Thoughts by Richard Bleil
There were four decisions by the Supreme Court today. Before we go any further, a little background is appropriate. Supreme Court nominations are appointments for “life”. I put “life” in quotation marks because they can be removed through impeachment in a similar process as a president. However, this has only happened once when Associate Justice Samuel Chase of the Federalist Party (a right-wing political party that no longer exists to the best of my knowledge), appointed by President George Washington himself, was removed in 1805. It is important to note that the grounds for his impeachment was partisan leanings.
Mitch McConnell has done all he could, in my opinion in violation of the United States Constitution, to put as many right-wing conservative judges on the Supreme Court. This includes sitting on President Obama’s nomination on the very flimsy ground that his remaining time was too short to “allow” him to make a nomination claiming precedent that did not exist. Fox News, famous as the mouthpiece of the Right-Wing Republican party, debated who President Obama might select for his nomination. The position opened up when Antonin Scalia, a right-leaning political centrist, retired. Fox commentators, fearful that Obama would put an extreme left-leaning nomination forward. Looking at the list of potential nominees, they found reasons to criticize every potential nominee, saying all of them would unfairly bias the Supreme Court which, all along, had been conservative leaning, with one exception.
The commentators suggested that the one “acceptable nominee”, Merrick Garland who was a left leaning centrist would never be nominated. Showing their usual paranoia and bias, when President Obama actually did nominate Merrick, they suggested that it was some kind of “trick”. Mitch McConnell, even with the Republican majority in the senate, showed his extreme cowardice by refusing to even allow the hearing. Even Republican senators began calling for the process to begin on a nomination that probably wouldn’t have been approved, but would have put the senators in an uncomfortable situation of either voting for the only nominee they felt was at least appropriate or hearing another nomination they probably would have liked even less.
In an early action, Trump nominated his friend Brett Kavanaugh who was approved despite a plethora of serious controversies and demonstrating his emotional instability during the hearings. This cemented the current right-leaning Supreme Court, and in an action that is at best questionably ethical and potentially illegal, in order to secure his justices long after his term ends, President Trump has been encouraging justices near retirement to retire earlier so they can be replaced by his nominations.
But having friendly Supreme Court justices isn’t quite enough to guarantee anything considering the Chase impeachment. Today, four motions by the Supreme Court illustrate this point. First, the Supreme Court held up the decision that gay and transgender workers are protected by a 1960s era Federal Law making it illegal to discriminate based on sex. It has historically been assumed that these protections extend to the LGBTQ+ community. Trump’s business owning friends have been arguing that this assumption has been a strain on their business, and Trump himself has been wanting this question to be taken up by the Supreme Court, apparently in the hopes of a ruling that does not support this idea. In what has been called a “snub” to Trump, the Supreme Court protected these rights deciding, in fact, that the law does cover other workers regardless of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Interesting, Trump held off on his usual angry Twitter tirade when things don’t go his way, but did show his angst at the decision saying that this is the decision, and we all have to live with the decisions of the Supreme Court. In a second snub to the president, the Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to the California Sanctuary Law, forbidding law enforcement officers from inquiring about the immigration status of suspects and limits coordination with federal immigration authorities. As such, Trump’s challenge to the legality of these state laws won’t be heard, meaning the laws will be kept in place.
This sounds like a difficult day for Trump and the Republican Party. Many conservatives are quite upset about these rulings, especially with a firm majority of the justices. However, there are two other news stories from the Supreme Court that counterbalances these losses. First, the court rejected cases challenging the “Qualified Immunity” laws for police. These laws protect police from being sued for any harm, perceived or actual, that occurs in the execution of their duties. Originally designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits, the law was, of course, misused as it was used to protect officers that executed in the line of duty. Yes, turn of phrase intended. While most police officers are honorable and do their job with honor and pride, this law has been used to cover police brutality, racism and even murder. It’s a dangerous finding considering the recent protests, but it protects Trump allies and helps court the votes of police unions.
In a second decision sure to be unpopular, the Supreme Court cleared the way for an oil pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. This decision follows the lead of an early Trump administration decision to allow the Keystone pipeline to be constructed through Native American holy lands. Despite assurances it’s the safest way to transport oil, it has leaked considerably and caused a lot of environmental harm in the short time it has been active. What’s more, it has given rise to laws against demonstrations and free speech against such projects, in my opinion in violation of the first amendment rights guaranteed in the constitution.
These two decisions seem to help with Trump’s reelection by courting the police and police unions and help protect oil corporations. When you think about the balance of the decisions, though, it’s not hard to see them favoring Trump and big oil while sacrificing racism, with relatively minor impact on the wealthy, and immigration right in sanctuary cities which has no result on his separation of immigrants at the border and caging of Mexican minors in favor of protecting police brutality. I’m glad for these advances in LGBTQ+ and state’s rights, but unfortunately I still see the balance sheet favoring money and Trump.