Guest: Legal journalist Mark Joseph Stern of Slate on that and other 'Major Questions' from our radical, activist, corrupted U.S. Supreme Court...
It's been too long, but we're delighted to have one of our favorite guests back on today's BradCast! [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]
But first, in a rare, one day only special session of the State Legislature called by Iowa's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday, GOP lawmakers in the Hawkeye State hastily adopted a ban on almost all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before most know they are even pregnant.
Reynolds had the temerity to declare that "the voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer." That, despite recent state polling finding that 61% of voters in Iowa support legal abortion in all or most cases, with just 35% saying it should be banned.
Well, the "elected representatives" have now been heard --- Reynolds plans to sign the measure on Friday, when it will immediately take effect --- but the voices of Iowans certainly haven't. The new law was passed with only Republican votes. It allows limited exceptions after 6 weeks in some cases of rape, incest and certain medical emergencies. A lawsuit by proponents of reproductive freedom was filed today. We explain the details and the news that former Vice President and current 2024 GOP candidate for President, Mike Pence, is both calling for a similar ban at the federal level and believes abortion should be banned even when a pregnancy is not viable and doctors have determined a baby cannot survive outside of the womb. (None of the other 2024 GOP candidates has been willing to say they disagree with Pence.)
That cruelty, unfortunately, is now par for the course in the Republican Party, and is reflected in similar legislative bans on reproductive freedoms now in at least 17 states just one year after the corrupted, far-right U.S. Supreme Court activist majority overturned Roe v. Wade's 50 years of Constitutional reproductive freedoms.
Rulings made by SCOTUS this year, sadly, are no less radical, even as several of them issued at term's end last month have been cited by some in the media to suggest that Chief Justice John Roberts has somewhat "moderated" the most extreme positions of the Court. That would be inaccurate, but exactly what Roberts had hoped for.
We're joined today by the great MARK JOSEPH STERN, legal journalist at Slate to discuss a number of those decisions, and what has now emerged as Roberts' neat trick to hoax the media into regarding him and some of the opinions issued by the Court this year as "moderate".
In short, as Stern details today, Roberts is essentially manipulating the Court's docket --- by determining which cases to hear and which ones not to --- in order to make SCOTUS' end-of-term opinions appear less extreme, overall, than they actually are.
"They have consistently taken up these cases that sort of seem designed to terrify liberals. Then, when the case comes down in a way that's not the end of the world, they get good headlines," he explains.
"The Court really shouldn't have been hearing a lot of these cases in the first place. So, by deciding them in a so-called 'liberal way', they create this image of balance and moderation that's not really deserved," he argues. "There's no better example of that than the Independent State Legislature case [Moore v. Harper]. There was absolutely no reason for the Supreme Court to intervene, and yet it reached down and grabbed that case. And, by deciding it in a somewhat moderate way --- although Roberts left the door open for mischief, as he so often does --- the Court got great headlines as being so moderate and thoughtful."
"That is a trick that the Chief Justice is very good at playing on the media. But it's not one I think we should fall for, given how obvious it is and how many decisions that he really cares about [that] end up coming out so far to the right over and over again."
"We pretend as though these cases emerged out of nowhere, when in reality, the Court is building a very careful story, using each individual case to try to show something about the Court that it thinks will appeal to the public." But that doesn't reveal the full story, Stern argues. "The 'liberal victories' simply leave the law as it was, without making any changes. Whereas the conservative victories radically overhaul the law in ways that were unimaginable just five or six years ago. That's also something that I think is very difficult to explain to people who don't watch the Court closely, but becomes blazingly obvious once you apply a little bit of scrutiny to how this Court operates."
And now, it's all making much more sense.
We saw that neat trick play out once again this year, as the stolen, packed and corrupted far-right majority, at terms end, ultimately reverted to form to overturn decades-old precedents regarding race-based Affirmative Action in college admissions (though not other Affirmative Actions, for example, legacy admissions and those for the kids of high ticket donors); the Court expanded newly discovered Constitutional "religious freedoms" to allow web page designers (and, actually, any other business) to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers based on imaginary --- in fact, wholly fraudulent --- grievances; they picked up on last year's Judicial Activism by further restricting the EPA's ability to meet mandates of landmark laws passed by Congress, in this year's case, the Clean Water Act; and, they determined that while forgiving millions of dollar in loans to so-called small businesses and cutting taxes for billionaires was just fine, forgiving $10,000 to student loan borrowers during a national emergency --- in specific accordance with the original text of federal law --- was a bridge too far for a President of the United States...or, at least for the current President of the United States. (The Court showed no such "conservatism" when Donald Trump used the same exact law to "modify or waive" conditions for the same student loans.)
As bad as all of those decisions were, I had specific questions about one of them that sort of seems to give away the game for this far-right Court, with six Republican-appointed Justices now more than happy to legislate from the bench after years of their party pretending to be against that sort of thing.
As it turns out, the case I had questions about --- the one I saw as the most alarming and worst ruling of the term --- is one that Stern felt the same about. It's the one in which the Court relies on a made-up-out-of-whole-cloth, completely subjective test they now refer to as the "Major Questions Doctrine" whenever they don't have a legitimate reason to block an Executive Branch action, even when it's based on the specific text of a law they may not like.
"Justice Kagan has called this a 'get-out-of-text-free card,'" Stern tells me. "This is not a legitimate tool of statutory interpretation, because it means that the Court can set aside what the actual words of the law say, and just apply their own opinion, under this very thin guise of trying to uphold Congress' will." Last year they cited this pretend "doctrine" to say the EPA couldn't regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, despite the specific text of the law, because it was just too much of a "Major Question" that Congress had to speak to in more specific language somehow. This year, they used it to block President Biden from forgiving certain student loans amid the COVID pandemic, as specifically allowed by the HEROES Act.
"When you're dealing with the federal government, every policy is going to be major," Stern argues. "Every policy is going to affect as many as 300 million Americans. Every policy is going to have a fiscal impact of more than billions of dollars. So this is really just an excuse, in every single case, for the Court to ignore the law that Congress has passed, perversely while claiming to uphold Congress' wishes."
We discuss that and much more today, including which upcoming cases most concern him on the docket for the Court's next term. Should we freak out about them? Or are they also now just part of Robert's insidious manipulation to be sure to have a few cases on which the Court's rightwingers can appear to be far less radical than they actually are?...
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