Category Archives: Courts

Manafort and Gates: Mueller’s new 32-count indictment (text)

Paul J. Manafort, Jr., of Alexandria, Va., and Richard W. Gates III, of Richmond, Va., were indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 22, 2018, in the Eastern District of Virginia. The indictment contains 32 counts: 16 counts related to false individual income tax returns, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts of bank fraud. Text of the indictment in U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., and Richard W. Gates III (1:18-cr-83, Eastern District of Virginia). — Joe

CRS report: The Federal Grand Jury

From the introduction to The Federal Grand Jury (May 7, 2015 95-1135):

The federal grand jury exists to investigate crimes against the United States and to secure the constitutional right of grand jury indictment. Its responsibilities require broad powers.

As an arm of the U.S. District Court which summons it, upon whose process it relies, and which will receive any indictments it returns, the grand jury’s subject matter and geographical jurisdiction is that of the court to which it is attached.

As a general rule, the law is entitled to everyone’s evidence. Witnesses subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, therefore, will find little to excuse their appearance. Once before the panel, however, they are entitled to benefit of various constitutional, common law and statutory privileges including the right to withhold self-incriminating testimony and the security of confidentiality of their attorney-client communications. They are not, however, entitled to have an attorney with them in the grand jury room when they testify.

The grand jury conducts its business in secret. Those who attend its sessions other than witnesses may disclose its secrets only when the interests of justice permit.

Unless the independence of the grand jury is overborne, irregularities in the grand jury process ordinarily will not result in dismissal of an indictment, particularly where dismissal is sought after conviction.

The concurrence of the attorney for the government is required for the trial of any indictment voted by the grand jury. In the absence of such an endorsement or when a panel seeks to report, the court enjoys narrowly exercised discretion to dictate expungement or permit distribution of the report.

— Joe

Measuring the ‘Scalia-ness’ of Trump’s SCOTUS shortlist

From the abstract of Jeremy Kidd and Ryan Walters’ Searching for Scalia in 2018: Measuring the ‘Scalia-ness’ of President Trump’s Supreme Court Shortlist (Jan. 20, 2018):

With rumors of a retirement this summer on the Supreme Court, President Trump may have another chance to fulfill his campaign pledge to nominate justices “in the mold of Justice Scalia.” By initial accounts, he fulfilled that promise with the nomination of Justice Gorsuch, whose early tenure on the Court has been described as rather Scalia-like. Subsequently, the President has expanded his list of potential nominees to twenty-five. However, not all on that shortlist may be similarly “in the mold of Justice Scalia.” We thus updated our previous study measuring the Scalia-ness of the potential nominees. We added Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Amul Thapar. We improved the three original measures: originalism, textualism, and writing separately. We also added three additional measures that were characteristic of Justice Scalia: ghostwriting (the degree clerks play a role in writing a judge’s opinions); years as a law professor; and percentage of one’s life outside of D.C. Finally, for comparison’s sake, we included the lower court records of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Sotomayor, and Gorsuch.

We then used these variables to create two versions of the Scalia-ness Index. The simple version merely includes originalism and textualism, the most important and defining of Scalia’s traits. The complex version includes all six variables, but with originalism and textualism weighted significantly more than the other two process-based variables, and with the two background-based variables weighted the least. The results confirmed that as far as being a judge like Justice Scalia, the Trump short-listers are not created equal. In fact, there is a wide gulf between the top six and the rest. And of those top six, third through sixth place were lumped together, followed by a significant gap to second place, and then a rather hefty distance to the most Scalia-like of the short-listers.

Given the abstractness of the Scalia-ness Index Scores, using percentiles we translated the scores into 2017 income and IQ scores. For example, for the complex Index, then-Judge Gorsuch would have been third with a 2017 income of $60,008, followed closely by three other judges ranging from $58,016 to $60,001. (The trailing short-listers ranged from $21,381 to $32,157, with then-Judge Roberts bringing up the rear.) As to the two judges ahead of Gorsuch, they were the equivalent of a 2017 income of $75,597 and $292,372, respectively. The simple Index produced similar results. If Scalia-ness had been an Olympic speed skating race, it would have been a boring one: the gold medal winner finishing all by himself, followed sometime later by the silver medalist all by himself, followed by a pack of four fighting for bronze, followed by everyone else lagging rather far behind.

President Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.” Under the assumption that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, some judges empirically appear that they’ll be more Scalia-like than others if placed on the Supreme Court. Past Republican Presidents have often relied on too much trust and too little verification in judicial nominations, with disastrous results, including but not limited to David Souter and John Paul Stevens. We strongly recommend the White House demand proof of Scalia-ness. Here is some. Additionally, and more broadly, we argue that since data-driven decision-making has transformed the rest of the world, it should begin to play a more prominent role in decisions about judicial nominees. Doing so will provide more predictive power to the vetting process. The methodology we employ here provides an example of what could be done going forward.

— Joe

ABA Formal Opinion 478: Independent Factual Research by Judges Via the Internet

From the press release for Formal Opinion 478:

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 478  that provides the nation’s judicial branch guidance related to the ethical boundaries of independent factual research on the internet.

The guidance is consistent with the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, but notes that judicial notice is governed by the law of evidence in each jurisdiction. The opinion draws a bright-line distinction between independent investigation of “adjudicative facts” and research of “legislative facts” of law and policy. Formal Opinion 478 also provides guidance on internet research by judges of the lawyers and the parties involved in the case.

“Stated simply, a judge should not gather adjudicative facts from any source on the Internet unless the information is subject to proper judicial notice,” Formal Opinion 478 said. “Further … judges should not use the Internet for independent fact-gathering related to a pending or impending matter where the parties can easily be asked to research or provide the information. The same is true of the activities or characteristics of the litigants or other participants in the matter.”

H/T to beSpacific. — Joe

CRS analysis of federal court nominees rated “not qualified” by the ABA

From U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominees Who Received a Rating of “Not Qualified” from the American Bar Association: Background and Historical Analysis (Nov. 13, 2017 IN10814):

As of this writing, 49 individuals have been nominated by President Trump to U.S. circuit and district court judgeships and have also received a rating from the ABA. Of the 49, 4 (8.2%) received a rating of “not qualified,” 17 (34.7%) received a rating of “qualified,” and 28 (57.1%) received a rating of “well qualified” (including 11, or 78.6%, of 14 circuit court nominees who received a well qualified rating).

The number of nominees, as of this writing, who have received a not qualified rating during the Trump presidency is not notably high (when compared to the number of nominees who received such a rating over the entirety of each of the previous 11 presidencies).

What is distinctive, however, at least when compared to other presidencies, is that both a U.S. circuit court nominee and at least one district court nominee have received a rating of not qualified during President Trump’s first year in office (which last occurred in 1961 during the first year of the Kennedy presidency).

— Joe

Federal Courts Web Archive launched

From the announcement:

The Federal Courts Web Archive, recently launched by the Library of Congress Web Archiving Team and the Law Library of Congress, provides retrospective archival coverage of the websites of the federal judiciary. … These sites contain a wide variety of resources prepared by federal courts, such as: slip opinions, transcripts, dockets, court rules, calendars, announcements, judicial biographies, statistics, educational resources, and reference materials. The materials available on the federal court websites were created to support a diverse array of users and needs, including attorneys and their clients, pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, jurors, visitors to the court, and community outreach programs.

This collection includes the websites of the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts. This collection also includes the sites of the federal judiciary’s specialty courts, including the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of International Trade, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

H/T to Gary Price, InfoDocket. — Joe

The constitutional cost of PACER’s per-page fee model

From the abstract for Stephen Schultze’s The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records, 106 Georgetown Law Journal __ (2018, Forthcoming):

This paper argues that the federal judiciary has erected a fee structure that makes public records practically inaccessible for many members of the public and for essential democratic purposes. The per-page fee model inhibits constitutionally protected activities without promoting equally transcendent ends. Through this fee system, the judiciary collects fees at ever-increasing rates and uses much of the revenue for entirely other purposes — in an era in which the actual cost of storing and transmitting digital records asymptotically approaches zero. PACER should be free.

This paper examines the public’s interest in free electronic access to federal court records, and consider the relative strength of legal and policy arguments to the contrary. Section I performs an accounting of the true costs of a free-access regime. Sub-section I.A. examines the monetary cost of providing electronic access. Sub-section I.B. considers the privacy costs to individuals who are identified in electronic court proceedings when digital records erase some of the “practical obscurity” that prevailed in a print-only era. Section II details the benefits of free electronic access to federal court records. Sub-section II.A. describes how this access benefits the public’s understanding of the law, whereas Sub-Section II.B outlines how free access enhances the transparency and legitimacy of the courts. Section III argues that, in the tradition of Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, free access electronic to court records is a constitutionally necessary element of the structure of our modern judiciary.

Recommended. — Joe

DOJ argues that Title VII does not protect gay rights

BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden is reporting that the DOJ filed an amicus brief in Zarda v. Altitude Express, No. 15-3775, at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that argues that Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover sexual orientation and only applies if men and women are treated unequally. Details and the text of the DOJ brief at The Justice Department Just Argued Against Gay Rights In A Major Federal Case. — Joe

On the clarity of SCOTUS opinions

US Supreme Court Opinions and their Audiences (Cambridge UP, 2017) by Ryan C. Black, Ryan J. Owens, Justin Wedeking and Patrick C. Wohlfarth is the first study specifically to investigate the extent to which US Supreme Court justices alter the clarity of their opinions based on expected reactions from their audiences. The authors examine this dynamic by creating a unique measure of opinion clarity and then testing whether the Court writes clearer opinions when it faces ideologically hostile and ideologically scattered lower federal courts; when it decides cases involving poorly performing federal agencies; when it decides cases involving states with less professionalized legislatures and governors; and when it rules against public opinion. The data shows the Court writes clearer opinions in every one of these contexts, and demonstrates that actors are more likely to comply with clearer Court opinions. For more, the work was reviewed in the April issue of Law and Politics Book Review here. — Joe

A general approach to predicting SCOTUS behavior

Summarizing their work, Daniel Katz, Michael Bommarito and Josh Blackman wrote in A General Approach for Predicting the Behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States:

[W]e offer the first generalized, consistent and out-of-sample applicable machine learning model for predicting decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. Casting predictions over nearly two centuries, our model achieves 70.2% accuracy at the case outcome level and 71.9% at the justice vote level. More recently over the past century, we outperform an in-sample optimized null model by nearly 5 %. Among other things, we believe such improvements in modeling should be of interest to court observers, litigants, citizens and markets. Indeed, with respect to markets, given judicial decisions can impact publicly traded companies, as highlighted in [Katz DM, Bommarito MJ, Soellinger T, Chen JM. Law on the Market? Evaluating the Securities Market Impact of Supreme Court Decisions 2015], even modest gains in prediction can produce significant financial rewards.

Here’s the abstract:

Building on developments in machine learning and prior work in the science of judicial prediction, we construct a model designed to predict the behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States in a generalized, out-of-sample context. To do so, we develop a time evolving random forest classifier which leverages some unique feature engineering to predict more than 240,000 justice votes and 28,000 cases outcomes over nearly two centuries (1816-2015). Using only data available prior to decision, our model outperforms null (baseline) models at both the justice and case level under both parametric and non-parametric tests. Over nearly two centuries, we achieve 70.2% accuracy at the case outcome level and 71.9% at the justice vote level. More recently, over the past century, we outperform an in-sample optimized null model by nearly 5%. Our performance is consistent with, and improves on the general level of prediction demonstrated by prior work; however, our model is distinctive because it can be applied out-of-sample to the entire past and future of the Court, not a single term. Our results represent an important advance for the science of quantitative legal prediction and portend a range of other potential applications.

— Joe

Active judging: Solving the pro se crisis in America’s state civil courts

About Active Judging and Access to Justice, 93 NOTRE DAME L. REV __ (2018), Anna E. Carpenter (Tulsa) wrote

This Article offers a window into a small slice of the civil justice system, a single court where a group of judges is doing their best, with the tools at their disposal, to handle pro se cases fairly and impartially while also helping those parties navigate the complexities of civil litigation. Where they have authoritative guidance, they do their best to follow it. Where they lack guidance, they make choices guided by principle, and they focus on being consistent from case to case. Their approaches are not monolithic, though they are guided by shared values. Most seem to recognize that they are imperfect and working within an imperfect system.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

Active judging, where judges step away from the traditional, passive role to assist those without counsel, is a central feature of recent proposals aimed at solving the pro se crisis in America’s state civil courts. Despite growing support for active judging as an access to justice intervention, we know little, empirically, about how judges engage with pro se parties as a general matter, and even less about active judging. In response, this Article contributes new data and a new conceptual framework: the three dimensions of active judging. The study is based in a District of Columbia administrative court where most parties are pro se and active judging is permitted and encouraged. Using in-depth qualitative interviews with judges in this court, the study asks: Are the judges active? If so, how? Do views and practices vary across the judges? What factors shape and mediate those views and practices? Results reveal that all judges in the sample engage in at least one dimension of active judging, but judges’ views and practices vary in meaningful ways across the three dimensions, which include adjusting procedures; explaining law and process; and eliciting information. While all judges are willing to adjust procedures, they vary in whether and how they explain or elicit. These variations are based on judges’ different views about the appropriate role of a judge in pro se matters, views that are mediated by substantive law — burdens of proof, in particular. The variations exist though the judges draw on shared sources of guidance on active judging: appellate case law, a regulatory body, and one another, through peer reviews. This study suggests refinements to current thinking about active judging, offers new insights about the roles procedural rules and burdens of proof play in pro se litigation, and suggests consistency in active judging may require more substantial guidance than that available to judges in this court.

— Joe

Are robots still how judges envision them?

From the abstract of University of Washington School of Law prof Ryan Calo’s very interesting essay Robots as Legal Metaphors, 30 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 209–237 (2017):

This essay looks at the role robots play in the judicial imagination. The law and technology literature is replete with examples of how the metaphors and analogies courts select for emerging technology can be outcome determinative. For example, whether a judge sees email as more like a letter or a postcard will dictate the level of Fourth Amendment protection the court is prepared to extend it. But next to no work examines the inverse: when and how judges invoke metaphors about emerging technology when deciding cases about people. Robots represent an interesting case study. The judge’s use of the robot metaphor can be justice enhancing in that it helps translate obscure legal concepts like agency and fault into terms understandable to a lay reader. But the use of the metaphor is also problematic. Courts tend to apply the metaphor to remove agency from individuals whom society already tends to marginalize. Further, judges’ mental models of robots are increasingly outdated, which could lead to judicial error as advanced robots enter the mainstream.

— Joe

Do Court of Appeals judges turn more partisan during presidential elections?

According to Carlos Berdejó and Daniel L. Chen, the answer to that question is “yes.” Here’s the abstract for their Electoral Cycles Among U.S. Courts of Appeals Judges:

We find field evidence for what experimental studies have documented regarding the contexts and characteristics that make individuals more susceptible to priming. Just before U.S. Presidential elections, judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals double the rate at which they dissent and vote along partisan lines. Increases are accentuated for judges with less experience and in ideologically polarized environments. During periods of national reconciliation — wartime, for example — judges suppress dissents, again, especially by judges with less experience and in ideologically polarized environments. We show the dissent rate increases gradually from 6% to nearly 12% in the quarter before an election and returns immediately to 6% after the election. That highly experienced professionals making common law precedent can be politically primed raises questions about the perceived impartiality of the judiciary. We cannot rule out the possibility that judges — who profess to be unbiased — are intentionally biased, which also raises the question of intentional bias of professionals who claim to be unbiased.

Interesting. — Joe

Gorsuch confirmation hearings gear up: “Find as much information about the new Supreme Court nominee as possible.”

“The idea for the Gorsuch Project was born after law librarians from several universities and government offices faced a similar question from their patrons: ‘Find as much information about the new Supreme Court nominee as possible.'” — From the Gorsuch Project.

The Gorsuch project “is the result of the collaborative efforts of several libraries to research and collect a comprehensive set of materials relating to the Hon. Neil Gorsuch’s career on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Majority opinions, dissents, and concurrences authored or joined by Gorsuch and references to his published work and speeches are presented here.” The academic law libraries involved are located at the Univ. of Illinois College of Law, the Univ. of Richmond School of Law, the Univ. of Virginia School of Law (host site of the Project), plus the Free Law Project and the US Railroad Retirement Board contributed to the project.

See also Neil M. Gorsuch a Law Library of Congress bibliography that was last updated February 2, 2017.

H/T to Michel-Adrien Sheppard’s Slaw post. — Joe

Risk assessment algorithm used in bail hearings

“As part of a bold effort at bail reform,” writes Ephrat Livni, “the state of New Jersey replaced bail hearings with algorithmically informed risk assessments this year. Anyone’s eligible for release, no money down, if they meet certain criteria. To ensure unbiased, scientific decisions, judges use a machine-generated score. … The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) formula that New Jersey is now using for bail—along with about 20 other jurisdictions that employ it less extensively—aims to make risk calculations neutral, purely evidence-based, and premised on data. It compares risks and outcomes in a database of 1.5 million cases from 300 jurisdictions nationwide, producing a score of one to six for the defendant based on the information.”

“The automated recommendation”, Livni adds, “serves as a guide and doesn’t replace judicial discretion. Still, the program raises questions about the claimed neutrality of machine reasoning, and the wisdom of reliance on mechanical judgment.” For more, see In the US, some criminal court judges now use algorithms to guide decisions on bail. — Joe

SCOTUS Style Manual available for purchase

In Supreme Court’s Style Manual is Private No More, Tony Mauro reports that the US Supreme Court Style Guide, 2013 ed. can be purchased through Amazon without Court approval because a court aficionado named Jack Metzler is making it available for sale under his own imprint. Metzler reportedly photocopied the 200+ page long manual in the Supreme Court’s law library. The style manual “could be an important resource for brief-writing advocates as well as judges and clerks of other courts seeking to match the sometimes quirky style rules of the nation’s highest court,” writes Mauro. — Joe

LexPredict on SCOTUS cases that will be affected by Justice Scalia’s death

“LexPredict has developed an algorithm, {MARSHALL}+, that the company says can accurately predict Supreme Court cases. Using their algorithm, they’ve come up with predictions on which cases will be affected [by Justice Scalia’s death]” writes Bob Ambrogi. According to LexPredict, there are 14 cases whose decisions are likely to be impacted. “These changes will result in either reverse to affirm or vice versa switches, or by changing the opinions from precedential to non-precedential.” Details here. — Joe

End Note: On a related note, SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe examines whether there is a standard practice of not nominating and confirming Supreme Court Justices during a presidential election year. Read more about it. See also Lyle Denniston’s Is a recess appointment to the Court an option?, also on SCOTUSblog.

Justice Scalia

The fact that Justice Scalia passed away over the weekend from natural causes is, of course, all over the news.  There are any number of articles speculating on how nominating a successor would affect the coming presidential election; who are the potential nominees; how this changes the ideological make-up of the Court, and so one.  All are worthy questions for speculation.  I’d like to highlight what this event means for coming decisions.  The Court has had a certain stability despite the two appointments resulting in the confirmation of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.  As a side note on that, check out the CNN story by David Axelrod where Justice Scalia quietly expressed a preference for Elena Kagan to replace Justice Souter.  He got his wish when Justice Stevens retired.

Court watchers were always interested in Justice Scalia’s questions in oral argument given the Court’s ideological split, mostly 4-4 with Justice Kennedy in the middle.  While he was identified as a conservative, he didn’t always side with a conservative point of view.  I remember that he was fairly protective of the Fourth Amendment (See U.S. v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012) as an example) when the trend in Federal Courts seemed to find plenty of exceptions in its prohibitions).  Justice Scalia’s questions were as much a clue to his influence on the resulting decision as it was a bit of theater.  He certainly seemed to enjoy the intellectual banter with those presenting arguments.  CNN has another article listing six cases the site highlights as more significant cases than others.  How the Court will handle these and other issues will send Court watchers back to re-analyze the arguments.

The cases that concerns me is the potential appeal of the Google Books case and the Apple antitrust case, both affirmed by the Second Circuit.  The Authors Guild has filed a petition for cert which is pending.  Apple has yet to file its petition but has indicated that it intends to do so.  Justice Scalia will not be a participant in the case whether the Court accepts the cases or hears them.  These cases may stand if the Court splits 4-4 on the issues.  If it makes any difference, Justice Scalia joined Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in the Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. first sale doctrine case.

I have a minor personal story about Justice Scalia.  He came to DePaul several years ago and spoke to the faculty in our Rare Book Room.  Security was exceptionally tight.  I believe it was the first time ever I had to show multiple IDs just to get into the building.  I was sitting at the Reference Desk when the Justice was shuttled up to his engagement via the service elevator.  That was less than 100 feet from where I was sitting.  That is effectively the closest I will likely get to a member of the Court.  It was amusing to have security watch me while I answered the occasional reference question.

I have written pointed things about Justice Scalia in the past.  I’ll remember him as the Justice who rejected legislative history in all possible forms as a vehicle for interpreting statutes.  He did not join all of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Kirtsaeng.  He skipped every section that mentioned legislative history, even if appearing only in a footnote.  His attention to original intent had him questioning whether the King could hide a sentry in a coach as an analogy to whether the government could place a tracker on a defendant’s car in some circumstances.  That’s from the Jones case mentioned above.

Goodbye Justice Scalia.  You were larger than life on the Court.  While you will be replaced, there will never be a Justice exactly like you.

Mark

Nebraska Courts To Drop Printed Opinions

From the Press Release:

Free online access to the official published judicial opinions of the Nebraska Supreme Court and Nebraska Court of Appeals will be available to the public beginning January 1, 2016.

Text-searchable opinions dating back to 1871 will be available for the Nebraska Supreme Court. The full collection of opinions of the Nebraska Court of Appeals, beginning with its establishment in 1992, will also be offered.

Previously, appellate court opinions were printed or were available online through various for-profit subscription services. All published opinions will be provided via the Nebraska Appellate Courts Online Library at ne.gov/go/opinions. Once printing of judicial opinions in the Nebraska Advance Sheets and the Decisions of the Nebraska Court of Appeals ceases in June 2016, opinions will be available exclusively online.

Newly released opinions of both courts will continue to be available for 90 days on the Nebraska Judicial Branch Web site athttps://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/ and from the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals upon request, and from any electronic provider of legal information choosing to provide them.

Official opinions in the online library will be accessible 24/7 using smart phones, tablets or computers from anywhere with Internet access. Access via the online library allows the appellate courts to make their judicial opinions more easily available to the public.

Nebraska joins Arkansas and Illinois in dropping printed opinions in favor of online access.  Hat Tip to Rich Leiter for the news.

Mark

End of Supreme Court Term Is Not The End of Controversy

I never got a chance to write about the end of the Supreme Court term.  Different commentators have called the term “historic.”  Given the major decisions at the end of term

and a few others, this term provided more controversy than previous terms.  The dissents were fast and furious, with emphasis on the furious.

Justice Scalia observed in the King case:

Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.

And that was one of the nicer passages.  He concluded with:

Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will attain the enduring status of the Social Security Act or the Taft-Hartley Act; perhaps not. But this Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years. The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (“penalty” means tax, “further [Medicaid] payments to the State” means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, “established by the State” means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.

Justice Scalia called the Court a threat to democracy in his dissent in the Obergefell case.  He further stated:

Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.

Justice Thomas wrote in his dissent in the Arizona redistricting case:

The ballot initiative in this case, unlike those that the Court has previously treated so dismissively, was unusually democracy reducing. It did not ask the people to approve a particular redistricting plan through direct democracy, but instead to take districting away from the people’s representatives and give it to an unelected committee, thereby reducing democratic control over the process in the future. The Court’s characterization of this as direct democracy at its best is rather like praising a plebiscite in a “banana republic” that installs a strongman as President for Life. And wrapping the analysis in a cloak of federalism does little to conceal the flaws in the Court’s reasoning.

It’s almost as if the two Justices took personal offence at the outcome of each case.

There is no doubt that several of the cases the Court decided were highly charged political issues where the outcome did not end the debate.  Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was very displeased with the same-sex marriage decision.  The Oklahoma legislature is doing its best to opt out of Obamacare despite the ruling in King.

The Court, in theory, never acts politically—in theory. There are multiple stories suggesting that the Chief Justice is solidifying his legacy with successive rulings upholding the ACA.  Gallup reports that the reaction to the Court is dramatically split over political lines. The Court’s job approval rating by Republicans is 18%.  Democrats, on the other hand, give the Court a 76% rating.  Further polls show that support for same-sex marriage is stable after the Obergefell decision with 58% of the population in support.  A majority of Democrats support same-sex marriage at 74% while Republicans are opposed at 67%.  Politics and society have become more and more polarized over the years where it seems to be the norm at this point.  I personally regret that this is creeping into the Supreme Court.

Mark