Another Important Supreme Court Ruling

January 19, 2012

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled as it often has in the past on a death penalty case. In this case it was a death row inmate whose lawyers had essentially abandoned him during the appeals process. NPR gives a good overview of the case:

The U.S. Supreme Court has given an Alabama death row inmate another chance to fight his execution. By a 7-to-2 vote, the court ruled Wednesday that convicted murderer Cory Maples, “through no fault of his own,” was denied the right to appeal because he was abandoned by his lawyers.

Though I strongly support the death penalty, I think it is critical that those who face it get every opportunity to have competent representation and the full range of appeals available by law. I don’t in fact know how someone who supports the death penalty could think otherwise unless they are just completely indifferent to the lives of other human beings. My concern though is not merely a procedural one, but a personal one. As someone who worked on death penalty appeal that went to the Supreme Court (STATE of Louisiana vs. John L. SULLIVAN), I know that the system occasionally fails to deliver justice to defendants.

In what may be a unique occurrence, I particularly agree with Justice Ginsburg’s argument in this case:

The sole question this Court has taken up for review is whether, on the extraordinary facts of Maples’ case, there is “cause” to excuse the default. Maples maintains that there is, for the lawyers he believed to be vigilantly representing him had abandoned the case without leave of court, without informing Maples they could no longer represent him, and without securing any recorded substitution of counsel. We agree. Abandoned by counsel, Maples was left unrepresented at a critical time for his state post conviction petition, and he lacked a clue of any need to protect himself pro se. In these circumstances, no just system would lay the default at Maples’ death-cell door.

The death penalty has an important purpose in a just society, even with the human pitfalls and limitations our judicial system presents. But when the court focuses merely on technicalities and procedure, it can miss justice.

And that would be a tragedy by any measure.


A Unanimous Court Slaps Down the Obama Administration

January 17, 2012

Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling involving the application of the 1st amendment with regard to a church hiring and firing those it considered ‘ministers’ within the church. The specific case concerned Cheryl Perich who worked as a teacher for a school run by the church. Fearing the school would fire her because of her narcolepsy, she began an effort to bring a claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The church had a policy that those who were working as ministers in the church were required to resolve disputes within the church.  Because she was a trained minister in addition to being a teacher and because she brought the claim to the EEOC, Perich was subsequently fired.

The case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arose as a result of the EEOC and the administration pursuing a lawsuit against the church on Ms. Perich’s behalf. As the New York Times put it, the reaction by religious groups to the Obama Administration’s support of the EEOC was as vociferous as one would expect:

Many religious groups were outraged when the Obama administration argued in support of Ms. Perich, saying this was evidence that the administration was hostile to historically protected religious liberties.

Indeed, those lining up on either side of the case read like a who’s who of cultural warriors – it was American Bible Society, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rutherford Institute and Wallbuilders verses the People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Humanist Association and American Atheists. In many ways this was a strong test case for claim by secularists that the acceptance of their views about church and state are gaining ground. What most expected was the usual split decision with a slim majority falling on either side of the issue and no strong precedent being set. The resulting decision was virtually the opposite of this. In a rare 9-0 decision the Supreme Court dealt a stinging rebuke bot to the Obama administration and to secularists who would like to diminish the power of religious organizations to order their own affairs. It granted, via the clear wording of the 1st amendment a “ministerial exception,” – that the 1st amendment protects the right of religious organizations to hire, retain, and fire its own leaders in accordance with its own doctrines, not in accordance with the employment laws of the US government.

As Justice Alito put it in the decision, “The Constitution leaves it to the collective conscience of each religious group to determine for itself who is qualified to serve as a teacher or messenger of its faith.”

Given the 1st amendment’s clear prohibition against ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion this result would seem obvious but this administration’s propensity for using its regulatory powers to impose it’s agenda on religious organizations and individuals is becoming its hallmark.

It’s good we still have courts to limit that overreach.

Mon Dieu! The French do Something Right!

January 29, 2011


It is an obvious ruling, but it’s been a awhile since we have seen such good sense from a European court:

France Gay Marriage Ban Is Constitutional, Top Watchdog Rules

…the country whose motto is “Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite” and whose name rhymes with romance hasn’t given the love and commitment of same-sex couples an equal legal standing to that of heterosexuals.

An ongoing debate over the issue is now gathering steam.

A trigger point came on Friday when the Constitutional Court – an esteemed body that counts former Presidents Jacques Chirac and Valery Giscard d’Estaing as members – ruled that laws banning gay marriage don’t violate the constitution. They said any change is for parliament to decide.

  Given the recent penchant of the American courts to emulate European rulings on various issues, this bodes well for the inevitable ruling by the American Supreme Court on the issue.

One only hopes they can show such bon sens.

Is the Homosexual Agenda Fascistic?

June 29, 2010

As they pursue their agenda, the homosexual lobby attempts to frame itself as advancing fundamental freedoms. They liken themselves to civil rights advocates that came before – those that pursued greater freedom and fundamental rights for racial minorities and for women. To the degree that they can do this, they find great sympathy amongst the American electorate who are ever interested in advancing such freedoms as indicated by our 200+ year history.

But the question has to be asked, does the homosexual agenda actually advance freedom? Two recent events suggest the opposite.

The first takes place in my home state of Minnesota at the Twin Cities ‘Pride’ festival in Minneapolis’ Loring Park, which is a yearly gay celebration event. For the past ten years, Brian Johnson has passed out Bibles at the event, partly in protest of the event. He was even allowed to have a vendor booth there – until last year. This year he sought to continue to pass out Bibles and literature in the public park during the event – and the event organizers then sought a restraining order to keep him from doing so. A US District Court Judge then ruled in favor of the protestor and he was allowed to express himself at this public venue.

In attempting to restrict the rights of Brian Johnson, the Gay Pride Event organizers were actually being consistent with the effects of laws in place elsewhere that presumably protect homosexual rights, as has been noted before on this blog. Already in certain places in Europe one can be arrested for expressing criticism of the homosexual lifestyle or homosexual behavior. This demonstrates how, unlike other civil rights groups, the homosexual lobby seeks not only to prevent obvious discrimination, but they also want require acceptance of their behaviors, affirmation of their lifestyles, and a state sanction of their point of view. As much as this is true they seek to limit the religious and free expression rights of other. But in a recent Supreme Court decision they go even farther.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled along these lines in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case where a Christian student group was uniquely denied recognition at a University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. They were denied access because they failed to comply with the college’s view of homosexuality by not allowing those who advocated a, “sexually immoral lifestyle” from having membership in the organization. Notice that the criteria made no specific mention of homosexuality or sexual orientation – merely that the choice of advocating certain lifestyles deemed immoral by their Christian faith (which would include adultery and sex outside of marriage) was contrary to the purposes of the organization.

It is notable that certain Christian beliefs would be contrary to the tenets of a gay advocacy group as well, and for such a group to exclude Christians who didn’t agree with the purpose would be exactly the same. Just as avowed Republicans could be excluded from a student Democrat group, or an avowed capitalist from the Young Communist League. Diversity on campus derives not from forcing every group to admit members who oppose the primary purpose of a group, but from allowing all sorts of groups to advocate on behalf of their own beliefs and interests. Forcing a Jewish organization to accept Neo-Nazi’s or a feminist group to be taken over by men is not to enhance ‘diversity’ but to subdue the messages and purposes of those groups. In the same way the policy of Hasting’s Law College abrogates the fundamental rights of CLS to express and advocate on behalf of a particular point of view – which incidentally is exactly the precedent held by previous Supreme Court rulings like Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Both these decisions affirmed the right to association and its importance in preserving our 1st amendment rights.

In a matter of a few years we have gone from recognizing this freedom to completely rescinding it with CLS v Martinez. The primary reason we have done so is because of the influence of the homosexual lobby and its political agenda, which is consistently antagonistic to the rights of others. In fact, other than Islam, the most repressive force in Western societies is political correctness which is consists in large part of advancing the gay agenda. As Justice Alito brilliantly observes:

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country. Our First Amendment reflects a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964). Even if the United States is the only Nation that shares this commitment to the same extent, I would not change our law to conform to the international norm. I fear that the Court’s decision marks a turn in that direction. Even those who find CLS’s views objectionable should be concerned about the way the group has been treated—by Hastings, the Court of Appeals, and now this Court. I can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration.

This decision will only be an aberration to the degree that the American electorate rejects the homosexual agenda – otherwise we can expect that our rights will continue to be reduced in the name of political correctness.

The Old Rugged Cross

April 28, 2010

With the Supreme Court evenly split between judicial liberals and conservatives (with Justice Kennedy falling somewhere in between), court watchers usually find something to be disappointed or delighted with in each new ruling, depending on their own political bent. Today’s ruling on Salazar v. Buono will leave most simply confused.

 A quick summary of the case is this – in 1934 the VFW erected a large cross on ‘Sunrise Rock’ near San Bernadino, CA. In 1994, the area was designated the Mojave National Preserve, making it a Federal land.

 In 2001, Frank Buono, a former National Park Service employee sued the Federal Government to have them remove the memorial based on it’s supposed violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. While that was pending in court, Congress designated the cross a national memorial. Seven months later the court ruled the cross could not be displayed on Federal lands. Three months after that Congress passed a provision that Federal funds couldn’t be used to dismantle the cross. Nearly a year later Congress moved to transfer the land to the Veterans Home of California to maintain the Cross memorial.

 The Ninth Circuit court of appeals affirmed the earlier court ruling, and then sought to bar the transfer of the land. The next appeal landed it on the Supreme Courts docket.

 Clear enough? It gets worse.

 In their decision today the court ruled the lower court had erred in barring the land transfer, and remanded the case back to the lower court for reconsideration based on the Higher Court’s stipulations. Of course, that was the opinion of two of the justices – a third concurring justice didn’t think the transfer should be held up at all. Two of the conservative justices didn’t think Buono had standing to bring the case to begin with, and the other four liberal dissenters said the lower court ruling should stand.

Which I think puts us back at square one – in the meantime the cross stands there in the desert, not harming anyone.

In which I disagree with nearly the entire Supreme Court

April 20, 2010

The court ruled today, in an extremely rare 8-1 decision, that the 1st Amendment protects videos depicting acts of animal cruelty. Specifically mentioned were the selling of videos of dogfights, boar hunts (by pit bulls) and ‘crush videos’ which apparently depict, disgustingly, women crushing small animals with their high heel clad feet.

Only one justice (Alito) had the good sense to dissent, noting rightly that, The animals used in crush videos are living creatures that experience excruciating pain. Our society has long banned such cruelty”. One imagines the PETA people are cursing the ACLU folks right about now – and for this rare moment I would agree with them.

None the less, considering the 1st amendment precedents, this ruling is not so surprising. The court has in times past defended as legitimate exercises of one’s 1st amendment rights, ‘exotic dancing’, graphic pornography, and burning the flag. It is of little surprise that images of animal cruelty should be protected under such a legal theory, though it is unclear how far out the boundaries lie – would the torturing and killing of humans for profit be next?

I personally would offer that this and the preceding rulings fail on similar grounds – namely that the 1st amendment was never designed to protect such broad expressions. In fact, I think the 1st amendment should be construed much more narrowly – limited to the written and spoken word. Within that purview, if one wants to describe verbally or through text all manner of cruelty and obscenity, the first amendment should be a strong fortress of protection. This would seem to fit the spirit with which the first amendment was written, much as it existed to protect those words which were spoken against those in authority – as a means of addressing and criticizing abuses of official power, not as means of profiting from every manner of degradation. Visualizations however, particularly those to make money, should be afforded much less protection; indeed, they could not even have been conceived of by the original authors of the 1st amendment.

The other benefit to this understanding is that it would bolster an informed electorate in as much as those who wished to express themselves freely would have to know how to read and write well, in addition to knowing how to speak – mere protest through acting out or profiting from the degrading of others could be limited.

Of course, we have probably gone too far down this road to turn back now. And as the Progressives now in power actually hate opposition expressed in word and print more than they do the actual harm and degradation of animals and humans, there is little hope of official support for such change.