Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

The Difference Between Liberal Justices and Conservative Justices

You don't like it? Tough luck. (Flickr/Stephen Masker)
Liberals have for some time believed that all of conservatives' high-falutin' talk about "original intent" and judges who will "interpret the Constitution, not make laws" is just a crock. Rather, what they want is judges who will give them the results they want, whatever the Constitution may happen to say. "Original intent" is a particularly flexible, and therefore fundamentally bogus, rationale, since it's usually impossible to apply 18th century ideals to 21st century legal questions and arrive at a judgment based solely on your impression of what was in James Madison's mind, and therefore no matter what your preferred outcome is, you can justify it on the basis of original intent. And no one is more guilty of flinging that kind of baloney than Antonin Scalia. But conservatives respond that liberals do the same thing, pretending to believe in abstract principles when they really just want the people they like to prevail in every case that comes before the courts. Resolving the...

Daily Meme: Separation, Schleparation

The Supreme Court of the United States took a bold stand today for the invocation of somebody’s God at official government functions. It may not be your God--hey, maybe you don’t even have a God. (Wait, is that even legal in America?) At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner writes that ”advocates of church-state separation are warning that the 5-4 decision could lead to the marginalizing of religious minorities in localities across the country.” At issue in the case decided today is the practice of beginning government meetings in the town of Greece, New York, with a Christian prayer, a tradition that Justice Anthony Kennedy described, in the majority opinion, “a benign acknowledgment of religion's role in society.” Justice Elana Kagan penned the dissent, noting a great many prayers offered in Jesus’s name at Greece town meetings. You don’t have a problem with J.C., now do you? In the meantime, Ralph Reed (remember him?), now chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, promised, Posner...

Why Cultural Affinity Isn't Enough

As you travel the political web today, you'll probably be seeing this ad a lot, the latest from Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Like many a candidate (mostly Republicans) before her, Ernst wants voters to know that, like them, she enjoys firearms. And she'll prove it by shooting one, while the narrator says, "Once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's gonna unload" over the sound of her bullets travelling freedom's path on their way to rip through the guts of tyranny: And if you go to Ernst's web site today, you'll see this ad under a huge headline reading "Give Joni a Shot," with the "o" in "shot" made into a target. In other words: "Vote for me because gunsgunsguns!" If you're a Republican and you want to send a signal of cultural affinity, there's no easier way to do it than by firing a gun . Guns have carried symbolic weight for a long time, but never more so than now. They send a message both about conservatives and about liberals; not only "I'm one of you," but also, "...

Daily Meme: The Gun That Didn't Smoke

Sometimes reading the news can induce a distinct sensation of déjà vu . Why, for example, is Benghazi suddenly in the headlines--again? This particular trip down memory lane comes courtesy of a batch of freshly-released e-mails . The revelation? A White House aide gave advice to Susan Rice , then the U.N. ambassador, about how to present the unfolding tragedy on national television. The magnitude of these revelations depends, invariably, upon your preferred source of news and outrage. Sean Hannity , Lindsay Graham , and Darrell Issa all say the emails are a "smoking gun." The main conservative talking point? The White House put "politics ahead of truth." For Republicans, the e-mails give new credence to their much-beloved theory that the fallout from the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, was evidence of a Watergate-esque cover-up . Issa said the failure to turn over the e-mails was "in violation of any reasonable transparency or historic precedent at least since Richard...

Guillotine Revival Movement Gains Momentum

Flickr/The Tedster
When things began to go terribly wrong with Clayton Lockett's execution in Oklahoma the other day—when instead of drifting gently off into unconsciousness and death, Lockett began to moan and buck on the gurney—one of the first things the officials did was lower the blinds over the window through which observers peered into the death chamber. Because after all, people shouldn't have to witness a man suffer as the state is killing him, right? Lockett's execution was hardly the first botched one we've had, particularly with lethal injection, a process prison officials seem extraordinarily incompetent at implementing properly. But for whatever reason, it has brought about a more substantial debate about the death penalty than we've had in some time. And as part of that, it looks like my semi-serious advocacy for the return of the guillotine is finally gaining momentum. It already has endorsements from Conor Friedersdorf and Sonny Bunch , with more sure to follow. Frankly, I've never...

Daily Meme: The Demise of the Viral Obamacare Victim Story

The political ground on the Affordable Care Act seems to be shifting—perhaps enough to help Democrats in the fall, perhaps not. But as more and more information about the law's operation comes in, Republicans are having a harder time arguing that all those people getting insurance is a terrible thing. Yesterday, we learned that health care spending spiked in the first quarter of 2014. Even before Republicans could open their mouths, Jonathan Chait (among other people) informed them that this was exactly what everyone knew would happen . Because when you give millions of people coverage, they go to the doctor. Simon Malloy of Salon notes that "we seem to be past the era of the viral Obamacare victim story." And after that, what can Republican candidates say? Because weirdly, "It turns out that Americans really, really like having access to affordable healthcare, and when they finally get it, they use it." So Republicans are trying a new tack. They've released a report claiming that...

Could a Clinton Candidacy Give Us a Healthy Debate About Sexism?

Yeah, there'll be more of this.
Hillary Clinton has had, let's say, a difficult relationship with the media. It isn't too surprising for someone who's been in the national spotlight for over two decades; outside of John McCain, I can't think of many politicians who love the press and feel like they always get a fair shake. But there's a piece in Politico today by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman that goes into some interesting detail about Clinton's feelings on this topic, particularly about some of the sexism she's had to endure. "Look, she hates you. Period. That's never going to change," says one anonymous Clinton ally, referring to the media. Here's more: If Clinton says yes, she'll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn't run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article...

Will the Fourth Amendment Go Mobile? SCOTUS and the Fate of 21st Century Privacy

07-12-09 © billyfoto
07-12-09 © billyfoto O n Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases whose outcomes will have major ramifications for Fourth Amendment and privacy rights. Both cases, Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie , involve convictions based, in part, on evidence uncovered from a mobile phone searched without a warrant after the suspect was arrested. (In Riley , the warrantless search was upheld by the California courts; in Wurie , the warrantless search was determined by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to have been illegal.) Warrantless searches are, in general, presumptively not "reasonable" and are therefore forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures . There are, however, allowable deviations from this general rule. One longstanding exception is that police have a right "to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction," as set out in the high court's...

Are Liberal Mega-Donors Just As Bad As Conservative Mega-Donors?

We are not so different, you and I. (Flickr/East Coast Gambler)
Democrats are spending a lot of time criticizing Charles and David Koch these days, for a few reasons. They'd like to inoculate people against the Koch brothers' political ads, most of which are funneled through Americans for Prosperity (though it's difficult to do that when people have no idea that an AFP ad comes from the Kochs). It's also good to personify the issue of the influence of big money in identifiable individuals, particularly if those individuals are the billionaire owners of an oil company. And, as my colleague Greg Sargent has argued , it's about putting a face on policy differences between the two parties, a way of demonstrating that Democrats are the party of regular folks with an economic agenda to match, and Republicans advocate for the interests of the wealthy. And when people ask those Democrats, "Well, don't you have your own billionaires pumping money into campaigns? How is that any different?" the Democrats reply, "It's totally different!" Do they have a case...

Daily Meme: An Execution Gone Horribly Wrong

Nothing is more likely to make you question the morality of the death penalty than an execution gone horribly wrong. Yesterday, Oklahoma officials attempted to intervene after the lethal drug cocktail administered to death row inmate Clayton Lockett not only failed to kill him, it made him writhe and gasp after he'd been declared unconscious . The episode was disturbing enough that Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, delayed a second execution that was supposed to happen later in the day, calling for a "full review" of the state's execution procedures. A reporter who was on the scene in Oklahoma was so horrified by what she saw that she decided to tweet details from the execution . "Live tweeting an execution seems unnecessary and kind of sick to me," she wrote. "After what happened, I felt like it was important for people to know." Officials are now claiming that the problem wasn't with the drugs themselves, but the way they were administered. But other grisly episodes in which...

The Rich, Still Different From You and Me

Photos by some tool via Rich Kids of Instagram.
When the news broke that Los Angeles Clippers owner and creepy racist misogynist billionaire Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life (perhaps resulting in him selling the team) and fined $2.5 million, a lot of people probably said, "$2.5 million? The guy's got a couple of billion dollars! Why not give him a fine that'll hurt?" Frankly, I think any fine at all is a little strange in this case. We usually think of fines as punishment for violations of some rule or law, not as a response to someone just being a horrible human being (though there could well be some clause in the the secret NBA owner bylaws about behavior that reflects poorly on the league). The ban, on the other hand, seems perfectly appropriate, even if when he sells the team he'll net a few hundred million dollars on his original $12 million investment. But the fine—and the weird fact that he was about to get a "lifetime achievement award" from the NAACP for his contributions to the welfare of black people...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

The Conflicted Voter

Flickr/marta...maduixaaaa
One of the most persistent and defining features of American public opinion is that as a whole, the electorate is what political scientists call "symbolic conservatives" and "operational liberals." That is, when you ask them abstract questions they sound like conservatives expressing a dislike of big government. But when you ask them specific questions they sound like liberals, expressing support (and wanting to increase funding) for just about everything government does. The parties understand that, which is why Republicans tend to talk about principles and Democrats tend to talk about programs. This extends to specific policy choices; most of the things on the agenda of Democrats have majority support. So why don't Democrats always win? The answer is complicated, and today, Kevin Drum points us to this odd result in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll : on most of the issues the poll tested, voters said they trust Democrats more than Republicans, yet when you ask them whom they...

Daily Meme: Racist Team Owner Loses Dignity; Keeps Team

Contemplating how best to celebrate the birthday of the late, great Edward Kennedy Ellington, one of the finest composers and orchestra leaders who ever lived, one might not have considered the banning for life of a racist team-owner from attending the games of his own team, but that’s not a bad way to fête the Duke. But that’s just what happened to Donald Sterling, franchise owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers--that, and a $2.5 million fine , which is pretty much chicken feed to a guy who apparently gave his alleged mistress two Bentleys and a Ferrari . However, reports the Los Angeles Times , Sterling, for the time being, will get to keep ownership of the team, unless other NBA team owners find a way to force him to sell. This all stems, of course, from reports of a recorded telephone conversation that has a man alleged to be Sterling telling a female friend not to bring black people to his team’s games, despite the fact the the team comprises mostly...

Daily Meme: Post-Racial America From Hell

It’s been quite a week in post-racial America, beginning with a Supreme Court decision on Tuesday that upheld the results of a ballot measure that barred the use of race-based affirmative action in the admissions process used by the University of Michigan, and exploded this weekend with the utterances, attributed to NBA team-owner Donald Sterling (who like all but one NBA team-owner, is white), of the alleged reputational harm of being seen in the company of black people. In between, a rancher celebrated by Fox News host Sean Hannity , and Republicans across the country, denied that his comments suggesting that “the Negro” may have been better off as a slave were in any way racist. Hannity has since stepped back from his support of Cliven Bundy’s quest to resist the federal government’s insistence that he not graze his cattle on federal land. Sterling, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, is alleged to be the male voice on a recorded telephone conversation with friend V...

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