“The decision in NetChoice v. Paxton reinstates an unconstitutional Texas law that seizes control of the major social media platforms’ content moderation process, requiring them to either carry content that those platforms do not wish to publish or be so restrictive it would render the platforms unusable. This law is unconstitutional because the First Amendment prohibits the government from ordering private companies or individuals to publish speech that they do not wish to be associated with.”
“Although the court did not identify which of the three judges dissented, it’s not hard to guess how the votes broke down. The panel includes Judge Leslie Southwick, a relatively moderate conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, as well as two notoriously right-wing judges.
Judge Edith Jones is a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Texas who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan when she was just 35 years old. Since then, she’s developed a reputation as an especially caustic conservative — Jones once told a liberal colleague to “shut up” during a court hearing, and she joined an opinion arguing that a man should be executed despite the fact that his lawyer slept through much of his trial.
The third judge, Andy Oldham, is a young Trump appointee who clerked for Justice Samuel Alito. Among other things, Oldham is the author of a Fifth Circuit opinion permitting a Trump-appointed district judge to seize control of much of the nation’s policy governing the US-Mexico border.
It is likely, but not entirely certain, that Jones and Oldham are right-wing outliers even when compared to the median justice on the Supreme Court. In 2021, Justice Clarence Thomas published an opinion expressing sympathy for the “common carrier” theory Texas relies on in NetChoice. But that opinion was joined by no other justice.
In any event, given the enormous disruption the Fifth Circuit’s NetChoice decision is likely to create for social media companies, it is likely that they will ask the Supreme Court to intervene very soon. We should know in very short order, in other words, whether the Supreme Court intends to write social media out of the First Amendment.”
“no sensible jury confronted with all of this evidence would have concluded that Jones was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
But Jones’s lawyers failed to present crucial evidence at his trial.”
“Then, after Jones challenged his conviction in a state court proceeding, he was met with, as Sotomayor put it, “another egregious failure of counsel.”
In the words of the law, Jones was denied his constitutionally required right to effective assistance of counsel — twice.
Sotomayor, however, wrote these words in a dissenting opinion. On a party line vote in Shinn v. Ramirez, the Court held that Jones will not receive a fair trial despite his lawyers’ poor performance.”
“Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion claimed that a law restricting the power of federal courts to toss out convictions in state courts prevents Jones from seeking relief. But Thomas’s reading of this law is novel — his opinion had to gut two fairly recent Supreme Court decisions to deny relief to Jones.”
“Before Monday, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler (2013) should have guaranteed Jones a new trial. Both decisions deal with what should happen in the unusual circumstance when someone accused of a crime receives ineffective assistance of counsel, twice.”
“If a state fails to provide convicted individuals with a way to challenge their conviction on ineffective assistance grounds, federal courts may step in and provide a forum to hear this challenge in what is known as a “habeas” proceeding. Martinez, moreover, established that federal courts may step in when a criminal defendant receives inadequate assistance of counsel both at their trial and in a state proceeding permitting them to challenge their conviction.
Both a federal trial court and an appeals court determined that this is exactly what happened to Jones — that is, neither his state trial attorneys nor the lawyers who represented him in his postconviction challenge adequately investigated his case. And, without seeing all the evidence suggesting that Jones is innocent, the state court judge presiding over this postconviction proceeding had no way to know that Jones’s conviction should be tossed out.
The federal trial court held its own evidentiary hearing, considered the evidence against Jones and the evidence that his lawyers botched his case, and ordered the state of Arizona to give him a new trial.”
“[The] decision in Ramirez does not explicitly abandon Martinez and Trevino, but, as Sotomayor explains in dissent, “the Court all but overrules” these two decisions “that recognized a critical exception to the general rule that federal courts may not consider claims on habeas review that were not raised in state court.”
Under Justice Thomas’s majority opinion, federal courts may still conduct habeas proceedings when a criminal defendant alleges that they received inadequate assistance of counsel twice, but the federal court may not consider any evidence that wasn’t presented in earlier proceedings. As Thomas writes, “if a prisoner has ‘failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings,’ a federal court ‘shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim’ unless the prisoner satisfies one of two narrow exceptions” that are not present in Jones’s case.
The problem with this rule should be obvious. The whole point of Jones’s federal case is that his state court lawyers performed so poorly that they failed to uncover evidence that should have exonerated him. If a federal habeas court may only consider evidence that was presented by feckless lawyers to state courts, then there is no point in having a federal habeas proceeding in the first place.”
“in Sotomayor’s mind, and in the minds of the two other justices appointed by Democratic presidents who joined her opinion, the purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether or not someone is actually guilty of a crime — and to do so through an adversarial process where both sides are represented by lawyers who can present the best possible legal and factual case for the prosecution and the defense.
Thomas, writing for the Court’s Republican majority, offers a different view of why trials exist. He deems federal habeas proceedings problematic because they “override the States’ core power to enforce criminal law.” When a federal court deems someone’s conviction constitutionally inadequate, Thomas complains, it “overrides the State’s sovereign power to enforce ‘societal norms through criminal law,’” and “disturbs the State’s significant interest in repose for concluded litigation.”
Thus, in Thomas’s view, the purpose of a state-conducted trial is to give criminal defendants a procedure in state court. But once that process is concluded, the state court’s decision generally should remain final — even if that means executing an innocent person or condemning someone in violation of the Constitution.”
“Noting that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion,” Alito argues that “no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Although “that provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution,” he says, “any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.'” Alito concludes that “the right to an abortion does not fall within this category.”
That analysis falls short in at least two crucial ways.
First, Alito fails to grapple with the argument that the right to terminate a pregnancy can be understood as a subset of the right to bodily integrity. As the legal scholar Sheldon Gelman detailed in a 1994 Minnesota Law Review article, the right to bodily integrity can be traced back to the Magna Carta. That makes it one of the many rights “retained by the people” (in the words of the Ninth Amendment) that were imported into the Constitution from English law. That right, in other words, is “deeply rooted” in American history and tradition.
Second, Alito’s draft opinion distorts the relevant legal history and thus misstates the historical pedigree of abortion rights. “When the United States was founded and for many subsequent decades, Americans relied on the English common law,” explains an amicus brief that the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians filed in Dobbs. “The common law did not regulate abortion in early pregnancy. Indeed, the common law did not even recognize abortion as occurring at that stage. That is because the common law did not legally acknowledge a fetus as existing separately from a pregnant woman until the woman felt fetal movement, called ‘quickening,’ which could occur as late as the 25th week of pregnancy.”
A survey of founding-era legal authorities confirms this view. William Blackstone’s widely read Commentaries on the Laws of England, first published in 1765, noted that life “begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.” Under the common law, Blackstone explained, legal penalties for abortion applied only “if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb.” That means abortion was legal in the early stages of pregnancy under the common law.
Blackstone’s writings had an important influence on America’s founding generation. In his 1790 Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, for example, James Wilson, a driving force at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and a leading voice for ratification at Pennsylvania’s convention, repeated Blackstone’s gloss. “In the contemplation of law,” Wilson wrote, “life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.”
At the time of the founding, no American state had the lawful power to prohibit abortion before quickening because the states adhered to the common law as described by Blackstone and Wilson. We might call this the original understanding of the states’ regulatory powers. That original understanding contradicts Alito’s assertion that abortion rights—at least during the early stages of pregnancy—lack deep roots in American history.”
“Alito is not just a conservative. He’s not a consistent “originalist” in the vein of Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas, only a “practical” one. The key to understanding Alito is not judicial philosophy or ardent conservatism: it’s his anger — an anger that resonates with the sentiments of many voters, especially white and male ones, who feel displaced by recent social and cultural changes. If you want to understand what to expect from the post-Roberts Court, paying attention to that anger pays dividends.”
“Alito’s anger consistently sounds in a register of cultural decline, bemoaning the growing prominence of women and minorities in American life. Writing the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby, which endorsed a company’s right to deny employees contraception coverage, Alito waxed lyrically about the “men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.” The women denied medical care that facilitates participation in the labor market, in contrast, weren’t a concern. Examining a Washington state regulation of pharmacists, Alito was quick to detect “hostility” to conservative religious beliefs. And in an opinion repudiating New Haven’s effort to promote more Black firefighters, Alito alone trawled the history of the case to complain about the role played by a Black pastor who was an ally of the city’s mayor and had “threatened a race riot.” Black involvement in municipal politics, for Alito, appears as a sinister threat to public order.
In stark contrast, when the charge of discrimination is made on behalf of racial or religious minorities, Alito expresses no such solicitude. He does not search for evidence of bias. Instead, he takes an impossibly narrow view of job-related discrimination that demands women somehow instinctively know they are being paid less than male counterparts. Despite his claim to a “just the facts ma’am” approach, Alito has a distinctively constricted take on what the “facts” are. To read his opinions is to inhabit a world in which it is white Christian men who are the principal targets of invidious discrimination, and where a traditional way of life marked by firm and clear gender rules is under attack.
When it comes to the criminal justice system, Alito is a reliable vote for the most punitive version of the state. In 2016, when the Supreme Court invalidated Florida’s death-penalty scheme on Sixth Amendment grounds, only Alito dissented. When the court, a year earlier, found a federal sentencing rule for armed offenders unconstitutionally vague, only Alito voted for the prosecution. It’s difficult to think of cases where Alito has voted for a criminal defendant, or any other litigant that elicits liberal sympathies.”
“In November 2020, Alito gave a keynote speech to the conservative legal organization the Federalist Society. Much criticized at the time for its partisan tone “befitting a Trump rally,” in the words of one critic, those remarks are useful because they prefigure where a court on which Alito is a dominant voice might go.
In that speech, Alito criticized pandemic restrictions by bemoaning the rise of “scientific” policymaking. He complained about the “protracted campaign” and “economic boycotts” of Catholic groups and others with “unpopular religious beliefs” (self-identified Christians make up some 63 percent of the American populace). And he (falsely) warned of “morning after pills that destroy an embryo after fertilization.” If that speech is any guide — and there is no reason to think it won’t be — the future of the Supreme Court will be increasingly one of religious censor: keeping women in their lane, standing up for Christian rights, and making sure that uppity “scientists” in the federal government don’t get their wicked way.”
“The Supreme Court, in an increasingly familiar development, handed a victory to a Christian conservative organization on Monday. The Court’s decision in Shurtleff v. Boston establishes that this organization, Camp Constitution, should have been allowed to fly a Christian-identified flag from a flagpole outside Boston’s city hall.
But Shurtleff is unlike several other high-profile victories for religious conservatives that the Court has handed down in recent years because the justices did not need to remake existing law in order to reach this result. The decision was unanimous (although the justices split somewhat regarding why the plaintiffs in this case should prevail), with liberal Justice Stephen Breyer writing the majority opinion.
The case involves three flagpoles standing outside of Boston’s city hall. The first flagpole displays the US flag, with a smaller flag honoring prisoners of war and missing service members below it. The second pole features the Massachusetts state flag. And the third typically — but not always — displays the city’s own flag.
This third flagpole, and the city’s practice of sometimes allowing outside groups to display a flag of their choice from it, is the centerpiece of Shurtleff. Since at least 2005, the city has permitted outside groups to hold flag-raising ceremonies on the plaza during which they can raise a flag of their choosing on the third flagpole.
At various times, the third flagpole has displayed the flags of many nations, including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Italy, Mexico, and Turkey. It has displayed the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, a flag commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, and a flag honoring Malcolm X.
But when Harold Shurtleff, head of an organization called Camp Constitution, asked to fly a flag associated with the Christian faith, the city refused — claiming that displaying such a flag could be interpreted as “an endorsement by the city of a particular religion,” in violation of “separation of church and state or the [C]onstitution.”
Justice Breyer’s majority opinion concludes that the city erred. Relying on a bevy of cases establishing that the government typically cannot discriminate against a particular viewpoint, Breyer notes that “Boston concedes that it denied Shurtleff’s request solely because the Christian flag he asked to raise ‘promot[ed] a specific religion.’” Under the facts of this case, that’s a form of viewpoint discrimination and it’s not allowed.
While it’s notable that Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh each wrote separate opinions indicating that they are eager to let government get cozy with religion, and they have two opportunities to do so this term, this case is a straightforward decision that follows current law — in short, nothing remarkable.”
“The general rule in free speech cases is that the government may not discriminate against any particular viewpoint. Boston could not, for example, have a rule that Democrats are allowed to gather in the city hall plaza but not Republicans. Or that people who support restrictive immigration policies may do so, but not people who oppose them.
But there’s an exception to this general rule when the government speaks in its own voice. That is, the government is allowed to express its own opinion on a subject without also providing a forum for dissenting voices. If a public school principal tells her students to “say no to drugs,” she’s not required to give equal time to the grungy guy in the junior class who sells weed out of his 1997 Subaru Legacy.
The primary question in Shurtleff is whether, when Boston’s city government permitted a wide range of private groups — but not Camp Constitution — to display a flag of their choice outside of city hall, these flags represented the city’s speech or the private groups’ speech. Again, if the flags were a form of government speech, then Boston is allowed to exclude viewpoints it does not share.
But the Court concluded that the city did not use the third flagpole to express its own views, and that it effectively created “a forum for the expression of private speakers’ views.” As Breyer notes, Boston does not appear to have made any effort whatsoever to control which flags are displayed from this flagpole until it denied Shurtleff’s request to fly a Christian flag.”
“Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade, which was leaked to Politico and revealed to the public Monday night, is more than just an attack on abortion. It is a manifesto laying out a comprehensive theory of which rights are protected by the Constitution and which rights should not be enforced by the courts.
And Alito’s opinion is also a warning that, after Roe falls, the Court’s Republican majority may come for landmark LGBTQ rights decisions next, such as the marriage equality decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) or the sexual autonomy decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
To be clear, the leaked opinion is a draft. While Politico reports that five justices initially voted to overrule Roe, no justice’s vote is final until the Court officially hands down its decision. And even if Alito holds onto the five votes he needs to overrule Roe, one or more of his colleagues in the majority could insist that he make changes to the opinion.
Alito’s first draft, however, suggests that the archconservative justice feels emboldened. Not only does he take a maximalist approach to tearing down Roe, but much of Alito’s reasoning in the draft opinion tracks arguments he’s made in the past in dissenting opinions disparaging LGBTQ rights.
The Constitution is a frustrating document. Among other things, it contains multiple provisions stating that Americans enjoy certain civil rights that are not mentioned anywhere in the document itself. The Ninth Amendment, for example, provides that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Over time, the Supreme Court has devised multiple different standards to determine which of those unenumerated rights are nonetheless protected by our founding document. Some of these standards are very much at odds with each other.
The central thrust of Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case seeking to overrule Roe, is that only rights that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” are protected. This method of weighing unenumerated rights is often referred to as the “Glucksberg” test, after the Court’s decision in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997).
Though Alito’s Dobbs opinion largely focuses on why he believes that the right to abortion fails the Glucksberg test, there is no doubt that he also believes that other important rights, such as same-sex couples’ right to marry, also fail Glucksberg and are thus unprotected by the Constitution. Alito said as much in his Obergefell dissent, which said that “it is beyond dispute that the right to same-sex marriage is not among those rights” that are sufficiently rooted in American history and tradition.”
“For many years, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the pivotal figure in the legal struggle for gay equality. Obergefell and United States v. Windsor (2013), which held that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, were both 5-4 decisions authored by Kennedy. Kennedy also penned the Lawrence opinion and the Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans (1996), the first Supreme Court decision establishing that the Constitution places limits on the government’s ability to target gay or bisexual individuals.
Given his longtime role as the Court’s voice on gay rights, it’s tempting to think of Kennedy as a staunch supporter of these rights (I use the word “gay” and not “LGBTQ” because Kennedy’s four opinions concerned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and not gender identity). But the reality is almost certainly more nuanced. Decisions like Obergefell and Windsor were the products of an uneasy alliance between the conservative Kennedy and his four liberal colleagues. And, in closely divided cases, majority opinions are often assigned to the justice who is most on the fence — on the theory that this justice is unlikely to flip their vote if they can tailor the majority opinion to their own idiosyncratic views.
The result is that Kennedy’s great gay rights decisions were poorly argued. They ignore longstanding doctrines that could have provided a firm foundation for a rule barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Instead, they often substitute needlessly purple prose for the meat-and-potatoes work of legal argumentation.”
“Constitutionally speaking, the Court does not have the hard authority of the presidency or Congress. It cannot deploy the military or cut off funding for a program. It can order others to take actions, but these orders only hold force if the other branches and state governments believe they have to follow them. The Court’s power depends on its legitimacy — on a widespread belief, among both citizens and politicians, that following its orders is the right and necessary thing to do.”
“Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion that would overrule Roe v. Wade, if issued, could be yet another significant blow to Court legitimacy. The issue is not just that a majority of Americans will disagree with the ruling, though they almost certainly will. It’s that the process that led to this outcome has repeatedly exposed the Court as a vessel for politics by other means.
In that context, a reversal of what is probably the most contentious modern Supreme Court ruling — which established a 50-year precedent with longstanding majority support — will hit differently than previous controversial Court rulings. The damage could be severe and lasting, worse even than nakedly political decisions like Bush v. Gore.
While it may be tempting to cheer the collapse of the Court’s legitimacy given its track record, the Worcester case should give us some pause. In the American system, for better or for worse, the Court is supposed to serve as the final arbiter of political disagreements. If it lacks the legitimacy to play that role, it sets the stage for a constitutional crisis — especially if former President Donald Trump runs again in 2024.”
“since 2016, Republicans have taken a series of steps that have made it hard for anyone to see the Court as standing above politics.
When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell infamously refused to even schedule hearings for Obama’s replacement nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland, until after the 2016 election. McConnell’s argument was that no justice should be appointed in an election year, but the rationale was clearly political: Garland is a moderate liberal and would have tipped the Court from a 5-4 conservative majority to a 5-4 liberal one.
Then Donald Trump won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote and proceeded to remake the Court along McConnell’s preferred lines.
First, he appointed staunch conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Court instead of Garland — preserving a 5-4 conservative majority on the court. Then longtime Republican operative Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed amid a furious battle over Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, one of the most bitter and polarizing hearings in Supreme Court history.
And when Justice Ginsburg died in September 2020, McConnell and Trump rushed Amy Coney Barrett onto the Court before the 2020 vote — giving conservatives a 6-3 advantage, and revealing the alleged principle behind the Garland blockade to be a partisan fiction. (McConnell’s attempt to square this circle, citing an alleged norm against the Senate confirming nominations from opposite-party presidents in election years, was risible.)”
“the Court itself hasn’t helped matters. Since the Trump appointments, the Court’s jurisprudence has lurched hard right. Chief Justice John Roberts, seemingly the sole conservative concerned with the Court’s above-politics reputation, can no longer join four liberals to rein in his colleagues’ policy ambitions.
This is the context in which Alito’s Roe draft opinion emerged. Much of the concerns about the opinion’s effect on legitimacy have focused on the leak of the draft — on how it makes the Supreme Court look like any other Washington institution. But this is inside baseball: The much bigger effect on Court legitimacy is more likely to come from the ruling itself, if it in fact becomes law.”
“The anti-abortion movement has also focused on building a pipeline of judicial nominees through organizations like the Federalist Society. The left, meanwhile, has focused on shifting party opinion on related issues like contraception coverage and the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits government funds from being used to pay for abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or endangering the mother’s life, while treating Roe as a largely settled matter.
Now, all those years of work by anti-abortion activists seem to be paying off. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as it appears set to do based on the draft opinion that leaked..,it will toss out nearly 50 years of jurisprudence along with it.”