The conservative wing isn’t always aligned, and that leads to some surprising outcomes.

The conservative wing isn’t always aligned, and that leads to some surprising outcomes.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2024/06/02/supreme-court-justice-math-00152188

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.”

https://www.vox.com/scotus/350339/samuel-alito-republican-party-scotus

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.”

https://www.vox.com/scotus/351406/the-supreme-courts-new-voting-rights-decision-is-a-love-letter-to-gerrymandering

Trump’s conviction may be hurting him — but it’s early

“two other polls found that the verdict has made a small but significant share of potential Trump supporters less likely to vote for him. According to Ipsos/Reuters, 10 percent of Republican registered voters said they were less likely to support Trump after the conviction; HarrisX/Forbes put that number at 11 percent. Similarly, 25 percent of independents said they were less likely to vote for Trump in the Ipsos/Reuters poll, and 28 percent of independents said so in the HarrisX/Forbes poll.”

“you should take more-or-less-likely polls with a grain of salt; some of those people who say they are less likely to vote for Trump may not have been very likely to vote for him in the first place, and even among supporters, “less likely to vote for” does not mean “definitely will not vote for.””

“On average, the most recent national polls from the four pollsters who’ve polled since the verdict show a tied race.* That represents a 1-point average swing toward Biden from those pollsters’ pre-conviction surveys.”

“Interestingly, at least according to these surveys, the shift toward Biden isn’t because Trump is losing support; it’s because Biden is gaining it. On average, Biden’s support went from 42 percent in these four pollsters’ pre-conviction polls to 43 percent after it. By contrast, Trump’s support stayed flat at 43 percent.”

“Although the fact that three out of the four pollsters showed a shift toward Biden makes us more confident that this is, in fact, real movement, the shifts in both the Ipsos/Reuters and Morning Consult polls were within the margin of error — meaning they could have just been due to random chance. That said, Echelon Insights did something useful: It surveyed the same voters both before and after the conviction, removing the possibility that its 2-point shift toward Biden was due to getting a slightly more Democratic sample the second time around.

It’s also possible that these shifts are an illusion caused by something called (deep breath) differential partisan nonresponse bias. Basically, in the wake of bad news for Republicans and/or good news for Democrats, Republicans may be less excited about responding to surveys and Democrats may be more excited to — which can lead to polling numbers that are a bit better for Democrats than the true state of public opinion.”

“Even if Biden’s improvement is real, though, another thing to bear in mind is that these are just four polls.”

https://abcnews.go.com/538/trumps-conviction-hurting-early/story?id=110790504

Trump Bungled the Trial

“a conviction was not inevitable. The legal issues were intricate and in some key respects novel, and some of them will credibly be at issue on appeal. The state’s evidence was voluminous but far from airtight, and there were weaknesses and gaps in the prosecution’s evidence as the case unfolded.

In fact, this was probably a winnable case — not in the form of an acquittal perhaps, but in the form of a hung jury that could have resulted by persuading one or more jurors that a case built around Michael Cohen — the former Trump lawyer/fixer turned convicted felon turned media personality — was simply not strong or reliable enough to warrant this watershed moment in American history. Trump also probably could have gotten off with convictions on misdemeanor counts of falsifying his company’s business records instead of felonies, but he never asked the judge to instruct the jurors on that point, perhaps fearing that the request might make him look weak — the worst offense of them all in his mind.
In life and in the law, hindsight is 20/20. In close political campaigns, analysts are often tempted to treat the eventual winner as the candidate that made the right decisions at the crucial points, and to treat the loser as having fumbled along. The same dynamic applies to legal proceedings too, so some caution is warranted. At some point, we may hear from some of the jurors themselves about what guided their decision, which would be a welcome addition to the historical record.

In the meantime, we are left to our own devices and to a tentative but unavoidable conclusion — that Trump and his lawyers bungled this trial.”

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2024/05/31/trump-bungled-the-trial-00160941

Why a GOP governor’s pardon of a far-right murderer is so chilling

“in Texas, you can commit murder without suffering the legal consequences of that crime, so long as your victim’s politics are loathed by the right and your case is championed by conservative media. Or at least, this is the message sent by Gov. Greg Abbott’s pardoning of Daniel Perry.

“In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the proliferation of Black Lives Matter protests had filled Perry with apparent bloodlust. Then an active-duty Army officer, Perry texted and messaged friends, among other things:
“I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
“I might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex … No protesters go near me or my car.”
“I wonder if they will let [me] cut the ears off of people who’s decided to commit suicide by me.”
When a friend of Perry asked him if he could “catch me a negro daddy,” Perry replied, “That is what I am hoping.”

Weeks later, Perry was driving an Uber in Austin, Texas, when he came upon a Black Lives Matter march. According to prosecutors, Perry ran a red light and drove his vehicle into the crowd, almost hitting several protesters. Activists gathered angrily around Perry’s car. Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran who was openly carrying an AK-47 rifle, approached Perry’s window.

Perry then shot Foster dead.

At trial, Perry’s defense team alleged that Foster had pointed his rifle at the defendant. But witnesses testified that Foster never brandished his weapon, only carried it, which is legal in Texas. And Perry corroborated that account in his initial statement to the police, saying, “I believe he was going to aim at me. I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me.” A jury convicted Perry of murder last year.

But..the governor of Texas used his pardoning power to release Perry from prison.

In a statement, Abbott said, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive district attorney.” He noted that in the Lone Star State, a person is justified in using deadly force against another if they “reasonably believe the deadly force is immediately necessary” for averting one’s own violent death. The Texas governor argued that it was reasonable for Perry to believe his life was at stake since Foster had held his gun in the “low-ready firing position.”

Yet this claim is inconsistent with Perry’s own remarks to the police, which indicated that Foster did not aim a rifle at his killer, but merely carried it. Needless to say, seeing a person lawfully carrying a firearm cannot give one a legal right to kill them.

But pesky realities like this carry less weight than conservative media’s delusional grievances. Shortly after Perry’s conviction in April 2023, then-Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson aired a segment portraying Perry as a helpless victim of “a mob of rioters” and a “Soros-funded” district attorney. Carlson decried the jury’s verdict as a “legal atrocity” and lambasted Abbott for standing idly by while his state invalidated conservatives’ right to defend themselves. “So that is Greg Abbott’s position,” he said. “There is no right of self-defense in Texas.”

The next day, Abbott pledged to work “as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry.””

https://www.vox.com/politics/2024/5/17/24159084/daniel-perry-pardon-greg-abbott-samuel-alito-flag