The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

I'm back! And the recent Supreme Court decisions

It's been a two-month hiatus in my posts — I have been grappling with some medical issues and decided to devote my efforts elsewhere. My condition has not gotten better, but the news I heard today is encouraging enough that I can resume a few other activities that I have put aside.

I am very happy over three decisions that the Supreme Court announced in the past few days. National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning is an amazing sight. Even the two Justices that President Obama appointed, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, agreed that he had gone beyond the bounds of the Constitution. This decision was 9-0, unanimous! Even beyond the rebuke to President Obama, this is a noteworthy decision, because it defines the “recess appointment” power, which had never been treated in any Supreme Court case. The decision did not go as far as some conservatives wanted — they wanted it to restrict the power to filling vacancies that actually happened when the Senate was not in session — but the Court's ruling that when the Senate says it is in session, and is able to conduct business according to its own rules, the President cannot declare them to be in recess and make appointments speaks volumes.

The other two decisions were not unanimous, but 5-4, with all the Republican-appointed Justices in the majority and the Democratic-appointed ones in dissent. Jeffrey Toobin of CNN is right when he says:

Elections have consequences.

That's the message of Monday's rulings from the Supreme Court -- and, indeed, all decisions by nine justices whose ideologies reflect, with considerable precision, the views of the presidents who appointed them. Both the Hobby Lobby case -- which concerned the intersection of women's rights, religious freedom, and Obamacare -- and the Harris case, about the future of labor unions, were 5-4 decisions.

Five Republican appointees for the owners of Hobby Lobby (and against the unions). Four Democratic appointees for the Obama administration (and for the unions). Notably, too, three of those four Democratic appointees are women. (Of 112 people who have served on the Supreme Court, four have been women.)

As in so many cases before the justices, the legal issues in these cases were as much political as legal. Indeed, just like politicians, the justices try to frame the questions before them in as politically appealing ways as they can.

In Hobby Lobby, the issue was whether a privately held company, whose owners have strong religious convictions against abortion, can refuse to pay for certain forms of birth control which they regard as immoral. “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, and to force them to do so would violate federal law.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for the dissenters, framed the issue in an entirely different way. She and her colleagues saw Hobby Lobby as asking for -- and receiving -- a license from the court to discriminate against women. What, she asked, about companies that have religious objections to treating African-Americans equally -- or gay people? And, she asks, “how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not?”

The same kind of conflict undergirds the union case. In that case, home care workers who are covered by a union contract demanded the freedom to refuse to pay dues -- which the conservative majority granted them. Is this, as Alito (again) held, simply a matter of preserving the freedom of speech rights of these employees? Or is it, as the dissenters, led by Justice Elena Kagan, said, a vehicle to starve unions of the dollars they need to survive -- and negotiate precisely these kinds of contracts?

But no one should be misled. When it comes to the most fundamental issues before the court, the most important factor is not the legal arguments but the identity of the judges -- and the presidents who appointed them. Republicans vote one way, Democrats another. It's true in Congress, and it's true on the other side of First Street as well -- in the marble temple of the United States Supreme Court.

Now I think Toobin favors the Democratic position. But I am very glad, based on these two decisions, to say that I am a Republican. The Hobby Lobby decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., was a blow for religious freedom, and while I would not, in my own religion, see anything wrong with providing contraceptive drugs, the fact that the owners of Hobby Lobby had strong religious beliefs that precluded this must be honored. Another day, it might be anti-circumcision laws, for example, which had been favored by many people in some parts of California. So I want to honor everyone's religous freedom rights, and this decision was a step in this direction. It said that you do not give up your religious freedom by forming a corporation, and one thing Toobin does not mention is that this decision also highlights the anti-corporate attitudes in the Democratic Party.

The other case is about another issue dear to my heart: labor unions' inordinate power. While I wish the Court had gone further and reversed its earlier Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, in Harris v. Quinn the Court did rein in the power to collect dues from people who choose not to join. If Justice Kagan thinks it is “a vehicle to starve unions of the dollars they need to survive,” who else besides a labor union has the right to demand “the dollars they need to survive” of people who do not believe they are being served in any way by them?

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