Friday/ ‘an insult to the judicial system’ ⚖

So it is true. How could it not be?
The President that was an insult to the American presidency, had appointed three Supreme Court justices. Now these justices issue rulings that are insults to the American people, and the judicial system.

Below is the full text of the opinion piece published today by the New York Times Editorial Board.

Even if we knew it was coming, the shock reverberates.

For the first time in history, the Supreme Court has eliminated an established constitutional right involving the most fundamental of human concerns: the dignity and autonomy to decide what happens to your body. As of June 24, 2022, about 64 million American women of childbearing age have less power to decide what happens in their own bodies than they did the day before, less power than their mothers and even some of their grandmothers did. That is the first and most important consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The right-wing majority in Friday’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — which involved a Mississippi law that banned most abortions after 15 weeks, well before the line of viability established in Roe and Casey — stated, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The implications of this reversal will be devastating, throwing America into a new era of struggle over abortion laws — an era that will be marked by chaos, confusion and human suffering. About half the states in the United States are expected to enact laws that restrict or make abortion illegal in all or most cases. Many women may be forced by law to carry pregnancies to term, even, in some cases, those caused by rape or incest. Some will likely die, especially those with pregnancy complications that must be treated with abortion or those who resort to unsafe means of abortion because they can’t afford to travel to states where the procedure remains legal. Even those who are able to travel to other states could face the risk of criminal prosecution. Some could go to prison, as could the doctors who care for them. Miscarriages could be investigated as murders, which has already happened in several states, and may become only more common. Without full control over their bodies, women will lose their ability to function as equal members of American society.

The insult of Friday’s ruling is not only in its blithe dismissal of women’s dignity and equality. It lies, as well, in the overt rejection of a well-established legal standard that had managed for decades to balance and reflect Americans’ views on a fraught topic. A majority of the American public believes that women, not state or federal lawmakers, should have the legal right to decide whether to end a pregnancy in all or most cases. At the same time, Americans are weary of the decades-long fight over abortion, a fight that may feel far removed from their complex and deeply personal views about this issue.

The court’s ruling in Dobbs invites years of even more fractious and protracted legal conflict. By giving state legislatures the power to impose virtually whatever abortion restrictions they please, some will now enact outright bans on abortion. Dozens of cases challenging those laws could soon start making their way through the courts and, almost certainly, to the Supreme Court.

The justices in the majority claim to be playing an impartial role in this decision. “Because the Constitution is neutral on the issue of abortion, this court also must be scrupulously neutral,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. And yet, as the three dissenting justices pointed out, “when it comes to rights, the court does not act ‘neutrally’ when it leaves everything up to the states. Rather, the court acts neutrally when it protects the right against all comers.”

Friday’s ruling was written by Justice Samuel Alito. It was joined by all the other Republican-appointed justices, although Chief Justice John Roberts tried to have it both ways, joining with the majority to uphold the Mississippi law in Dobbs even as he wrote separately to say he would not have overturned Roe and Casey altogether out of a respect for precedent.

The dissent, signed jointly by the three justices appointed by Democrats, took apart the majority’s attempts to justify its rejection of established precedent and even questioned the Republican-appointed justices’ claims to neutrality. The right to abortion, the dissenters noted, was established by one ruling a half century ago, reaffirmed by another 30 years ago, and “no recent developments, in either law or fact, have eroded or cast doubt on those precedents. Nothing, in short, has changed.”

Nothing, that is, other than the makeup of the court. This is the sole reason for Friday’s ruling. As the dissenters rightly put it, “Today, the proclivities of individuals rule.”

The presence of these individuals on the court is the culmination of a decades-long effort by anti-abortion and other right-wing forces to remake the court into a regressive bulwark. This has never been a secret; and with the help of the Senate under Mitch McConnell, former president Donald Trump and allies in the conservative legal movement, they have succeeded.

The central logic of the Dobbs ruling is superficially straightforward, and the opinion is substantially the same as the draft Justice Alito distributed to the other justices in February, which was leaked to the press last month. Roe and Casey must be overruled, the ruling says, because “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process. While that provision has been held to guarantee certain rights that are not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, any such right must be “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.”

By the majority’s reasoning, the right to terminate a pregnancy is not “deeply rooted” in the history and tradition of the United States — a country whose Constitution was written by a small band of wealthy white men, many of whom owned slaves and most, if not all, of whom considered women to be second-class citizens without any say in politics.

The three dissenters in the Dobbs case — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — called out the majority’s dishonesty, noting that its exceedingly narrow definition of “deeply rooted” rights poses a threat to far more than reproductive freedom. The majority’s denial of this is impossible to believe, the dissenters wrote, saying: “Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure.”

In other words, the court is not going to stop at abortion. If you think that’s hyperbole, consider Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs, in which he called for the court to reconsider other constitutional rights that Americans have enjoyed, in some cases, for decades — including the right to use birth control, the right to marry the person of their choosing and the right of consenting adults to do as they please in the privacy of their bedrooms without being arrested and charged with crimes. These rights share a similar constitutional grounding to the now-former right to abortion, and Justice Thomas rejects that grounding, calling on the court to “eliminate it … at the earliest opportunity.”

This position may not command a majority of justices today, but six years ago, few people thought Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Brett Kavanaugh, during his confirmation hearing in 2018, said Roe v. Wade “is important precedent of the Supreme Court that has been reaffirmed many times.” He added: “Casey specifically reconsidered it, applied the stare decisis factors, and decided to reaffirm it. That makes Casey a precedent on precedent.”

Yet he voted to overturn two rulings that have led to more equality, more dignity and more freedom for millions of Americans. To dismantle these and other advances, the majority on this Supreme Court has demonstrated its disregard for precedent, public opinion and the court’s own legitimacy in the eyes of the American people. We will be paying the price for decades to come.

Tuesday/ ‘the Supreme Court might never recover’

From news website Axios: an assessment of the ideological scores of the nine Supreme Court justices. (Note: Justice Stephen Breyer will retire soon, and the Court will at long last get its first Black female justice, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson).
SO. If you lean liberal or progressive (you want to make progress with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in your country), you want at least 5 justices on the left. We are short by two.

The current U.S. Supreme court is already considered by many (and by me), as unrepresentative of the majority of Americans.  (An immoral, criminal con man —that had become President with an assist from Russian bots on Facebook⁠— had appointed three of the current nine Supreme Court justices).

And now it’s clearer than ever that the six conservatives on the Court plan to overturn Roe vs. Wade (the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, with a 7-2 majority, in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.)

Here is what the Washington Post’s Editorial Board wrote today.

The Supreme Court might never recover from overturning Roe v. Wade

By the Washington Post Editorial Board

On Monday, Politico published a draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling declaring that the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to end their pregnancies. The court later confirmed that the document, written in February, is genuine, but emphasized that it is not the court’s final word. We hope not. If the justices embrace the sweeping document, they will deal a grievous blow to freedom in the United States — and to the legitimacy of the court itself.

Such a leak from the court’s typically tight inner sanctum is itself astonishing. The court works on trust among justices and staff, so that the justices can deliberate frankly. Whether the document leaked from a conservative justice’s chambers, in an effort to lock in the support of others on the right for its far-reaching language, or from a liberal’s, in an effort to mobilize outside pressure against such a ruling, the leak represents a dire breakdown in norms and another dramatic sign of the court’s political drift.

But the draft ruling’s dreadful reasoning and extreme potential consequences are far more concerning than what the leak says about the court’s internal dynamics. Written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the document would declare Roe “egregiously wrong,” obliterate its guarantees of reproductive choice and empower lawmakers to abridge at will this long-held right.

The court’s legitimacy rests on the notion that it follows the law, not the personal or ideological preferences of the justices who happen to serve on it at any given time. Americans rely on the court to exercise care and restraint against making sharp turns that might suddenly declare their everyday choices and activities unprotected or illegal. Over the course of nearly half a century, the court not only issued Roe but upheld its bedrock principles against later challenges. Throughout, the original 1973 decision enjoyed broad and unwavering public support. What brought the court to its current precipice was not a fundamental shift in American values regarding abortion. It was the shameless legislative maneuvering of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who jammed two Trump-nominated justices onto the court.

In his draft, Justice Alito points out that the court has overturned many cases in the past, including the atrocious Plessy v. Ferguson, which permitted racial segregation. But the court has never revoked a fundamental constitutional right. Overturning Plessy expanded liberty. Overturning Roe would constrict liberty — and be a repugnant repudiation of the American tradition in which freedom extends to an ever-wider circle of people. By betraying this legacy and siding with the minority of Americans who want to see Roe overturned, the justices would appear to be not fair-minded jurists but reckless ideologues who are dangerously out of touch and hostile to a core American ethic.

Justice Alito complained in his draft that Roe failed to produce a “national settlement of the abortion issue” but only “enflamed debate and deepened division.” That exaggerates the extent to which the obstreperous minority of Americans who oppose Roe reflect the nation as a whole. A Post poll found just last week that Americans support upholding Roe by a 2-to-1 margin. For most people, Roe is a workable standard on a fraught issue; absent a clear understanding about when life begins, and with the moral implications surrounding that question far from settled, the Constitution’s guarantees of personal autonomy demand that pregnant people be able to make the difficult decision about whether to end their pregnancy according to the dictates of their own conscience.

It is Justice Alito’s proposed decision that would further divide the country, starting in nearly every statehouse. Yet the greatest casualties would not be the court as an institution or the nation’s already toxic politics. It would be pregnant individuals suddenly stripped of a right they had been guaranteed for almost half a century. Wealthy people would be able to cross state lines to end their pregnancies. (Although some states are already trying to outlaw that practice, as well.) Poor people would be forced either to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, with all the health consequences and risks that entails, or to seek illegal abortions that could endanger their lives.

Justice Alito’s draft claims that the court’s ruling would not imply that other constitutional rights, such as same-sex marriage or access to contraception, are in jeopardy. But given the brazen abandon with which he would discard abortion rights, his assurances ring hollow. He would inaugurate a terrifying new era in which Americans would lose faith in the court, distrust its members and suspect that what is the law today will not be tomorrow. They would justifiably fear that rights will be swept away because a heedless conservative fringe now controls the judiciary.

“The republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said as the cornerstone was laid for the Supreme Court Building in 1932. The court’s conservative majority appears to be on the verge of abandoning justices’ sacred charge to stand firm for individual rights.

Saturday/ no vax, no play

From Yahoo Sports:
The Victoria state government allows medical exemptions for people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last six months. That’s why Djokovic received a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open. The event is hosted in Victoria, one of six states in the country.
Border authorities, however, did not accept Djokovic’s previous COVID-19 diagnosis as an acceptable reason for a medical exemption, leading to Djokovic being detained and his visa being canceled.


My opinion: Djokovic should just go home. Bye-bye.

Reported by Tennis Channel: in spite of testing positive on Dec. 16, Novak ‘No Vax’ Djokovic attended public events— sans mask— the very next day and the day after that.  I think he is obnoxious, and I am indifferent to his self-inflicted dilemma.

Mon 1/10 (reported by @MetroSport on Twitter):
Judge Anthony Kelly declared that the government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa was ‘unreasonable’ on the grounds that he had not been given time to speak with his lawyers or representatives from Tennis Australia after being detained, and overturned the cancellation.

That means that the judge’s call hinged on a technicality, concerning the way in which the border force implemented the rules, rather than an outright declaration that Djokovic should have been completely free to enter the country all along.

Now the ball is in the court of Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, who must decide whether to personally intervene and cancel Djokovic’s visa himself.

Fri 1/14: Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel his visa was announced at 6 pm Melbourne time. Djokovic’s legal team is challenging the decision.

Sun 1/16: The Australian Federal Court upholds Hawke’s decision to cancel Novak Djokovic’s visa. The court panel returned their unanimous decision just a day before the World No. 1 was set to play his first match of the Australian Open. Djokovic will now be deported and will not compete in the tournament.

Friday/ National Absurdity Day came a day early

I see tomorrow is National Absurdity Day.
All right/ whatever .. but can anything that happens tomorrow be more absurd* than today’s Rittenhouse verdict?

*ab·surd
/əbˈsərd,əbˈzərd/
adjective
wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.
“the allegations are patently absurd”
arousing amusement or derision; ridiculous.

Similar:
preposterous
ridiculous
ludicrous
farcical
laughable
risible
idiotic
stupid
foolish
silly
inane
imbecilic
insane
harebrained
unreasonable
irrational
illogical
nonsensical
pointless
senseless
outrageous
shocking
astonishing
monstrous
fantastic
incongruous
grotesque
unbelievable
incredible
unthinkable
implausible
crazy
barmy
daft

Opposite:
reasonable
sensible


The Rittenhouse trial was about the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August last year.

From Wikipedia:
On August 25, 2020, during the unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, fatally shot two men and wounded another during three confrontations.
Rittenhouse had armed himself with an AR-15 style rifle and said he was in Kenosha to protect a car dealership from being vandalized and to provide medical aid.

Rittenhouse had been pursued by a group that included Kenosha resident Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed.
After armed Racine resident Joshua Ziminski fired a shot into the air, Rittenhouse turned towards Rosenbaum, who lunged at him and tried to take his rifle.

Rittenhouse fired four times at Rosenbaum, killing him. Rittenhouse then ran down the street while being followed by a crowd of around a dozen people.

He tripped and fell to the ground after being hit in the head, then fired twice at a 39-year-old man who jump kicked him, his shots missing both times.
While Rittenhouse was still on the ground, Silver Lake resident Anthony M. Huber struck him in the shoulder with a skateboard and attempted to take his rifle.
Rittenhouse fired at Huber once, fatally striking him in the chest. When West Allis resident Gaige Grosskreutz approached Rittenhouse while pointing a Glock pistol at him, Rittenhouse shot him once in the right arm.

Public sentiment of the shootings was polarized and media coverage both polarized and politicized.

Rittenhouse was charged with two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and one count of curfew violation.
Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the unlawful possession charge and the curfew violation during the trial, which began in Kenosha on November 1, 2021.
It ended on November 19 when the jury found him, by unanimous agreement, not guilty of all the remaining charges.

I see legal scholars are not surprised by the verdict.
That does not make me feel better. A 17-year old illegally bought a legal (why? WHY?) AR-15 assault rifle. Brings it across the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to a volatile protest. Gets in trouble and kills two people with it. Innocent because he ‘defended’ himself?
[From the New York Times online]

Tuesday/ guilty on all charges

Today’s verdict isn’t ‘justice’ .. but accountability is a first step to justice.
– Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General

That a family had to lose a son, brother and father; that a teenage girl had to film and post a murder, that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice. And this verdict is not a substitute for policy change’.
– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district


I was watching the announcement of the verdict on live television today.
Man! Don’t mess this up for all of us! I thought of the jury.

The guilty verdict of former police officer Chauvin is a relief, but a very rare outcome. In many other egregious cases over the last 20 years, the law enforcement officer had come off scot free.

Sentencing is in 8 weeks, and the remaining officers (Lane, Thao, and Kueng) charged in the death of George Floyd, will be tried together on August 23.

All of this made me think back to the verdict in the OJ Simpson trial, in October of 1995. I had arrived on the shores of the United States that February. My coworkers and I, at Anheuser-Busch in downtown St Louis, MO, rushed down to the lobby to see the announcement on television. That jury handed down a verdict that dismayed many people, but the majority of African Americans supported it. They saw Simpson’s acquittal as a victory in a legal system that systematically discriminates against them.

Tuesday/ a pivotal moment for law enforcement in the United States

The State of Minnesota vs. Derek Michael Chauvin case, related to George Floyd’s death while in custody of Chauvin, started on Monday. It will go on for several weeks.

Ex-police officer Chauvin (he was fired) faces three very serious charges:
Second Degree Murder, Unintentional (up to 40 years in prison if found guilty),
Third Degree Murder (up to 25 years), and
-Second Degree Manslaughter (up to 10 years).

The city of Minneapolis has already settled a wrongful death civil suit with the family of George Floyd for US$27m, the largest such settlement in the state’s history.

Given that, is it still possible that Chauvin can be found ‘Not Guilty’ on all three counts? Well: even under very unfavorable circumstances, police officers have not been indicted, let alone convicted of murder, in the past (see the case of Breonna Taylor).

This could be the landmark case that changes that, though.

Here are the jurors (their names are not known), selected from a pool of some 400 people. As always, every juror must agree to a guilty verdict on a charge, to find the defendant guilty on that charge — a high bar. 

Sunday/ confirmed: Trump, the tax cheat

The New York Times has finally gotten its hands on more than two decades of Trump’s tax returns, up to 2017 (even Congress, with a lawsuit, has so far not been able to get it).

The bottom line: for many years, Trump has gotten away with paying zero federal income taxes. He paid a paltry $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the presidency. In 2017 he paid another $750. (Presidents Bush and Obama regularly paid more than $100,000 year each, in federal income taxes).

Tax avoidance is legal, but tax evasion is not. So is a super-complicated scheme of shell companies, and offshore accounts avoidance – or evasion? I don’t know the answer to that, but $750! That’s less in taxes than that paid by the 18-year old cash register attendant at Walmart.

The presidency has helped Trump’s businesses, says the NYT, but has not resolved his core financial problem: many of his businesses continue to lose money.

The NYT reports that Trump appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.

Monday/ a landmark ruling ⁠— finally

Gerald Bostock was employed by Clayton County in Georgia and suddenly fired in 2013 after a history of positive reviews at work. He had joined a gay softball league, and that was too much for his employer. When he lost his job, he also lost friends, his home and his health insurance.

Bostock’s case finally made it to the Supreme Court of the United States this year. The Trump administration had urged the court to rule against gay and transgender workers (because of course they did).

So to the surprise of many, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock’s favor. It’s finally no longer legal to fire employees that are gay, bisexual or transgender anywhere in the US. (It has been illegal in Washington State since 2006).  It all hinged on the interpretation of Title VII of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The logic is irrefutable: suppose that a man and a woman each does the same work, or applies for the same job. Also: it just happens that both are attracted to men. If you discriminate against the (gay) man, you discriminate on the basis of sex, which is forbidden by Title VII.

Not only was the ruling 6-3, but Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, and was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee. Lest we forget: George W. Bush supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, in 2004. [Graphic: Associated Press].