Politics and the Supreme Court


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From Roe v. Wade to 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus'.

From the Un-Distinguished Lecture Series (http://ws.cs.ubc.ca/~udls/). The talk was given Jan. 25, 2008.

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Politics and the Supreme Court

  1. 1. Politics and the Supreme Court: From Roe v. Wade to 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' Nick Wiebe Jan. 25, 2008
  2. 2. What is the Supreme Court?  The only court specifically mandated by the constitution  Made up of 9 Judges  Highest court in the land  Decide on cases by voting  The group of Judges in the majority write the binding decision of the court
  3. 3. What is the Supreme Court? th ese i m ag es ar e i n t h e p u b l i c d o m ai n
  4. 4. The Weakest Branch?
  5. 5. So why are people pissed off?  “Judicial Activism” now a major political issue  Justice Sunday  Attended by thousands  Nationally telecast i m ag e so u r c e: h t tp ://w w w .p er r sp ec t i v es.c o m /i m ag es/u n j u std ay _ 081 005.j p g
  6. 6. The Warren Court (1953-1969)  Led by Chief Justice Earl Warren  Decided a series of controversial cases:  Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, Engel v. Vital, and others “I n c i v i l i z ed l i f e, l aw f l o ats i n a sea o f eth i c s.” -- E ar l W ar r en
  7. 7. 1965: Griswold v. Connecticut  Connecticut Law prohibited the use of any contraceptive drug (but was rarely enforced)  The Court found the law unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the right the right to privacy  Problem: the right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution.  Warren Court rational: right to privacy is part of the “penumbras” of other rights protected by the constitution “I th i n k th i s i s an u n c o m m o n l y si l l y l aw .” -- Ju sti c e P o tt er S t ew ar t
  8. 8. th 14 Amendment “...n o r sh al l an y State d ep r i v e an y p er so n o f l i f e, l i b er ty, o r p r o p er ty, w i th o u t d u e p r o cess o f l aw ; n o r d en y to an y p er so n w i th i n i ts j u r i sd i cti o n th e eq u al p r o tecti o n o f th e l aw s.” -- T h e F o u r teen t h A m en d m en t  These lines are know as the due process clause and the equal protection clause  Substantive due process:  concept of liberty protects an implicit set of rights  source of a number of 'penumbra' rights (along with the Bill of Rights)
  9. 9. 1973: Roe v. Wade  Texas law banned abortion in all cases  Supreme Court overturned this law, and deemed abortion to be a fundamental right, included in the right to privacy  But:  States do have an legitimate interest in protecting fetuses, though they don't count as persons under the 14th amendment  Court therefore set up a system of trimesters:  1st trimester: no State restriction on abortion  2nd trimester: State can regulate abortion in ways related to mother's health  3rd trimester: State can restrict abortion i m ag e so u r c e: h ttp ://ev o l v ef i sh .c o m /S h i r tI m ag es/S h i r tI m ag esS m al l /C o at H an g er S l ash -S m al l .g i f
  10. 10. Where does R v. W stand now?  Some members of the current court seem inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade  But are there five?  Judges hold life term, and usually don't retire  To change the make-up of the Supreme Court, you need people to die (at the right time)
  11. 11. Antonin Scalia  Appointed by Ronald Regan, 1986  Conservative Roman Catholic  Death Watch: Age 71  drinks the blood of orphans to keep fit L aw stu d en t: “H e's j u st i r r i tati n g . H e's l i k e o n e o f th o se p eo p l e w h o m astu r b ates to S c al i a d ec i si o n s.” -- O v er h ear d i n N ew Y o r k .c o m
  12. 12. Clarence Thomas  Appointed by H.W. Bush, 1991  Angry, angry man  Death Watch: Age 59  But happy people live longer
  13. 13. John Roberts  Appointed by George W. Bush, 2005  Current Chief Justice  Handsomest Supreme Court Judge?  Death Watch: Age 52  Had a seizure last year “I w o u l d p r ef er to d i sc u ss S h ak esp ear e's d o u b l e en ten d r e an d th e l atu s r ec tu m o f c o n i c sec ti o n s w i th o u t a b l o n d e g i g g l i n g an d b l u sh i n g b eh i n d m e.” -- Jo h n R o b er ts, ag e 1 7
  14. 14. Samuel Alito  Appointed by George W. Bush, 2006  Scalito?  very conservative  Death Watch: Age 57  If only...
  15. 15. Conservative Legal Philosophies  Textualism  Looks at the meaning of the words in a piece of legislation  Originalism  Looks to the intent of the legislators  Judicial restraint
  16. 16. 2007: Morse v. Frederick  High School students were suspended for displaying this banner outside the school grounds during a school event  Court ruled this not a violation of 1st amendment right to free speech since the sign advocated illegal drug use (which the school has an interest in discouraging)  Decision based (partially) on originalist reasoning
  17. 17. Ruth Bader Ginsburg  Appointed by Bill Clinton, 1993  Perhaps the most liberal  Silliest Glasses?  Death Watch: Age 74  Cancer survivor
  18. 18. Steven Breyer  Appointed by Bill Clinton, 1994  ?  Death Watch: Age 69
  19. 19. John Paul Stevens  Appointed by Gerald Ford, 1975  Old  So Old  Death Watch: Age 87  Very Old
  20. 20. David Souter  Appointed by George H.W. Bush, 1990  Proved less conservative than expected  Death Watch: Age 68  revenge killing by G.H.W Bush? “S o u ter 's sty l e i s n o ti c eab l y n o n -l eg al ” -- C o n ser v ap ed i a
  21. 21. Anthony Kennedy  Appointed by Ronald Regan, 1988  Swing voter  Hard to predict  Death Watch: Age 71  worn out from both sides perpetually sucking up to him?
  22. 22. 2003: Lawrence v. Texas  Texas law criminalized homosexual sodomy  The Court ruled overturned this law (and all similar laws in other states)  Legal basis: Substantive due process  Ruled that state had no legitimate interest in banning gay sex  However, did not extend suspect classification to sexual orientation “T o d ay ’s o p i n i o n i s th e p r o d u c t o f a C o u r t... th at h as l arg el y si g n ed o n to th e so - c al l ed h o m o sex u al ag en d a” -- Ju sti c e A n to n i n S c al i a
  23. 23. Suspect Classification and Strict Scrutiny  Legislation often singles out a group of citizens (e.g. the unemployed)  Equal protection clause guarantees all people equal protection under the law  How to resolve this?  For most cases, rational-basis test: Gov't action a rational means to a legitimate end  For cases involving Suspect Classifications (e.g. Race):  Strict Scrutiny: compelling gov't interest, narrowly tailored, least restrictive means
  24. 24. 2000: United States v. Morrison  Virginia Tech student raped by Antonio Morrison  She filed suit against him under Violence Against Women Act  allows victim of gender-motivated violence to sue their attacker in civil court
  25. 25. Commerce Clause “T h e C o n g r ess sh al l h av e p o w er . . . T o r eg u l ate co m m er ce w i th f o r ei g n n ati o n s, an d am o n g th e sev er al states, an d w i th th e I n d i an tr i b es;” -- A r ti c l e I , S ec ti o n 8, C l au se 3 o f U .S . C o n sti t u t i o n  Narrow vs. Broad View of the Commerce Clause  Strict limits on what Congress is allowed to legislate on?
  26. 26. 2000: United States v. Morrison  is Violence Against Women Act an overreach of Congressional power?  Court ruled that it was, and struck down the act.
  27. 27. 2007: Ledbetter v. Goodyear  Lily Ledbetter worked as a manager for Goodyear Tire for 19 years. For all that time, she was paid less than her male colleagues  She sued under Civil Rights Act,  prohibits discrimination by employers on basis of race, religion, gender, etc.
  28. 28. 2007: Ledbetter v. Goodyear  Basic issue: Does the Statute of Limitations apply?  She sued 19 years after initial pay was set  Claims must be filed not more than 180 days after discrimination took place  Court ruled that continued effect of an act of discrimination does not reset Statute of Limitations