Tag Archives: SCOTUS

Hobby Lobby & The New Age of Slut-Shaming

3 Jul

Here are the wrong opinions I’ve seen in the earlier Hobby Lobby thread, rebutted. 

“Freebies”

No one is getting anything for free. Hobby Lobby offered employer-based health insurance coverage through private health insurance companies. The employees were free to choose to purchase that coverage. In the end, it was the employee – not Hobby Lobby – who was the contracting party and policyholder.  Hobby Lobby won the right to interfere with a private, legal contract between two contracting parties, neither of whom was Hobby Lobby.  By paying her health insurance premium, the employee received coverage for which she contracted, and this included coverage for certain contraceptives that require a physician’s prescription.  So, on top of the contraceptives not being free, but bought pursuant to a paid-for health insurance contract, this is Hobby Lobby interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.  

“Religious Freedom”

This case was about the extension of a legal fiction – corporate personhood – into human personhood. All of a sudden, corporate entities can have “faith” – something that is impossible, because a corporation doesn’t physically exist. Hobby Lobby’s founders are free to exercise their religion however they want. They are free to reject the contraceptives they find objectionable. They’re even free to use no contraceptives at all. No one infringed on that in any way, shape, or form. But by choosing to participate in the non-faith-based for-profit marketplace, Hobby Lobby should be treated as any other corporate entity. If Hobby Lobby wants to be a church and enjoy the exemptions from laws of general application that offend its founders, then it should have done so. The slope here is ridiculously slippery. 

“1st Amendment” or “Constitution”

This was not a constitutional case. It interpreted a federal regulation as being violative of a 1993 federal statute, which was passed to protect American Indians and their exercise of religion. From the opening of the majority opinion: 

We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488 , 42 U.S.C. §2000bb et seq., permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.

and

Our decision on that statutory [RFRA] question makes it unnecessary to reach the First Amendment claim.” The decision is not based on the First Amendment.

and

Any First Amendment Free Exercise Clause claim Hobby Lobby or Conestoga might assert is foreclosed by this Court’s decision in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990).

So, no. This was not a Constitutional case, and nothing was declared unconstitutional. 

“They can buy it themselves”

Yes, they could, but they bought health insurance so that it would be covered.  Health insurance policies cost money, and they routinely cover these drugs and devices. Hobby Lobby subsidizes the premium, but it is not a contracting party. As such, it should have no say over what drugs are prescribed and covered, just like it should have no say over which doctor an employee can see, or what diseases the Bible supposedly says are real or not. The women who work for Hobby Lobby are now treated differently from other women working for other corporate entities, and their options for health insurance prescription coverage are more limited than the policies dictate. Hobby Lobby has now opened the door to businesses micromanaging the terms of other people’s contracts for them, when Hobby Lobby is not a party to the contract. 

“These drugs are objectionable; cause abortions”

No, they’re not. Now, we’re not only legally acknowledging that a legal entity can hold “faith”, but we are buying into that company’s false pseudoscience. The drugs and devices to which Hobby Lobby objected – some IUDs and the morning after / week after pills – are not abortifacients. You might believe they are, but they scientifically are not. The Supreme Court did not only rule that Hobby Lobby’s alleged “faith” overrules federal law, but also succumbed to a faith-based opinion that is rebutted by objective fact. If Hobby Lobby sincerely believes that, e.g., SSRIs are forged by Satan in the hellfire, presumably the SCOTUS would just take that without argument and allow Hobby Lobby to interfere with their employees’ health insurance contracts and forbid them from being covered under the prescription coverage provisions of the policies. Sorry, folks! Hobby Lobby’s God wants you to just buck up and live with your anxiety and depression! 

“This is limited to just this one case”. 

Looks like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right, and the Courts are now going to be overwhelmed with awful corporate entities suing to not have to provide any contraceptive coverage at all

Business owners who don’t want to pay for their employees’ birth control are ending that coverage after the Supreme Court said they could choose on grounds of religious belief not to comply with part of the health care law. Some owners are already in touch with their brokers in the wake of Monday’s ruling. Triune Health Group Ltd. wants to know how soon it can change its coverage to stop paying for all contraceptives, said Mary Anne Yep, co-owner of the Oak Brook, Ill., company that provides medical management services. “We were ready to go when we heard the decision,” she said. Triune had filed lawsuits against the U.S. government and the state of Illinois because of requirements that they pay for contraception.

So, there you go. Women’s health comes second to a corporate entity’s alleged “faith”. As the American right continues its lurch backwards into what they envision as some pre-Roosevelt golden age, women find their status being relegated to that of a second-class citizens. After all, I don’t see Triune or Hobby Lobby demanding that health insurance contracts for male employees exclude Viagra, which can be used to commit sins. 

Slut-shaming. It’s as American as apple pie, and now endorsed by five males on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. 

Hobby Lobby: The Corporation Cult & Creeping Theocracy

1 Jul

From browser

On Monday, an all-male majority chorus of Supreme Court Justices determined that a for-profit corporation’s right to exercise its religion is inviolable, and women should probably dummy up and why aren’t they barefoot and pregnant, making them a sandwich in the kitchen, by the way? 

To clarify the ruling’s logic

(a) people have a right to free exercise of religion, under the Constitution but within the context of this case, pursuant to the 1993 “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”
(b) corporations are people; 
(c) therefore, closely held (non-publicly-traded) for-profit corporations are free to impose their owners’ “sincere religious beliefs” on employees. 

The RFRA sets up a scheme whereby a law of general applicability that allegedly interferes with a person’s free exercise of religion be strictly scrutinized to determine if it is constitutional.  The law was passed in response to American Indians’ complaints that federal actions were interfering with their ability to practice their religion and hold services. It also extends to American Indians’ use of peyote in services, and it has been cited as protecting Rastafarians from prosecution for marijuana possession.

When your smug Obama-hating buddies start in with “unconstitutional”, that’s not this case. The Hobby Lobby decision did not rule on the constitutionality of anything. 

The law is designed to protect people’s ability to worship by applying strict scrutiny to any accusation that a law of general application is violating someone’s free exercise rights. “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The test a court will apply assesses whether the burden on religion is in the  “furtherance of a compelling government interest.” The interest must be more than just routine, or a simple efficiency improvement, and relates instead to “core constitutional issues”. Secondly, the rule must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Hobby Lobby, however, is not a person and is not exercising a religion. It is a corporate entity – a legal fiction – that sells picture frames and scrapbooking supplies. It’s not a “small business”, because this craft store chain has 15,000 employees and over 550 stores nationwide. It’s a closely held corporation, meaning it has corporate status but its shares are not publicly traded. Its fictional corporate “personhood” enables Hobby Lobby to operate and enter into contracts while limiting shareholder liability. The owners of Hobby Lobby’s shares are all evangelical Christians, and they make much of that on the company’s website. 

Hobby Lobby offers health insurance to its employees, but in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the policies needed to cover certain types of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby claims that it objected only to 4 of the 20 specified drugs and devices, because it believes them to be abortifacients – a point that is, itself, open to debate. (Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUDs were affected. These are the morning-after and week-after pill and prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. The Health and Human Services regulation at issue did not mandate RU-486 be covered. Scientifically, these are not “abortifacients”). 

Hobby Lobby itself was not mandated to hand contraceptives or IUDs to its employees, but merely to offer health insurance plans that covered them. Hobby Lobby argued that this mandate violated the company’s right to freely exercise its religion and sought injunctive relief enabling them to not pay for coverage of the four objectionable drugs and devices.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito sided with Hobby Lobby. The majority, assuming the government had a compelling interest at stake, had a less intrusive way of meeting its goals. For instance, the government could pay for the devices and drugs itself, or mandate the insurers to pay for them. 

So, the outrage over Hobby Lobby is overblown insofar as it’s being made to seem as if the company objected to all contraception. It is not, however, overblown on two other points; namely, the notion that corporations are somehow sentient beings that have “faith”, and the notion that your employer can interfere with and micromanage the coverages you contract for with your health insurer. Remember – it is the policyholder who is the contracting party. 

As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent pointed out, this is a wild expansion of corporate rights at the expense of individual liberties. She noted that the majority’s decision, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.” The majority basically responded that this was all no biggie. 

Corporate personhood is a legal fiction – a convenience. Yet now we’re to believe that fictional people can hold real religious beliefs – and in many cases, the rights of the fictional person override the rights of a human being. Hobby Lobby as a corporation cannot exercise religion – physically or otherwise. This is the right-wing elite’s dream of expanding the cult of the corporation – something that kicked off when the Citizens United case declared that corporations can have 1st Amendment rights to spend unlimited money to influence elections. 

Justice Alito explained why corporations should sometimes be regarded as persons. “A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends,” he wrote. “When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.”

Justice Ginsburg said the commercial nature of for-profit corporations made a difference.

“The court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers,” she wrote. “For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.”

If Hobby Lobby can, by dint of its religious personhood, pick and choose which statutes and regulations of general application it will follow, the same is true of any closely held corporation, regardless of religion. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religion and reject a health insurance mandate for certain prescriptions, then any for-profit corporation can claim “free exercise” and religion rights to reject anti-discrimination laws in hiring, or public accommodations laws. How soon before companies like Hobby Lobby have a “no gays need apply” signs out front, or “no handicapped applicants will be considered”, or “transgendered people and transvestites stay out”. 

With this ruling, it should be mandatory that companies such as Hobby Lobby issue a formal disclosure of the corporate entity’s religious beliefs so that employees can make an informed choice whether to be employed there. It won’t, though, because we have elevated corporate personhood above human personhood, and we have elevated Christianity above all other religious beliefs. 

Welcome to the new theocracy.

ObamaThread: MANDATE UPHELD UPDATE

28 Jun

If you haven’t already read about how Bain Capital’s buy ’em, gut ’em, and outsource ’em M.O. destroyed a healthy, longstanding WNY business, and you haven’t already been informed about how Mitt Romney made his millions by doing that repeatedly, over and over again, then you should go and do that. 

In the meantime, the big news today will be what the politicized, partisan, conservative-activist Supreme Court will do with the Obamacare mandate to buy health insurance. Will it be ruled unconstitutional? If so, will it render the whole law a nullity, or will it be severed from the remainder of the law? If severed, will the law be able to be maintained? 

The fundamental brokenness of our idiotic, inefficient, Balkanized way of paying for health care that isn’t even the best in the world is one of the big failures of the post-WW2 era. As postwar Europe built its social safety nets, the US couldn’t get out of its own way to do the same. The 1964 law creating Medicare and Medicaid was originally supposed to provide all Americans with universal health care. It never happened. Soshulizm. 

So, instead, we operate under a largely for-profit form of privatized socialism. (Yes, insurance is socialism – it’s the redistribution to claimants of wealth earned from premiums). 

The United States, as we all know, is the last remaining western pluralist democratic capitalist country that does not guarantee free health care to all of its citizens. Obamacare taught us a lot. It taught us that a mixed-race Democratic President can propose a fundamentally conservative health care reform bill, manipulate changes to it to try and obtain buy-in from people who had very recently proposed it, and still the Republicans would vote against it uniformly because it would do political harm to said President.

It highlighted that politics trumps policy; that obstruction trumps governing.

Maybe – just maybe – the failure of the Frankencompromise of Obamacare will lead to a massive push to abolish Medicaid and expand Medicare to all Americans. 

Medicare for all Americans. A program that is uniquely popular, has very low overhead, and would be voluntary. People like Mitt Romney and Chris Collins could continue to buy health insurance from private companies and be Lear-Jetted to gold-encrusted, faraway clinics, if they wish. But taking away the average American’s expenses for health care would do wonders for the economy. Taking away businesses’ responsibility to provide elaborately complicated and ridiculously expensive private health care options would also be able to increase efficiency, productivity, and profitability. 

It would be a single-payer system for those who want it. For those who don’t, buy something different – not dissimilar from the English model, rather than the far less flexible Canadian model. You know, Canada, which has a really good economy, little corruption, no bank collapse, and more or less the same freedoms we enjoy. 

This is a SCOTUS Obamacare ruling open thread. Enjoy your Thursday. 

UPDATE: The individual mandate, and Obamacare, is upheld as a constitutional use of congressional taxing power with respect to the penalty for not buying health insurance. 

Hochul

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling provides much needed clarity in an important national debate on the appropriate role of the federal government in the delivery of healthcare. While I was not in Congress to vote on the Affordable Care Act, I have always believed, and continue to believe, that the law is far from perfect, and I remain concerned about the high cost of implementing the law.  That is why I have worked to roll back many of its most troubling provisions, including the financially unsustainable CLASS Act, the Medical Device tax, and the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which could result in the rationing of Medicare.

 “I am hopeful that today’s ruling will help to focus our country on the need for more effective policies that drive down the cost of care and ensure that all Americans—especially children, seniors and veterans—have access to quality and affordable health care.  I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue to improve the law and find appropriate solutions to the rising cost of health care in this country.”

Higgins

“Today the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Under the law, this year over 3 million New Yorkers have begun receiving free preventative care, over 3,000 New Yorkers with pre-existing conditions are no longer denied health insurance coverage, 160,000 young adults in New York State are now receive health coverage through their parents’ plan, and 254,083 New York State seniors on Medicare are saving an average of $655 on their prescription medications.

“The old way of doing business was unaffordable, unacceptable and unsustainable for taxpayers and patients alike. Despite exorbitant expense, according to the World Health Organization, the United States is 37th of 192 countries in terms of overall healthcare quality.

“The Western New York health community is already leading the way on health reform. They have embraced electronic medical records and the formation of comprehensive care organizations. This law gives Western New York the tools we need to go farther and it gives the rest of the country the opportunity to follow our lead.

“Much of the Affordable Care Act was modeled on the Cleveland Clinic standard, care Western New Yorkers frequently travel to receive.  Cleveland Clinic quality care is the health care I want for my family, my community and my nation.”

Slaughter:

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-28) today applauded the Supreme Court’s decision which upheld the life-saving provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Slaughter, one of the leading supporters of the ACA, has been in the forefront of the effort to improve access and quality of health care for American families.

 “I am very pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld the landmark Affordable Care Act,” said Slaughter. “I was proud to bring this bill to the floor of the House of Representatives as Chairwoman of the Rules Committee in 2009, and I continue to be proud of the ways in which the law has improved health care access for millions of Americans. We worked long and hard to protect Medicare’s guarantee of quality health care for our seniors and to make health care more affordable for American families. The ACA also ensures that being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition and a justification for higher premiums.

 “This groundbreaking legislation was never about politics – it was about saving lives and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of American families. I know that much work remains to be done but I am gratified to know that we are a step closer to ensuring that no American will live in fear of losing their home and everything they own because they or a member of their family is stricken by illness.”

 Because of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Americans are already seeing lower costs and better coverage: 

  •          54 million Americans in private plans have received one or more free preventive services.
  •          In addition, in 2011, 32.5 million seniors received one or more free preventive services.  So far in 2012, 14 million seniors have already received these services.
  •         105 million Americans no longer have a lifetime limit on their coverage.
  •         Up to 17 million children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurers.
  •         6.6 million young adults up to age 26 have taken advantage of the law to obtain health insurance through their parents’ plan, of whom 3.1 million would be uninsured without this coverage.

     

  •         5.1 million seniors in the ‘donut hole’ have saved $3.2 billion on their prescription drugs, an average of $635 per senior.

     

  •         In 2011, 2.3 million seniors had a free Annual Wellness Visit under Medicare.  So far in 2012, 1.1 million seniors have already had this free visit.
  •          In 2011, 360,000 small employers used the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to help them afford health insurance for 2 million workers.

 Slaughter is a champion of the life-saving changes that have been implemented as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Thanks to these lifesaving provisions, children can stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, insurance companies can no longer deny a person health insurance, and millions of seniors now have free access to life saving health care- all while reducing the federal deficit by billions of dollars.

 Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, in New York’s 28th district:

·         5,500 young adults in the district now have health insurance. 

·         10,400 seniors in the district received prescription drug discounts worth $6.7 million, an average discount of $640 per senior. 

·         70,000 seniors in the district received Medicare preventive services without paying any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles. 

·         22,000 children and 100,000 adults now have health insurance that covers preventive services without paying any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles. 

·         430 small businesses in the district received tax credits to help maintain or expand health care coverage for their employees. 

·         $10.9 million in public health grants have been given to community health centers, hospitals, doctors, and other healthcare providers in the district to improve the community’s health. 

·         7,000 to 32,000 children with preexisting health conditions can no longer be denied coverage by health insurers.

CNN, the Buffalo News, Channel 2 all reported incorrectly that the mandate had been stricken.

 

 

WBEN texted people that the mandate had been stricken and didn’t fix the error for over an hour.

Bad News Rundown

23 Jun

Monday was a steady stream of bad news for smart people.  I ended the day wondering what the hell happened, let’s review.

1.) General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of all US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan, essentially told the President, Congress and the American People to eat a big bag of shit.  McChrystal was a Cheney man, a noted overseer of torture and general Special Ops badass who was put in charge to kick ass and center the troops around a mission of “winning” in Afghanistan and doing it in a hurry.  He has been political trouble for Obama from jump street, but Obama has stood by him and now that we’re at a critical juncture in the counter-insurgency, McChrystal decided to essentially motherfuck everyone in the chain of command.  The Republicans will trip all over themselves to set the discussion agenda tomorrow and turn this into a test of Obama’s failed leadership or other such meme.  Good times.  Also, anyone curious as to why this General (who is evidently widely known for this sort of behavior) received a pass on it from the Defense Department beat reporters?  It took a freelancer to get the story, primarily because he wasn’t worried about losing his “sources”.   Sad state of journalism in this country…

2.) The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, reduced the First Amendment rights of American Citizens.  This was the first SCOTUS test of free speech against new national security standards (Patriot Act, etc.)

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to provide “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations, even if the help takes the form of training for peacefully resolving conflicts.

The case arose after an American human rights group, the Humanitarian Law Project, challenged the law prohibiting “material support” to terror groups, which was defined in the 2001 Patriot Act to include “expert advice or assistance.” The law project wanted to provide advice to two terrorist groups on how to peacefully resolve their disputes and work with the United Nations. The two groups — the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — have violent histories and their presence on the State Department’s official list of terrorist groups is not in dispute.

But though the law project was actually trying to reduce the violence of the two groups, the court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on behalf of five other justices, said that did not matter and ruled the project’s efforts illegal. Even peaceful assistance to a terror group can further terrorism, the chief justice wrote, in part by lending them legitimacy and allowing them to pretend to be negotiating while plotting violence.

In a powerful dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, also speaking for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, swept away those arguments. If providing legitimacy to a terror group was really a crime, he wrote, then it should also be a crime to independently legitimize a terror group through speech, which it is not. Never before, he said, had the court criminalized a form of speech on these kinds of grounds, noting with particular derision the notion that peaceful assistance buys negotiating time for an opponent to achieve bad ends.

3.) A federal judge overturned President Obama’s six month moratorium on deep water oil drilling.

The judge in New Orleans who struck down the moratorium earlier in the day complained there wasn’t enough justification for it.

I guess the oil needs to be lapping at the courthouse door for him to see the “evidence”.  Of course, the judge does have significant investments in deepwater drilling companies, although I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

4.) Our “financial reform bill” that will supposedly “place tough regulations” (hack,cough) on Wall Street companies is being weakened yet again by Republicans and investment bank friendly Democrats in conference committee.

Levin and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), are the principal authors of legislation to strictly limit banks’ and other financial firms’ ability to make speculative trades with their profits. The idea originated with former Fed chair and Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker, who strongly backs the Levin-Merkley proposal. But they’re fighting Wall Street and an array of Democrats negotiating the final bill, who want to include a loophole that would allow banks to invest a potentially significant share of their capital in high-risk hedge funds. Levin and others are pushing back, but their time is limited: the conference committee will discuss the Volcker rule and the banks’ new favorite loophole tomorrow.

5.) Why do you think BP caved so easily on the idea of putting together a $20BN escrow fund to compensate the victims of their oil disaster?  I think the answer is in the last two paragraphs of this story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.

6.) This is what a failed democracy looks like.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that the Federal Communications Commission is holding “closed-door meetings” with industry to broker a deal on Net Neutrality — the rule that lets users determine their own Internet experience.

The meetings include a small group of industry lobbyists representing the likes of AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google. They reportedly met for two-and-a-half hours on Monday morning and will convene another meeting today. The goal according to insiders is to “reach consensus” on rules of the road for the Internet.

This is what a failed democracy looks like: After years of avid public support for Net Neutrality – involving millions of people from across the political spectrum – the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street’s bottom line.

We need open debate and transparent policymaking, unfortunately, we live in a corporatist state dominated by lobbyist influence.  We get the results out of the system that we plan for.

To end on a positive note, Carl Sagan always makes me feel better.  The Pale Blue Dot…

[HTML1]

Change Congress Now

22 Jan

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission), the US Supreme Court eliminated restrictions on corporate spending that went into effect with the McCain-Feingold legislation passed in 2002.

[HTML3]

There is a lot of teeth gnashing and worry floating in the country about what this decision means not just for our elections, but for our republic. It is a sea change in the way we elect our leaders, but there is an effort underway to fundamentally change that process. It’s simply a new wrinkle to an old problem.

Corporate money and influence clouds our government at a very fundamental level. Politicians, regardless of party, are recipients of campaign finance largesse courtesy of the lobbying organizations organized to influence those politicians and in turn, the legislation they create. It is an economy of opportunity that lobbying groups have created which distracts from intelligent and reasoned discussion about policy which effects us all.

It is exceptionally clear to me that our legislative system is fundamentally broken. Our Representatives and Senators are not able to properly and logically address significant problems facing our nation due to the influence of money in politics. Until we can trust that our representatives are making the right decisions, for the right reasons, sensible legislation is impossible and the public trust compromised.

It’s time to publicly fund state and federal elections. Eliminating the dependence on lobbying money and focusing our legislators on the tasks at hand is a necessity if this country is to prosper. It was an idea first proposed by Teddy Roosevelt nearly 100 years ago and it’s time that it be considered once again.

[HTML1]

Limiting campaign donations to an amount between $100-$250 with built in increases (tied to inflation) over time and allowing for access to public funding once a certain level of electable credibility is achieved through petition signatures and measured support is where we begin.

It will not be an easy job to build a new system, but it is the only way in which we can return sanity to our government. We will also need to address and perhaps limit the power of incumbency to avoid franking abuses and influence gained through seniority. We now have professional legislators who are simply waiting for the opportunity to become professional lobbyists and trade on the influence accrued while in office. At the state level, we have hangers-on like Steve Pigeon who can bring to bear the financial resources of one man to essentially throw an entire city, county or state into gridlock. Is this the way we want to be governed?

It should be clear to all, right or left, that the system is fundamentally handicapped. Monetary influence from unions, corporations, industry associations, PAC’s and other niche lobbies are crippling our ability to tackle the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. Corporate donations and industry authored legislation inhibits the proper measurement of costs and consequences when we attempt to address long term deficits, military largesse, foreign policy, climate change, infrastructure, urban planning or skyrocketing healthcare costs. Considering yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, the problem has never been so obvious.

This video is about the economy of influence and the trust gap between Americans and Congress. It’s worth the time, please watch it.

[HTML2]

Finally, this is Lessig’s response to the Citizens United decision. He’ll have more detail to come, but this message does highlight the need to act now, while the momentum is behind the idea.

[HTML4]

Do you agree with this idea to change the system? If so, head over to Change Congress and voice your support.

You should also call your Representative and Senator to let them know you support the Fair Elections Now Act which would establish citizen funded elections.

In WNY, Reps. Slaughter, Massa and Maffei are co-sponsors of H.R.1826 and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, S. 752. Rep. Higgins has voiced support for the bill in previous interviews and I will call his office tomorrow to confirm his support, the same goes for Sen. Schumer. Rep. Lee has not signed on nor has he voiced support for the bill.

Sotomayor, 9/11, and Lies

26 May

Somebody named Wendy Long penned this and this as part of the right wing insta-smear of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick to replace Justice David Souter.

Ms. Long seriously does deserve the prize for most inventive and least relevant invocation if 9/11, ever.

But both of the linked-to statements by Ms. Long contain this charge:

“She has an extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed, indicating that she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.”

That’d be the “liberal activist” Roberts Court.

But the facts about Sotomayor’s reversal rate? Does anybody remember facts?

Out of 380 decisions that Sotomayor has penned since being on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, exactly 6 have gone up to the SCOTUS. Of those, 3 were reversed. That’s three reversals out of 380 decisions. But not every case made it up to SCOTUS – the Supremes pick and choose the cases they hear, and they’re generally chosen to resolve a conflict among the circuits or among circuit judges on some point of law.

Of the cases the Supreme Court selects to hear, 61% of them are reversed. Sotomayor, OTOH, has had 50% of her SCOTUS-picked cases reversed. She’s better than average.

In other words, there is nothing extreme about the rate of Sotomayor decisions being reversed, and anyone who says otherwise has no working knowledge of how the Supreme Court selects cases, and is also full of shit.

Judge Sotomayor for SCOTUS

26 May

It’s been most interesting reading the breathless reaction from the right on teh Twitters, replete as it is with #TCOT hashtags. While Drudge’s red text and Kristol’s consistently-wrong-about-everything column highlight the fact that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is to the left of people like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, it’s interesting to see how little traction all of that gets nowadays. Granted, I don’t listen to Limbaugh anymore and the remainder of my exposure to right-wing talk radio has likewise been diminished, but in speaking with people anecdotally today – people who pay attention to this stuff – Sotomayor’s selection is met with shrugs and mouth-noises hoping she does a great job.

The hissy fit of the day™ seems to be that Sotomayor once said that judges make policy. Well, they sort of do. They have since the days of Marbury v. Madison.

I also heard that she’s a liberal activist judge. That she’s been overturned more than other judges. I even saw at least once Tweet accusing her of being stupid. Or mean to lawyers.

The information is generally either linking to a New Republic article by Jeffrey Rosen about Sotomayor, (which the author later expanded upon), or there’s no supporting factual information whatsoever.

I don’t know how the right wing will be able to say with a straight face that Judge Sotomayor, who grew up in a housing project and graduated from Princeton and Yale, who has been on the federal bench since 1992, is stupid, but something tells me there are at least a few constituencies that will be downright pissed off by this direction of supposed “inquiry”.

Sotomayor is liberal, but not overly so. She is the very embodiment of the American dream. She is not easily pigeonholed, and one wonders why the reaction on the right is so instantaneously, breathlessly false.

Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed, and she will ably serve. This is why we win elections, folks.

(Cartoon courtesy Marquil @ EmpireWire.com)

Who is Lilly Ledbetter, and Why Does She Get an Act?

27 Jan

In 2007, a woman named Lilly Ledbetter saw a lawsuit of hers go to the Supreme Court. According to Congressman Brian Higgins,

Lilly Ledbetter worked for nearly 20 years at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. She sued the company after learning that she was paid less then her male counterparts at the facility, despite having more experience than several of them. A jury found that her employer had unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of sex.

However, the Supreme Court said that Ledbetter had waited too long to sue for pay discrimination, despite the fact that she filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as soon as she received an anonymous note alerting her to pay discrimination.

While Ledbetter filed her charge within 180 days of receiving discriminatory pay, the court ruled that, since Ledbetter did not raise a claim within 180 days of the employer’s decision to pay her less, she could not receive any relief. Under this Supreme Court decision, employees in Ledbetter’s position would be forced to live with discriminatory paychecks for the rest of their careers.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act would reverse the SCOTUS’s decision, and permit aggrieved, discriminated-against plaintiffs to bring an action such as this within 180 days of any improper paycheck.

Higgins explains,

“This decision merely encouraged employers with discriminatory pay practices to continue such practices and keep them hidden from their workers, thereby running out the clock on a worker’s opportunity to challenge them. What we accomplished today was simply returning to the commonsense rule accepted for decades, that every discriminatory paycheck is a violation of the law that restarts the clock for filing a claim.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would apply to workers who file claims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability.

In a country such as this, with a constitution such as ours, the principle of equal pay for equal work by those with equal qualifications and experience is a pretty fundamental one. The Act passed 250-177. Higgins, Hinchey, Massa, and Slaughter voted in favor. Chris Lee voted against. (In 2007, it had passed 225 – 199).

The Millionaire's Amendment: Stricken

27 Jun

Jack Davis won one.

In Supreme Court, he valiantly defended the first amendment rights of millionaires everywhere (.pdf). In Davis v. FEC, a 5-4 court (opinion by Justice Alito) held, among other things, that it was a first amendment violation for the FEC to reward the opponents of self-funded candidates who spend over $350,000 of their own money. Under the stricken rule, Davis’ opponents would be able to raise triple the normal amount from individual donors, and receive unlimited coordinated party funds if Davis spent over $350,000 of his own funds towards his election. Notably, in 2006 Reynolds declined to do so and the FEC argued that this fact rendered Davis’ case moot. (The Supreme Court disagreed.)

The Court also found that the heightened disclosure requirements that the Millionaire’s Amendment triggered were unconstitutionally burdensome.

Justice Alito expressly made the point that if the law was evenhanded, and also allowed the millionaire’s donors to donate more than the usual amount, etc., then the law would be constitutional. The basis for the Court’s ruling is based on the holding of Buckley v. Valeo, which struck down limitations on personal expenditures on federal political campaigns. The only valid public interest to be protected by any campaign finance limitations is the prevention of corruption, not to even the playing field.

While this makes it significantly more difficult for middle class folks to run for office against the wealthy, no amount of money can buy motivated volunteers and activists. Hopefully, congress will revisit this statute and pass a replacement that complies with the Court’s holding. It seems ridiculous to limit donations to $2,300 from individuals for candidates competing against someone who is injecting $3,000,000 of a lump sum into a campaign. If the result is that the millionaire can, in turn, raise up to $6,900 from individuals, so be it.