Guest: Slate's Mark Joseph Stern on that and much more on the final day of the corrupt rightwing Supreme Court's unprecedented term...
On today's BradCast: It was the grand finale at the end of a U.S. Supreme Court term like no other. Now that its packed with rightwing extremists, the unleashed activists on the GOP's illegitimate 6 to 3 U.S. Supreme Court pretended on Thursday that the text of the written law doesn't say what it actually says, in order to offer a parting gift for the year to the fossil fuel industry --- as the nation and globe burn.
The Clean Air Act, as Justice Elena Kagan wrote [PDF] on behalf of the three dissenters, "directs the EPA to regulate stationary sources of any substance that 'causes, or contributes significantly to, air pollution' and that 'may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.'" She made clear that, as the Court has determined on multiple occasions, the Environmental Protection Agency "serves as the Nation's 'primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions.'"
But, never mind all of that. On Thursday, writing for the Court's far-right majority in West Virginia v. EPA --- and ignoring its own precedents --- Chief Justice John Roberts pretended none of those mandates existed in the law adopted by Congress in 1963 and amended a number of times over the years. Despite any actual existing Administrative rule to regulate carbon emissions by coal and gas-fired power plants --- Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan was put on hold by the Court years ago, and Donald Trump's scheme to restrict the EPA's power to do so was rejected by lower courts --- SCOTUS took up this coal-industry sponsored law suit and gave them pretty much everything they sought, text of the written law be damned.
As they did when striking down the Administration's vaccine-or-test mandate, the Court once again invoked their newly invented "Major Questions" doctrine in order to declare that any issue that may be controversial in any way may not be decided by the scientists and experts at the federal agencies created to handle such things. Instead, they must be specifically directed, by Congress, to do so. Because the Clean Air Act, which tasks the EPA with regulating dangerous pollutants --- such as carbon released by coal-fired power plants, currently exacerbating our deadly climate crisis --- doesn't actually cite "carbon" specifically, the Trump/McConnell/Roberts Court has now declared the federal agency may take no action to help reduce it. Never mind their own previous findings and, of course, the number of Americans who will die because of this ruling.
The opinion was as predictable as it is corrupt. We're joined today by the great MARK JOSEPH STERN, legal journalist and Constitutional law expert at Slate, to discuss the opinion that will not only limit the EPA from doing the job it has already been tasked with by Congress, but prevent many other federal agencies from carrying out their mandates as well. It's all part of the corporate rightwing's long "war on the Administrative State". And it's a war they are now winning --- and we are all losing.
"Massachusetts v. EPA held that the federal government must --- not can, but must --- regulate and limit carbon emissions in the United States because carbon is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and thus the EPA has a legal obligation to institute guidelines that reduce the level of greenhouse gases the US is emitting," Stern emphasizes, noting that today's opinion in West Virginia v. EPA "involves a regulation that does not exist."
Nonetheless, "the Supreme Court decided to take it up just to stop Joe Biden from trying" to regulate the greenhouse emissions now warming our planet at an alarming rate. "The Supreme Court," Stern adds, "decided to simply slap limitations on [the Clean Air Act] that do not exist in the text because they do not like it as a matter of policy."
As to the so-called "Major Questions" doctrine, argues Stern, "It's hard to define, because it is made up." It's not in the Constitution and, as far as he can tell, "it comes from Brett Kavanaugh's brain. This was his idea when he was on the lower court, to try to smuggle in a kind of anti-regulatory agenda into what looks like statutory interpretation."
"The basic idea is that if an agency tries to take some kind of very consequential action, that has a serious and vast impact on the people, or the economy, or private industry, then that is a 'major question', and the Congress has to give the Agency an extremely granular and explicit permission slip to do what it wants to do, otherwise the courts will block it. The problem with this test that should be clear, is that it is totally subjective. What looks like a major question to you may look like a frivolous question to me, and it really shifts policy-making over to unelected judges from experts in federal agencies."
Of course, this is just one of the many reasons I don't refer to these people as "conservatives". They don't merely interpret the law and the Constitution, as they claim. They make shit up to justify their politics. They are the "activists legislating from the bench" that Republicans pretend to oppose --- when they are trying to block Democratic appointees from positions on the bench.
There is much more today from the wise and colorful Mr. Stern, on this matter; on a separate (largely good news) ruling from the Court today on immigration policy; on the Court's opinion last week that begins to gut the famous Miranda Rights (the right to remain silent, to an attorney, etc.) for people who are detained by law enforcement (a "sleeper case" overlooked because it came on the same day that the Court overturned Roe v. Wade); on what will or can happen once the illegitimacy of this Court becomes clear to all; and on Justice Stephen Breyer's last day on the Court today before Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as its first-ever black female jurist.
As if that's not enough, a ruling this week by SCOTUS overturned a lower federal court that found Louisiana's newly gerrymandered Congressional District map to be an unconstitutional violation of the Voting Rights Act. The lower court ordered another black majority District to be created, as state Republicans had only one among six, in a state where one-third of population is black. The ruling was similar to another in Alabama, which SCOTUS also struck down recently, ordering both states to use the gerrymandered and unconstitutional House maps drawn by Republicans for this year's critical 2022 midterm elections.
Does this signal the Court intends to overturn the entirety of the landmark Voting Rights Act, as they did with Roe? "Yes," Stern answers, before explaining how "really, they've already done it."
And then there's the new case that SCOTUS announced today they will take up in their next term, as their destruction continues. It's an election case out of North Carolina to allow the Court to create another pretend legal notion that the Right calls the "Independent State Legislature" Doctrine.
"I am terrified about this case," Stern says, as it will almost certainly be decided to allow "state legislatures to appoint electors in the Electoral College to the losing candidate in a Presidential race. Which is exactly what Donald Trump wanted them to do in 2020, and what Ginni Thomas was urging legislators to do while her husband was trying to institute this theory."
"The American people are in deep, deep, DEEP trouble," he warns.
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