complains that her opinion “seems almost to have been written more to poke a finger in the President’s eye than to please the legal commentariat or even, alas, to impress an appellate panel.”  But Tribe concludes that “her bottom line is very likely to survive appellate review.”

In July 2007, the Sixth Circuit overturns Taylor’s ruling, as a divided panel rejects her threshold determination that the plaintiffs had standing to pursue their claims. 

  
For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of August 4



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Helter Skelter reasoning, ABA idiocy, and NARAL mendacity:
  
Aug. 61993—In a harbinger of nominations to come, President Clinton’s first batch of nominees to the federal courts of appeals includes Tennessee supreme court justice, and liberal judicial activist, Martha Craig Daughtrey.  Among other things, as a state supreme court justice, Daughtrey never voted to affirm a death sentence, and she joined an opinion condemning the death penalty (see This Week for Apr. 26, 1987).  In an opinion full of frolics and detours, she extrapolated a state constitutional “right of procreational autonomy” from the provisions of the state constitution that protect freedom of worship, that prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures, that guarantee freedom of speech, and that regulate the quartering of soldiers in homes.  (See This Week for June 1, 1992.)  She also found that the state constitution protects obscenity.  (See This Week for May 17, 1993.)   
  
Aug. 72006—Outgoing American Bar Association president Michael Greco, a zealous liberal who stacked an ABA task force on presidential signing statements with fervent opponents of the Bush administration and who did his utmost to load the ABA’s judicial-evaluations committee with hard-core partisans, delivers a ridiculously pompous farewell address.  For example:  “Our fellow Americans, as never before, are looking to our Association with hope, with trust, and with respect for our leadership.”  And:  “In our generation, it is the lawyers of America who by destiny and by choice are the guardians of the walls of freedom.  It is the American Bar Association that is protecting the separation of powers and the balance of powers by checking the excesses of any branch of government that would overreach.”
  
Aug. 82005—NARAL unleashes a mendacious television ad against confirmation of John Roberts’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  The ad features a woman injured in the 1998 bombing of an abortion clinic, attempts to link her injury to an amicus brief that Roberts filed on behalf of the United States in 1991, and says that Americans should oppose a nominee “whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.”  Never mind that Roberts’s amicus brief, which argued that an 1871 law did not provide a federal cause of action against persons obstructing access to abortion clinics, did not take issue with the many laws that criminalize violence outside abortion clinics and did not in any way “excuse violence against other Americans.”  Never mind that it was ludicrous to suggest that Roberts’s amicus brief was somehow responsible for the 1998 bombing (all the more so as the intervening enactment in 1994 of the so-called FACE Act imposed severe penalties against those obstructing access to abortion clinics yet failed to deter the bombing).  And never mind that Roberts in fact had denounced abortion-clinic bombers as “criminals”. 

Days later, under harsh criticism from its usual allies, NARAL pulls the ad.

2006—In an act of collective idiocy, the ABA’s House of Delegates approves the ABA task force’s insipid report on presidential signing statements, a report that earned scathing criticism from leading academics across the political spectrum. 

  
Aug. 91969—“Now is the time for Helter Skelter,” declares Charles Manson, triggering two nights of vicious killing by the “Manson Family” in Los Angeles.  Some 2½ years later, in its own rampage (see This Week for Feb. 18, 1972), the California supreme court voids the death sentences that had been imposed on Manson and four other Family members. 
  
For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of July 28



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Toying with the Constitution, and judicial confirmations then and now:
  
July 282004—In dissent in Williams v. Attorney General of Alabama, Eleventh Circuit judge Rosemary Barkett opines that an Alabama statute that prohibits the sale of sexual devices (which Barkett also refers to colloquially as “sex toys”) violates substantive due process.  You might think that a case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute prohibiting the sale of sexual devices would be about sexual devices.  But, Barkett tells us, “This case is not, as the majority’s demeaning and dismissive analysis suggests, about sex or sexual devices.”  Rather, “[i]t is about the tradition of American citizens from the inception of our democracy to value the constitutionally protected right to be left alone in the privacy of their bedrooms and personal relationships.”   
  
July 291994—By a vote of 87 to 9, the Senate confirms President Clinton’s nomination of First Circuit chief judge (and Teddy Kennedy’s former chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee) Stephen G. Breyer to the Supreme Court.  Breyer replaces retiring Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Breyer’s path to the Supreme Court began when President Jimmy Carter nominated him to a newly created seat on the First Circuit on November 13, 1980—after Carter had lost his bid for re-election and after Republicans had won control of the Senate to be formed in January 1981.  Less than one month later, on December 9, 1980, the Senate confirmed Breyer to the First Circuit. 

2003—Senate Democrats force a third cloture vote on their filibuster of President Bush’s nomination of Texas supreme court justice Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit.  With only two Senate Democrats voting yes, the cloture vote fails.  Owen, first nominated in May 2001, is ultimately confirmed in May 2005.

  
July 302003—The seventh cloture vote on President Bush’s nomination of the superbly qualified Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit yields the same result as the first cloture vote nearly five months before:  Only four Senate Democrats vote for cloture, and the vote fails to end the filibuster.  On September 4, 2003, Estrada withdraws his nomination.  Commenting on the Democrats’ successful filibuster of the Estrada nomination, Senator Chuck Schumer turns faux-originalist:  “my guess is that [if] the founding fathers were looking down on the Senate today, they’d smile.”  Guess again, senator.
  
July 311996—The annals of This Week suffer a severe blow, as arch-activist H. Lee Sarokin resigns from the Third Circuit after less than two years of service.  Imagine what he could have accomplished with more time!  (See This Week entries for Feb. 6, Feb. 14, May 3, May 22, and June 7.)  Even Sarokin’s reason—or, more precisely, his stated reason (see This Week for April 25, 1996)—for resigning is intensely political:  he informs President Clinton by letter of his fear that “my decisions will continue to be used against you and others in the upcoming campaign.”  In other words, Sarokin resigned in order to minimize the adverse impact that his ongoing rulings would have on the political fortunes of his favored candidates.
  
Aug. 31993—By a vote of 96 to 3, the Senate confirms President Clinton’s nomination of D.C. Circuit judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Byron White.  Confirmation comes a mere seven weeks after Clinton announced his decision to nominate Ginsburg. 

And how, after all, could there have been any controversy over a former ACLU activist who, among other things, had stridently criticized the Supreme Court’s 1977 ruling that the Constitution does not require taxpayers to fund abortions … who had stated her strong sympathy for the proposition that there is a constitutional right to prostitution and a constitutional right to bigamy … who had proposed abolishing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and replacing them with an androgynous Parent’s Day … who had criticized the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts for perpetuating stereotyped sex roles … and who had urged that prisons be co-ed rather than single sex?  (See here for documentation of the last several points.)  That’s what the media call a “mainstream” and “moderate” nominee.

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of July 21



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Democratic filibusters and Teddy Kennedy’s rantings:
  
July 222004—Continuing their unprecedented campaign of judicial filibusters, Senate Democrats exert their minority power to prevent cloture on President George W. Bush’s nominations of Richard A. Griffin, David W. McKeague, and Henry W. Saad to supposed Michigan seats on the Sixth Circuit.  Griffin, first nominated in May 2003, and McKeague, first nominated in November 2001, are finally confirmed in June 2005.  Saad, never confirmed, finally withdraws his nomination in March 2006. 
  
July 251990—Less than three months after appointing New Hampshire supreme court justice David Hackett Souter to the First Circuit, President George H.W. Bush nominates him to the Supreme Court vacancy resulting from Justice Brennan’s retirement.  

Displaying his usual perspicacity and deploying his full arsenal of clichés, Teddy Kennedy, one of nine Democrats to vote against Souter’s confirmation, rails against Souter:  Souter had not demonstrated “a sufficient commitment to the core constitutional values at the heart of our democracy.”  His record “raised troubling questions about the depth of his commitment to the role of the Supreme Court and Congress in protecting individual rights and liberties under the Constitution.” His record on civil rights was “particularly troubling” and “reactionary”.  On voting rights, he “was willing to defend the indefensible.”  He was not “genuinely concerned about the rights of women” and had “alarming” views on Roe v. Wade.  He would “turn back the clock on the historic progress of recent decades.”

Alas, as a justice, Souter has been far more left-wing on hot-button issues than even Kennedy could have hoped. Contrary to media depictions of him as a “moderate,” Souter has read into the Constitution the Left’s agenda on a broad range of issues: for example, abortion (including partial-birth abortion), homosexual conduct (including a virtual declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage), imposition of secularism as the national creed, and reliance on foreign law to determine the meaning of the Constitution.

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of July 14



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Obscenity, economic obtuseness, and how, and how not to, replace bad judges:
  
July 141983—In a separate concurring opinion (in State v. Hunt), Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals offers her view that the Tennessee constitution is best read as protecting obscenity.  Daughtrey recognizes, alas, that the state supreme court has rejected her reading and foreclosed the path she would pursue if the question were “open for me to decide.”  Ten years later, President Clinton appoints Daughtrey to the Sixth Circuit.

2005—By a vote of 4 to 3, the Wisconsin supreme court, in an opinion by chief justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, rules (in Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patients Compensation Fund) that a statutory cap on noneconomic damages in medical-malpractice cases violates the state constitutional guarantee of equal protection (which supposedly derives from the declaration in the state constitution that “All people are born equally free and independent”).  Purporting to apply deferential rational-basis review, the majority concludes that the cap is not rationally related to the legislative objective of lowering malpractice-insurance premiums.  The rational connection between caps on noneconomic damages and lower premiums ought to be obvious.  Further, the dissenters complain, the majority “ignore[s] the mountain of evidence supporting the effectiveness of caps.”

  
July 152005—More mischief from the Wisconsin supreme court.  This time, the same four-justice majority as in Ferdon (see This Week for July 14, 2005), in an opinion by associate justice Louis B. Butler Jr., rules in Thomas v. Mallett that the “risk-contribution theory”—which essentially shifts the burden of proof on key issues from the plaintiff to defendants—applies in a product-liability action against manufacturers of lead pigment.  As the dissent puts it, the “end result is that the defendants, lead pigment manufacturers, can be held liable for a product they may or may not have produced, which may or may not have caused the plaintiff’s injuries, based on conduct that may have occurred over 100 years ago when some of the defendants were not even part of the relevant market.” 

In April 2008, Wisconsin voters, presented the opportunity to alter what one commentator aptly called the “4-3 liberal majority [that had become] the nation’s premier trailblazer in overturning its own precedents and abandoning deference to the legislature’s policy choices,” defeat Butler’s bid to remain on the court.

  
July 201990—After nearly 34 years of liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. announces his retirement.  As Jan Crawford Greenburg describes it in Supreme Conflict, “For conservatives, Brennan’s retirement gave George H.W. Bush the chance of a lifetime.…  It was that rare moment when a conservative president was positioned to replace a liberal giant.…  It would give conservatives a dramatic opportunity to cement their majority and firmly take ideological control of the Court.”  But “the president did not want the kind of bruising fight over the Supreme Court that Reagan was willing to endure.”  Five days later President Bush nominates … David H. Souter to fill Brennan’s seat.
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of July 7



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High on a judicial power trip?
  
July 91987—In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in California v. Ciraolo that a person growing marijuana in his back yard does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy that protects his premises against inspection by police lawfully operating an aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet.  Exercising the illogic that earned her an appointment by President Clinton to the Eleventh Circuit in 1993, Florida justice Rosemary Barkett (in State v. Riley) rules that surveillance of a back-yard greenhouse by a helicopter lawfully flying at 400 feet violates the Fourth Amendment  because “[s]urveillance by helicopter is particularly likely to unreasonably intrude upon private activities.”  But the relevant question, as the Supreme Court makes clear in reversing Barkett (in Florida v. Riley), is whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the first place, and that question turns, under Ciraolo, on whether “helicopters flying at 400 feet are sufficiently rare in this country to lend substance to [the defendant’s] claim that he reasonably anticipated that his greenhouse would not be subject to observation from that altitude.” 
  
July 102003—Under the Nevada constitution, the legislature cannot raise taxes except by a 2/3 vote of both legislative houses.  Or so it says.  But when Nevada governor Kenny Guinn can’t get the legislature to fund his education budget, he runs to the Nevada supreme court for help.  By a vote of 6 to 1, the court (in Guinn v. Legislature of the State of Nevada) somehow orders the legislature to proceed “under simple majority rule” to raise taxes.  Citing the “impasse that has resulted from the procedural and general constitutional requirement of passing revenue measures by a two-thirds majority,” the court orders that “this procedural requirement must give way to the substantive and specific constitutional mandate to fund public education.”  (For more, see this analysis by Eugene Volokh, who describes the ruling as “one of the most appalling judicial decisions I’ve ever seen.”)  Three years later, the Nevada supreme court quietly repudiates its ruling.
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism , Whelan

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of June 30



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Rewriting the Declaration, the ACLU’s odor, and more:
  
July 41776—The Declaration of Independence is a stirring statement of America’s creed, but is it also a sexist and xenophobic document?  Defending the Supreme Court’s increasing use of foreign law in support of its rulings on the meaning of the Constitution, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg titles a 2005 speech “‘A decent Respect to the Opinions of [Human]kind’: the Value of a Comparative Perspective in Constitutional Adjudication”.  Obtusely appealing to the Declaration of Independence to justify the Supreme Court’s dependence on foreign law, Ginsburg cannot resist the urge to purge the gender bias she perceives in the Framers’ observation that “a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind” requires a declaration of the “causes which impel them to the Separation.” Nor, apparently, does she notice that one of those stated causes was that King George III “has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution.”  (See here for more on Ginsburg’s embarrassingly shoddy speech.) 
  
July 51989—Displaying its usual disregard for the interests of local communities in maintaining minimal standards of behavior, the American Civil Liberties Union protests the written policies developed by the Morristown, New Jersey, public library to deal with a homeless man who camped out in the library, was belligerent and disruptive, stared at and followed library patrons, talked loudly to himself and others, and had an odor so offensive that it prevented areas of the library from being used by patrons and from being worked in by library employees.  (See This Week for February 14, 1992, for the rest of the story.) 
  
July 61989—In solo dissent in Hamblen v. Dugger, Florida justice Rosemary Barkett opines that a capital defendant is not permitted to waive his right to present evidence of mitigating circumstances.  Such waiver, she contends, somehow makes it impossible for the sentencing court to carry out its statutory role of weighing aggravating and mitigating circumstances when deciding whether to impose a death sentence.  But our adversary system routinely depends on the parties to choose what evidence to present.  When no evidence of mitigating circumstances is offered, it simply follows that the mitigating circumstances carry zero weight. 
  
For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

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This Weekend in Liberal Judicial Activism—June 27-29



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June 271979—Justice Brennan’s majority opinion in United Steelworkers v. Weber holds that the provisions of Title VII that make it unlawful to “discriminate … because … of race” in hiring do not in fact make it unlawful to discriminate because of race in hiring—not, that is, when the victims are white.  Specifically, Brennan, scorning the “literal interpretation” of Title VII, opines that private employers may adopt racial hiring quotas that disfavor whites in order to “eliminate manifest racial imbalances in traditionally segregated job categories.”

2005—By 5-4 votes, the Supreme Court rules that Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses violate the Establishment Clause (McCreary County v. ACLU) but that a Ten Commandments display on the Texas State Capitol grounds does not (Van Orden v. Perry). In the Kentucky case, Justice Souter’s majority opinion (joined by Stevens, O’Connor, Ginsburg, and Breyer) darkly observes, “We are centuries away from the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the treatment of heretics in early Massachusetts, but the divisiveness of religion in current public life is inescapable.”  But it is rulings like Souter’s that are the primary cause of any divisiveness.

Justice Breyer, who provides the decisive fifth vote in each case, explains that for “difficult borderline cases” that are “fact-intensive,” there is “no [Establishment Clause] test-related substitute for the exercise of legal judgment.” That judgment, be assured, “is not a personal judgment” but “must reflect and remain faithful to the underlying purposes” of the Religion Clauses and “must take account of context and consequences.”  The particular factor that Breyer finds “determinative” in the Texas case—but don’t jump to the foolish conclusion that anything similar might be determinative in any other case—is that “40 years passed in which the presence of this monument, legally speaking, went unchallenged.” By contrast, the Kentucky displays had a “short (and stormy) history.” And “a more contemporary state effort to focus attention upon a religious text is certainly likely to prove divisive in a way that this longstanding, pre-existing monument has not.”  Thus, under Breyer’s view (as well as that of the other members of the Kentucky majority), American citizens today lack the power that their parents and grandparents had to have our governments affirm, acknowledge, and encourage respect for our religious heritage.

  
June 282000—In sharp defiance of precedent governing facial challenges, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, rules in Stenberg v. Carhart that Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion is unconstitutional.  (As discussed here, the Court’s 2007 ruling on the federal partial-birth abortion ban in Gonzales v. Carhart corrects Stenberg’s error on the standard for facial challenges.)

2000—When does a criminal law setting forth a content-based prohibition on speech not violate the Supreme Court’s First Amendment precedents?  When it suppresses speech by opponents of abortion.  As Justice Scalia states in dissent from the Court’s ruling in Hill v. Colorado, “like the rest of our abortion jurisprudence, today’s decision is in stark contradiction of the constitutional principles we apply in all other contexts.”  

2004—In Rasul v. Bush, a majority of the Supreme Court rules that the federal habeas statute—which authorizes federal district courts, “within their respective jurisdictions,” to entertain habeas applications by persons claiming to be held in custody in violation of the laws of the United States—may properly be invoked by aliens detained by the United States military overseas, outside the sovereign borders of the United States and beyond the territorial jurisdictions of all its courts.  This “judicial adventurism of the worst sort” contradicts a longstanding precedent and, as Justice Scalia points out in dissent, has “breathtaking” consequences, as it permits aliens captured in foreign theaters of active combat to bring habeas petitions against the Secretary of Defense and thus enables those aliens to “forc[e] the courts to oversee one aspect of the Executive’s conduct of a foreign war.”  (See Andrew McCarthy’s fuller discussion.)

  
June 291972—In Furman v. Georgia, five justices vote to overturn a death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment but can’t agree on a rationale.  Each of the five justices instead issues his own opinion.  Despite the fact that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments expressly assume the existence of the death penalty, Justices Brennan and Marshall each assert that the death penalty is in every instance an Eighth Amendment violation.  The Court’s per curiam declaration creates massive confusion and requires states to rewrite their capital-sentencing laws.

1992—By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court bungles an opportunity to dismantle the regime of Roe v. Wade and to restore abortion policy to the democratic processes.  Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter combine to produce a joint opinion so breathtaking in its grandiose misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s role that it makes one long for the modest incoherence of Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Roe v. Wade.  The joint opinion is perhaps most infamous for declaring, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  What this gauzy New Age rhetoric obscures is that the justices are claiming the unconstrained power to define for all Americans which particular interests they think should be beyond the bounds of citizens to address through legislation.  But it gets far worse.  Consider, for example, these passages on stare decisis considerations:

 “Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.”

“To all those who will be so tested by following [the Court], the Court implicitly undertakes to remain steadfast, lest in the end a price be paid for nothing. The promise of constancy, once given, binds its maker for as long as the power to stand by the decision survives and the understanding of the issue has not changed so fundamentally as to render the commitment obsolete.”

“Like the character of an individual, the legitimacy of the Court must be earned over time. So, indeed, must be the character of a Nation of people who aspire to live according to the rule of law. Their belief in themselves as such a people is not readily separable from their understanding of the Court invested with the authority to decide their constitutional cases and speak before all others for their constitutional ideals. If the Court’s legitimacy should be undermined, then, so would the country be in its very ability to see itself through its constitutional ideals. The Court’s concern with legitimacy is not for the sake of the Court but for the sake of the Nation to which it is responsible.”

Subject yourself to parts I, II, and III of the atrocity, and then read Justice Scalia’s devastating response.  Some excerpts from Justice Scalia:

“The Court’s description of the place of Roe in the social history of the United States is unrecognizable. Not only did Roe not, as the Court suggests, resolve the deeply divisive issue of abortion; it did more than anything else to nourish it, by elevating it to the national level where it is infinitely more difficult to resolve. National politics were not plagued by abortion protests, national abortion lobbying, or abortion marches on Congress, before Roe v. Wade was decided. Profound disagreement existed among our citizens over the issue—as it does over other issues, such as the death penalty—but that disagreement was being worked out at the state level.”

Roe fanned into life an issue that has inflamed our national politics in general, and has obscured with its smoke the selection of Justices to this Court in particular, ever since. And by keeping us in the abortion umpiring business, it is the perpetuation of that disruption, rather than of any pax Roeana, that the Court’s new majority decrees.”

“The Imperial Judiciary lives. It is instructive to compare this Nietzschean vision of us unelected, life tenured judges—leading a Volk who will be ‘tested by following,’ and whose very ‘belief in themselves’ is mystically bound up in their ‘understanding’ of a Court that ‘speak[s] before all others for their constitutional ideals’—with the somewhat more modest role envisioned for these lawyers by the Founders:  ‘The judiciary . . . has . . . no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither Force nor Will but merely judgment . . . .’ The Federalist No. 78.”

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—June 26



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June 261996—By a vote of 7 to 1 (with Justice Thomas recused), the Supreme Court rules that Virginia’s maintenance of the Virginia Military Institute as an all-male institution violates the Equal Protection Clause.  Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion (for six justices) invents a new standard for assessing the constitutionality of sex-based classifications:  Only classifications that have an “exceedingly persuasive justification”—whatever that might mean—will survive.  But not even Ginsburg, the supposed champion of gender equality, can remain entirely faithful to her feminist ideology.  Although she rejects VMI’s position that its “adversative” training is “inherently unsuitable” to women, she concedes in a footnote that admitting women to VMI would “undoubtedly” require that VMI “adjust aspects of the physical training programs.”

2002—A Ninth Circuit panel (in Newdow v. US Congress) rules that the recitation in public schools of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause. 

2003—“Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific”—and spelled out a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy.  Such is the quality of insight and analysis offered by Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas.  Further, in overturning the Court’s 17-year-old precedent in Bowers v. Hardwick, Justice Kennedy blithely abandons the stare decisis principles that he helped cook up in Planned Parenthood v. Casey as a pretense for not overturning the then 19-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade. 

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—June 25



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June 251990—In Hodgson v. Minnesota, the Court addresses the constitutionality of a Minnesota statute governing notice to parents when their daughters seek to undergo abortion, and the resulting mess yields this summary by the Court of the justices’ votes: 

STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, IV, and VII, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined, an opinion with respect to Part III, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, an opinion with respect to Parts V and VI, in which O’CONNOR, J., joined, and a dissenting opinion with respect to Part VIII. O’CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 458. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part, and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 461. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 479. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 480.

Justice Scalia’s one-paragraph opinion (citations omitted) succinctly captures the situation:

“As I understand the various opinions today: One Justice holds that two-parent notification is unconstitutional (at least in the present circumstances) without judicial bypass, but constitutional with bypass; four Justices would hold that two-parent notification is constitutional with or without bypass; four Justices would hold that two-parent notification is unconstitutional with or without bypass, though the four apply two different standards; six Justices hold that one-parent notification with bypass is constitutional, though for two different sets of reasons; and three Justices would hold that one-parent notification with bypass is unconstitutional. One will search in vain the document we are supposed to be construing for text that provides the basis for the argument over these distinctions, and will find in our society’s tradition regarding abortion no hint that the distinctions are constitutionally relevant, much less any indication how a constitutional argument about them ought to be resolved. The random and unpredictable results of our consequently unchanneled individual views make it increasingly evident, Term after Term, that the tools for this job are not to be found in the lawyer’s—and hence not in the judge’s—workbox. I continue to dissent from this enterprise of devising an Abortion Code, and from the illusion that we have authority to do so.”  

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—June 24



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June 241992—In Lee v. Weisman, a 5-justice majority, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, rules that a nondenominational prayer delivered by a rabbi at a public school graduation ceremony violated the Establishment Clause because students who chose to attend the ceremony were psychologically coerced “to stand as a group or, at least, maintain respectful silence” during the prayer.  Who knew that Judaism had briefly become the established religion of Providence, Rhode Island?

In dissent, Justice Scalia observes that the majority “lays waste a tradition that is as old as public school graduation ceremonies themselves, and that is a component of an even more longstanding American tradition of nonsectarian prayer to God at public celebrations generally.”  Scalia states:  “I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence regarding holiday displays has come to ‘requir[e] scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary.’ But interior decorating is a rock-hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs.”  Further:  “I see no warrant for expanding the concept of coercion beyond acts backed by threat of penalty—a brand of coercion that, happily, is readily discernible to those of us who have made a career of reading the disciples of Blackstone, rather than of Freud.”

God save the United States and this often-dishonorable Court! 

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—June 23



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June 232005—In an act of judicial passivism, a 5-justice majority, in an opinion by Justice Stevens, rules in Kelo v. City of New London that the City of New London satisfies the “public use” requirement of the Takings Clause when it takes private property from homeowners in order to transfer it to another private owner as part of an economic redevelopment plan.  The majority correctly observes that its diluted reading of “public use” to mean “public purpose” accords with precedent, but its bare assertion that a genuine “public use” test “proved to be impractical given the diverse and always evolving needs of society” shows how unreliable the “living Constitution” is as a guarantor of rights not favored by the elites from which the Court’s members are drawn.  It’s hardly a surprise that justices who will willy-nilly invent rights that aren’t in the Constitution will ignore rights that are. 
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of June 16



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Murder as social awareness, and other obscenities:
  
June 171974—Jacob John Dougan and four other members of his Black Liberation Army begin implementing their plan “to indiscriminately kill white people and thus start a revolution and a race war.”  Armed with a pistol and a knife, they pick up an 18-year-old white hitchhiker, Stephen Anthony Orlando, drive him to a trash dump, stab him repeatedly, and throw him to the ground.  As Orlando writhes in pain and begs for his life, Dougan puts his foot on Orlando’s head and shoots him twice—once in the chest and once in the ear.  Later, Dougan makes tape recordings bragging about the murder and mails them to Orlando’s mother and to the media.  Sample content:  “He [Orlando] was stabbed in the back, in the chest and the stomach, ah, it was beautiful.  You should have seen it.  Ah, I enjoyed every minute of it.  I loved watching the blood gush from his eyes.” 

In 1992, on Dougan’s sixth appeal to the Florida supreme court, three dissenting Florida justices opined that the death penalty was a disproportionate sentence under the circumstances.  Justice Parker McDonald’s dissent, joined by chief justice Leander Shaw and This Week Hall of Infamy inductee Rosemary Barkett, included these remarkable observations (emphasis added):

“This case is not simply a homicide case, it is also a social awareness case.  Wrongly, but rightly in the eyes of Dougan, this killing was effectuated to focus attention on a chronic and pervasive illness of racial discrimination and of hurt, sorrow, and rejection.  Throughout Dougan’s life his resentment to bias and prejudice festered.  His impatience for change, for understanding, for reconciliation matured to taking the illogical and drastic action of murder.  His frustrations, his anger, and his obsession of injustice overcame reason.  The victim was a symbolic representation of the class causing the perceived injustices.”

The events of this difficult case occurred in tumultuous times.  During the time of the late sixties and early seventies, there was great unrest throughout this country in race relations.…  I mention these facts not to minimize what transpired, but, rather, to explain the environment in which the events took place and to evaluate Dougan’s mind-set.”

“Understandably, in the eyes of the victim, or potential victims, the aggravating factors clearly outweigh the mitigating; in the eyes of the defendant, his friends, and most of those situated in the circumstances of Dougan, the death penalty is not warranted and is disproportionate to the majority of hate slayings, at least where the victim is black and the perpetrator is white.” 

“In comparing what kind of person Dougan is with other murderers in the scores of death cases that we have reviewed, I note that few of the killers approach having the socially redeeming values of Dougan.”  (This apparently refers to the dissent’s earlier observations that Dougan was “intelligent,” “well educated,” “a leader in the black community,” “taught karate and counseled black youths,” and once “participated in a sit-down strike in defiance of a court order” at a lunch counter that refused service to blacks.)   

  

June 18

1980—Mere months before losing his bid for re-election, President Jimmy Carter puts ACLU activist Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the D.C. Circuit.  Carter had nominated Ginsburg only two months earlier.

  

June 20

2002—In Atkins v. Virginia, the Court, in an opinion by Justice Stevens (for a majority of six justices), relies on the “direction of change” in state laws, the views of the supposed “world community” and of various professional and religious groups, and polling data to rule that execution of anyone who is even slightly mentally retarded violates the “evolving standards of decency” that it sees as governing application of the Eighth Amendment.  (A person who has properly been found competent to stand trial, who is aware of the punishment he is about to suffer and why, and whose subaverage intellectual capacity has been found an insufficiently compelling reason to lessen his responsibility for a crime may nonetheless be “mentally retarded”.) 

In dissent, Justice Scalia marvels at the majority’s ability to extract a “national consensus” from the fact that 18 of the 38 states that permit capital punishment have recently enacted legislation barring execution of the mentally retarded.  Moreover, Scalia charges, the majority’s assumption that judges and juries are unable to take proper account of mental retardation “is not only unsubstantiated, but contradicts the immemorial belief, here and in England, that they play an indispensable role in such matters.”    

  

June 21 

1973—In their dissents in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, Justice Douglas reiterates his belief that obscenity is fully protected by the First Amendment, and Justice Brennan, joined by Justices Stewart and Marshall, expresses the same position, “at least in the absence of distribution to juveniles or obtrusive exposure to unconsenting adults.” 
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here.

      

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of June 9



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Ad hoc nullifications, substantive due process run amok, Miranda, Ginsburg’s imbalance, and the equal-protection rights of illegal aliens:
  
June 10

1968—What does Chief Justice Earl Warren do when he encounters a 45-year-old precedent that has stood (in his own words) as an “impenetrable barrier” to suits by federal taxpayers (in their capacity as taxpayers) challenging the constitutionality of the uses for which Congress has authorized the expenditure of public funds?  In Flast v. Cohen, Warren’s majority opinion for eight justices concocts an unprincipled, ad hoc exception for taxpayer suits challenging federal spending on Establishment Clause grounds. 

  
June 11

1986—In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Justice Blackmun (in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), declares unconstitutional the informed-consent (and various other) provisions of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act of 1982.  The ruling triggers three noteworthy dissents:  Chief Justice Burger, who was part of the majority in Roe v. Wade, says that if the result in Thornburgh is consistent with Roe, then “we should reexamine Roe.”  Justice White, the JFK appointee who dissented in Roe, expressly calls for Roe to be overruled.  And Justice O’Connor observes that Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion “makes it painfully clear that no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion.”  (Six years later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, O’Connor will practice the same ad hoc nullification of legal rules on abortion that she decries.)

  
June 12

1986—In an opinion by Justice Rosemary Barkett, the Florida Supreme Court rules (in State v. Saiez) that a state law prohibiting the possession of embossing machines capable of counterfeiting credit cards “violates substantive due process” under the U.S. Constitution because embossing machines have legitimate uses.  That proposition, if taken seriously, would have dramatic consequences, as a broad range of criminally proscribed items also have legitimate uses.  Switchblades, for example, can be used to slice apples.  More damaging to the rule of law is the prospect that the proposition would be applied selectively in an unprincipled manner.

  
June 13

1966—In a 5-4 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, Chief Justice Warren’s majority opinion declares that a voluntary confession made during custodial interrogation will be conclusively deemed involuntary and inadmissible unless police first provide what are now known as the Miranda warnings (or unless other effective safeguards are adopted).  (For more, see This Week entry for March 13, 1963.) 

  
June 14 1993—President Clinton announces that he will nominate D.C. Circuit judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Justice Byron White.  In addition to dissenting from Roe and favoring its overruling, White authored the Court’s opinion in 1986 (in Bowers v. Hardwick) rejecting as “at best, facetious” the notion that the Constitution confers a right to homosexual sodomy.  In stark contrast to White, the former ACLU activist Ginsburg maintained that the Constitution protected a right to abortion and even required taxpayer funding of abortion, and she had stated her sympathy for the proposition that there is a constitutional right to prostitution and a constitutional right to bigamy.  Somehow legal academics fail to rise in alarm at the prospect that Ginsburg’s appointment will alter the “balance” of the Court.  
  
June 151982—In a 5-4 ruling in Plyler v. Doe, Justice Brennan’s majority opinion holds that the Equal Protection Clause requires Texas to provide a free public education to children who are illegal aliens since it provides such education to children who are citizens or legal aliens.  In dissent, Chief Justice Burger states:

“The Court makes no attempt to disguise that it is acting to make up for Congress’ lack of ‘effective leadership’ in dealing with the serious national problems caused by the influx of uncountable millions of illegal aliens across our borders. The failure of enforcement of the immigration laws over more than a decade and the inherent difficulty and expense of sealing our vast borders have combined to create a grave socioeconomic dilemma. It is a dilemma that has not yet even been fully assessed, let alone addressed. However, it is not the function of the Judiciary to provide ‘effective leadership’ simply because the political branches of government fail to do so.”

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

 

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This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of June 2



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Sirhan Sirhan, Justice Douglas and marriage, Sarokin’s award, and Greenhouse’s rant:
  
June 51968—Sirhan Sirhan assassinates Democratic presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy just after midnight during the celebration of Kennedy’s victory in the California primary.  Sirhan’s death sentence for the crime is voided when the California supreme court in 1972 misconstrues the state constitution’s prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment to reflect “contemporary standards of decency” and rules that the death penalty violates what it misimagines contemporary standards to be.  (See This Week for February 18, 1972.)
  
June 71965— In Griswold v. Connecticut, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Connecticut prescribed a contraceptive device for a married woman and contrived to get himself arrested for violation of an 1879 state law against use of contraceptives—a law that had never been enforced.  In his majority opinion declaring a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives, Justice William O. Douglas (see This Week for April 4, 1939) infamously asserts that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance” and that “[v]arious [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy”—all of which, of course, it is the Court’s power and duty to discern.  Douglas then cites six cases that supposedly “bear witness that the right of privacy which presses for recognition here is a legitimate one.”  In fact, those cases did no such thing.  (One case, for example, held merely that a homeowner’s conviction for resisting an inspection of his rat-infested home did not violate due process.)

Douglas purports to confine his ruling to the marital relationship:  “We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.”  That this celebration of marriage would come from Douglas, who, in the year he penned it, was divorcing his third wife (after two years of marriage) and marrying his fourth, might suggest that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.  The Court’s ruling seven years later in Eisenstadt (see This Week for March 22, 1972) would confirm that sense.

1993— New Jersey legal journals report that federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin personally accepts from the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution the “C. Everett Koop Award for significant achievement toward creating a smokefree society.”  Remarkably, Sarokin receives the award for his handling of a personal-injury action against cigarette manufacturers—the very matter (see This Week for February 6, 1992) in which the Third Circuit had already taken the extraordinary action of removing him from the case for “judicial usurpation of power,” for violating “fundamental concepts of due process,” and for destroying any appearance of impartiality.   

2006—In a notorious speech at Radcliffe in which she recounts her 1960s-nostalgia-inspired “crying jag” at a Simon and Garfunkel concert in 2003, New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse rants about “the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom” and “the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.”  Greenhouse later defends these comments as “statements of fact,” but the Times’s public editor criticizes her for violating her “overriding obligation to avoid publicly expressing these kinds of personal opinions”—and for “whining” about “the difficulties journalists face in being citizens”.

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of May 26



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Golf, “gamete-providers”, and gobbledygook:
  
May 29

1992—According to Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes a note to Justice Harry Blackmun asking to meet him “about some developments in Planned Parenthood v. Casey … [that] should come as welcome news.”  The news is that Kennedy is retreating from his conference vote to apply a deferential standard of review to the abortion regulations under challenge.  One month later, Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter issue a joint opinion in Casey that is breathtaking in its grandiose misunderstanding of the Constitution and of the Supreme Court’s role.  (More on this in a month.)

2001—Does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require that the PGA Tour allow a disabled contestant to use a golf cart in its professional tournaments when all other contestants must walk?  Answering in the affirmative (in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin), Justice Stevens’s opinion for the Supreme Court determines that walking is not “fundamental” to tournament golf.  An excerpt from Justice Scalia’s classic dissent:

“If one assumes … that the PGA TOUR has some legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf … then we Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States … to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a ‘fundamental’ aspect of golf.  Either out of humility or out of self-respect (one or the other) the Court should decline to answer this incredibly difficult and incredibly silly question.”

  
May 31

1990—In an otherwise insignificant case (Shriners Hospitals v. Zrillic), Florida chief justice Rosemary Barkett, completely botching case law governing the federal Equal Protection Clause, asserts that “underinclusive or overinclusive classifications fail to meet even the minimal standards of the rational basis test” and, on that misunderstanding, invalidates a six-month statutory time period.  There is, she says, “no rational distinction” between a period of “five months and twenty-eight days” and a period “a few days longer.”  Somehow that same insight escaped her in a separate case (LeCroy v. State) in which she concluded that the Constitution imposes a bright-line age minimum for offenses that can result in the death penalty. 

Barkett’s proposition would go far towards transforming supposedly deferential rational-basis review into strict scrutiny and thus invites judicial activism.  Indeed, because it is difficult to imagine that the review would be applied consistently (few laws would survive if it were), her approach would lead to arbitrary and selective application.  (In 1994, President Clinton appoints Barkett to the Eleventh Circuit.)

  
June 1

1992—In Davis v. Davis, the Tennessee Supreme Court decides a battle between a divorcing couple over rights to their frozen embryos stored in a fertility clinic.  Writing for the court, Justice Martha Craig Daughtrey undertakes a lengthy excursus that culminates in an ad hoc balancing test weighted strongly in favor of destruction of the human embryos:  “Ordinarily, the party wishing to avoid procreation should prevail.…”  Daughtrey extrapolates a state constitutional “right of procreational autonomy” from the provisions of the state constitution that protect freedom of worship, that prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures, that guarantee freedom of speech, and that regulate the quartering of soldiers in homes.  She then relies on skimpy psychotherapy articles to concoct a right of a voluntary “gamete-provider” to avoid unwanted genetic parenthood.

The obvious explanation for Daughtrey’s various frolics and detours is that Davis was decided weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court was expected—wrongly, as it turns out—to use its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and to restore abortion policy to the democratic processes.  By her opinion, Daughtrey contrives to establish a Tennessee version of Roe.  (In 1993, President Clinton appoints Daughtrey to the Sixth Circuit.)

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of May 19



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Ignoring precedent, Pat Leahy’s “excellent” nominee, and power over reason:
  
May 20

1996—What’s one way to deal with unhelpful precedent?  Just ignore it entirely, as Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Romer v. Evans does.  In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that it is constitutionally permissible for states to make homosexual conduct criminal.  A decade later, the Court in Romer addresses the constitutionality of Colorado’s Amendment 2, a state constitutional amendment (adopted by statewide referendum) that prohibited all levels of state government from bestowing special protections upon those engaged in homosexual conduct.  Without ever mentioning Bowers, Justice Kennedy (joined by five of his colleagues) declares that Amendment 2 reflects an improper “animus” and therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause.  (Seven years later, in his opinion in Lawrence v. Texas overruling Bowers, Kennedy cites his Romer ruling as having  seriously eroded Bowers.)  Justice Scalia, in dissent (joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas), responds:

“In holding that homosexuality cannot be singled out for disfavorable treatment, the Court contradicts a decision, unchallenged here, pronounced only 10 years ago and places the prestige of this institution behind the proposition that opposition to homosexuality is as reprehensible as racial or religious bias. Whether it is or not is precisely the cultural debate that gave rise to the Colorado constitutional amendment (and to the preferential laws against which the amendment was directed). Since the Constitution of the United States says nothing about this subject, it is left to be resolved by normal democratic means, including the democratic adoption of provisions in state constitutions. This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that ‘animosity’ toward homosexuality is evil.” 

  
May 22

1991—Federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin delivers a This Week classic.  (Yes, faithful readers have encountered this case before, but Sarokin’s escapade deserves special attention.)  The backdropRichard R. Kreimer, a homeless man, camped out in the Morristown, New Jersey, public library, was belligerent and disruptive, stared at and followed library patrons, talked loudly to himself and others, and had an odor so offensive that it prevented areas of the library from being used by patrons and from being worked in by library employees.  The library then adopted written policies setting forth minimal standards of patron behavior.  After Kreimer was expelled multiple times for violating the policies, he sued.

Poetically pronouncing that “one person’s hay-fever is another person’s ambrosia,” Judge Sarokin rules that the library is a traditional public forum like a street or sidewalk, that the library’s policies are overbroad and vague in violation of the First Amendment, and that they violated substantive due process, equal protection, and the New Jersey constitutional guarantee of free expression.  On appeal, the Third Circuit unanimously reverses Judge Sarokin on every ruling.

By in effect concocting a right for Kreimer to disrupt a public library, Sarokin deprived other citizens of the right to use a library in peace.  Not incidentally, Sarokin was said to be very finicky about the conditions of his court’s library.  (For a fuller discussion of this This Week classic, see Part I here.)

With the ardent support of Senate Democrats like Patrick Leahy (“a judge of proven competence, temperament, and fairness,” “an excellent choice”), President Clinton appointed Sarokin to the Third Circuit in 1994.

  
May 23

1957—Three Cleveland police officers arrive at Dolly Mapp’s home seeking a suspect wanted in connection with a recent bombing.  After Mapp refuses to admit them, the police forcibly enter and search the home and discover obscene materials.  Mapp is convicted of possession of these materials.  The Ohio supreme court rules that the search of the home was unlawful but that Mapp’s conviction resting on evidence resulting from the search is valid.

In Mapp v. Ohio (1961), the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 3, overrules its own 1949 precedent that held that the Constitution does not require that evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution be excluded from criminal trials in state court.  The Court instead applies to state criminal trials the exclusionary rule that it first imposed on federal criminal trials in 1914.  In dissent, Justice Harlan (joined by Justices Frankfurter and Whittaker) concludes his analysis with this observation:  “I regret that I find so unwise in principle and so inexpedient in policy a decision motivated by the high purpose of increasing respect for Constitutional rights. But in the last analysis I think this Court can increase respect for the Constitution only if it rigidly respects the limitations which the Constitution places upon it, and respects as well the principles inherent in its own processes. In the present case I think we exceed both, and that our voice becomes only a voice of power, not of reason.” 

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of May 12



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Liberal judicial ethics and judicial malpractice:
 
May 122005—Federal district judge Joseph F. Bataillon, appointed by—surprise!—President Clinton, rules that the Nebraska constitutional provision defining marriage as “between a man and a woman” violates First Amendment associational rights, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Bill of Attainder Clause.  One year later, a unanimous Eighth Circuit panel reverses all of these rulings.
  

May 13 

1993—In dissent in University of Miami v. Echarte, Florida chief justice Rosemary Barkett flouts U.S. Supreme Court precedent as she opines that a statutory cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases violates the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution.  Nominated a few months later by President Clinton to the Eleventh Circuit, Barkett concedes at her confirmation hearing that she “should not have done that.”  But, hey, activism happens—when, that is, reckless judges like Barkett are involved.

To make matters even worse:  Barkett’s dissent adopts the position taken in an amicus brief submitted in the case by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers.  While the case was pending and while Barkett was facing a retention election, this same group created an annual award named after her, the Rosemary Barkett Award.  In November 1992, one week after her successful retention election, Barkett presented the first annual Rosemary Barkett Award at the group’s annual convention.  So much for the fact and appearance of impartiality.   

  

May 14

1970—President Richard M. Nixon, in one of the misdeeds for which he most deserves infamy, appoints Harry A. Blackmun to the Supreme Court.  Blackmun, a boyhood friend of Chief Justice Warren Burger, had served on the Eighth Circuit since 1959.  Before that, he had been in-house counsel for the Mayo Clinic.  His appreciation for the outstanding work done by the fine doctors at the Mayo Clinic is said to have led him to regret that he himself did not become a doctor.  Those with a proper appreciation of Blackmun’s Supreme Court decisionmaking—including, but by no means limited to, his notorious opinion in Roe v. Wade (see This Week for January 22)—might fairly observe that the medical profession’s loss was the nation’s … loss.   
  

May 17

1954—In Brown v. Board of Education, a unanimous Supreme Court abandons available originalist justifications for its ruling that state-segregated schools violate the Equal Protection Clause—justifications that would have been far weightier, and commanded far more public respect, than its own makeshift reliance on contemporaneous psychological research of dubious relevance.  Contrary to conventional understanding, the Court declines to revisit its notorious 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson and instead limits itself to the question whether the separate-but-equal rule of Plessy “should be held inapplicable to public education.” 

1993—Tennessee chief justice Lyle Reid and justice Martha Craig Daughtrey dispute the ruling by the Tennessee supreme court in State v. Marshall that obscenity is not protected speech under the Tennessee constitution.  The majority’s ruling, they extravagantly contend, hands “the right most essential to personal dignity and democratic government, the freedom of expression, … into the willing grasp of the censor.”  Daughtrey was appointed by President Clinton to the Sixth Circuit in 1993 and continues to sit on that court.

  
May 181991—The New York Times and the Washington Post report that in 1990 Charles E. Smith, a wealthy real-estate developer, made gifts to Justice William J. Brennan Jr. in the amount of $140,000.  Of that total amount, $80,000 was given before Justice Brennan’s retirement in July 1990.  According to Brennan, Smith was a “dear friend” and “made these gifts in recognition of my public service.”  The Times and the Post immediately launch investigations into such matters as whether Smith had ideological affinity for Brennan’s liberal judicial activism and was rewarding that activism and whether and when Smith had made any previous promises concerning the gifts.  Just kidding:  There is no sign that follow-up investigations of any sort ever took place.
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of May 5



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Attacks on marriage and Mother’s Day, filibusters, and ABA misdeeds: 
           

May 51993—In Baehr v. Lewin, the Hawaii Supreme Court rules that traditional marriage is presumptively unconstitutional and orders the state to demonstrate a “compelling state interest” for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  In 1998, the people of Hawaii respond by amending the state constitution to confirm that the legislature has the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples, and the legislature amends the constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

2003—In the fifth of seven unsuccessful cloture votes on President Bush’s 2001 nomination of the superbly qualified Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit, only two of the 49 Senate Democrats vote for cloture. 

  
May 82006—When left-wing activist Marna Tucker is somehow selected as the D.C. Circuit member of the ABA committee that rates federal judicial nominees, Senate Democrats engineer the occasion for Tucker to conduct a (supposedly) supplemental review of White House lawyer Brett M. Kavanaugh, who had previously received an overall “well qualified” rating.  Tucker instead launches a scorched-earth investigation that produces a jumble of biased and incoherent allegations, and the ABA committee reduces Kavanaugh’s overall rating to “qualified”.  Amidst the ensuing Democratic smears, Kavanaugh ends up being confirmed to the D.C. Circuit by a vote of 57-36.  (See here for a fuller account.)   
  
May 102006—Mississippi attorney Michael B. Wallace, nominated to the Fifth Circuit by President Bush, is not as fortunate as Kavanaugh.  In a scandalous process marked by bias, a glaring conflict of interest, incompetence (see here and here), a stacked committee, violation of its own procedures, cheap gamesmanship, and ultimately, flat-out perjury, the ABA committee rates Wallace “not qualified”.   After Democrats regain control of the Senate in 2007, Wallace’s nomination is not resubmitted.
  
May 112008—Happy Mother’s Day!  No thanks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in 1974 co-authored a report proposing that Congress abolish Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and replace them with an androgynous Parents’ Day.  Observing Parents’ Day would, she explained, be “more consistent with a policy of minimizing traditional sex-based differences in parental roles.”  In that same report, the oh-so-“moderate” Ginsburg stated her strong sympathy for the proposition that there is a constitutional right to prostitution and a constitutional right to bigamy; criticized the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts for perpetuating stereotyped sex roles; and urged that prisons be co-ed rather than single sex.  (See here for relevant excerpts from the report.)
  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

This Week in Liberal Judicial Activism—Week of April 28



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Ninth Circuit hijinks, filibusters, racial quotas, and criminal-coddling:

 
Apr. 291998—The Ninth Circuit’s hijinks in blocking the execution of Thomas M. Thompson for a 1981 rape and murder come to an end, with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Calderon v. Thompson.  Justice Souter’s dissent is joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer.
  
May 11992—The Ninth Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Betty B. Fletcher and joined by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, rules that the provision of a government-paid sign-language interpreter to a profoundly deaf student who has chosen to attend a “sectarian” (read:  Catholic) high school violates the Establishment Clause.  One year later, the Supreme Court reverses the Ninth Circuit (in Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District) by a 5-4 vote.  Chief Justice Rehnquist’s majority opinion states:  “[Federal law] creates a neutral government program dispensing aid not to schools but to individual handicapped children. If a handicapped child chooses to enroll in a sectarian school, we hold that the Establishment Clause does not prevent the school district from furnishing him with a sign language interpreter there in order to facilitate his education.”  Justices Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor and Souter dissent. 

2003—Two years after being nominated to the Fifth Circuit, the eminently qualified Texas supreme court justice Priscilla Richman Owen encounters another step in the Democrats’ unprecedented campaign of obstruction against President Bush’s judicial nominees.  The first of five Senate cloture votes on her nomination fails to obtain the necessary 60 votes for approval, as only two of 49 Democrats vote for cloture.  Owen’s nomination is finally confirmed more than two years later (and more than four years from her initial nomination)—on May 25, 2005. 

  
May 31984—Federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin modifies a consent decree to require that layoffs of New Jersey firefighters be on a proportional quota basis rather than (as state law provided) according to seniority.  The result is that white firefighters with more seniority were to be laid off in favor of minority firefighters with less seniority.  In an especially bizarre twist, Sarokin rules that his order constitutes an unconstitutional taking of the seniority rights of white firefighters, and he orders the federal government, which opposed his order, to provide compensation for the taking!  Sarokin expresses sympathy for the white firefighters, stating that they are “not themselves the perpetrators of the wrongs inflicted upon minorities over the years [but] are being singled out to suffer the consequences.”

In June 1984, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Firefighters v. Stotts forces Sarokin to change his order and to have seniority govern layoffs, Sarokin changes his tone and attacks the white firefighters:  “If they have not directly caused the discrimination to occur, many have certainly condoned it by their acquiescence, their indifference, their attitudes and prejudices, and even their humor.”

  
May 41984—When is an express signed waiver of Miranda rights not a waiver?  When you try to conceal your identity by signing a false name.  So rules federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin (in an unpublished opinion in United States v. Rodriguez).  Rodriguez had been arrested on theft-related charges and was advised of his Miranda rights and informed that signing the waiver form would waive those rights.  He signed the form, but, intent on concealing his identity, signed someone else’s name.  Sarokin rules that “it does not strain logic to find the use of a name other than one’s own to be wholly inconsistent with a voluntary waiver of rights:  defendant may well have believed that by using a false name he was not committing himself to anything.” 

In a remarkable display of chutzpah, Sarokin immediately follows this assertion with a “But see” citation to specific and contrary Third Circuit authority that he himself describes as standing for the proposition that “contention that signature was not one’s own is not relevant to the issue of the voluntariness of the confession”.  A more blatant defiance of controlling authority of a higher court is difficult to imagine. 

  

For an explanation of this recurring feature, see here. 

Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism

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