Judiciary

A Supreme Court That Caters to Oligarchs

Dana Milbank: “Just in time for the 2016 election, the Roberts Court has found yet another way to stack the deck in favor of the rich.”

“By all appearances at Monday’s argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions’ finances and reduce their political clout. The case, from California, involves arcane issues of ‘agency fees’ and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and, in particular, propping up the Republican Party.”

“Because there are fewer liberal billionaires … the only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money. And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too.”

“The only question is how big a loss Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will be for the unions. It’s virtually certain to be another step toward American oligarchy. The court’s conservative majority, setting aside a professed respect for precedent and states’ authority, is putting a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of the wealthy donors who have purchased the GOP and much of the government.”

2015’s Anti-Abortion Laws, Mapped

Vox: “States have enacted an unprecedented number of anti-abortion laws in the past five years, and 2015 continued that trend. According to a new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights, state lawmakers proposed nearly 400 bills restricting abortion in 2015, and 47 of those bills were enacted. Some of those 47 bills contained more than one restriction, and the Guttmacher Institute estimates that a total of 57 new abortion restrictions became law. Arkansas passed six new anti-abortion laws, the most of any state in 2015.”

“Five states enacted or extended waiting periods, which typically require a woman to make two trips to the doctor in order to get an abortion.”

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“This was a new one for 2015, and a potentially dangerous trend for abortion access: Kansas and Oklahoma banned the most common and safest form of second-trimester abortion, dilation and extraction (D&E). This could effectively eliminate second-trimester abortion in those states, or make it more complicated to perform.”

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NY Attorney General Investigates Exxon for Climate Change Lies

New York Times: “The New York attorney general has begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business.”

“According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.”

“The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

“The Exxon inquiry might expand further to encompass other oil companies, according to the people with knowledge of the case, though no additional subpoenas have been issued to date.”

“Attorneys general for other states could join in Mr. Schneiderman’s efforts, bringing far greater investigative and legal resources to bear on the issue. Some experts see the potential for a legal assault on fossil fuel companies similar to the lawsuits against tobacco companies in recent decades, which cost those companies tens of billions of dollars in penalties.”

Majority Support Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Eco Watch: According to a recent study by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, “a majority of the public in 23 out of the 26 states filing suits actually support setting strict limits on coal-fired power plants. Across all 26 suing states, 61 percent of the public supports the policy, ranging from 73 percent public support in New Jersey to 43 percent in Wyoming and West Virginia. Across all 26 suing states, only 38 percent of the public on average opposes the policy.”

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“America’s history of controversy over climate change and the legal and political challenges to the Clean Power Plan might suggest that the nation is divided over regulating carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. Our research finds the opposite: a large majority of Americans overall support the approach. Our models find that a majority of Americans in almost every state support setting strict emission limits on coal-fired power plants.”

Where is Physician-Assisted Suicide Legal?

Sarah Kliff in Vox: “California legalized physician-assisted suicide on Monday. Overnight, with that new law, the number of Americans living in states where it is legal for a doctor to prescribe lethal medications to terminal patients tripled.”

“Before California, there were four states — Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont — where doctors could prescribe these lethal drugs. A total of 13.7 million people live in those places. But California is the country’s most populous state, with more than 38 million residents. Now that its new law has passed, there are 52.5 million people — about one in six Americans — who live in places where doctors can help terminally ill patients end their own lives.”

“An additional nine states are currently weighing legislation that would create the right elsewhere.”

Can the Court Woo Back Conservatives?

Paul Waldman in The Washington Post: “The Supreme Court’s new term begins … and it brings with it a paradox. On one hand, the Court is poised to deliver conservatives a string of sweeping, consequential victories on issues covering a wide swath of American life. On the other, conservatives are up in arms about how they’ve been betrayed by the Court, and particularly by Chief Justice John Roberts, despite the fact that Roberts has in all but a couple of cases been as reliable a conservative vote as they could have hoped for.”

“To be clear, Republicans are right to focus on the Supreme Court during the campaign, and Democrats ought to as well … There may be no single issue more consequential for America’s future in this election than what will happen to the Supreme Court in the next four or eight years. But Republicans aren’t just arguing that it’s important for them to elect a Republican so they can get friendly justices, they’re arguing that even Republican presidents and Republican-appointed justices can’t be trusted not to turn into judicial Benedict Arnolds.”

“If you’re someone like Ted Cruz, this idea fits in nicely with the rest of your message, at least during the primaries: the real enemy isn’t the Democrats, it’s the feckless and unreliable Republican establishment that has failed to deliver the conservative paradise we were promised.”

Easing Up on Benefit Restrictions for Criminals

Wall Street Journal: “States increasingly are abolishing a two-decade-old ban on welfare and food stamps for people convicted of drug crimes, the latest in a wave of policy changes aimed at easing the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.”

“This year, Alabama and Texas lifted restrictions on food stamps for ex-offenders, following similar moves by California and Missouri in 2014. Alabama’s law also permits former convicts who submit to drug testing to receive welfare.”

“Congress disqualified people convicted of state and federal drug offenses—but not other crimes—from receiving such benefits in a 1996 overhaul of federal welfare programs. The law, however, allows states to make exceptions as they see fit.”

“The mounting costs of incarceration, cast in sharp relief during the recession, has led to a greater emphasis by state lawmakers on reducing recidivism. Many states are reconsidering collateral consequences of criminal convictions that could jeopardize an ex-offender’s successful re-entry into society.”

Is the Fossil Fuel Industry Guilty of Racketeering?

The Guardian: “ExxonMobil has become infamous for its secretive anti-climate science campaign, having spent $30 million funding groups denying the scientific evidence and consensus on human-caused global warming.”

“Last week, after an eight-month investigation, InsideClimate News revealed that from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, scientists at Exxon were in fact at the cutting edge of climate science research.”

Exxon's 1982 projections of how human carbon pollution would cause global temperatures to rise

Exxon’s 1982 projections of how human carbon pollution would cause global temperatures to rise.

Now, “a group of climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, his science advisor John Holdren, and Attorney General Lynch, calling for an investigation ‘of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.’”

“Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has noted that the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to cast doubt on climate science closely mirror those by the tobacco industry.”

“Exxon’s own scientists were warning of the dangers of human-caused climate change nearly 40 years ago. The parallels to the tobacco industry’s public deception are striking. It appears that many climate scientists have become fed up, and are encouraging the government to embark on a similar RICO investigation into fossil fuel industry efforts to mislead the public.”

Trust in the Judicial Branch Dips to a New Low

Gallup: “Americans’ trust in the judicial branch of the federal government has fallen significantly in the past year, and now a record-low 53% say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in it. Trust in the executive and legislative branches also remains near historical lows, but both were up slightly this year.”

Trend: Trust in the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government, by Political Party

“The decline in trust in the judicial branch over the past several years partly results from broader factors affecting all institutions, namely Americans’ widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the country and in the way the federal government operates. But the decline this year is almost certainly a reaction — primarily among Republicans — to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage and its turning away the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.”

Do Trump and Sanders Defy Conventional Wisdom on ‘Big Money?’

Robert Litan in the Wall Street Journal: “In one sense, the Citizens United ruling has helped Mr. Trump and Sen. Sanders to set themselves apart from the crowd by emphasizing their lack of support from big donors.”

“Mr. Trump criticizes his rivals–Jeb Bush in particular–for taking contributions from big donors and says that his wealth immunizes him to pleas from special interests. As Mr. Trump continues saying things that in past campaigns might have ruled him out as a viable candidate, his rhetoric keeps drawing free media coverage. If he keeps this up, and eventually wins the Republican nomination–an outcome that looks less and less implausible–he might not need to use public funds, for which he would qualify as a major-party nominee, for advertising.”

“The Bernie Sanders boomlet also defies the conventional wisdom that big money talks when it comes to presidential races. An Iowa poll out Saturday showed  Sen. Sanders gaining on Hillary Clinton. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Sanders can point to the big donors supporting Mrs. Clinton and say that he will not be beholden to them.”