Tags: This Day in Liberal Activism
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 13
2007—A Ninth Circuit panel rules (in Phillips v. Hust) that a prison librarian violated the constitutional rights of a prisoner, and is liable for damages to him, for failing to provide him timely access to a comb-binding machine that he wanted to use to bind his certiorari petition to the Supreme Court. Never mind, as dissenting judge O’Scannlain points out, that Supreme Court rules for ordinary letter-size submissions require stapling or binding in the upper left-hand corner (rather than comb-binding along the left margin). As O’Scannlain observes:
Unfortunately, rather than adhering to the clear limits established by Supreme Court precedent, the majority here mandates prison employees to anticipate when the denial of unnecessary services will so fluster an inmate that his filing, though in no way actually frustrated, might be delayed. Such a rule amounts to an unreasonable demand that prison librarians be not only experts on their actual duties, but also clairvoyant.
Ten judges will dissent from the Ninth Circuit’s decision to deny rehearing en banc. Ultimately, after the Supreme Court GVRs (grants review of, vacates the ruling in, and remands) the case, Judge O’Scannlain will write a new panel opinion in 2009 that rules that the prison librarian is entitled to qualified immunity.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 10
1947—In Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court misconstrues the Establishment Clause as erecting a “wall of separation” between church and state. As law professor Philip Hamburger demonstrates in his magisterial Separation of Church and State (Harvard University Press, 2002), there is no legitimate basis for reading the Establishment Clause to impose a regime of separation of church and state, much less Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation.” The idea of separation was “radically different” from the non-establishment guaranteed by the First Amendment and became popular only “in response to deeply felt fears of ecclesiastical and especially Catholic authority.” Moreover, explains Hamburger, the persisting separation myth has in fact undermined religious liberty.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 9
2009—Three decades later, President Carter’s sorry judicial legacy lives on. A three-judge district court consisting of three Carter appointees—Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt and senior district judges Lawrence K. Karlton and Thelton E. Henderson—issues a “tentative ruling” that finds that overcrowding in California’s prisons is the “primary cause” of the state’s “inability to provide constitutionally adequate medical care and mental health care to its prisoners” and that would require California’s prisons to reduce their inmate populations by as many as 57,000 prisoners. The trio asserts that the release can “be achieved without an adverse effect on public safety.”
Even California attorney general Jerry Brown, usually an ardent supporter of liberal judicial lawlessness, condemns the ruling as “a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed.”
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 6
1992—Ruling on a pre-trial discovery motion in a personal injury action against cigarette manufacturers (Haines v. Liggett Group), New Jersey federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin declares that “the tobacco industry may be the king of concealment and disinformation” and charges that its members “knowingly and secretly decide to put the buying public at risk solely for the purpose of making profits and … believe that illness and death of consumers is an appropriate cost of their own prosperity!” (Exclamation point in original.) Relying on his “own familiarity with the evidence” adduced in a different case, Sarokin rules that the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege applies and orders the requested documents produced. Undermining defendants’ opportunity to appeal his ruling, he quotes extensively from the very documents as to which privilege had been asserted.
A unanimous Third Circuit panel later grants an extraordinary writ vacating Sarokin’s discovery order and also removing Sarokin from the case. The Third Circuit lambastes Sarokin for a “judicial usurpation of power,” for violating “fundamental concepts of due process,” for divulging the contents of assertedly privileged documents before avenues of appeal had been exhausted, and for destroying any appearance of impartiality. Sarokin, in reply, brazenly alleges that the Third Circuit panel failed to exercise independent legal judgment and instead did the bidding of a “powerful litigant.”
In the face of these and other judicial misdeeds, President Clinton appoints Sarokin to the Third Circuit in 1994. The ABA gives Sarokin its highest “well qualified” rating. Senate Democrats hail Sarokin as an ideal judge. Senator Leahy, for example, calls him “a judge of proven competence, temperament, and fairness” and “an excellent choice.”
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 5
1996—In a muddled speech on the “majesty of the law” at Suffolk University law school, then-district judge Sonia Sotomayor complains that “the public fails to appreciate the importance of indefiniteness in the law”—indefiniteness that sometimes results from the fact that “a given judge (or judges) may develop a novel approach to a specific set of facts or legal framework that pushes the law in a new direction.”
Somehow Sotomayor doesn’t see fit even to question whether, and under what circumstances, it’s proper or desirable for judges to “develop a novel approach” that “pushes the law in a new direction.” Instead, she complains about “recurring public criticism about the judicial process.” The fact that Sotomayor cites as her lead example of unwelcome “public criticism” an article “describing Senator Dole’s criticism of [the] liberal ideology of Clinton judicial appointments and [of the] American Bar Association” lends credence to the suspicion that Sotomayor is less interested in the majesty of the law than in the majesty of liberal activist judges.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 4
2004—Asked by the state senate whether its November 2003 ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health really imposes same-sex marriage, the Massachusetts supreme court answers yes (by the same 4-3 split as in its original ruling).
2005—In Hernandez v. Robles, a New York state trial judge rules that New York’s longstanding statutory definition of marriage as between a man and a woman violates the state constitution. In July 2006, New York’s highest court, by a 4-2 vote, reverses this ruling.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 3
1988—By a vote of 97-0, the Senate confirms President Reagan’s nomination of Ninth Circuit judge Anthony M. Kennedy to fill the seat of retiring Justice Lewis Powell. Kennedy was Reagan’s third pick, following the October 1987 defeat of the nomination of Judge Robert Bork and the withdrawal of the subsequent decision to nominate Judge Douglas Ginsburg.
Often misdescribed as a “moderate conservative,” Kennedy in fact embraces an aggressive view of judicial power. While he sometimes deploys that power towards conservative ends, his misdeeds of liberal judicial activism are far more momentous—and are often masked by grandiose rhetorical diversions. To cite but a few examples:
“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.” Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Translation: We justices have the unbounded authority to decide which matters you yahoo citizens should be prohibited from addressing through legislation.
“It does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.” Roper v. Simmons (2005). As Justice Scalia responds, Kennedy relies on foreign sources “not to underscore our ‘fidelity’ to the Constitution, our ‘pride in its origins,’ and ‘our own [American] heritage,’” but to override the “centuries-old American practice … of letting a jury of 12 citizens decide whether, in the particular case, youth should be the basis for withholding the death penalty.”
“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. Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Translation: We modern justices are so much wiser than the Framers and therefore entitled to trump the political processes willy-nilly.
“The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.” Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) (emphasis added). It’s odd that Kennedy would think that speech (including opinion-writing?) should precede thinking. The notion is especially odd in a case concerning virtual child pornography.
2010—In Perry v. Schwarzenegger—the case challenging California’s Proposition 8 and traditional marriage—the ACLU Foundation of Southern California continues its involvement in the case by filing a post-trial amicus brief on behalf of its national affiliate, the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ramona Ripston, the wife of Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt, is the executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and (per its website) is “responsible for all phases of the organization’s programs, including litigation.” In addition to leading the political opposition to Proposition 8, Ripston engaged in confidential discussions with the lawyers for the Perry plaintiffs about whether they should file the case. And months later, she will publicly celebrate Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision striking down Proposition 8.
Yet when the wonders of random selection assign arch-activist Reinhardt to the Ninth Circuit panel to review Walker’s decision in this very case, Reinhardt somehow will decline to recuse himself.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—February 2
2009—Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt, acting in his administrative capacity as designee of the current Chair of the Ninth Circuit’s Standing Committee on Federal Public Defenders, opines that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional insofar as it requires that federal benefits available to spouses of federal employees not be extended to same-sex spouses. Disguising his administrative misdetermination as a Ninth Circuit judicial order, Reinhardt purports to direct the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to add an employee’s same-sex spouse as a beneficiary.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 31
2006—Upon the Senate’s confirmation of Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination, Justice O’Connor’s July 2005 decision to retire takes effect. Plucked by President Reagan from the obscurity of an Arizona intermediate appellate court in 1981, O’Connor failed to live up to her early promise. Averse to any judicial principle that would limit her discretion in future cases, O’Connor was notorious for her inconsistency. Worse, in her last 15 years on the Court, she cast her vote for liberal judicial activist results in many major cases. Her jurisprudential legacy consists primarily of the infinitely malleable and subjective standards that she concocted, such as her “endorsement” standard for review of Establishment Clause claims (a standard endorsed by no other justice) and her “undue burden” standard for abortion regulations.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 30
2006—Senator Kerry’s Davos-led fili-bluster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito fails. The Senate’s longstanding tradition of providing Supreme Court nominees an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor is respected.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 29
2004—Having somehow given her permission to the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund to dedicate a lecture series in her honor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presents opening remarks at the fourth annual Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture Series on Women and the Law. Never mind that the highly ideological NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund regularly files briefs in the Supreme Court (and indeed had filed a brief in a case that was pending when Ginsburg agreed to give her remarks).
Somehow many of the same folks who squawk when a conservative justice merely speaks to a conservative group that doesn’t litigate in the Supreme Court are silent at the extraordinary spectacle of a justice’s permitting a repeat litigant to name a lecture series in her honor.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 26
2006—From the ski slopes of Davos, Switzerland, aristocrat and billionaire-by-marriage John Kerry panders to the faux-populist sentiment of the Left by calling for a filibuster of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, who, Kerry fears, might actually believe that the Constitution leaves some important issues to the people to decide through their elected representatives.
2007—Continuing her practice of hiding behind sexist stereotypes when they suit her, Justice Ginsburg laments being “all alone on the court” a year after Justice O’Connor’s retirement, and she asserts that she and O’Connor “have certain sensitivities that our male colleagues lack.” Ginsburg garners the Weekly Standard’s sympathies.
Perhaps Ginsburg is just emoting publicly about how lonely she is. But it seems more sensible to read her comments as clamoring for the next Supreme Court appointment to be a woman or as criticizing the effect that Justice Alito’s replacement of O’Connor is having on pending cases. Neither would seem becoming of a justice.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 24
1990—President George H.W. Bush nominates New Hampshire supreme court justice David Hackett Souter to a seat on the First Circuit. In a tragic blunder, less than three months after Souter accepts his First Circuit appointment, President Bush nominates him to the Supreme Court vacancy resulting from Justice Brennan’s retirement. Deploying his full arsenal of clichés, Teddy Kennedy rails against Souter’s Supreme Court nomination. His efforts, alas, prove unsuccessful.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 23
1983—After telling his girlfriend that “we’re going to kill Charles,” William Wayne Thompson, age 15, and three older friends brutally murder his former brother-in-law, Charles Keene. After they beat Keene, Thompson shoots him in the head, cuts his throat and chest, attaches a chain and blocks to his body, and throws the corpse into a river “so the fish could eat his body.”
Some five years later, in Thompson v. Oklahoma, a four-Justice plurality (opinion by Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun) imagines “evolving standards of decency” under the Eighth Amendment that (as Justice Scalia’s dissent aptly summarizes it) forbid the determination that any “criminal so much as one day under 16, after individuated consideration of his circumstances, including the overcoming of a presumption that he should not be tried as an adult, can possibly be deemed mature and responsible enough to be punished with death for any crime.” (As Scalia points out in a later dissent, the same folks who think that minors can’t possibly be mature enough to be held fully responsible for murders they commit insist that juveniles are mature enough to get an abortion without parental consent, but “[w]hether to obtain an abortion is surely a much more complex decision for a young person than whether to kill an innocent person in cold blood.”)
1992—In Hodges v. State, the Florida supreme court reviews the death sentence of a man who, on the morning that he was scheduled for a hearing on a charge of indecent exposure, shot to death the 20-year-old female clerk who had complained of his conduct. Chief justice Rosemary Barkett, in solo dissent from the court’s affirmance of the death sentence, opines that the two statutorily defined aggravating factors on which the death sentence had been based—witness elimination and a killing that was cold, calculated, and premeditated—were “so intertwined that they should be considered as one” and votes to vacate the death sentence. Her dissent makes no effort to distinguish her court’s own precedent that permitted aggravators to be counted separately where they relate to “separate analytical concepts.”
Despite—or, rather, because of—her stunningly terrible record as a judge, President Clinton nominates Barkett to the Eleventh Circuit in 1993, and, with overwhelming support from Senate Democrats (an “outstanding jurist,” quoth Teddy Kennedy), she is confirmed and appointed in 1994. She remains on the Eleventh Circuit, where she has continued her malfeasance.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 22
1973—For the second time in American history, the Supreme Court denies American citizens the authority to protect the basic rights of an entire class of human beings. In Roe v. Wade—the Dred Scott ruling of our age—Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion feigns not to “resolve the [purportedly] difficult question of when life begins,” but in fact rules illegitimate any legislative determination that unborn human beings are deserving of legal protection from abortion. Roe and Doe v. Bolton (decided the same day) impose on all Americans a radical regime of essentially unrestricted abortion throughout pregnancy, all the way (under the predominant reading of Doe) until birth.
Despite scathing criticism, including from supporters of abortion (see point 2 here), Roe’s lawless power grab continues to roil American politics by preventing Americans from working together, through an ongoing process of persuasion, to establish and revise abortion policies.
1996—Federal district judge Harold Baer rules (in United States v. Bayless) that New York City police officers did not have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot when they observed a car with a Michigan license plate moving slowly in the pre-dawn hours in a neighborhood known for drug trafficking, saw the car double-park, observed four males cross the street in single file and, without speaking with the driver, deposit duffle bags in the trunk of the car, and saw the men scatter when they noticed that the officers were observing them. Dismissing this last fact, Baer opines that publicity about the prosecution of a corrupt police officer in that neighborhood eliminated any inference that the men were engaged in evasive conduct. Indeed, “had the men not run when the cops began to stare at them, it would have been unusual.” Finding that the investigatory stop by the police violated the Fourth Amendment, Baer orders suppression of the evidence of the 34 kilograms of cocaine and two kilograms of heroin found in the duffle bags in the trunk.
Amidst the ensuing public outcry over Baer’s ruling—including comments by President Clinton that he might try to get his own appointee to resign—Baer reverses himself two months later and laments the “hyperbole (dicta) in my initial decision [that] regretfully may have demeaned the law-abiding men and women who make Washington Heights their home and the vast majority of the dedicated men and women in blue who patrol the streets of our great City.”
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 20
1983—Eight years after the New Jersey supreme court (in Mount Laurel I) read into the state constitution an obligation on the part of each city to use its land-use regulations to “make realistically possible the opportunity for an appropriate choice of housing for all categories of people who may desire to live there,” the court (in Mount Laurel II) declares the need for “a strong judicial hand” to “rectify the ineffective [municipal] administration” of its concocted doctrine. To that end, the court invents a set of judicial “remedies” that deprive cities of the ordinary procedural rights that litigants enjoy.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 19
1972—The judicial takeover of school funding in New Jersey commences as state trial judge Theodore Botter rules (in Robinson v. Cahill) that New Jersey’s funding system, which relies heavily on local property taxes, violates the state constitutional provision, dating from 1875, that declares that the legislature “shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools” and also violates the equal-protection guarantees that are supposedly implicit in the state constitution and that are in the federal Constitution.
1989—Call it the Case of the Surprised Burglar. Two months after breaking up with his girlfriend, Timothy C. Hudson, armed with a knife, broke into her home during the night. The former girlfriend, having received threats from him, was spending the night elsewhere. But her roommate was at home. When she began screaming at him to leave, Hudson stabbed her to death, put her body in the trunk of her car, and dumped her in a drainage ditch in a tomato field. Hudson was convicted and sentenced to death.
In her dissent from the Florida supreme court’s affirmance of the death sentence (in Hudson v. State), Rosemary Barkett concludes that the death penalty was disproportionate to the offense—because Hudson “was apparently surprised by the victim during [his] burglarizing of [her] home.”
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 17
2007—In a house editorial, the Los Angeles Times encourages Senate Democrats to display a “cooperative spirit” rather than “obstructionism”, and it specifically recommends that they confirm D.C. Circuit nominee Peter Keisler. But over the next two years Senate Democrats instead confirm only 10 appellate judges, and Keisler’s nomination is one of many to expire from inaction.
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 16
2002—It turns out that there are limits to the courts’ overreaching interpretations of the religious guarantees of the Establishment Clause—at least when the rights of religious conservatives are at stake. When various religious groups sponsored an advertising campaign offering “healing for homosexuals”, the San Francisco board of supervisors sprang into action. It sent a letter to the groups “denounc[ing] your hateful rhetoric” and alleging a “direct correlation” between that rhetoric and the “horrible crimes committed against gays and lesbians,” including the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. It also adopted two formal resolutions. One called for the “Religious Right to take accountability for the impact of their long-standing rhetoric, which leads to a climate of mistrust and discrimination that can open the door to horrible crimes such as” a recent murder. The second resolution stated that the groups’ ad campaign encouraged maltreatment of homosexuals and urged local television stations not to broadcast the groups’ ads.
In American Family Association v. City and County of San Francisco, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit rules that the city government’s actions did not violate modern Establishment Clause doctrine. But as Judge John T. Noonan observes in dissent: “To assert that a group’s religious message and religious categorization of conduct are responsible for murder is to attack the group’s religion.… [H]ere the city had a plausible, indeed laudable purpose, to decrease vicious violence on account of sexual orientation. [But it] used a means that officially stigmatized a religious belief as productive of murderous consequences.”
This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 14
1989—“Kreimer’s odor prevents staff member from completing copying task.” So reads the day’s entry in the logbook that the Morristown, New Jersey, public library has set up to chronicle the disturbances caused by Richard R. Kreimer, a homeless man who frequently 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.
Some two years later, poetically pronouncing that “one person’s hay-fever is another person’s ambrosia,” federal district judge H. Lee Sarokin will rule 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. (See This Day for May 22, 1991.) The stench produced by Sarokin’s opinion will ultimately be dispelled by a unanimous Third Circuit ruling rejecting each of Sarokin’s grounds.