Yesterday the Supreme Court decided Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl and although it is not clear whether it will result in a “win” for the Adoptive Couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, there is no question it is a win for adoptive couples in general.
“Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition” writes Justice Ruth Ginsburg about the Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision invalidating the key provision of the Voting Rights Act. And it is a particularly toxic form of hubris: one that diminishes and disparages the elected representatives of the American people.
We often hear how the world as we know it will end, usually through ecological collapse. Indeed, more than 40 years after the Club of Rome released the mother of all apocalyptic forecasts, The Limits to Growth, its basic ideas are still with us. But time has not been kind.
Shelby County v. Holder, decided Tuesday, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (the part requiring certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission in advance to change their voting procedures—called “preclearance”) as violating the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of the states. This is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard—for the excellent reason that, as Eric points out and I will elaborate upon briefly, there is no such principle.
Shortly after 8 p.m. local time, Massachusetts election workers started cracking open ballot boxes and learning who won their U.S. Senate race. The winner will be Rep. Ed Markey, the 66-year-old Democratic congressman from Malden. The loser will be Gabriel Gomez, a likable-enough neophyte who tried and failed to turn his 24-carat résumé—Navy SEAL/private-equity money/Hispanic/handsome—into a surprise Republican win. Markey, who’s been in the House since the Jimmy Carter era, will move to the other side of Constitution Avenue.
On Tuesday, President Obama tried two presidential adaptation strategies. The first was holding a White House meeting with congressional leaders about immigration reform. The second was an end-run around those same leaders with a speech announcing that the Environmental Protection Agency will regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants.
Where exactly is Edward Snowden? Where are the documents he downloaded from the NSA’s computers? How many copies of the data has he made? Who else has he given them to? What will those people do with the information? We don’t have answers to any of these questions, and we might never get them. But what we’ve learned over the last few days should be extremely worrying.
It’s impossible to write about the case of Baby Veronica, the subject of a ruling by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, without calling it heartbreaking. This is a child who was adopted at birth by a South Carolina couple, then turned over, at the age of 2, to her Cherokee birth father. He won custody based on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1978 for the entirely worthy purpose of preventing the removal of Indian children from their tribes and families. Now Veronica is 3½, and her life is up in the air again. The Supreme Court says the South Carolina courts made a mistake in taking her from her adoptive parents.
There was this Thanksgiving dinner once, at my aunt’s house in Houston. That morning we’d read an op-ed in the local paper about a school that still used corporal punishment. A white teacher had paddled a black student. People were up in arms about the obvious racial overtones, and my grandmother, my sweet little 70-year-old Nanny, offered that she, too, didn’t think the white teacher should have paddled that black student, because she “wouldn’t want no niggers beatin’ on her kids, neither.” This occasioned lots of eye-rolling from the grandchildren and some gentle rebukes from our parents. Then someone passed the gravy.
The Supreme Court handed down decisions on affirmative action, sex offender registries, harassment and discrimination in the workplace, liability for generic drug manufacturers, and the death penalty on Monday. On Tuesday the justices struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, addressed land use, and intervened in the adoption of an American Indian child. Still, many journalists left the court disappointed both days, because they were hoping for a ruling on gay marriage. How do the justices schedule decisions?
The Supreme Court struck down the crown jewel of the Civil Rights movement today. Section 5 was the most powerful tool in the movement’s arsenal. Although I’m a law professor and thus supposed to be opining on the court’s decision and Congress’ potential response, I want to spend a little time mourning Section 5’s passing before hashing out the consequences.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion on the Voting Rights Act takes away one of the most important tools for ensuring minority rights that Congress has ever created. Yet the opinion sounds respectful and modest. This is the genius of John Roberts. He makes big steps to the right look like small ones. He is the master of conservative stealth, a chief justice who eschews flair and drama. In that sense, he’s the anti-Scalia—no flame throwing, thank you. Just getting the job done.
In a speech last week titled “Mullahs of the West: Judges as Moral Arbiters,” Justice Antonin Scalia told the North Carolina Bar Association that the court has no place acting as a “judge moralist” in issues better left to the people. Since judges aren’t qualified—or constitutionally authorized—to set moral standards, he argued, the people should decide what’s morally acceptable.
I have no idea if Paula Deen is typical of white Southern women of her generation, and I doubt others do, either. (If they do, I’d love to see the data.) But I do know that a lot of people are thinking this—whispering that Deen’s casual racism is just how those people talk—particularly as another white Southern woman of a certain age, author Anne Rice, has taken to Facebook to defend Deen. How can people believe such a simplistic generalization about Southerners? Perhaps because those people (people like me) have been too quiet—too “polite” is maybe a more accurate word—over the years. Well, to hell with that.
Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case, is a pretty lame piece of work. There is a longstanding constitutional norm of judges deferring to Congress. Courts strike down laws when they violate rights or exceed Congress’ power. But Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires nine states in the South (and other scattered places) to get approval from the Justice Department before changing their election laws, doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. It’s the type of legislation specifically authorized by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, which says the right to vote “shall not be abridged” because of race or color. Roberts says that the singling out of Old South states, for what’s called “preclearance” by DoJ, makes little sense now that blacks are as likely to register to vote as whites in those states, or nearly so. But Congress passes hundreds of statutes that are based on weak evidence, and courts routinely uphold them. Roberts doesn’t even try to argue that the costs imposed on states by the preclearance part of the Voting Rights Act exceed the benefits for people who would otherwise be deprived of the vote, which is what would be minimally necessary to show that the law does not advance the public good.
Playing sports all my life has made me quite familiar with the multiple flavors of pain a body can experience. Some hurt worse than others! Here is a tasting guide to all the wonderful sensations I’ve been lucky enough to feel, most of which lasted an entire game or longer (some of them much, much longer).
The man could not stand dirt. When he built his company’s first factory in Fremont, Calif., in 1984, he frequently got down on his hands and knees and looked for specks of dust on the floor as well as on all the equipment. For Steve Jobs, who was rolling out the Macintosh computer, these extreme measures were a necessity. “If we didn’t have the discipline to keep that place spotless,” the Apple co-founder later recalled, “then we weren’t going to have the discipline to keep all these machines running.” This perfectionist also hated typos. As Pam Kerwin, the marketing director at Pixar during Jobs’ hiatus from Apple, told me, “He would carefully go over every document a million times and would pick up on punctuation errors such as misplaced commas.” And if anything wasn’t just right, Jobs could throw a fit. He was a difficult and argumentative boss who had trouble relating to others. But Jobs could focus intensely on exactly what he wanted—which was to design “insanely great products”—and he doggedly pursued this obsession until the day died. Hard work and intelligence can take you only so far. To be super successful like Jobs, you also need that X-factor, that maniacal overdrive—which often comes from being a tad mad.