Terry Schwadron

This is why a conservative Supreme Court is bad for America

The real disappointing impact of the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona's voting restriction laws will be in the ripples, of course.

The two specific practices that the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional, overturning both the appeals court and district court that heard the challenge, will likely not change election outcomes in Arizona or other states, but the chill emanating from this case will encourage Republican-led states to crack down faster and harder on limits seen as aimed at minority, Democratic voters.

As The New York Times noted, "The decision suggested that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to strike down many of the measures" now spreading among states with Republican legislative majorities.

Legally, the importance of the decision is further eroding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and shielding those seeking to make voting harder for minorities in the driver's seat.

Congratulations go to Donald Trump, proponents of the Big Steal, and a compliant Supreme Court bound either by its thinking of its conservative majority or over a reluctance to challenge states' rights. In any case, it has immediately become more difficult to put together challenges to any restrictive voting law.

From a racial viewpoint, the big hit to the Voting Rights Bill had come in 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned the law's Section 5 requiring prior federal approval of changes to voting procedures in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination. But Section 2 had still allowed challenges after the fact.

Narrowing the Focus

This decision involved two kinds of voting restrictions in Arizona. One required election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling places, a practice critics call "ballot harvesting." The law made exceptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.

Lower courts found that there was evidence to show that limits would affect Black and Brown voters more than Whites. The Supreme Court decided the opposite way, 6-3, voted along its own conservative-liberal split. It can only be a signal to Republican legislatures that there is no legal way to support more challenges to suppression laws.

Now, Congress is making clear that it cannot pass a necessarily bipartisan bill to keep these voter restrictions from spreading. By defining the issue before it so literal and legally narrow, Supreme Court justices are making clear that had the Congress passed such a bill, they would have been open to challenging the law rather considering Republican bad campaign practices.

What the Court apparently did not consider is how voting restrictions affect living while Black in America.
The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that the system in Arizona offers ample opportunity for everyone to vote, even if it seems to fall heavier on some people, and concluded that the state's interest in preventing voter fraud outweighs whatever overall disparate impact the law has.

As a Washington Post columnist noted, "The fact that voter fraud is almost entirely fictional did not disturb the justice."

Building a Pattern

Instead, the Court is following a map of reducing laws meant to maintain voting by all.
In 2010, the justices said corporations have the right to use their billions to influence elections. Since 2010, the Court has killed a public financing law meant to allow candidates relying on small donations to compete with self-financed millionaires and billionaires, squashed the heart of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it was no longer necessary because racism is pretty much over, upheld voter purges that disenfranchise thousands of voters and ruled that partisan gerrymandering, no matter how clearly it disenfranchises people, is beyond the ability of the courts to do anything about.

It is now accepted Republican outlook that if elections were fair, they would lose, we need new laws that tilt those states that accept the challenge to tilt the rules to make "voting more cumbersome, inconvenient and difficult, all aimed directly at populations they believe are more likely to vote for Democrats," argued that Post columnist.

On the same day, the Supreme Court decided by the same 6-3 line-up that California legally could not require charities soliciting contributions in the state to report the identities of their major donors. That requirement had drawn a challenge by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a group affiliated with the Koch family, and the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian public-interest law firm. They said it violated the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of association by subjecting donors to possible harassment by making the information public.
Again, the court is protecting conservative Republicans seeking to influence public elections. And, again, the court is ignoring the role that dark money plays in elections.

Just curious that these are all rulings by justices labeled as conservative.

Noting originalist here.

Crime looms large in the race to run the Big Apple

New York City's mayoral election is a one of a kind, one that draws more than its share of identifying Democrats both as candidates and voters. Candidates want to run a city that has held what the nation would adjudge to be generally progressive social views.

In a city where a steady hand toward small business recovery, homelessness, public transit, education and housing availability ought to dominate the airwaves two weeks out from the end of voting, crime is the hot topic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Arguments in commercials, debates and social media home in on crime along with coverage that tries to elevate local crime reports into national questions. Various politicians, parties and -isms are seeking to make this election a wider referendum, pitting "defund police" believers against Back the Blue supporters.

"Fear of crime is back as a political issue in New York City. For the first time in years it could be a prime factor in who voters pick as their next mayor," The Associated Press reported matter of factly.

The lead in this contest is difficult to assess because of the number of candidates and the first-time use of a multi-choice ballot. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams seems to be ahead. He is a former NYPD captain, who spouts rhetoric about more targeted policing without a lot of specifics.

Several other candidates teeter in agreement to "get guns off the streets," while still trying to adhere to anti-stop-and-frisk thinking.

Of all of them, Maya Wiley, a former legal adviser to current mayor Bill de Blasio and once head of the civilian oversight police board, is most aggressive about looking anew at how police funds are spent.

It has become a slow-rolling sound-bite debate—as if there are only two choices and as if crime is the most important issue facing the city.

Without assured public safety, the general debate goes, we will not see the city fully rebounding from the pandemic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Crime or Mental Health?

Yes, there is more crime in New York today than a year ago. Of course, a year ago, everyone was locked in at home. Comparisons, particularly when measured by percentages, are skewed.

Year after year, the number of shootings is up. There were 687 injured and 181 homicides as compared with the same period in 2019 (which is described as a whopping 50% increase). By comparison with the 1990s, however, those figures are way down.

Many of the most common types of crime in the city, including robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies, remain near historic lows, AP and others acknowledge.

A few very public shootings, including errant bullets injuring a toddler in Times Square and the fear of random misdoings in the subway, have boosted the public perception of rising crime. A plurality of voters surveyed in a recent NY1/Ipsos poll chose "crime or violence" as the biggest problem facing New York, with racial injustice and police reform also in the top 10.

Police and neighborhood groups are working together to respond to increased reports of guns being delivered into the city by vanloads.

At the same time, the increase of mass shootings nationwide keeps us from accepting that local situations may differ. Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization. That's 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.

Of course, if we really accept that premise, it begs the question of why we don't do something about limiting guns.

In My Neighborhood

This week, my wife and I dialed into our lightly attended Harlem neighborhood Zoom conversation with two police officers assigned to community outreach. It reflected some of what is going on in a wider sense.

The complaints aired were not so much about crime, or violent crime, as they were about the effects of drugs and homelessness on the streets – incidents of public urination, a guy stripping down, people congregating under the myriad scaffolded areas and a specific corner near three methadone clinics where people from across the entire city seem to congregrate. There were issues of discomfort and feelings of fear, if not actual crime.

Police expressed willingness to respond but did point out that there may be no actual crime involved. There have been nearly 30 arrests at that particular corner for drug selling in recent weeks. But there is an experimental program rolling out in which emergency medical treatment officers are paired with mental health specialists to get those with emotional problems into treatment centers.

Reports of "crime" or bad acts generally have gotten worse with waning pandemic restrictions.

Indeed, the police note that their very presence prompts lingerers at the corner to move onto less-trafficked nearby streets – with further complaints from those residents.The targeted corner resulted from efforts a year ago to clean up a similar intersection a few blocks away.

On the city's Westside, there was a very public debate over the use of an underutilized hotel where the city had sent homeless men. The individuals did not stay inside all the time. Soon normally tolerant Westsiders were complaining mightily about ugly confrontations, thefts and public urination. The city moved the men involved.

Burden on Police

There are no NYPD-equivalent homelessness and mental illness counselors. None of the candidates for mayor is talking about adding thousands of trained personnel to deal with homeless and mental illness.

So the burden for dealing with the results is falling on police to respond or to add lighting or patrols. There is little talk about what to do to reduce the city's 8,900 scaffolds, which keep the homeless out of police view.

Instead, there is fear talk about crime and violence.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and frequent speaker in the policing issues getting national attention, fully acknowledges that crime and homelessness are issues in the city. "It is not true that those of us that want police reform do not also at the same time want to deal with crime," he told reporters last week.

Candidate Wiley would cut the police budget by $1 billion annually "and invest those funds directly into the communities most impacted by gun violence." A Wiley campaign ad shows police driving into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters last year. She says in the ad that it's "time the NYPD sees us as people who deserve to breathe," a reference to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

Candidate Scott Stringer, who calls himself a liberal, says he would cut at least $1 billion over four years through measures such as transferring mental health response to non-police crisis teams and reducing police overtime. Kathryn Garcia skips talking about the police budget but says officers' minimum age should be increased from 21 to 25 and new recruits should be required to live in the city. Andrew Yang backs a police residency requirement as well as beefed-up oversight of the department but rejects calls to defund the police.

Adams, an NYPD officer for 22 years talks of having been a victim of police brutality as a teenager. He rejects all calls for budget changes and wants more recruitment of officers of color and less racial profiling.

It's a lively debate, but perhaps unresponsive to what is prompting it.

Trump’s Supreme Court pick has a serious problem with the Constitution

Nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court makes us think about the role of government in our lives and the Republican majority view of winning vs. fairness.

That her lifetime confirmation will change the direction of the Supreme Court for many years is a given, and, as it happens a sop toward Donald Trump's re-election efforts.

But what is there to learn here?

Here's the good news about nominee Barrett: There will be no nonsense about a woman as the nominee, and minimal attention on her choices about religion, lifestyle and what she wears. She will get the same black robe as the rest.

It finally is a choice that is about ideas and about visions of what we want as a nation – even if it comes as forced march by a Senate that has no time to deal with coronavirus aid.

Her professed allegiance to "originalism" in the law, the mostly conservative but often libertarian view that the original words of the Constitution and the law should suffice for modern challenges—a view she shares with the other recently named justices — is something we need to understand to chart the Court's future.

We can expect that originalism, for example, will become the substantial legal argument that will lead her to vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, over narrow interpretations of tax law, or to eliminate legal abortion as having been argued previously under the "wrong" section of the Constitution. It's not her particular brand of Catholicism that will drive her anti-abortion decision-making – though she is seriously anti-abortion as a person – but her insistence on interpreting the Constitution literally that will lead to the same place.

Barrett's Record

In her record as clerk, law professor and judge, there is evidence of far more – a tendency to view the Bill of Rights as anything but generous for life choices. Mark Joseph Stern, who writes about law for Slate, noted that in reading through all of her written decisions, what comes across is not conservatism as much as a certain meanness about the fate of the individual against business, institutions and government.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw the Bill of Rights and civil rights acts as generous guarantees of human dignity that must be read expansively to achieve their purpose. By contrast, Barrett's view of the law is fundamentally cruel. During her three years on the 7thCircuit Court of Appeals, Barrett either has written or joined a remarkable number of opinions that harm unpopular and powerless individuals who rely on the judiciary to safeguard their rights.

"Faced with two plausible readings of a law, fact, or precedent, Barrett always seems to choose the harsher, stingier interpretation. Can job applicants sue employers whose policies have a disproportionately deleterious impact on older people? Barrett said no. Should courts halt the deportation of an immigrant who faced torture at home? Barrett said no. Should they protect refugees denied asylum on the basis of xenophobic prejudice? Barrett said no. Should they shield prisoners from unjustified violence by correctional officers? Barrett said no. Should minors be allowed to terminate a pregnancy without telling their parents if a judge has found that they're mature enough to make the decision? Barrett said no. Should women be permitted to obtain an abortion upon discovering a severe fetal abnormality? Barrett said no."

Per her record, If the case is about religion or guns, Barrett is for the individual; if it is about abortion or gender, Barrett seems to forget about the individual.

Barrett has criticized Chief Justice John Roberts' decisions to uphold narrowly Obamacare, presumably in part out of a belief that the Court is in no position to simply strip 20 million Americans of health care. So, health care rather than abortion undoubtedly will be the key question that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee find for focus – because Barrett is on the record. There is no Republican legislative remedy for this, and we will have yet more chaos in the midst of a pandemic – for the right to uphold a strict interpretation of Constitutional law.

From past decisions, it is clear that she will uphold the Trump steamroller to obliterate environmental regulations and to monitor labor grievances or regulate Wall Street.

Futile Confirmation Hearings?

With the votes already lined up, the idea of confirmation hearings seems almost futile. Nevertheless, it is a chance for us to feel as if we know what we will be getting into.

My question for Barrett is this: We get the originalism idea, but how does that concept allow us to pick and choose its way about protection of the individual?

I want to know how she matches the specifics of the law – and its legal precedents – with the realities we face in our country.

Do we believe in justice that advances individual rights? If so, why is religion a shield, and consumerist legislation not? Why is legislation that enables government to decide what constitutes marriage OK, and individual rights to health treatments not OK? Why are Americans to be afforded the right to assault weapons but not clean air? What is the role of actions to balance centuries of racial unfairness?

There is a certain sense that the approach is more important than a sense of "justice." These confirmation hearings always are a bit of a crapshoot since the judges won't really talk about their views. But an examination of their records should tell us about how they approach the job.

There will be attempts to ask about her affiliation with People of Praise, a religious group that until recently referred to its female leaders as "handmaids" ― evoking comparisons to Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale." I hope they are set aside quickly – other than establishing that personal beliefs are no substitute for creating a legal precedent.

The Court is about to launch a revolution in exact opposition to the majority of its citizenry. We need to understand how we deal with that.

Trump apologist thinks president made ‘huge mistake’ by admitting he won’t peacefully give up power

Is there a Trump win in the Supreme Court mess even if confirmation of a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg somehow is delayed?

Keep reading... Show less

Here's why Trump is happy that Justice Ginsburg died

Is there a Trump win in the Supreme Court mess even if confirmation of a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg somehow is delayed?

Keep reading... Show less

Bill Barr Goes full-on right-wing nutjob

Are you kidding me? Sedition? From 1798?

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's payroll tax ploy ploy endangers Social Security — and it will have to be paid back next year

A passing news item about taxes caught my attention as an example of why people can find government so annoying at times.

Keep reading... Show less

When a tax cut isn't a tax cut at all

A passing news item about taxes caught my attention as an example of why people can find government so annoying at times.

Keep reading... Show less

The Trump-radical Republicans' convention message: 'It's all wonderful!'

Donald Trump blames the sudden appearance of the COVID-19, and the stubborn effects it has created, for blowing the country’s economic success – and for damaging his promised American Greatness.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.