The Republican Party’s man inside the Supreme Court

“The morning before the Times published its flag scoop, for example, Alito published a dissenting opinion claiming that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the brainchild of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, was unconstitutional. The opinion was so poorly reasoned that Justice Clarence Thomas, ordinarily an ally of far-right causes, mocked Alito’s opinion for “winding its way through English, Colonial, and early American history” without ever connecting that history to anything that’s actually in the Constitution.”

“Alito has long been the justice most skeptical of free speech arguments — he was the sole dissenter in two Obama-era decisions establishing that even extraordinarily offensive speech is protected by the First Amendment — but this skepticism evaporates the minute a Republican claims that they are being censored. Among other things, Alito voted to let Texas’s Republican legislature seize control over content moderation at sites like Twitter and YouTube, then tried to prohibit the Biden administration from asking those same sites to voluntarily remove content from anti-vaxxers and election deniers.
Alito frequently mocks his colleagues, even fellow Republicans, when they attribute government policies to anti-Black racism. After Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a 2020 opinion that the states of Louisiana and Oregon allowed non-unanimous juries to convict felony defendants more than a century ago to dilute the influence of Black jurors, Alito was livid, ranting in dissent: “To add insult to injury, the Court tars Louisiana and Oregon with the charge of racism.”

Yet while Alito denies that racism might have motivated Louisiana’s Jim Crow lawmakers in the late 19th century, he brims with empathy for white plaintiffs who claim to be victims of racism. When a white firefighter alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his race, Alito was quick to tie this decision to the local mayor’s fear that he “would incur the wrath of … influential leaders of New Haven’s African-American community” if the city didn’t promote more non-white firefighters.

Empirical data shows that Alito is the most pro-prosecution justice on the Supreme Court, voting in favor of criminal defendants only 20 percent of the time. But he’s tripped over himself to protect one criminal defendant in particular: Donald Trump. An empirical analysis of the Court’s “standing” decisions — cases asking whether the federal courts have jurisdiction over a particular dispute — found that Alito rules in favor of conservative litigants 100 percent of the time, and against liberal litigants in every single case.”

“Today’s headlines are peppered with names like Aileen Cannon, the judge overseeing Trump’s stolen documents trial who has also behaved like a member of Trump’s defense team, or Matthew Kacsmaryk, the former Christian right litigator who’s been willing to rubber stamp virtually any request for a court order filed by a Republican. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the powerful federal court that oversees appeals out of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, is now a bastion of Alito-like partisans who treat laws and precedents that undermine the GOP’s policy goals as mere inconveniences to be struck down or ignored.

These are the sorts of judicial appointees who would likely appeal to a second-term Trump, as the instigator of the January 6 insurrection looks to fill the bench with judges who will not interfere with his ambitions in the same way that many judges did in his first term.

Alito — a judge with no theory of the Constitution, and no insight into how judges should read ambiguous laws, beyond his driving belief that his team should always win — is the perfect fit, in other words, for what the Republican Party has become in the age of Trump.”

“Political scientist Lee Epstein examined how often each current justice votes for a defendant’s position in criminal cases. Her data, which was first reported by NBC News, shows a fairly clear partisan divide. All three of the Court’s Democrats voted with criminal defendants in over half of the cases they heard, with former public defender Ketanji Brown Jackson favoring defendants in nearly 4 out of 5 cases. All six of the Court’s Republicans, meanwhile, vote with criminal defendants less than half the time.

But there is also a great deal of variation among the Republicans. Justice Neil Gorsuch, the most libertarian of the Court’s Republican appointees, voted with criminal defendants in 45 percent of cases. Alito, who once served as the top federal prosecutor in the state of New Jersey, is the most pro-prosecution justice, voting with criminal defendants only 20 percent of the time.

Yet Alito’s distrust for criminal defense lawyers seemed to evaporate the minute the leader of his political party became a criminal defendant. At oral arguments in Trump v. United States, the case asking whether Trump is immune from prosecution for his attempt to steal the 2020 election, Alito offered a dizzying argument for why his Court should give presidents broad immunity from criminal consequences.

If an incumbent president who “loses a very close, hotly contested election” knows that they could face prosecution, Alito claimed, “will that not lead us into a cycle that destabilizes the functioning of our country as a democracy?” Alito’s supposed concern was that a losing candidate will not “leave office peacefully” if they could be prosecuted by the incoming administration.

The problem with this argument, of course, is that Trump is a case about a president who refused to leave office peacefully. Trump even incited an insurrection at the US Capitol after he lost his reelection bid.

Similarly, in Fischer v. United States, a case asking whether January 6 insurrectionists can be charged under a statute making it a crime to obstruct an official proceeding, Alito peppered Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar with concerns that, if the January 6 defendants can be convicted under this law, that could someday lead to overly aggressive prosecutions of political protesters. At one point, Alito even took the side of a hypothetical heckler who starts screaming in the middle of a Supreme Court argument and is later charged with obstructing the proceeding.

Alito can also set aside his pro-prosecution instincts in cases involving right-wing causes such as gun rights. At oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi, for example, Alito was one of the only justices who appeared open to a lower court’s ruling that people subject to domestic violence restraining orders have a Second Amendment right to own a gun. Indeed, many of Alito’s questions echoed so-called men’s rights advocates, who complain that judges unthinkingly issue these restraining orders without investigating the facts of a particular case.”

“In order to bring a federal lawsuit, a plaintiff must show that they were injured in some way by the defendant they wish to sue — a requirement known as “standing.” Unikowsky looked at 10 years’ worth of Supreme Court standing cases, first classifying each case as one where a “conservative” litigant brought a lawsuit, or as one where a “progressive” litigant filed suit. He then looked at how every current justice voted.

Nearly every justice sometimes voted against their political views — Thomas, for example, voted four times that a conservative litigant lacked standing and twice voted in favor of a progressive litigant. Alito, however, was the exception. In all six cases brought by a conservative, Alito voted for the suit to move forward. Meanwhile, in all 10 cases brought by a progressive, Alito voted to deny standing.”

“Some of Alito’s standing opinions are genuinely embarrassing. The worst is his dissent in California v. Texas (2021), one of the four cases where Thomas voted to deny standing to a conservative litigant.

Texas was the third of three Supreme Court cases attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. But even many high-profile Republicans found this lawsuit humiliating. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board labeled this case the “Texas Obamacare Blunder.” Conservative policy wonk Yuval Levin wrote in the National Review that Texas “doesn’t even merit being called silly. It’s ridiculous.”

As originally drafted, Obamacare required most Americans to pay higher taxes if they did not obtain health insurance. In 2017, however, Congress eliminated this tax by zeroing it out. The Texas plaintiffs claimed that this zero-dollar tax was unconstitutional, and that the proper remedy was that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed in its entirety.

No one is allowed to bring a federal lawsuit unless they can show that they’ve been injured in some way. A zero-dollar tax obviously injures no one, because it doesn’t require anyone to pay anything. And so seven justices concluded that the Texas lawsuit must be tossed out.

Alito dissented. While it is difficult to summarize his convoluted reasoning concisely, he essentially argued that, even if the zero-dollar tax did not injure these plaintiffs, they were injured by various other provisions of Obamacare and thus had standing.

This is simply not how standing works — a litigant cannot manufacture standing to challenge one provision of federal law by claiming they are injured by another, completely different provision of federal law. As Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of a different Supreme Court suit attacking Obamacare, wrote of Alito’s opinion, “standing simply cannot work the way that Justice Alito wants it to” because, if it did, “it would become child’s play to challenge every provision of every major federal law so long as some constitutional infirmity could be located somewhere within the statute’s text.”

Alito’s Texas opinion, in other words, would allow virtually anyone to challenge any major federal law, eviscerating the requirement that someone must actually be injured by a law before they can file a federal lawsuit against it. Needless to say, Alito does not take such a blasé attitude toward standing when left-leaning litigants appear in his Court. But, when handed a lawsuit that could sabotage Obama’s legacy, Alito was willing to waive one of the most well-established checks on judicial power so that he could invalidate the keystone of that legacy.”

The real reason it costs so much to go to a concert

“Though there are a number of factors involved in this price creep (including high fees, which a 2018 Government Accountability Office report says make up an average of 27 percent of the ticket’s total cost), the heart of the matter is simple: demand. People all over the world are clamoring to go to just a handful of the most popular artists’ concerts. Live Nation reported that 145 million people attended one of its shows in 2023, compared to 98 million in 2019. The momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing, with ticket sales in the first quarter of 2024 higher than they were this time last year. ”

The Supreme Court’s new voting rights decision is a love letter to gerrymandering

“The Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision along party lines.., which represented its fullest endorsement of partisan gerrymandering to date.

In the past, legal restrictions on racial gerrymandering — maps drawn to minimize the voting power of a particular racial group, rather than the power of a political party — had the side effect of also limiting attempts to draw maps that benefitted one party or another. While the Court largely tolerated gerrymanders that were designed to lock one party into power, those maps sometimes failed because they also targeted racial minorities.

Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, however, is written explicitly to permit political parties to draw rigged maps, even when those maps maximize the power of white voters and minimize the power of voters of color. Indeed, Alito says that one of the purposes of his opinion is to prevent litigants from “repackag[ing] a partisan-gerrymandering claim as a racial-gerrymandering claim by exploiting the tight link between race and political preference.”

Along the way, Alito’s opinion gives the Court’s explicit blessing to maps that are drawn for the very purpose of maximizing one political party’s power. In the very first paragraph of his Alexander opinion, Alito states that “as far as the Federal Constitution is concerned, a legislature may pursue partisan ends when it engages in redistricting.”

This is a significant statement, as it endorses a practice — partisan gerrymandering — that the Court has previously treated as unseemly. The Court’s most significant previous opinion on partisan gerrymandering, Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), held that federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear cases challenging partisan maps, but it stopped short of saying that such maps are actually permissible under the Constitution. ”

“On top of all of this, Alexander achieves another one of Alito’s longtime goals. Alito frequently disdains any allegation that a white lawmaker might have been motivated by racism, and he’s long sought to write a presumption of white racial innocence into the law. His dismissive attitude toward any allegation that racism might exist in American government is on full display in his opinion. “When a federal court finds that race drove a legislature’s districting decisions, it is declaring that the legislature engaged in ‘offensive and demeaning conduct,’” Alito writes, before proclaiming that “we should not be quick to hurl such accusations at the political branches.”
So Alexander is a very significant decision, and a very significant loss for proponents of fair legislative maps. The case is likely to cause partisan gerrymandering to proliferate in the United States even more than it already has.”

The Comstock Act, the long-dead law Trump could use to ban abortion, explained

“On the one hand, Trump frequently claims credit for the Supreme Court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion — and well he should, since the three Republicans he appointed to the Supreme Court all joined the Court’s 2022 decision permitting abortion bans. As Trump told Fox News last summer, “I did something that no one thought was possible. I got rid of Roe v. Wade.”
At the same time, Trump at least claims that he has no interest in signing new federal legislation banning abortion. When a reporter asked Trump if he would sign such a ban last month, Trump’s answer was an explicit “no.”

Behind the scenes, however, many of Trump’s closest allies tout a plan to ban abortion in all 50 states that doesn’t require any new federal legislation whatsoever.”

China maintains stance on disputed Gulf islands despite Iran’s anger

“China held its stance on three disputed islands in the Gulf on Monday despite Tehran’s anger at Beijing for describing the Iran-controlled islands as a matter to be resolved with the United Arab Emirates.
In a statement last week, China expressed support for the efforts of the UAE to reach a “peaceful solution” to the issue of the islands – the Greater Tunb, the Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa.

The islands, claimed by the UAE and Iran, have been held by Tehran since 1971 after the withdrawal of British forces from the Gulf.

In a rare show of anger toward its biggest trading partner, the Iranian foreign ministry on Sunday summoned the Chinese ambassador to Iran to protest China’s “repeated support” for the UAE’s “baseless claims”.

“Considering the strategic cooperation between Tehran and Beijing, it is expected that the Chinese government will revise its stance on this matter,” the Iranian foreign ministry said.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday repeated its call for Iran and the UAE to resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation, describing China’s stance on the matter as “consistent”.”

US sounds alarm over Chinese and North Korean support for Russia’s war in Ukraine

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was asked at a press conference in Italy last week about whether China was selling Russia arms for use in the war. Biden, who was standing beside him, waited for Zelensky to say President Xi Jinping told him he would not do so, before delivering a parting shot and ending the event. “By the way, China is not supplying weapons but the ability to produce those weapons and the technology available to do it. So, it is, in fact, helping Russia.”
The comment appeared to signal a hardening tone toward Beijing following months of US warnings that it shouldn’t help its friends in Moscow over the war. NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg reinforced the tough new line during a visit to Washington Monday that included Oval Office talks with Biden.

“Publicly, President Xi has tried to create the impression that he’s taking a back seat in this conflict to avoid sanctions and keep trade flowing. But the reality is that China’s fueling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II,” Stoltenberg said at The Wilson Center. “At the same time, it wants to maintain good relations with the West. Well, Beijing cannot have it both ways. At some point, and unless China changes course, allies need to impose a cost.””