Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Supreme Court

The Republicans are Sticking with Kavanaugh for Purely Political Reasons

Remember when Antonin Scalia died and Barack Obama tried to replace him? I remember because on that occasion I wrote one of the most mistaken pieces I’ve ever published on this site: “How Obama Can Replace Scalia“. In that piece, I argued that because previous Supreme Court justices had been replaced in time periods much shorter than the remainder of Obama’s term, Obama would surely also be able to replace Scalia before leaving office. After all, if Republicans attempted to block him for almost a full year, the public would be furious with them for playing politics with the court, and would play a price at the 2016 election. I even had a nice chart:

Scalia Replacement

I was completely wrong about this because I underestimated the degree to which the Supreme Court has become transparently political, even in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Our political parties hardly even have to excuse politicising the court (though they try to do so anyway). We all know that some of the justices are conservative and some are liberal, even if they couch their political ideology behind legal theories like “originalism” and “textualism”. We recognise that there is no such thing as an apolitical judge, that when judges claim to be politically neutral they are being disingenuous. So we now treat Supreme Court nominations like any other political issue and fight tooth and nail to ensure that the next judge is someone we can ideologically live with. And we may have to live with their ideology a long time–between presidents picking younger judges and judges living longer, the average bench time for a Supreme Court justice has quietly increased by around a decade. Having learnt from my mistakes, I now look at the fight to replace Anthony Kennedy quite differently.

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The Supreme Court is Gripped by an Unsustainable Conception of Individual Freedom

Today the Supreme Court voted, 5-4, to enable public sector workers to unilaterally withhold contributions from their unions. Justices Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kennedy were in the majority, with Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Breyer in dissent. The principle guiding the majority’s decision is simple and intuitively appealing. When workers pay unions dues, those unions use that money to fund political speech. Individual workers may not agree with the union’s speech acts, and therefore compelling them to pay dues ties their employment to their willingness to espouse a particular kind of political speech with their wallets. The court argues that requiring workers to make certain kinds of political speech acts with their wallets to retain employment violates their free speech rights. The argument is internally valid–it makes sense, given a particular conception of individual freedom. The trouble is that this conception of individual freedom is destabilising the labour market in a politically dangerous way, and in consistently choosing to interpret this principle in this way the court is threatening the legitimacy of the state.

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Bernie Sanders is Right to Oppose Gorsuch

Today US Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) announced his intent to support efforts to filibuster Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination:

Sanders has made the right call. Here’s why.

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How the Left Can Survive Under Trump

Over the last few days, many people have been panicking about what Donald Trump might do as president. There is a lot of fear. Because most commentators and academics are deeply hostile to Trump, many people writing about this are still deeply emotionally shaken by the result. This has tended to color the analysis and produce polemics. So today I want to take a step back and try to calmly, rationally assess what kind of threat Trump poses and what opportunities he creates. In this post we’ll focus on the threats, and in the next one we’ll talk about the opportunities

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The Strategy Behind the Nomination of Merrick Garland

President Obama decided to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Democrats and republicans are trying to turn his nomination into an argument about procedural principles that neither side is really committed to in the abstract–there have of course been previous occasions when some of the same democrats who today scold republicans for not “doing their jobs” tried to argue that nominations shouldn’t be made in election years, and there have of course been previous occasions when some of the same republicans who today scold democrats for trying to deny the people a say in the nominating process tried to argue that congress has a duty to consider the president’s nominee. We’re not fooling each other, so let’s stop fooling ourselves–we appeal to whichever procedural principles happen to advance our ideological objectives.¬†Crying hypocrisy about procedure misses the point–both sides are consistent about which objectives they consider good, and they use whatever¬†political means available to them to achieve those objectives. So instead of hiding behind procedure, let’s instead talk about the Garland nomination through an explicitly ideological lens.

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