Thursday, June 28, 2018

Judging The Conservative Supreme Court Judges

The US Supreme Court, now nicely on its way to becoming a permanent subsidiary of the Global Trump Corporations, decided on three important and interesting cases during the last week.  The Republican Boys' Club was the 5-4 majority in all the cases, and their three decisions shared a fascinating fact:

They all serve to strengthen existing power hierarchies:

-  The economic well-being of workers matters exceedingly little.  Thus,

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Wednesday in Janus v. AFSCME that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions.
So.  Workers who are not in the union can now share in any of the benefits the public sector unions create without paying anything for those benefits.  Only workers stupid enough to join the unions will bear the costs, but all workers get any pay raises the union activism produces. 

The rational decision for individuals is not to join the union, as long as there is one, because that choice will maximize the individual monetary benefits.  Sadly, however, what is rational for individuals is extremely irrational from a collective point of view:  Unions increase the wages and salaries of workers, but now individuals have much smaller incentives to join unions and pay the fees, and fewer and fewer will join. 

This will kill unions over time.  That, in turn, will reduce the earnings, retirement benefits and job security of all workers in a particular industry or sector.  In the private sector the end of unions obviously means that firms have access to cheaper labor and higher profits.

-  Women's reproductive rights are bad for traditional gender hierarchies. Thus, faith-based pregnancy centers in California were the winners in a case which "pitted" free speech against reproductive rights:

The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act requires licensed clinics, which provide services like ultrasounds, to disseminate a notice stating that California has programs providing "immediate, free or low-cost access" to comprehensive family planning services including abortion.
The law also requires unlicensed clinics -- those that provide resources such as vitamins and diapers but have no medical providers on site -- to disseminate a notice that they are not licensed by the state. Religiously affiliated pregnancy centers say the law forces them to deliver a message that is both detrimental to their cause and in direct conflict with their mission to encourage childbirth.
The five conservative men on SCOTUS decided that the First Amendment rights of various religionists are more important than providing the women who enter these centers all the information their decision-making might require. 

There can be no meaningful equality of the sexes if women cannot have control over their own fertility.  Even though this particular decision is an incremental one, the end-result of many such incremental decisions will be a society with rigid traditional gender hierarchies. 

-  Religious discrimination is perfectly acceptable, but sometimes it appears as preferential treatment of one religion (the largest and most powerful one in the US) and sometimes as direct discrimination against other religions. 

Thus,  Trump's Muslim travel ban was upheld by the court, once again with the five conservative men deciding for all of us.  And not even snakes can achieve such contortions these men managed when this case is compared to the same-sex wedding cake case:

The cases raised similar issues, yet the justices went in opposite directions. Both decisions involved seemingly neutral government policies that were challenged in part because of evidence showing the true purpose behind them was discrimination on the basis of religion.
In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to prepare a cake for a same-sex wedding, because he opposes such marriages on religious grounds. He prevailed because the justices found that some members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which had adjudicated his claim, expressed bias against Phillips’ religious beliefs.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, famously called for a “Muslim ban” on the campaign trail — then instituted a travel ban that targeted Muslim-majority nations. Yet the court upheld the travel ban, and the majority concluded that Trump’s statements should not determine the outcome of the case. All five justices who voted to uphold the travel ban were also in the majority in Masterpiece Cakeshop.
This contradiction can’t be justified. The main rationalization for it — that immigration policy is largely exempt from normal judicial scrutiny — is badly flawed. Immigration and national security policy should not be exempt from the usual constraints of the Bill of Rights. Other possible justifications for the discrepancy also fall flat.


Judge Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the court.  He has always been one of the five conservative boyz, but because his opinions on women's reproductive rights have been slightly less draconian than the average sentiments of the other four right-wing men,  his retirement will not exactly increase the chances of Roe v. Wade surviving.  Trump will certainly nominate someone from the far right heel-clicking section,  and that person will not care to preserve the rights of uppity women or sluts.

What would the country look like after the funeral of Roe v. Wade?  Only eight states have passed laws which safeguard abortion rights in the absence of Roe, and a few have laws in place which would ban all or most abortions one second after Roe is overturned.  But then abortion is already hard to obtain in many parts of the country:

Overturning Roe would harden these gaps between states, and also open up a vast new market for self-induced abortions. That market already exists. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist and writer who has conducted research on demand for abortion using Google search data, once told Vox, “I’m pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it’s hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion.”

Some predict a giant backlash if the new Republican rubber-stamping SCOTUS overturns Roe, and speculate that Chief Justice Roberts might not want to kill Roe outright, both to avoid that backlash and to keep the abortion issue alive so that the Republicans can keep getting the forced-birth votes.

Right now I am skeptical of such a giant backlash.  I don't think it's going to happen, and if it does, I don't think it would have any real impact, given that Citizens United ruling on how political power is really determined in this country.  But I will most likely feel more hopeful tomorrow.