For the past generation, if you wanted to understand the legal philosophy of the leading Republican presidential contenders, the best person to look to was Antonin Scalia. And, on the surface, that would appear to be true again this year. After all, the current Republican front-runner, Rick Perry, has plenty in common with Scalia—namely, a professed aversion to judges who legislate from the bench or broadly interpret the Constitution. But, once you read Perry’s manifesto, Fed Up!
For each of the security challenges that confronted the nation after September 11, there were sensibly balanced solutions—moderate laws and technologies that could have increased security without threatening liberty or privacy. But, as everyone now knows, George W. Bush opted for a very different vision. His government asserted the right to detain suspected enemy combatants indefinitely without review by independent courts and then, without congressional approval, created military tribunals that lacked the most basic procedural protections.
“I’ve talked to my lawyers,” President Obama said in explaining his dismissal of the argument that Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment authorizes him to raise the debt ceiling if Congress fails to act. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.” But who are President Obama’s cowering lawyers, and why would the former constitutional law professor defer to their overly cautious prediction that the Supreme Court would rule against Obama if asked to adjudicate a dispute between the president and Congress?
The Supreme Court has included good writers and bad writers during the past two centuries, but the literarily challenged justices have always had a comfortable majority. In the Court’s early days, one of its clumsiest writers was Samuel Chase, who, in addition to being impeached for excessive partisanship, had a weakness for random italics.
The Supreme Court term that ended this week would have looked very different if Justice Sandra Day O’Connor were still on the bench. Twenty percent of the cases were decided by a 5-4 vote, and, in many of those cases, Justice O’Connor would have voted to swing the result the other way. In two interviews this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, O’Connor, a former Arizona state legislator, suggested to me that she disagreed with the 5-4 decision striking down Arizona’s public campaign financing system. She worried that it might call other public financing schemes into question.
In April 2000, a Vermont musician named Diana Levine went to the hospital with a migraine. There, a nurse incorrectly injected Phenergan, an anti-nausea drug, into her vein rather than her muscle. This led to gangrene and, eventually, the amputation of much of her right arm. Levine sued and won more than $6 million from a Vermont jury, which concluded that Wyeth, the drug company, had failed to warn her properly about the risks of the drug.
On Sunday night, as Michael Calderone has reported, two groups of news organizations began publishing details of secret inmate reports from Guantanamo Bay. Some, like The London Telegraph, had gotten the documents from WikiLeaks; others, like The New York Times, had not. Although the Times did not identify its independent source, WikiLeaks itself provided a clue in a tweet it issued on Sunday: “Domschiet, NYT, Guardian, attempted Gitmo spoiler against our 8 group coalition.
On January 22, the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, I attended a summit called We the Corporations v. We the People, sponsored by the Coffee Party, a network of liberals, leftists and progressives. The summit was designed to rally support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United by declaring that corporations are not entitled to the constitutional protections of natural persons.
As everyone knows, the health care reform lawsuits that are currently making their way to the Supreme Court are being shepherded and applauded by conservatives. But how conservative is the judicial philosophy behind the suits? The answer turns out to be complicated. In fact, once the lawsuits end up at the Court, they will likely expose ideological fissures in the conservative legal movement that may unsettle those on both the right and the left. To understand why, consider what these lawsuits are actually about.
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, likes to say that “no organization anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech.” His response to the tragic shooting in Tucson came, therefore, as something of a surprise. In early January, Assange issued a press release arguing, despite the lack of any evidence, that right-wing vitriol had provoked the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, to go on a murderous rampage.