Tuesday, February 20, 2007

While Democrats Kept Their Powder Dry

Liberals spent a lot of time and energy during the last Congress trying to get the Democrats to grow a spine, particularly when it came to the Supreme Court appointments. Congressional Democrats ignored us, and now we have Sam Alito as an associate justice and John Roberts as Chief Justice, both replacing conservatives who tended toward moderate positions. An article in today's LA Times explains just what this will mean for who knows how many years.

It has been two decades in the making, but this is the year Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's most outspoken dissenter, could emerge as a leader of a new conservative majority.

Between now and late June, the court is set to hand down decisions in four areas of law — race, religion, abortion regulation and campaign finance — where Scalia's views may now represent the majority.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, himself a conservative, usually refrained from asking Justice Scalia to write major opinions for fear of losing the support of Justice Kennedy and Justice O'Connor. The new Chief Justice has no such qualms. As a result, we can expect some pretty reactionary and revisionist opinions from the US Supreme Court in the near future at least. Here's an abbreviated list of subjects the Court will be addressing:

For example, Scalia has scorned the notion of a strict separation of church and state, saying the 1st Amendment was intended only to bar the government from supporting an official national religion. In his first year on the court, he defended the teaching of creationism in the public schools, and he has voted regularly since then to allow the government to promote religion in general.

On Feb. 28, the court will hear a challenge to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A Wisconsin group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation and three taxpayers sued, casting the program as unconstitutional propaganda for religion.

The justices will hear the Bush administration's claim that taxpayers lack the legal standing to challenge how the president and his advisors conduct affairs. A Supreme Court assent could make it much harder for critics to legally challenge government programs that promote religion.

On campaign finance, Scalia has argued that such laws unconstitutionally infringe on the free-speech rights of donors and candidates. In late April, the court is to hear a new challenge to the part of the McCain-Feingold law that forbids corporation- and union-funded broadcast ads that mention a federal candidate in the month or two before the election. A broad, Scalia-style opinion could cast doubt on most laws on campaign funding.

Scalia also has called for a ban on the use of race as a decision-making factor by government agencies, including public universities and other public schools. Without fail, he has voted against affirmative-action policies, but because of O'Connor, previous court majorities stopped short of outlawing affirmative action.

In December, the justices heard a challenge to the use of racial integration guidelines by school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. A decision on that issue, due soon, gives the court's conservative bloc a chance to broadly reject race-based policies.

Also pending is the challenge to the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act outlawing a midterm abortion procedure. This case does not call into doubt the basic right to abortion set in Roe vs. Wade; but a broad ruling in favor of the ban could trigger more stringent regulation of abortion across the nation.

Scalia has repeatedly called for overturning Roe vs. Wade and letting states decide whether to permit abortion.
[Emphasis added]

I hope the Democratic members of the Gang of Fourteen are happy.


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