All posts from “Supreme Court”

March 29, 2012

How Faith-based Groups Became Involved in the Supreme Court Health Care Case

Some groups made arguments on religious freedom while others focused on the individual mandate.

The U.S. Supreme Court listened to an unprecedented three days of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) after receiving scores of amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs from outside groups. While most religious organizations and churches sat this case out, faith-based conservative political groups weighed in with arguments ranging from religious liberty to the legal definition of a “tax.”

0328SupremeCourt_M.jpg

Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) teamed up with pro-life groups such as Americans United for Life to argue that the act violates the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. The ADF coalition argued that the individual mandate would inhibit religious freedom by “effectively forcing” individuals to pay for an abortion premium because they may be enrolled by their employers in plans that cover abortion. The ADF argued that others may be “forced to choose between insufficient plans that respect their conscience versus other plans that happen to require an abortion premium, but that may otherwise better meet their health needs or their choice of doctor network.”

Liberty Counsel, which represented Liberty University in one of the early lawsuits against the act, also argued that the act violates religious freedom, taking aim at the definition of “minimum coverage.” The law outlines a set of essential services that health care plans must include, and the details of these services are determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Liberty said that faith-based groups may be forced to choose between their religious beliefs and complying with the law, which may include the requirement to cover services like contraception that blocks uterine implantation or other services that violate the employer's faith.

Continue reading How Faith-based Groups Became Involved in the Supreme Court Health Care Case...

May 9, 2010

Obama Will Nominate Elena Kagan for Supreme Court

President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court justice, according to several news reports.

Kagan, 50, was formerly dean of Harvard Law School, was a law professor at Harvard at the University of Chicago, and served as Associate White House Counsel under President Bill Clinton. The New York Times reports that her lack of judicial experience could help and hurt her confirmation process.

As solicitor general, Ms. Kagan has represented the government before the Supreme Court for the past year, but her own views are to a large extent a matter of supposition.

Perhaps as a result, some on both sides of the ideological aisle are suspicious of her. Liberals dislike her support for strong executive power and her outreach to conservatives while running the law school. Activists on the right have attacked her for briefly barring military recruiters from a campus facility because the ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military violated the school’s anti-discrimination policy.

Replacing Justice Stevens with Ms. Kagan presumably would not alter the broad ideological balance on the court, but her relative youth means that she could have an influence on the court for decades to come, underscoring the stakes involved.

Focus on the Family Action's CitizenLink and Family Research Council have written about Kagan's issues related to homosexuality. If Kagan is nominated and confirmed, she would also be the third Jewish justice on the current bench, and there would be no Protestants on the high court.

January 22, 2010

Groups React to Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Finance

A key issue: Whether personhood applies to corporations.

Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America praised yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend money on political advertising. Sojourners, meanwhile, condemned it.

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion. "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that "the court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

"The distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant," Stevens said, especially when talking about elections. "Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. … Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

"This is sophistry," Kennedy responded in the majority opinion. "The authorized spokesman of a corporation is a human being, who speaks on behalf of the human beings who have formed that association—just as the spokesman of an unincorporated association speaks on behalf of its members. The power to publish thoughts, no less than the power to speak thoughts, belongs only to human beings, but the dissent sees no problem with a corporation's enjoying the freedom of the press."

Christian political organizations, some of which have recently been arguing against extending definitions of personhood to include some marine life, side with Kennedy in seeing corporations as people with speech rights.

"This is a win for free political speech and the right of corporate citizens to join the political process," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "Had the court not acted as it did today, the United States would have continued down the road of ever increasing restrictions and impediments to the expression of political speech."

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Young Nance agreed. "The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.

Indeed, as Focus on the Family Action spokesman Tim Goeglein indicated, groups like his speak frequently as institutional voices that may be stronger than any single personality. "Organizations like Focus on the Family Action, the family policy councils, all of our allies— this [Supreme Court decision] will give us an incredible voice in the great issues of our time."

Actually, said Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, the ruling "will give a huge boost to the special interests that already exercise a stranglehold on our political system, allowing them to tighten their grip and further prevent any meaningful change. … At a time when financial reform is at the forefront of people's concerns, giving big banks and corporations a green light to even further influence our political process is an outrage and an assault to democracy."

At First Things, Hadley Arkes is one of the few to discuss the corporate personhood issue:

It is curious that the dissenters do not appreciate this axiomatic point: that a corporation is simply another form of an association of "human persons." The question was raised in the first case eliciting a set of opinions from the Court (Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793) … On what ground could a state be obliged to honor its promises and contracts? On the same ground that a person can be obliged to honor his promise, for he has made people vulnerable to the prospect that the promise will be kept. But if that holds true for the ordinary human person, why would it not hold true for an organization that is simply an association of human persons? It made the most profound difference that one understood "the State," in America, as an association of free persons, who have a claim to be ruled only with their consent.

October 5, 2009

Supreme Court Rejects Cases on 'Choose Life' Plates, Church Property Fight, Catholic Abuse Papers

The Supreme Court announced today that it will not hear cases involving ‘Choose Life’ license plates in Illinois, a church property dispute in California, and an appeal to keep sexual abuse case documents sealed in Connecticut.

supremecourt.JPG

The court rejected a free-speech claim from Choose Life Illinois Inc., which gathered more than 25,000 signatures from people who wanted a "Choose Life" plate.

State officials refused to create the plate, saying the state did not want to appear to be taking a position on abortion.
According to the Tribune, 24 states offer "Choose Life" license plates, and there are efforts to gain approval in 14 more states.

The high court also declined to hear an appeal from St. James Anglican Church, which split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 and is now aligned with with the conservative Anglican Church of North America. California's Supreme Court had ruled that St. James could not take its property.

Finally, the court rejected a request by a Connecticut diocese to delay the release of court documents related to sexually abusive clergy. Four newspapers sued for access to court records and depositions, which Connecticut courts have ruled should be open to the public. The diocese released a statement, saying the court order threatens all churches' First Amendment rights.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear Salazar v. Buono regarding a cross in the Mojave National Preserve in California.

August 25, 2009

Supreme Court Orders Abuse Records Unsealed

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that documents from lawsuits against six Roman Catholic priests for alleged sexual abuse must be unsealed, according to the Associated Press.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg denied the Connecticut diocese's request to keep the seal until the full court decides whether to review the case. The diocese wrote that it intends to ask the full U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, stating that "granting access to such documents would intrude upon the private affairs of citizens, with the potential to inflict great harm and injustice."

The records have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001, and an attorney representing The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post requested to see the documents. Here's more from the Hartford Courant.

In its motion asking the high court to keep the stay in place, the diocese says there is a good chance the high court will take up the diocese's case because of two issues: the state Supreme Court's definition of what constitutes a legal document; and the church's contention that its First Amendment rights would be violated by the unsealing of documents that church officials produced with the understanding that they would be sealed forever.

July 21, 2009

Yale Law's Stephen Carter: Empathy an 'Empty Standard'

The novelist and law professor supports Sotomayor, critiques Obama.

stephen_carter_home_image.jpg

Former CT associate editor Edward Gilbreath has interviewed former CT columnist (and novelist and Yale Law professor) Stephen Carter over at UrbanFaith.com. They discuss Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and then briefly touch on race relations, education reform, and, oh yes, Carter's new novel, Jericho's Fall.

A sample: Gilbreath asks Carter "as a law expert and an African-American" what he thinks of President Obama using the criterion of "empathy" in selecting a nominee. Here is Carter's response:

Continue reading Yale Law's Stephen Carter: Empathy an 'Empty Standard'...

July 13, 2009

Conservatives Offer Last Words as Sotomayor Hearings Begin

Senate confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor began today as the Supreme Court nominee tried to preempt some of her critics.

"The task of a judge is not to make law," she said in her opening statement. "It is to apply law."

Norma McCorvey, known as "Jane Roe" during the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, was arrested after she yelled that Sotomayor was "wrong" during Sen. Al Franken's opening statement.

0713Sotomayor.jpg

McCorvey became pro-life and converted to Catholicism after she befriended with one of an Operation Rescue leader.

Richard Land and other conservatives are concerned that Sotomayor would be an activist judge.

"The bottom line is that Sonia Sotomayor is an unpredictable wildcard," Land said in a statement today. "Across the issues her record is either far too thin or hidden behind non-published orders and per curium opinions. Simply put, placing Sonia Sotomayor on the highest court in the land jeopardizes our nation's commitment to equal treatment under the law."

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, plans to testify on Sotomayor's connection to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed several briefs related to abortion while she was on its governing board.

Continue reading Conservatives Offer Last Words as Sotomayor Hearings Begin...

May 26, 2009

Speaking of Stephen Carter...

'I have been rooting for her all along,' says the Yale Law prof and former CT columnist.

The former Christianity Today columnist, now writing for The Daily Beast, writes, "I have been rooting for [Sonia Sotomayor] all along. Not only because I know her, but because everything I know about her suggests that she will be a fantastic justice. ... I suppose the left will not be entirely happy with the president’s choice, and the right, not entirely unhappy."

May 26, 2009

Pro-Life Group Consensus on Sotomayor: 'Activist'

More reactions to Obama's Supreme Court nominee continue to come in from pro-life groups. So far all include a reference to Sotomayor's "where policy is made" comment, and none include a reference to her decisions related to abortion.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice calls the Sotomayor nomination "a very aggressive decision that will trigger a national debate on the issue of judicial activism."

Mario Diaz, Policy Director for Legal Issues for Concerned Women for America, called Sotomayor's "policy is made" statement "a very dangerous way of looking at the role of a judge for those of us who value our freedoms as guaranteed in the Constitution."

Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright is more troubled by a 2001 speech Sotomayor made at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, in which she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." The comment "reveal[s] her immodest bias," Wright said.

The full speech is worth reading, not least because Sotomayor makes repeated reference to Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby by Yale Law School professor (and former CT columnist) Stephen Carter.

"I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group," she wrote. She continued:

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage. ...

I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering.

May 26, 2009

Hope

Faint praise from before today's Supreme Court announcement.

Worth noting: Before today's news, LifeNews called Sotomayor "The only potential Supreme Court justice who may provide hope for pro-life advocates."

Update: Be sure to read LifeSite's Steven Ertelt explaining the characterization in the comments section, below.

May 26, 2009

The Offhand Comment Pro-Life Groups Don't Like

Expect to hear a lot of discussion about 'where policy is made.'

Expect to see a lot less discussion of Sotomayor's two abortion-related decisions than interpretation of this quote, said in an ambiguously humorous context:

All of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with Court of Appeals experience. Because it is - Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know, and I know, that this is on tape, and I should never say that. Because we don't 'make law,' I know. Okay, I know. I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know. Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating. Its interpretation, its application.

Indeed, Americans United for Life's first press release on Sotomayor says nothing about Center for Reproductive Law & Policy v. Bush or Amnesty America v. West Hartford. Instead, the group says:

For all the President's talk of finding "common ground,' this appointment completely contradicts that hollow promise. Judge Sonia Sotomayor's judicial philosophy undermines common ground. She is a radical pick that divides America. She believes the role of the Court is to set policy which is exactly the philosophy that led to the Supreme Court turning into the 'National Abortion Control Board,' denying the American people to right to be heard on this critical issue. This appointment would provide a pedestal for an avowed judicial activist to impose her personal policy and beliefs onto others from the bench, at a time when the Courts are at a crossroad and critical abortion regulations – supported by the vast majority of Americans – like partial-birth abortion and informed consent laws lie in the balance.

May 26, 2009

The Sotomayor Decision Pro-Life Groups Aren't Sure About

In 2004, she ruled that a group of clinic protesters could proceed with its suit.

In 1989, members of Amnesty America entered an abortion clinic in West Hartford, Connecticut, chained themselves together, and blocked the entrance. When police arrived, the protesters used passive resistance to continue their protest (among their techniques: covering their hands in maple syrup to make handcuffs less useful).

The police dragged the protesters out anyway, and Amnesty America members sued, saying several of them suffered lasting physical damage from the police officers' actions (among the claims: an officer rammed a protester's head into a wall).

A district court issued a summary judgment for the town of West Hartford, but Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and sent it back to the lower court for a jury trial.

"It is entirely possible that a reasonable jury would find, as the district court intimated, that the police officers' use of force was objectively reasonable given the circumstances and the plaintiffs' resistance techniques," Sotomayor wrote. "Because a reasonable jury could also find that the officers gratuitously inflicted pain in a manner that was not a reasonable response to the circumstances, however, the determination as to the objective reasonableness of the force used must be made by a jury following a trial."

Sotomayor also warned the group that its lawyer was unprofessional. He "has hardly acted as an effective advocate for his clients by presenting briefs so haphazardly prepared that they contain almost no legal argument," she wrote. His behavior was so bad, she wrote that, "we would be within our discretion to summarily dismiss this appeal. We opt, however, to consider the merits of this appeal because plaintiffs' claims are substantial enough to merit a trial, and declining to consider this appeal would unfairly penalize plaintiffs for Williams's failings as an advocate."

Pro-lifers seem unimpressed by the decision. "Though not concerning abortion policy directly, the case is viewed as a stand against free speech for pro-life advocates," says a briefing at LifeNews.com. Eh? It's hard to see the decision as anything but a good thing for this particular pro-life group. The question is more about how large the decision's implications are.

May 26, 2009

The Sotomayor Decision Pro-Life Groups Like

In 2002, she rejected a challenge to Bush's Mexico City Policy.

Shortly after President George W. Bush reinstituted the Mexico City Policy (which bars government funds to groups that support or perform abortion), the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy sued.

The pro-choice group's argument was that the Mexico City Policy unconstitutionally violated rights of speech (since it couldn't "actively promote" abortion) and association (it couldn't work with abortion rights advocacy groups overseas) as well as the constitution's Equal Protection Clause (it wasn't on "equal footing" with prolife groups in competing for funds).

When the case came before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sonia Sotomayor (whom President Obama this morning nominated to the Supreme Court) ruled against the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy.

"The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds," Sotomayor wrote.

Does that mean she's pro-life? No. It means she had read Rust v. Sullivan, the 1991 Supreme Court's decision that said Congress could prohibit federal funds for "programs where abortion is a method of family planning."

May 26, 2009

AP: Obama picks Sotomayor for Supreme Court

Sotomayor.jpg

President Obama will choose U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court today, according to an AP report.

Sotomayor (SUHN'-ya soh-toh-my-YOR') will take retiring Justice David Souter's place if she is approved by the Senate. She would be the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

According to the New York Times Caucus blog, Obama's short list included Federal Appeals Judge Diane P. Wood of Chicago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Obama will make the announcement at 10:15 Eastern. You can watch live on the White House website. Check back here for updates.

April 21, 2009

Justice Clarence Thomas: 'There are some cases that will drive you to your knees'

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was asked how his religious faith influenced his work on the court during a dinner honoring winners of a high school essay contest.

"I think that it really gives content to the oath that you took," Justice Thomas said. "You say, ?So help me God.' "

"There are some cases that will drive you to your knees," he added. "In those moments you ask for strength and wisdom to have the right answer and the courage to stand up for it. Beyond that, it would be illegitimate, I think, and a violation of my oath to incorporate my religious beliefs into the decision-making process."

(h/t Howard M. Friedman)

March 3, 2009

Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a high school football coach who was banned from bowing his head during student-led team prayers.

Without comment Monday, the nation's highest court ended Coach Marcus Borden's efforts to overturn a township decision that as a public employee, Borden cannot mix religion with his work as a coach.


football.jpg

The high court's decision leaves intact a federal appeals court's April decision that Borden's desire to bow his head and take a knee during team prayer is an endorsement of religious activity at a public school.

Neither Borden, who has been the football coach at East Brunswick High School since 1983, nor his attorney, Ronald Riccio, could be reached for comment.

Borden has been fighting for the right to bow and kneel in prayer with his team since November 2005, when he filed a federal lawsuit arguing the school district's regulations were overly broad. He won a U.S. District Court ruling in July 2006 in which a judge decided those rules were unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed at the appellate level.

Continue reading Supreme Court Declines Case of Praying Football Coach...

February 26, 2009

Court Sides with Montana Church over Free Speech

The free speech rights of a Montana church were violated when it was told to register as a political committee after hosting an anti-gay marriage event in 2004, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church in East Helena, Mont., overturned a lower court decision.

The church participated in a "Battle for Marriage" satellite simulcast in 2004 and distributed petitions in support of a successful initiative to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman in Montana's constitution.

Continue reading Court Sides with Montana Church over Free Speech...

February 26, 2009

House Members Call for Anti-abortion Steps in Spending Bill

More than 180 House members sent a letter to House Democratic leaders on Wednesday , calling for upcoming spending bills to maintain longstanding anti-abortion provisions.

"These measures ... reflect the moral concerns of many Americans who do not wish to see their tax dollars used for any organization that provides abortion services," said the letter.

The letter asks House Democratic leaders to maintain provisions such as the Hyde Amendment, in effect since 1976, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions except in limited cases.

Continue reading House Members Call for Anti-abortion Steps in Spending Bill...

February 24, 2009

Supreme Court to Consider Case of Cross Monument in Mohave Desert

The Supreme Court decided Monday (Feb. 23) to consider a case about a controversial eight-foot cross that was erected as a war memorial on federal property in California.

The legal battle surrounding the memorial in the Mohave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif., has pitted veterans groups against advocates for church-state separation.

courts.JPG

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross and a 2004 congressional statute designed to maintain its placement is unconstitutional.

"It is bad enough to say that the veterans' memorial is unconstitutional, but it is outrageous to say that the government cannot give the monument back to the people who spilled their blood and put it there in the first place," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute and attorney for the VFW and other veterans
groups, which sought the high court's review of the case.

After the National Park Service denied a request to erect a Buddhist shrine in the preserve, a visitor to the preserve sued in 2001 because the property was not "open to groups and individuals to erect other free-standing, permanent displays."

Continue reading Supreme Court to Consider Case of Cross Monument in Mohave Desert...