Roe v. Wade is history

June 24, 2022 • 11:09 am

Here’s the headline that we were fearing but expecting, especially given the earlier leak, but I suspect most of us are still depressed by it.

You can find the Court’s decision in Dobbs et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al. here (Alito wrote the majority opinion).

And click below to read the NYT article:

The vote was, as we knew it would be, 6-3, and you can find the decision here. What will happen now is that each state will make its own ruling, and states may even take steps to prevent its residents from going out of state to get an abortion.

A quote from the NYT:

The decision, which echoed a leaked draft opinion published by Politico in early May, will result in a starkly divided country in which abortion is severely restricted or forbidden in many red states but remains freely available in most blue ones.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted with the majority but said he would have taken “a more measured course,” stopping short of overruling Roe outright. The court’s three liberal members dissented.

It’s a horrible day for America and especially for American women.  I will make just three points and let the readers discuss this.

1.)  Most Americans agree with Roe v. Wade. Of course, that doesn’t bear on its constitutionality, but you can make an argument that the right to privacy allows the government to legalize abortion. Here’s what CNN said an hour ago:

In a May CNN poll conducted immediately after the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, Americans said, 66% to 34%, that they did not want the Supreme Court to completely overturn its decision. In CNN’s polling dating back to 1989, the share of the public in favor of completely overturning Roe has never risen above 36%.

Just 17% of Americans in the CNN poll said they’d be happy to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, with 12% saying they’d be satisfied, 21% that they’d be dissatisfied, 36% that they’d be angry, and 14% that they wouldn’t care. Most Democrats (59%) and nearly half of adults younger than 35 (48%) said they’d be angry. And a 59% majority of Americans said they’d support Congress passing a law to establish a nationwide right to abortion, with just 41% opposed.

2.) For a laugh, read what the 6 conservative justices who killed this precedent said during their hearings when asked about it. To a man and woman, they either equivocated or invoked stare decisis, i.e., respect precedent. They were lying; they knew how they would one day vote to overturn it. But of course you are expected to lie if you want that black robe.

3.) Some of the laws made by the red states, like the one already in force in Louisiana, will not allow abortions even in cases of incest or rape: a palpably immoral decision. Only Ceiling Cat knows the various restrictions that the Republicans have in store for controlling women’s reproduction.

We’ll all have more to say about this in the coming days, usually involving cursing Roberts et al. but now just react, vent your spleen, or whatever. It’s 6-3 against real progress from now on.

Oh, and then there’s this for “originalist” Thomas:

As America gets more secular, the Supreme Court sides more with religion

June 22, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I think this “morning newsletter” is part of the NYT’s increasing trend to Tell You What You Need to Know, or What the News Means—the latest trend to dumb down the news for the busy liberal American. Except this is probably something that the readers here either knew or suspected: that is, the Supreme Court is increasingly ruling in favor of religion. That’s no surprise with a conservative majority that’s largely Catholic, but the trend has gone on for seven decades now, which is worth knowing.

Here’s What You Need to Know from the latest NYT (click to read)

Here are the rulings in favor of religious arguments in orally argued cases, divided up by era and the presiding Chief Justice:

Actually, with yesterday’s ruling in favor of vouchers in Maine for religious schools, the Roberts court’s “anti-First-Amendment” score has risen to 85%. That’s nearly twice the rate under Earl Warren. But things didn’t change that fast until Roberts came in and the other conservative justices like Kavanaugh and Barrett joined him later. Now we have a punctuated equilibrium for coddling faith. We have a new liberal judge on deck, but that only means more 6-3 rulings, since the new one, Ketanji Brown Jackson, will replace the liberal Breyer.

Now we know that America is slowly becoming less religious, but court rulings are favoring religion much more rapidly over time. The trends are in opposite directions. Why?

Philbrick gives three reasons, none of which are surprising. These are direct quotes.

1.) Over the past few decades, the rise of the religious right has made religious freedom a political priority for Republicans. That shift has corresponded with nominations by Republican presidents of justices who favor religious groups even more frequently than previous conservative justices.

2.) Republican-appointed justices also have a better track record of timing their retirements to ensure that a Republican president will name their successor,. . . .

3.) Republican presidents choosing successors to justices appointed by Democrats. Clarence Thomas, one of the court’s staunchest advocates of religious liberty, replaced a liberal icon in Thurgood Marshall, as did Amy Coney Barrett, who took over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat in 2020.

DUH!  #3 follows from #1 and #2, so it’s not really a different reason. The only thing that struck me was the trend and the rapid increase: the difference between the Rehnquist Court and the Roberts Court is a rise in 25% in the proportion rulings in favor of religion.

This is what we’ll have to expect in our lifetimes (if you’re older): a dismantling of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. All by 6-3 votes.

One more thing to watch out for:

The court is considering a second religion case that deals with a former high school football coach who lost his job for praying at the 50-yard line after games. A ruling is likely in the coming days.

If you read the link, you’ll see it involves a public-school coach praying midfield after a football game. He’d been told to cool it with these displays, but couldn’t keep Jesus bottled up in him. He was fired for the implied coercion of students involved in public prayer (he’d previously prayed with the players, and been told not to). I can see that there is a “free speech” side of this, but what about a teacher who prayer in her classroom after the bell rings? At any rate, the Court has already signaled that it’s going to rule in favor of the “right to pray”.

But this isn’t nearly as irritating as what the court just did with the Maine law. In that case, all the citizens of Maine will be required to subsidize the education of Christians in an evangelical and homophobic school, one that probably teaches creationism as well. The coach kneeling by himself midfield neither breaks my bones nor picks my pocket, but the people of Maine are truly having their pockets picked.

And that’s All the News You Need to Know.

h/t: Bat

Violating the First Amendment, the Supreme Court rules that taxpayer money can be used to send kids to religious schools

June 21, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Further eroding the wall between church and state, the Supreme Court ruled today by a margin of 6-3 (get used to that vote!) that the state of Maine MUST allow taxpayer-funded vouchers for students who want to go to religious schools.  This means that we, the taxpayers, must surrender some of our hard-earned dosh to subsidize religious instruction. This has violated all precedent, as the articles below explain.

You can read the decision here.

Judge Roberts, who voted with the conservative majority, called the “no-religious-vouchers” law of Maine “discrimination against religion.” I can see that argument (though I disagree with it), except that the private or public schools normally funded with such vouchers do not push a religious point of view. In fact, if I had my way there would be no vouchers at all, so Roberts’s argument wouldn’t apply. You either send your kids to public schools, homeschool them, or, if you can afford it, PAY for private schools, religious or not. If you think the public schools aren’t good enough for your kid, or are too secular, pay for them to go to “better” schools. If I’m going to pay for improved education, I want it to be through higher taxes to improve PUBLIC schools.

Click below to read the CNN article:

An excerpt

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance program that allows parents to use vouchers to send their children to public or private schools.

The 6-3 ruling is the latest move by the conservative court to expand religious liberty rights and bring more religion into public life, a trend bolstered by the addition of three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees.

“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”

Roberts was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The three liberal justices dissented.

It is a loss for critics who say the decision will amount to a further erosion of the separation between church and state. Although only one other state, Vermont, has a similar program, the court’s ruling could inspire other states to pass similar programs.

Writing a dissent joined by Justice Elena Kagan and in part by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court had “never previously held what the Court holds today, namely, that a State must (not may) use state funds to pay for religious education as part of a tuition program designed to ensure the provision of free statewide public school education.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation also has a new piece analyzing the decision, which you can read by clicking below:

From the FFRF analysis:

The court has gone contrary to the country’s foundational constitutional principles in striking down Maine’s “no aid” law, a provision meant to ensure that no citizen is forced to fund religious indoctrination at private religious schools, or any religious education that conflicts with their personal beliefs. The Supreme Court’s judicial activism and faulty reasoning will undoubtedly lead to many additional violations and litigation in other states as Christian nationalists seek to fund private Christian education with taxpayer money.

The plaintiffs want to use state money in this instance to send their children to Christian schools that provide religious instruction. One of the schools in question, Bangor Christian School, has a mission of instilling a biblical worldview that is “completely intertwined” with the curriculum and identifies the bible as its “final authority in all matters.” The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in its judgment two years ago that the “nonsectarian” requirement in Maine’s tuition assistance program did not exclude religious schools based on their religious status, but rather protected the state’s interest in only supporting nonreligious education.

You citizens of Maine: if you accept evolution, you’re probably giving money to parents to have their kids taught creationism.

However, the majority opinion, written by Justice John Roberts, asserts that Maine’s law impermissibly infringes on the rights of religious schools: “A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.” Roberts added, “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

This claim misconstrues the real religious freedom at stake in the case, which is the right of every taxpayer to be free from funding religious indoctrination, and the right of every student in Maine to an education free from religiously motivated discrimination. Shockingly, the Supreme Court’s opinion explicitly acknowledges that private religious schools are very different from the public school education that Maine’s program is intended to offer. Roberts notes, “private schools are different by definition because they do not have to accept all students. Public schools generally do,” and moreover, “the curriculum taught at participating private schools need not even resemble that taught in the Maine public schools.”

And look at this!

The two religious schools acting as plaintiffs in the case “candidly admit that they discriminate against homosexuals, individuals who are transgender and non-Christians,” according to Maine’s brief to the Supreme Court. But rather than observing that these differences warrant Maine’s decision to limit its funding to schools that do not indoctrinate students, the court reasons that giving money to any private school means the state must fund religious education as well.

And from Sotomayor’s strong dissent:

In a blistering dissent, Sotomayor writes: “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was ‘lead[ing] us . . . to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’ Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. ​​If a State cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any State that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this Court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens. With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.”

I don’t think we should have to subsidize private education when we have public schools, but I object even more when that private education is religious, as forcing taxpayers to subsidize learning about Moses or Jesus or Allah is forcing the government to fund religion. And that’s a violation of the First Amendment.

Get used to a 6-3 vote (Breyer will be replace by the liberal Ketanji Brown Jackson). It is the vote that will be used to tear down the wall between church and state.

“Judge Roberts, stop tearing down that wall!”

Depp v. Heard: the role of the ACLU

June 19, 2022 • 9:30 am

I don’t want to descend into tabloid journalism here, but the case of Depp. v. Heard, which now has its own Wikipedia page, does have a few things to say about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and those things are not admirable.

We all know that that the ACLU, once a powerhouse defender of everyone’s civil rights, has gone woke, deciding that they should prioritize their activities, defending most ardently those people with a preferred ideology. Their lawyers have defended the power to censor books; the organization has secretly changed their priorities from defending free speech to defending “progressive social justice”; and, in the case of Depp. v. Heard, have apparently decided that Depp was guilty before the trial—hardly a principle of civil liberties! The organization is now almost beyond redemption.

We all know the results of the case, though I didn’t follow the trial scrupulously. It was a civil mutual defamation case, with both Heard and Depp suing the other person for defamation.  Depp claimed $50 million in damages; Heard claimed $100 million. The defamation on Heard’s part was based on an editorial in the Washington Post with her byline, but which was, by Heard’s own testimony in court, actually written by the ACLU!

Here’s the op-ed that started it all (click to read):

Here are two of the statements from the op-ed that, according to Depp’s attorneys, implicitly defamed him, likely as a form of revenge after their divorce.

“Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

“I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”

Heard, on the other hand, claimed the she was the victim of both physical and sexual abuse during the relationship, often brought on by Depp’s (admitted) drug use, and that Depp tried to humiliate and ruin her by filing the lawsuit (this was in Virginia.) She also claimed in her op-ed that she lost roles and endorsements because of her speaking out, which I believe was one of the counts of defamation proposed by Depp’s lawyers.

Here’s the summary of the verdict from Wikipedia; the criteria for defamation are pretty standard:

After closing arguments were made by both Heard’s and Depp’s legal teams, jury instructions were agreed upon. Judge Penney Azcarate instructed that the jury must find all of the following to determine that Ms. Heard was liable for defamation for each statement in question (and must find similarly regarding the statements made by Mr. Depp):

  • Ms. Heard made or published the statement;
  • the statement was about Mr. Depp;
  • the statement is false;
  • the statement has a defamatory implication about Mr. Depp;
  • the defamatory implication was designed and intended by Ms. Heard;
  • due to circumstances surrounding the publication of the statement, it conveyed a defamatory implication to someone who saw it other than Mr. Depp; and,
  • as proven by clear and convincing evidence, that Ms. Heard made the statement with actual malice (i.e., with knowledge that her allegations were false, or so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard for the truth).

Jury deliberations began at around 3:00 p.m. on May 27. They closed deliberations for the day around 5:00 p.m., resuming on May 31, after Memorial Day weekend.  Deliberations concluded on June 1. The verdict was set to be announced at 3:00 p.m., but there were delays due to the jurors not filling out the damages section on the verdict.

Verdict

On June 1, 2022, the jury found that, for all three statements from Heard’s 2018 op-ed, Mr. Depp had proven all the elements of defamation, that they were false, defaming Depp with actual malice. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard. The punitive damages, however, were reduced to $350,000 due to a limit imposed by Virginia state law.

In regard to Heard’s counterclaim, the jury found the second of the three contested statements that Depp’s former lawyer Adam Waldman had published in the Daily Mail to be defamatory and false, defaming Heard with actual malice.Regarding the other two contested statements, the jurors concluded that Heard’s attorneys had not proven all the elements of defamation. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages from Depp but with no punitive damages.

In the eyes of many, and even in reality, Depp won: getting $10.4 million in damages in contrast to Heard’s $2 million. In other words, he came out with a huge financial gain and she with an $8.4 million loss.

During the trial, there was a lot of second-guessing from the sidelines by both the public and the press. The public largely idolized Depp and demonized Heard for leveling her accusations of physical violence, drug use (which Depp admitted) and so on. The press, on the other hand, largely were on Heard’s side both before and after the trial, taking the stand that a woman’s claims should be believed and that finding Heard guilty would be bad for victims, who will henceforth be disbelieved.

For my part, I didn’t much care who won, and since I didn’t follow the trial minutely, though saw bits of it and read about it, I am in no position to second-guess the jury. (Heard has said she’d appeal.)  But I am in a position to criticize the ACLU for its behavior in this case.

Here are some facts I found (correct me if I’m wrong).

The first two aren’t relevant to the defamation itself, but may bear on Depp’s accusations:

  • Heard had been arrested for physical violence in a relationship before her marriage to Depp, for striking Heard’s domestic partner Tasya van Rhee in 2009. The charges were later dropped and Heard said were “misinterpreted and over-sensationalized”.
  • Depp’s lawyers itself brought up Heard’s promise to donate her $7 million divorce settlement from Depp to both the ACLU and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. This was never done: the ACLU apparently got $350,000, with most of that coming not from Heard but from Elon Musk (who was involved with Heard) and even some from Depp himself. Since Heard had testified in a different UK trial that she made the full donation, the Depp’s lawyers in Depp v. Heard used this to question her credibility as well as to accuse her of lying under oath. (Rolling Stone could find no tax records even for the $350,000 donation.) The Children’s Hospital got exactly nothing as far as I can ascertain.
  • On to the ACLU. They not only wrote the Post’s op-ed, but according to Rolling Stone pitched it to the paper with this statement (my emphasis):

“Wondering if we might interest you in a piece by Amber Heard (who, as you may recall, was beaten up during her brief marriage to Johnny Depp), on what the incoming Congress can to do to help protect women in similar situations.”

That is a violation of the ACLU’s defense of due process, as it accuses Depp of a crime for which he had not been convicted. At this point the ACLU was already firmly on Heard’s side.

  • While the ACLU was writing Heard’s piece for her (that itself I find unethical), they made her an “ACLU  artist ambassador” specializing in opposing domestic violence.  The ACLU denies this was a tit-for-tat arrangement in return for Heard’s promised donation, and note this on their webpage about Heard:

During the current defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, some have claimed that the ACLU made Ms. Heard an ambassador for gender justice and wrote an op-ed on her behalf in exchange for her pledge to donate money to the ACLU. This is wrong. We do not write op-eds or offer ambassadorships in exchange for donations. Period. Becoming an ACLU Artist Ambassador is entirely voluntary; it is a favor to the ACLU, not vice versa.

In 2016, Ms. Heard pledged to donate $3.5 million over 10 years to the ACLU. Two years later, in 2018, the ACLU invited Ms. Heard to become an ambassador and to work with us on an op-ed to bring attention to the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence issues; she agreed. Through her ambassadorship, Ms. Heard supported our advocacy for gender justice issues, a cause that has long been central to our mission at least since Ruth Bader Ginsburg headed the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

I find it hard to believe that the ACLU’s appointment of Heard as an ambassador against domestic violence, or her pitching and writing the WaPo article for her (she remains in that position) had nothing to do with her earlier promise to give them $3.5 million. Since the ACLU had gotten only a fraction of that money, I suspect they were partly boosting her before the trial so that she might be awarded enough damages to pay them off. And their implicit accusation that Depp was guilty, both in their pitch and in the op-ed itself are unethical actions. In fact, appointing Heard as an artist ambassador against domestic violence with a trial in the offing was a bad move.

Note too that the ACLU’s statement above does not mention that Heard’s pledge was not redeemed.

  • In 2019, an ACLU attorney stated that the ACLU planned to file an amicus brief supporting Heard in the Virginia trial. As far as I know, such a brief was never filed.
  • NBC Channel 9 News in Denver reports that the ACLU is now suing Depp for $86,000 in legal fees to recover the costs of preparing documents that Depp had requested but that the ACLU had refused.  This can’t be anything more than a cheap attempt at revenge. Here’s a tweet about it:

  • Finally, after six years, the ACLU still has a headline on its own site that says this:

With the quote:

Actress Amber Heard announced yesterday she will give the American Civil Liberties Union half of her $7 million divorce settlement to support our work fighting violence against women. The other half of the settlement will be donated to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

This badly needs updating. The pledge to the ACLU was not met, and the Children’s Hospital got nothing.

The Upshot:  Although Depp “won” the contesting defamation suits in terms of money, I don’t much care. I’m not a fan of Depp, have no feelings about Heard, and would call out the ACLU no matter who won this suit. 

But the ACLU’s behavior remains reprehensible, marking its approach ever closer to the drain. It seems very much like the organization had an “understanding” with Heard, giving her a possible amicus brief, an op-ed (written by them), and appointing her an ambassador in return for a “donation” of millions of dollars.  Their writing an op-ed that is signed solely by Heard is itself an offense that could get a student kicked out of college It is palpably dishonest; the paper should have at least mentioned that the op-ed was written by the ACLU (Heard may have contributed a few words).

The ACLU also violated its own principles by taking sides in the case before it was heard, implying before the trial in the “pitch” and the WaPo op-ed that Depp was guilty of abusing Heard. It also seems unethical for me for the ACLU, given the financial side of things, proposed to write an amicus brief for Heard. This was not  a defense of civil liberties, but defense of a private individual in a civil case.

Now another possible motivation for the ACLU’s actions in this case—beyond money—is that by taking sides against Depp, they thought they were “on the right side of history.”  That is, they were taking the side that says “blame the man in cases like this and believe the woman.” If so, that could be a “progressive social justice side” of the case. And, in fact, in cases like this it is usually the men who perpetrate the violence and the women who tell the truth about it. But that doesn’t always hold true, and there’s no strong evidence that it did in Depp v. Heard.

Will the ACLU ever get back on the rails again? I still have hope, but given the young people in charge of the organization and my own dotage, I doubt that I’d ever see such a result before I croak.

A brief comment on the leaked Supreme Court “decision”

May 3, 2022 • 2:01 pm

The fur is flying everywhere after the leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. You can find any number of takes in the mainstream media: the NYT, for example, has the majority of its front-e-page editorials decrying the court’s decision. As a strong advocate of women’s choice, I too am appalled, but not all that surprised, as I’ve thought for a while that Roe was toast.

What is surprising are the number of people who are surprised. Here is one example from the NYT’s ongoing coverage:

  • Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few Republican supporters of abortion rights in Congress, expressed anger at Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, saying their reported support for the draft ruling “would be completely inconsistent” with what they had told her about their views of Roe as settled law.

Have people not realized that nominees for the Supreme Court always dissimulate in hearings when asked about rulings that go against their own political leanings? “I will remain objective,” they all say. This is largely independent on whether they’ve been nominated by a liberal or conservative President.

That answer is a joke, yet we all pretend to believe is. Did anybody really think that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, much less Barrett, would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade? I mean, seriously? Are prospective Justices supposed to tell the truth in these hearings and say what they really think? No—they’re seeking a seat on the Court, and will say what is necessary. to achieve one.

The Supreme Court has already overturned Roe v. Wade!

May 3, 2022 • 8:00 am

I must rush off the boat, but must note this disturbing occurrence. Read Jean sent me a NYT article noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has already written the draft of an opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade’s decision about abortion. This draft was obtained by Politico, and the link to that draft is in a New York Times article that is giving updates.

From the NYT:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has voted to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that has guaranteed the right to abortion for nearly a half-century, according to a leaked draft opinion from February published online Monday night by Politico.

In the draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., a majority of the court voted to overturn Roe, according to Politico. Justice Alito called it wrongly decided and said the contentious issue, which has animated political debates in the United States for more than a generation, should be decided by politicians, not the courts.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Alito writes in the document, labeled the “Opinion of the Court,” referring to a second decision that reaffirmed Roe. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The draft posted by Politico is consistent with the Supreme Court’s published opinions in ways large and small, including structure, length, typography and how legal citations are rendered. Its assertive and sometimes slashing tone reads very much like other major opinions from Justice Alito.

The release of the 98-page document is unprecedented in the court’s modern history: Early drafts of opinions have virtually never leaked before the final decision is announced, and never in such a consequential case. And early drafts of opinions often change by the time the decision from the court is announced.

Shortly after the article was published Monday night, Politico’s editor in chief, Matthew Kaminski, and its executive editor, Dafna Linzer, sent an email to newsroom employees emphasizing its authenticity. In the memo, Mr. Kaminski and Ms. Linzer said that the article underwent “an extensive review process,” describing it as “plainly news of great public interest.”

Asked for reaction to the apparent leak, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said the court had no comment. . .

There’s a lot more at the site.

We all knew this decision was coming, and I haven’t yet read the whole draft, but if this is issued as is, the problem of abortion will devolve to individual states, and you know what that means. I had clung to a thread of hope that the court would abide by stare decisis, but that is not to be—precedent means nothing to this ultraconservative court.

I can’t help but think that a court like this would, besides loosening gun control even further, also be capable of overturning another precedent: preventing the teaching, on First Amendment grounds, of creationism in the public schools.

 

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, but narrowly

April 7, 2022 • 2:45 pm

This headline is just up in the NYT, reflecting Jackson’s approval by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The good news is that a well qualified liberal has been appointed to a hopelessly benighted and conservative Court. Click to read: 

The bad news: the vote was 53-47. with only 3 Republican Senators breaking ranks to vote “yes” (Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah). Kudos to them.

Historically, if a President’s nominee was well qualified, both sides would largely vote “yes”.  There are only two reasons why so many Republicans would oppose Jackson. The first is because they are sworn to oppose anything Biden wants. You know the second, and I don’t want to believe it or to go there.

Well, at least we won one. The Republican cross-examination of Jackson, which I watched for several hours in Antarctica, was reprehensible.

The Supreme Court hearings: shoot me now!

March 22, 2022 • 2:30 pm

I’ve spent the last two hours watching—well, not really watching, but using it as background noise—the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. (I believe you can watch them live at the YouTube link below.)

What a waste of time! Right now I’ve been listening to the odious Ted Cruz go after Jackson for her views on Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, and her record in sentencing convicted sex offenders. What is happening seems to be Ted Cruz playing to his audience, for he’s brought out nothing damning about Jackson. And barring such skeletons in the closet, she’ll be confirmed.  What I see is Ted Cruz trying to buy votes by playing the race card (and insinuating that she’s easy on pedophiles), but others may differ.

It seems as if Jackson is getting ticked off, and is giving back (VERY politely) better than she gets from Cruz. She’ll be confirmed for sure. The only thing I’ve learned (besides the fact that Jackson is a tough cookie) is that Republicans will be running hard on Critical Race Theory this fall.

I did have one quibble with Jackson’s responses to CRT, though. She keeps emphasizing that it’s an academic theory alone, and she doesn’t see it as being taught in schools. Yet all of us know that principles derived from CRT are taught in classrooms, and she’s on the board of one of the schools that teaches them (Georgetown Day School). But so what? I have no idea if she knows exactly what is taught in the classroom there, and at any rate it seems irrelevant to her value as a Supreme Court Justice Any black person nominated for the job—and all of the nominees were black women—would have faced this race-based inquisition. Such are the consequences of a racially divided society.

Just confirm her, for chrissake! I’m turning off the t.v.

U of C students continue calls to abolish the campus police after three murders of students and a new incident when a man fired at a cop

February 11, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I swear, there is no sight more ridiculous than a group of college students demanding to abolish a campus police department right after cop shoots a guy in self defense after the perp started shooting at the cop!   And this is a particularly sad but egregious case, because the perp was walking down the street waving a handgun, shooting it in the air . And then he started firing at a campus cop when the cop pulled up and demanded that the guy drop to the ground. It turns out the perp was mentally ill and off his meds, and was out on a declared mission to commit “suicide by cop.” He wanted that violence. And yet the students blame the cops!

And all of this is happening in an academic year when three of our own students were killed off campus by robbers or after being hit in other gunfights  It’s been the worst year for off-campus violence in the 36 years I’ve been here. Yet student calls to abolish the campus cops (note: not defund them—ABOLISH them) get more persistent. 

I happened upon the most recent incident about an hour after the shooting described below took place. I was going to get fruit and veg, but four or five blocks around the small shopping center had been rendered off-limits with yellow tape, and cops were everywhere. When I asked one what had happened, he wouldn’t tell me (this laconic response, which is probably the legal response, is common). But the story was on the news that night, and an account appeared in our increasingly woke student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon (I will make no puns here). Here’s the account (click on screenshot):

 

The details:

A man was wounded in a shootout with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) late Tuesday morning near the intersection of East 53rd Street and South Woodlawn Avenue.

A UCPD officer encountered the man carrying a handgun near 53rd and Woodlawn at 11:43 a.m. on Tuesday, according to an email sent to the University community by Eric Heath, the University’s associate vice president for safety and security.

According to University reports, the officer stopped his vehicle to investigate, after which the man fired shots and the officer ordered him to get on the ground. The individual then came in the direction of the officer, who fired his weapon and struck the individual twice in the thigh, Heath wrote in the email. Chicago Police Department (CPD) units were called to the scene soon after, according to police scanner reports.

According to a follow-up email sent by Heath on Wednesday, UCPD supplied the individual with medical aid before taking him into custody and bringing him to the University of Chicago Medical Center. The man is currently in critical condition, according to Heath’s second email.

Heath’s email stated that no one else was injured in the incident.

CPD and the University are both conducting investigations into the event. “Preliminary evidence indicates that the suspect began firing shots before he reached the intersection, and also fired at the officer,” a University spokesperson told The Maroon.

You can see some video here (note that the bodycam video starts 30 seconds in as there is a time delay):

On Wednesday, UCPD released videos of the shooting taken from the officer’s body camera and two security cameras at Kimbark Plaza. The body camera footage indicates that the officer fired three shots before the individual can be seen advancing, then two shots that struck the man. The officer then moved behind a parked vehicle and fired another four shots. At the end of the video, the man is seen on the ground.

The perp is identified as Rysheen Wilson.

And a walk-through of the videos by the Hyde Park Herald is here.  If you watch them, the beginning of the altercation is a bit unclear because the bodycam hadn’t started, but other evidence recently presented by the State’s Attorney shows that the suspect fired at the officer first, and only then did the officer take refuge behind a wall, order the suspect to get to the ground, and then shoot him when the man continued firing at the cop. The man was, as noted above, given medical aid and taken to the U of C hospital. He’s no longer in critical condition, and has been charged, among other things, with attempted murder of a police officer. (If Wilson is convicted, that will pretty much bring him a life sentence

The Chicago Sun-Times article (below) notes that the perp himself, before he went traipsing down the street waving his gun, called 911 and told the City of Chicago Police that he had a gun and wanted to commit “suicide by cop” (i.e., provoke the cops to shoot him). It’s pretty clear that the guy has some serious mental issues—watch some of the video when he’s dancing around waving the pistol:

The article shows that Wilson did suffer from serious mental problems. This is a tragedy, because perhaps if he’d stayed on his meds he might not have provoked this incident. But we can’t hold Wilson innocent, nor especially hold the cops culpable, when a mentally ill person begins shooting at police and the cops shoot back:

Wilson, 27, was “having mental issues” when he called his cousin Tuesday morning and told him where he was, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said in court. The cousin found him crying and talking about killing himself, Murphy said.

Wilson — who suffers from schizophrenia, PTSD and mood swings — was off his medication, Murphy said.

Wilson ran away from his cousin, pulled out a gun and called 911, Murphy said, telling the dispatcher his name, giving a description of what he was wearing and where he was.

The University of Chicago cop didn’t know about the 911 call, and the incident occurred when the patrolling officer drove by the man waving his gun. Nor, of course, did the officer know that Wilson was mentally ill—not that it would (or should) have made a difference in the cop’s behavior.

[Officer Nicholas] Twardak was driving down the street and saw Wilson pointing a gun at him and slowed down, Murphy said. As the officer stepped out his squad car, Wilson allegedly opened fire at Twardak.

The officer ran for cover toward parked cars on the other side of the street, and then moved to the front porch of a brick home as Wilson continued firing, Murphy said. Using the brick stoop as cover, the officer fired at Wilson, then repeatedly ordered Wilson to get on the ground, Murphy said.

Wilson moved toward the officer’s squad car in the middle of the street, and the officer fired at Wilson again and struck him, Murphy said. Wilson suffered two gunshot wounds to the thigh, two to the lower leg and one to the groin.

As Twardak approached, Wilson said he “wanted to bleed out,” Murphy said.

Three witnesses saw the shooting unfold, including a person in a car in Wilson’s line of fire. She reversed the car and then noticed bullet holes in her windshield and hood, Murphy said.

The sad irony of this is that officer Twardak was also involved in a 2018 incident when he shot (but didn’t kill) a mentally ill student who was having a breakdown and, after breaking windows and bashing up cars, charged the cop with a metal stake. Again ordered to drop the stake, the student continued to rush the cop and the cop defended himself shooting the student in the shoulder. I feel bad for everybody here, but one should also have sympathy for the cop instead of characterizing him as a serial shooter, as some students have done.  As far as I can see in both cases, the cop had no choice but to defend himself.

Those facts nonwithstanding, the organization #CareNotCops has increased the volume of its cry to “defund the U of C police”.  Their object, as you can see from the hashtag, is to argue that proper therapy and mental-illness treatment is a good substitute for police.  But not in this case, and not in the three cases of our murdered students this year—all killed by people outside the University community. Of course it’s possible that, at least in the 2018 case, therapy might have prevented the nonfatal shooting. But the victim, Charles Thomas, did not seek therapy, and went on to commit other crimes. He’s left the University but has completed a program that keeps him out of jail. Thomas’s lawsuit that he was shot in violation of regulations was dismissed.

And so a band of badly misguided students are blaming the police, and seeking their disbanding, in response to an increase in violence against students that could not possibly be stopped by “care”. What kind of crazy world do these students live in?

Here’s a Maroon article on the latest campus rally to protest the shooting of the guy who wanted to commit “suicide by cop” (click on screenshot):

Check out this logic:

#CareNotCops (CNC), a student group dedicated to the abolition of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) in favor of investing in South Side communities and mental health services, gathered on the main quad in front of Levi Hall at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, February 4, to protest the recent shooting of community member Rhysheen Wilson by a UCPD officer.

Fourth-year CNC organizer Alicia Hurtado began the rally by giving a speech calling for the abolition of UCPD. They asserted that far too many UCPD encounters with community members result in “escalation, violence, and criminalization.”

Hurtado spoke out against the increased patrols and surveillance that the University instituted in response to 24-year-old recent UChicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng being shot and killed during an attempted robbery at 956 East 54th Place on November 9.

“When the University announced their expansion of their private armed police force, I knew that it only had one predictable outcome,” Hurtado said. “That outcome was not safety or an answer to gun violence.”

The students want safety (see the Maroon article below) but when a student gets killed during a robbery, they get angry at the subsequent increase in policing. What on earth do they want? Patrolling therapists? (Click on screenshot):

Next, Hopie Melton, a third-year CNC member, read a statement on behalf of Students for Disability Justice (SDJ), an advocacy organization that promotes disability activism and discussion within the University community and Chicagoland. The organization said that UCPD and emergency dispatchers are not properly trained to handle mental health crises and unnecessarily escalate many confrontations as a result. SDJ also demanded that the University further invest in mental health services.

“[UCPD] responds to every situation with the same heavy-handed, violent approach, leaving behind the people that need our help the most,” Melton said, reading the statement. “Our Black neighbors are under constant surveillance. Our mad and neurodivergent neighbors are judged and have been pathologized for their differences. Our disabled neighbors are under constant threat, and UChicago acts as a further disabling force.”

This is, as John McWhorter notes, the voice of religion.

No, the two mentally ill people WERE ATTACKING THE CAMPUS POLICE OFFICERS, one with a metal stake and the other with a gun. How would proper mental health training of cops have changed that situation?

Now of course with mental health problems among young people rising rapidly, it behooves any school to ensure that proper therapy is in place. College is a stressful time. But it also behooves the students to develop some sense about how the world works. When a guy is trying to kill you with a gun, you don’t yell at him, “Go home and take your meds!”

The ACLU reverses course once again in the interest of wokeness

January 30, 2022 • 11:30 am

Last September, a surprising article in the New York Times reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed to be losing its mission of defending civil liberties, moving more and more towards “progressive” politics. Part of this transformation involved suddenly prioritizing what speech to defend based on its perceived “harm.” More harmful speech (e.g., speech offending minorities or other oppressed groups) was to be given lower legal priority.

This was a complete reversal of the history of the ACLU, an organization that was one of my favorites. (They gave me pro bono legal help when I took the government to court over being illegally called up for alternative service as a conscientious objector.)  Now, it seems, they think that some people deserve more civil rights than others. This was all documented in one of my posts and in an article on Tablet that quoted secret ACLU documents. After Charlottesville, for example, Tablet reports that the ACLU made a momentous decision:

. . . the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

There are many other signs of the ACLU’s change of mission, and you can see my posts on them here. And today there’s yet another, which Zaid Jilani describes in a post on his “inquiremore” site. Click on the screenshot to read.

In brief, Jilani recounts the ACLU’s history of demanding transparency from government, and how it’s now backed off on its history of fostering transparency. The reason is because of the kerfuffle embodied in state bills that ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Parents who don’t want their children exposed to some of the more divisive or questionable aspects of CRT are now asking that curricular materials (syllabi, reading lists, assignments, etc) be made public, i.e., put online.

For the record, I don’t favor those bills. But I don’t see any reason that material involved in public-school classes shouldn’t be made public. (I’m not asking for all teachers to be filmed or recorded, but for the paper record of classroom assignments to be made public.)

The ACLU doesn’t like this, and I’m guessing because they actually want CRT to be taught to children. Do not underestimate their wokeness! If you think I’m exaggerating about the “new ACLU”, have a listen to legendary civil-liberties activist Ira Glasser, once head of the ACLU for 23 years, speaking on Bill Maher’s show. He’s appalled at what’s happened to his baby. Glasser, despite his vocation, is not a man of hot temper, and when he talks this way, you know that he’s really angry:

Back to “transparency”. Here’s the ACLU’s new stand (the ACLU is nearly as hamhanded at tweeting as was Donald Trump):

In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former. Critical Race Theory, in both its academic construal and in how it’s taught in many schools, is not just “learning and talking about race and gender.” The tweet above is dissimulation.

The ACLU has a history, as I said. of demanding transparency. From Jilani’s post:

This marks a reversal for the ACLU, which has always argued for government transparency in all arenas, including in schools.

As Tablet’s Noam Blum noted, the ACLU of Nevada argued vigorously for transparency when that state’s schools were setting their sex education curriculum and policies.

“The days of back door decision making are over. Compliance with the open meetings law is meant to secure the opportunity of parents, students, and community members to have a meaningful impact on the development of policy. We are all well served when decisions on the appointment of sex education advisory committee members is subject to public scrutiny, rather than the result of the presentation of a narrow range of interests,” Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said at the time. The organization used the state’s public records law to request materials related to sex education in each of the state’s 17 counties.

A few years later, the ACLU of Kentucky used records requests to uncover curriculum in all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, seeking to find evidence of religious instruction by reviewing both policies and curricula:

The ACLU-KY sent requests to all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts seeking policies and curriculum for “Bible Literacy” courses.  While most districts are not offering these courses, the ACLU-KY found many of the courses that are being offered do not fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.

The investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material and assignments (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and rote memorization of Biblical text (McCracken County) — practices which fall far short of academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.

If you don’t want curricula exposed that deal with race and gender, why do so many people want curricula exposed that deal with creationism being taught in public schools? It was my reading of Eric Hedin’s online syllabi at Ball State University, for example, that led me to discover that he was teaching Intelligent Design creationism in a public college—a violation of the law. The result was that he was forced to stop teaching religion in the guise of science. And, of course, parents foot the bill for their kids’ education, and surely have some rights in at least hearing what their kids are supposed to learn and do.

The ACLU also demanded transparency from schools when they were violating Title IX by segregating sexes:

The ACLU of Alabama was so bothered by government-sanctioned sex segregation in the school system that in 2008 it formally protested and sought documents from Mobile County schools outlining any policies related to the matter:

After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.

One of the things parents are worried about is racial segregation in schools, which is part of the CRT program (in this cases, segregation of graduations, dorms, and events are considered salubrious for minorities). Yet the ACLU demands transparency for sex segregation but opposes it for segregation by race or ethnicity. Why the difference? You know the answer. Jilani dosn’t speculate much about this, though the reasons are clear to all people not blinded by ideology. He finishes his piece this way:

In arguing against transparency in the public school system, the ACLU is departing from its traditional mission. As has been written about elsewhere, the ACLU is increasingly becoming more of an activist progressive organization. Among activist progressives, sensitivities about race and gender have often brought them to take positions that are in tension with classical liberal values like freedom of speech, transparency, and equal treatment under the law. Those same sensitivities appear to be trouncing the ACLU’s longstanding principles in this case.

You can argue that the times are a-changing and it’s more pressing for the ACLU to defend minorities than to defend the civil rights of everyone. You can argue that the First Amendment is outmoded, and equally outmoded is an organization that embodies Mill’s dictum that even the most offensive or contrarian speech should be heard. (Indeed, Hitchens thought such speech should be prioritized.) Yes, you can argue those things.

But if there’s nobody around to defend the civil rights of everyone, then society will become a homogenous stew of “rightspeak”, and only the rights of those who have The Proper Ideology will be protected. That’s exactly what America’s founders wanted to prevent by enacting the First Amendment, and how the courts have construed that Amendment in the last two centuries. As the ACLU becomes a political organization, all we have left is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which still protects civil liberties in a nonpartisan way. But they are limited to rights in education.

As Glasser notes above, if the ACLU goes down the drain, there will be no organization to replace it.  A slight emendation of Antony’s famous quote from Julius Caesar is appropriate:

This was the noblest organization of them all. All the rest of the organizations acted out of political self interest. Only the ACLU acted from honesty and for the general good. Its existence was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in it that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a great organization.”