In 1960, the country was set to elect its first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Many conservative protestants in Southern states were wary of JFK’s faith and ties to the Vatican, questioning whether as president he would be able to make important national decisions independent of his faith and Vatican influence. In September of 1960, he gave an historic speech in Houston, Texas before a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion, declaring, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.”
Now, fifty-four years after that speech, there is a predominance of Catholics on the Supreme Court, mostly men and mostly very conservative. The five conservative male Catholics are voting in lock step to restrict the use of birth control, a necessary part of women’s health care, and income equality by siding with ant-union groups to limit union representation for some health care workers who are mostly low income women and minorities.
After Hobby Lobby
by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
The Supreme Court term wrapped up nice and neat last week. Unless you are a woman.
For the first time in my memory as a reporter, there was a men’s term and a women’s term at the U.S. Supreme Court. The men’s term ended last Monday, with a pair of split decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn, and a lot of mumbling on both sides of the political spectrum about the fact that-as Supreme Court terms go-this was a fairly uncontroversial one, marked by high degrees of agreement and consensus-seeking by the justices, and minimalist, incremental changes where there might have been tectonic shifts.
Not so, for women, who-almost a week later-are still reeling over the implications of the Hobby Lobby decision for contraceptive care in America; still parsing the emergency injunction granted in the Wheaton College case only three days after the Hobby Lobby ruling came down; still mulling whether the Hobby Lobby decision may prove a boon for women in the long run; and generally trying to understand how a term that was characterized as minimalist and undramatic by many male commenters, even liberal male commenters, represented a tectonic shift not just for America’s women, but for the three women who actually sit up there and do their jobs at the high court. [..]
It almost doesn’t warrant explaining yet again why the term was such a disaster for women’s rights and freedoms. One need look no further than the trifecta of the abortion buffer-zone case, McCullen v. Coakley; Burwell v. Hobby Lobby; and Harris v. Quinn, which determined that for purposes of the “agency fees” rule, home health care workers – 90 percent of whom are women v] and [minorities – are not really public employees, because the home is not really a workplace. And the fact that the female justices dissented from two of the above cases in the strongest terms is rather remarkable. But looking at the three cases together, it’s difficult not to notice something almost more remarkable: In the majority opinions in all three, there is scant attention paid to real women, their daily lives, or their interests, and great mountainous wads of attention paid elsewhere. It’s almost as if the court chose not to see women this term, or at least not real women, with real challenges, and opted instead to offer extra protections to the delicate women of their imaginary worlds. [..]
All this would be difficult enough, were it not for the fact that the five-justice majority at the court seems determined to offer all this help and chivalry in the face of the strenuous objections of their female colleagues who seem, at the close of this term, to have spent a good deal of energy howling into the wind that women need less delicate handling and more basic freedoms. The final irony is that the quality of “empathy”-the much maligned, squishy solicitude that is so often associated with female justices-is the quality that seemingly drove each of the decisions above. It wasn’t so much a clash of rigorous constitutional values that determined the outcomes in Harris, McCullen, and Hobby Lobby. It was simply a strong identification by the majority justices with the values that were arrayed in opposition to women’s freedoms and economic equality: the poor home-care worker, forced to support the speech of a union; the beleaguered sidewalk counselor denied the opportunity to counsel and persuade; the sympathetic religious employer, forced to pay for something his religion cannot tolerate. Nobody disputes that in each case those values are heartfelt and compelling. But the almost complete erasure of the values on the other side is a constitutional hat trick if ever there was one. It’s bad enough that the term ended so poorly for women. That it happened because of an abundance of empathy-the quality that allegedly makes us women bad judges and justices-is kind of the icing on the cake.
The Supreme Court Has a Favorite Religion, and That’s a Big Problem
by Charles Pierce, Esquire’s Politics Blog
Jesus H. Christ on a three-month bender, if they’d just let Al Smith use his peyote the way he believed his supreme being meant it to be used, we all might have been spared this trainwreck.
Back in the early 1990’s, Smith and another man were denied unemployment benefits by the state of Oregon because they had tested positive for the active ingredient in peyote, which has been a sacrament in various Native American religions since before bread and wine became sacramental in Christianity. Smith pursued his case all the way up to the Nine Wise Souls then sitting on the Most High Bench, who ruled against him. Not yet short-timing his day job, Justice Antonin Scalia who, of a Sunday, takes bread and wine instead of peyote as part of his own religious rituals, wrote the majority opinion in the case, [..]
Almost everyone from the religious right to the ACLU popped their corks over this and, in purported response, the Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. (And yes, you are still entitled to ask, “Restoration? Where’s it been?”) Bill Clinton, just beginning to triangulate himself toward re-election, signed the thing. Since then, a gradual slippage regarding that act has been quietly underway. The RFRA is no longer about peyote. It has become a Trojan Horse, sliding the country toward a de facto kind of established religion, which today’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby makes eminently clear. Religious freedom exists in the realm of medicine only to those religions that the Court finds acceptable-and, I would argue, only to those religions to which the members of the Court belong. Much will be written, and rightly so, about the boneheaded social subtext of the following nut paragraph in the 5-4 decision read today by Justice Samuel Alito. It is so obviously discriminatory toward ladies and their ladyparts that no explanation seems necessary.
Charlie up dated that article because of objection by some about his Papist take on Justice Alito’s majority opinion:
UPDATE — If you’re thinking that I’m hitting the whole Papist thing too hard, look at these two passages from different documents:
The belief… implicates a difficult and im-portant question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is immoral for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facili-tating the commission of an immoral act by another.
Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it.
The first is from Alito’s opinion today.
The second is a section of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical from Pope Paul VI that restated the Church’s opposition to artificial birth control and pretty much blew up the Vatican’s teaching authority among a great percentage of the Catholic laity in the United States. I would guess that the percentage in question does not include Samuel Alito.
This begs to question: is this Supreme Court out of Control?
Supreme Court’s out-of-control spiral: Ideologues rewriting their own laws
by David Dayen, Salon
It may be incremental, but make no mistake: This court is using absurd eccentricities to legislate from the bench
John Boehner wants to sue the president for pursuing executive authority without congressional input? He may want to file a copycat suit against the Supreme Court, who have executed plenty of extra-legislative rule making of their own.
On Monday, the court established multiple new distinctions in the law, inventing them largely to satisfy ideological whims. If any branch of government is engaging in de facto legislating and overstepping the bounds of authority, it’s the Roberts court.
As you probably know, the court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that closely held corporations, where the top five shareholders control more than 50 percent of the company, must be given an accommodation for providing birth control in their employer-based insurance coverage, if they say it violates their religious beliefs. The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, explicitly argues companies like Hobby Lobby could be granted the same accommodation as churches and religious nonprofits, where the government effectively provides direct access to contraception coverage. (I didn’t know the court’s majority exhibited such [strident support for single-payer v] healthcare!)
But the ruling also makes a number of novel assumptions. First of all, Alito found that, for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, corporations are not just people, but people with religious beliefs, granting them the right to free exercise of that religion, which the contraception mandate “substantially burdens.” But Alito clearly worried about a slippery slope, where suddenly religious corporations would ignore all sorts of laws by invoking their conscience. So he drew a completely arbitrary line. [..]
This has become a familiar pattern for the Roberts court, using an initial ruling to indicate eventual overturning of precedent, and then employing a subsequent case to finish the job. It perhaps makes the court look more moderate and judicious, treading ground carefully to reach their desired end state. But since there’s no real distinction under the law between the initial “signal flare” ruling and the second, deeper one, it amounts to making up the rules as it suits the conservative majority, either for public relations purposes or to better carry out their agenda.
And that’s the real point. The Roberts court has a history, as shown in these recent cases, of basically legislating from the bench, of making idiosyncratic, agenda-driven choices about which parts of laws to uphold and which to strike down.
Linda Greenhouse, a New York Times columnist and Dahlia Lithwick spoke with Bill Moyers about the latest decisions>
Transcript can be read here
The latest session of the US Supreme Court was especially contentious, with important decisions on the separation of church and state, organized labor, campaign finance reform, birth control and women’s health, among others, splitting the court along its 5-4 conservative-liberal divide.
On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of the court’s decisions this term were unanimous – the first time that’s happened in more than 60 years. But there’s more to that seeming unanimity than meets the eye: in some instances, conservative justices went along but expressed their wish that the court had gone even further to the right, and many believe that some of the decisions might simply be a preliminary step toward a more significant breaking of legal precedent in years to come.
One more word on this court and future vacancies, there are those on the so-called left who will say we must vote for Democrats because of, omg, “It’s the Supreme Court.” Yet, Democrats failed to filibuster their nominations and, while only four Democrats voted for Alito, 22 voted for Roberts, Scalia was unanimous (98 – 0) (pdf), as was Kennedy (97 – 0) and 10 voted for Clarence Thomas. Even if the Democrats manage to hold onto their Senate majority, so far the Republicans have successfully used the filibuster to stop the body from dong its job. Unless, the Democrats are willing to ditch filibuster of SCOTUS nominees, I don’t see any Democratic president getting a nominee on the court that is as left as Ginsburg or Breyer