Law

Four Reasons the Nuclear Option Was a Liberal Win

The detonation of the "nuclear option" against the filibuster for executive branch and most judicial-branch appointments was an obvious win for progressives. If, as seems likely, the use of the nuclear option puts the filibuster on the road to complete oblivion, this is an even bigger win for progressives, as the filibuster is a reactionary device both in theory and in practice. And yet, many people on all parts of the ideological spectrum have resisted this conclusion. Here are some of the major arguments being made against the deal from a Democratic perspective—and why they're wrong.

In the Weeds

Can Colorado and Washington make legal marijuana work?

The American Prospect/Jesse Lenz

At midnight on December 6, 2012, when marijuana became legal in the state of Washington, a gaggle of celebrants gathered underneath Seattle’s Space Needle. Cheering and laughing, with no police in sight, they lit up and inhaled. “I feel like a kid in a candy store!” one man said. “It’s all becoming real now.”

Razing Arizona Women's Health Care

AP Images/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram/ Dave Kent

Like Napoleon forging into the Russian winter, anti-choice politicians are loath to give up on abortion restrictions, however minor, until the Supreme Court forces them to. On Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a law that would strip Medicaid funding from doctors and clinics who perform abortions. Poor women already can’t use federal dollars to cover abortion procedures—that’s been illegal since the late 1970s. The law, which was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in August, instead would prevent the state’s abortion providers from being reimbursed by Medicaid for providing any kind of care to low-income women, whether it’s breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, or contraceptive services.

Harry Reid's Triumph

At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off.

Things Aren't Looking Good for Reproductive Rights in Texas

AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

On Tuesday, there was at least one good piece of good news for supporters of reproductive freedom, as the proposed post-20-week abortion ban the Prospect's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux covered earlier this week was defeated by an encouraging ten-point margin. At another venue, however, there was bad news for the reproductive rights of women. A bare majority of the Supreme Court allowed the draconian new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas legislature to go into effect, and did so in a way that represents bad news for the possibility of the law being struck down by the Court.

The People's Court?

If you want to see where the problems of unaffordable housing and low wages and poor education play out every day, go to Detroit's 36th District Court. 

Associated Press

The first time I went to Detroit’s 36th District Court, I didn’t know the drill. Most people don’t know the drill the first time they go. A lawyer I’d met agreed to accompany me. He went in the side door, reserved for attorneys and court staff. I joined the long line at the main entrance, waiting to pass through the metal detectors and have my bag scanned. No cell phones, the guard told me. Put it in your car. I waved the lawyer back outside. He was due in court, and his car was blocks away. Give me the phone, he said. I’ll bring it in. I returned to the line. You can’t bring in that hair clip, the guard told me. Just throw it out, I said. I scooped my bag off the belt and joined the lawyer, who was standing where the entryway carpet meets the linoleum, near a line of people snaking through a rope maze, waiting to pay tickets. I was intimidated and upset, and I’d been at the 36th less than five minutes.

Civil-Rights Law Dodges a Bullet in Mount Holly

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File

Late last week, there was a very rare piece of good news involving civil rights and the Roberts Court. The news was good because a crucial civil-rights case will no longer involve the Roberts Court. The township of Mount Holly, New Jersey settled a lawsuit brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and in so doing thankfully deprived the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court of another opportunity to take a meat axe to federal civil-rights protections.

The Indefensible Filibuster of Nina Pillard

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Senate Republicans have continued their blockade of nominations to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Tuesday, the GOP minority blocked a vote on the nomination of Cornelia ("Nina") Pillard to the D.C. Circuit. Fifty-six senators voted in favor of moving forward with the nomination. Pillard is typical of the circuit court judges the Republican minority has had a particular distaste for. First, she's not a white male. And second, she has utterly mainstream legal views that hardly meet the "extraordinary circumstances" the Senate allegedly requires to filibuster a judicial nominee.

On the first point, Jennifer Bendery of Huffington Post observes that the three women the GOP minority has now prevented from getting up-or-down votes are part of a trend:

Ten of the sidelined judicial nominees are women, two are openly gay and nine are minorities (seven are African American, one is Asian American and one is Native American). The lone executive nominee being blocked right now, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), is African American.
This is not to say that the fact Republicans are filibustering a disproportionate number of these nominees because of their race or gender. That they're nominees of a Democratic president was already damning enough evidence of their inability to carry out the law, in the GOP's opinion. Nonetheless, irrespective of their motivations, the result of Republican obstructionism is to make the federal courts less diverse than they should be.

Just Like a Prayer?

AP Photo/Kevin Wolf

In 1999, when John Auburger was elected supervisor of the Town of Greece, he decided to introduce a change of policy. Instead of opening the Rochester, New York suburb’s monthly town board meetings with a moment of silence, Auburger invited a rotating slate of local religious leaders to give an invocation. For the following nine years, every chaplain who delivered the opening prayer was a Christian. In February 2008, two Greece residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, sued the town, arguing that the prayers violated the First Amendment by endorsing Christianity.

On November 6, the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, will go before the Supreme Court. It’s the first time in three decades that the Court has taken up a case on legislative prayer. In Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 case that tackled the constitutionality of prayer before legislative sessions, the Court upheld the practice of using taxpayer funds to pay state chaplains.

Why Are Police Shootings of Innocents on the Rise?

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

In New York City, police mistakes get played out on a big stage. In September, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) performance was caught on camera in crowded Times Square when two officers shot at an unarmed suspect, missed him, and hit two bystanders instead. The man had been lurching in and out of traffic and ignoring police commands to stop, and at one point pulled his hand out of his pants as if he had a gun, according to a report in The New York Times.

It was the latest in the department’s two-year run of unintentional shootings of innocents.

No, Obama Isn't Trying to "Pack the Court"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Like a not very bright seven-year-old with a shiny new toy, the National Review has found an inane talking point to run into the ground. "Republican AGs vs. Obama’s Court-Packing Plan" announces one headline. "House Testimony on D.C. Circuit Court-Packing Plan" says another.

Oklahoma's Abortion Battle Goes National

AP Images/Peter Morrison

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will help determine how the U.S. Supreme Court handles its next big abortion case. But Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice hasn’t been scheduled for oral arguments just yet. The law in question, which deals with abortion-inducing drugs, was messily written, leaving room for considerable doubt about whether the state of Oklahoma intended to require doctors to follow a particular set of dosage requirements (the state attorney’s argument)—or ban the use of the drugs for abortion entirely (the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s argument).

Kasich Goes Rogue on Medicaid

AP Images/Tony Dejak

When news broke Monday that Ohio would be the 25th state to expand Medicaid, there were plenty of cheers on the left. After months of negotiations with lawmakers that repeatedly broke down, Republican Governor John Kasich, who has made the expansion a centerpiece of his agenda, decided to take a new tact. With the legislature out of session, Kasich, through his Medicaid director, requested a waiver from the federal government to expand the existing Medicaid program without the assembly’s approval, an unusual move. He got permission to spend the money from a small body, called the Controlling Board, composed of three lawmakers from the House and Senate, respectively, as well as a governor appointee. The board normally moves money between programs to adjust for shifts in spending throughout the year. This time, it approved $2.5 billion in federal funds to open up health care for nearly 300,000 Ohioans.

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation, Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement.

Big Bank Punishments Don't Fit Their Crimes

AP Images/Richard Drew

With the Justice Department desperate to rehabilitate its image as a diligent prosecutor of financial fraud, securing a headline like “the largest fine against a single company in history” is a lifeline. A tentative deal would force JPMorgan Chase to pay a $9 billion fine and commit $4 billion in mortgage relief, to settle multiple investigations into their mortgage-backed securities business. The bank stands accused of knowingly selling investors mortgage bonds backed by loans that didn’t meet quality control standards outlined in its investment materials. JPMorgan Chase wants to “pay for peace” in this deal, ending all civil litigation around mortgage-backed securities by state and federal law enforcement (at least one criminal case would remain open).

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