Xavier Alvarez got twin pieces of good news Thursday. First, thanks to the Court’s decision in the Health Care Cases, Medicaid in California may soon be funded to supply mental-health services to crazed compulsive liars like him. Second, and of more immediate interest to him, he won’t be doing a year in the federal slam for falsely claiming to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
American politics is in trouble. A tsunami of unaccountable, untraceable political money is overwhelming the Republican race for the presidential nomination and threatens to do the same to the fall election. For many people, especially progressives, the culprit is easy to name: the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which swept away any limits on election-advocacy ads by corporations, unions, and “independent” political-action committees (PACs) and issue groups. Many progressives believe that Citizens United “made corporations people” and that a constitutional amendment restricting “corporate personhood” will cure this political ill.
Most Supreme Court arguments last one hour—30 minutes for each side. At unpredictable intervals, however, the Court grants one party several extra millennia of agony as a once-solid case disintegrates in full view of the entire courtroom.
United States v. Alvarez, which I wrote about yesterday, is fascinating in its complexity. The government in this case has asked the Court to hold that it can punish people who lie, regardless of whether they lie to extort money, win political office, or just to impress people at the corner tavern. The principle is breathtaking in its sweep. In the past, the Court has approved statutes that punish knowingly reckless false statements of fact—but only when those statements cause some measurable harm.
Without issuing an explanation, yesterday the Supreme Court upheld a federal law banning resident aliens from making campaign contributions. It is regrettable but perhaps telling that the Court chose not to explain why it agreed with the lower court: The case reveals obvious problems with its penchant for First Amendment absolutism in campaign-finance cases, most notably its decision in Citizens United.
Election Day 2012 looks like it is going to be Groundhog Day 2012. Another election dominated by money. Another series of promises made on the campaign trail, broken as soon as donors and lobbyists come calling when legislatures convene.
I meant to write a post about how Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent from yesterday's Supreme Court opinion striking down a ban on selling violent video games to children didn't involve any actual case law, but Garrett Eppsbeat me to it, and probably did it better than I would have anyway:
For the reasons that TAPPED's Paul Waldmandiscussed earlier today, it's rather remarkable that the constitutionality of Arizona's campaign-finance law is even in question. Actual restrictions on campaign spending present a difficult question, as First Amendment values are put in conflict with democratic equality. Regimes like Arizona's, on the other hand, do not have the same tension. Candidates can spend as much money as they want, but candidates without the same resources are given the resources to compete.
Even more than the other major opinion released by the Supreme Court yesterday, the outcome of Doe v. Reed was no surprise to anyone who witnessed the oral argument. At issue was whether Washington state is within its rights to disclose the signatories of petitions for a ballot initiative, in this case the names of individuals who petitioned to repeal the state's everything-but-marriage gay-rights law. The Court held by an 8 to 1 majority that the signatories of the petition did not have a constitutional right to anonymity.
Common knowledge: Supreme Court confirmation hearings are now conducted on a kindergarten level. The dominant theme is that some judges follow the law, while other judges are "political." And of course the nominee issues an endless stream of vacuous banalities assuring the country that he or she is one of the former. But at the level of the Supreme Court, this is an essentially meaningless distinction. Cases generally get to the Supreme Court precisely because reasonable people can disagree about what the law requires in a given case, and in political salient cases the resolution of such indeterminacy is likely to fall along political lines.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission . The case concerns whether paying to make Hillary: The Movie available through an on-demand cable service -- which was ruled illegal by the FEC -- should be constitutionally protected.