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Roberts Court: Retrograde Five
by Jake Highton
Jul 11, 2010 | 1157 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
President George W. Bush mercifully has left the White House but his Supreme Court legacy will plague the nation for decades.

The court is a corporate and business body doing the bidding of the Republican Party.

Proof: The court took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 13 of 16 cases during the 2009-2010 term.

It was ever thus as a new book by Jeff Shesol makes clear. Shesol’s “Supreme Power” details Franklin Roosevelt’s clash with court reactionaries because of its systematic destruction of the New Deal.

As Walter Lippmann, a highly respected columnist of the era, put it: the Hughes Court of the 1930s was “out of harmony with the needs” of the vast majority of people.

Then, as now, a constant stream of 5-4 decisions kept the nation benighted despite the overwhelming mandate for FDR during the Great Depression. After the 1934 mid-term election Roosevelt Democrats controlled both the House and Senate by crushing 75 percent margins.

Yet then, as now, the court is considered by many people a “sacred shrine,” “a secular priesthood.” The justices were and are “black-robed gods.” They were and are pure: without politics and prejudices.

The truth is otherwise. The names of the “players” change but court politicking continues under the holy guise.

The most outrageous of the many outrageous decisions by the Roberts Court this term was Citizens United. It declared that corporate money is speech. The First Amendment may be America’s greatest glory but it was never intended for faceless corporations.

Not satisfied with having established their Republican bona fides, the court struck down an Arizona law that tried to level the political playing field. The court nullified a statute giving matching funds to candidates running against privately funded opponents.

In still another egregious ruling, the court voided all state and local gun control laws. It used the musty old argument that the Second Amendment prohibits such laws.

Never mind, as Justice Breyer noted in dissent, that handguns yearly cause 10,000 deaths and 40,0.000 injuries. The Chicago ordinance that was shot down was an effort to curb school gunplay. Thirty-two school kids were killed in Chicago last year and 226 injured.

Many states and cities imposed curbs to alleviate such carnage. Now the nefarious National Rifle Association is still freer to promote mayhem.

So-called national security nearly always trumps the First Amendment. So it was business as usual for the Roberts Court when it ruled that legal and political training offered by the Humanitarian Law Project was abetting terrorists.

In dissent Justice Breyer had it right: the majority was too credulous in accepting the government’s claim that national security was imperiled. National security is never at risk in such matters but governments, whether Democratic or Republican, find it an irresistible argument.

Meanwhile the court, ever hostile to cameras in the courtroom, halted telecasting of a same-sex trial in San Francisco. It’s an issue that needs light, not court-imposed darkness. 

The 2009-2010 term did have one standout decision: It ruled that juveniles who commit crimes in which no one was killed cannot be sentenced to life in prison.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Stevens wrote: “Punishment that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may in the light of reason be found cruel and unusual at a later time.”

This was too much for the great 14th century mind of Justice Thomas. He lamented that the only cruel and unusual punishment was torture.

On the positive side, the court asked Georgia to reconsider the death sentence of an innocent man. Nevertheless, the dissenting troglodytes, Justice Scalia and Thomas, insisted that the court has no duty to prevent the death of someone who is innocent.

In another case the heartless duo dissented when the court said a man could not be sentenced to death just becase his lawyer missed a filing deadine. The law is the law, the merciless ones insisted — even when the law is an ass.

On a happier note, the newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, spoke glowingly in dissent about a suspect’s Miranda rights. Unfortunately she was voted down by the Five Horsemen of Reaction.

Justices rarely rise above their background and biases. Former Justice Brennan was a wonderful exception. He sided with the majority declaring abortion legal even though Brennan was a regular Mass-attending Catholic.

In contrast, take the five Catholics on the court today: Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow politicians, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Alito. They consistently vote against Vatican insistence on equity and social justice for all.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. You can reach him at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
July 27, 2010
Citizens United was a travesty. Where was the Tea Party to protest that ruling? Oh right, they're paid for by Rupert Murdoch. Carry on.
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