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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 6/29/2013

Supreme Court Decisions

The Record:  According to the Constitutional Accountability Center, the Roberts Court is quite a coup d’état for corporations, deciding in their favor 69% of the time. These stats were put together before this week’s, and last week’s, decisions. The corporate success rate will go up. By the way, the Supremes, who have control over their own grounds, banned demonstrations. (TPM) Yeah. No Constitutional rights on their property!

Supremes on Voting Rights:  They struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In another 5-4 decision, they decided that “times have changed.” VRA mandated that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must get federal approval to change their voting laws. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority: “There is no denying that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.” The pre-clearance requirement is still in place but the decision struck down the formula used to decide which states are covered, making the pre-clearance provision effectively null and void. (McClatchy) Look at the map. The states and districts still on “the list” are there for a reason. How do they get off “the list?” All they have to do is to have a clean record for 10 years without Justice Department objections. (NPR) These states and districts couldn’t do it. Doesn’t that tell you that there is still a need for the VRA? In my opinion, the Supreme Court is totally out of control. VRA, originally passed in 1965, has been renewed many times, mostly recently in 2006. Congress held numerous hearings and compiled thousands of pages of documents. It was a unanimous decision in the Senate (98-0) and nearly unanimous in the House (390-33). Bush signed the law. Despite a decision by our elected representatives, the Supremes have decided that the decision was wrong. Judicial activism at its worst.

 

Effect on Court Rulings:  The gutting of VRA also nullified lower court rulings that blocked the Texas voter ID law and its political redistricting plans as discriminatory. Texas immediately rushed ahead with its voter ID law, previously blocked by the Justice Department, that “will make it more difficult for ethnic minority citizens to vote.” (Guardian) Mississippi is moving ahead with its new voter ID law. (WDAM) South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia are also moving ahead voter ID laws. (PBS) Make no mistake, folks. This decision by the corporatist justices, while beneficial for corporate-sponsored political candidates, wasn’t just about voting. It was about setting a precedent that laws can’t be kept on the books when they’ve kept the problem at bay. Our food is pretty safe. Watch for a corporation to challenge food regulation. Our water is pretty clean. Watch for a corporation to challenge the Clean Water Act. Watch for all kinds of regulations to be challenged by corporations based on this decision.

 

Supremes on DOMA:  The Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Married couples will immediately gain access to more than 1,000 federal benefits, like social Security and family leave rights, as well as being able to take advantage of tax laws for married couples. However, the Supremes left intact Section 2, that portion that says that states don’t have to recognize other states’ marriages. Interestingly, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, in dissenting, said the the Supreme Court should defer to Congress and not make its own law. However, that’s exactly what they did in the Citizens United decision and this week’s Voting Rights Act decision, not to mention overturning affirmative action in higher education and eviscerating workplace harassment standards. (The Nation)

 

Supremes on Prop 8:  California’s Proposition 8 repealed marriage equality. Lawsuits were brought and the Ninth Court of Appeals struck it down, saying that it was against the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. People against marriage equality appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supremes said they didn’t have a standing - meaning they had no dog in the fight. They were not injured by striking down Prop 8 and, therefore, the Court of Appeals decision will stand. Here’s the decision.

 

Supremes on Affirmative Action:  A Texas two-step. The case involved the criteria used at the University of Texas and whether it violates the equal protection rights of some white applicants. In a 7-1 decision, “The court affirmed the use of race in the admissions process, but made it harder for institutions to use such policies to achieve diversity.” They threw the case back to the lower courts for further review. By the way, Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she was exposed to the case as the U.S. Solicitor General. The dissenting vote? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (CNN)

 

Supremes on Sexual Harassment:  In another victory for corporations, the Supremes’ 5-4 decision makes it more difficult for employees to sue employers over sexual harassment. The court re-defined “supervisor” to mean only those with the ability to hire and fire. So the person who can write you up, suspend you, and recommend you be fired can harass you as much as he/she wants. (U.S. News & World Report)

 

Supremes on Employer Retaliation:  In another 5-4 decision, the Supremes gave employers a freer hand to retaliate against victims of discrimination who report that they have suffered discrimination. There used to be a so-called “mixed motive” retaliation - meaning an employer cannot be held liable for retaliation if racism, sexism, or a similar improper motive was only one of several factors driving a decision to retaliate. Now, they can retaliate for those kinds of complaints. (Houston Chronicle)

 

Supremes on Generic Drugs:  In another 5-4 decision, the Supremes decided that generic drug makers cannot be sued when their products injure or kill consumers - even if the drug is defective. The decision was based on the 2011 decision “in which the court decided that federal law mandating that generic drugs mirror the labeling of their more heavily-regulated brand name counterparts.” The Supremes decided that this was good enough to exclude the generics from improper labeling lawsuits, “even when they violate state consumer protection laws.” (Lawyers.com)

 

Iowa:  The state has passed Medicaid expansion - but theres a catch. When a poor women needs an abortion (Medicaid only covers abortions in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal abnormality, or when the mother’s life is at risk) she has to get permission from the governor. Yeah, I’m not kidding. (Des Moines Register)

 

Texas:  If you didn’t hear, there was a remarkable show of strength in the Texas legislature. Here’s a post from Karsten School’s Facebook page. It’s very good. Here’s one of the last paragraphs: “Yesterday, I witnessed women's rights under fire, a crippled legal system that didn't represent its people, a corrupt government body attempting to commit a crime in front of hundreds of thousands of witnesses, and the complete failure of the main stream media. I also witnessed a woman performing a nearly superhuman act to do what was right, the power of the people making themselves heard both in person and online, and the extraordinary value of one young man with a cellphone making sure people saw and heard the truth about what was going on.” Governor Rick Perry, however, has not given up. He’s called for a second special session to pass the bill. (Guardian)

 

Inequality:  The data for CEOs for 2012 is out and, while it’s expected, it ain’t pretty. Economic Policy Institute did the analysis including stock options. In 1965 CEOs earned 18.3 times more than the typical worker. By 1978 this ratio had grown to 26.5 times; in 1989 it was 53.3 times. There was a dip during the 2008 recession, but they quickly regained their losses. (How are you doing?) Now it’s 272.9 times the average worker. However, CEOs at the largest restaurant and hospitality firms are earning 788 times the average worker. (Economic Policy Institute)

 

Privatization:  USIS is the company that the government hired to screen people for top-secret clearance - like Edward Snowden. Investigators have evidence that USIS “repeatedly misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks. . . The alleged transgressions are so serious that a federal watchdog indicated that he plans to recommend that the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees most background checks, end ties with USIS unless it can show it is performing responsibly.” (Washington Post) I would say that something this important should never be outsourced. It is, without a doubt, something the government should do itself.

 

IRS-gate:  Guess who was behind starting this thing. Rep. Darrell Issa (R, CA) - the guy who’s been conducting all the hearings. The Treasury Inspector General (IG) whose report set everything off was requested by Issa. The IG was asked to limit his examination to “Tea Party organizations.” (The Hill)

 

FISA:  Senator Patrick Leahy (D, VT) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D, CT), Mike Lee (R, UT), Jon Tester (D, MT), Mark Udall (D, CO), and Ron Whyden (D, OR) offered legislation “to sunset some surveillance programs more than 2 years early to allow for proper congressional oversight.” (The Hill)

 

Immigration Bill:  Remember I told you that I couldn’t find what the cost of increasing border agents would be? (TWW, Immigration, 6/22/13) Well, according to the CBO, the bill appropriates $46.3 billion for it. The new alternative bill passed muster with the Senate 67-27. This means it isn’t being filibustered and will proceed to the floor for a final vote. (NY Times) On Thursday the full Senate passed it, 68-32. (NY Times)

 

Private Prisons:  Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private prison corporation. Over the last 20 years it’s taken over managing many of the states’ prisons, promising to save them money but, in the end, costing them more. It looks like some states at least are waking up. In the last month, 3 states have cancelled 4 contracts. Idaho cancelled a contract for its largest prison. Texas is closing down 2 prisons run by CCA. And Mississippi decided not to renew CCA’s contract with one of its institutions. All of these institutions have been the subject of lawsuits for high prisoner deaths, riots, falsifying records, and various other felonious actions. (ACLU)

 

Taxpayer Funding of Presidential Elections:  You know that little box you check off on your tax form that says you want $3 of your taxes to go for financing presidential election campaigns? Well, Rep. Tom Cole (R, OK) wants to get rid of that. His bill, H.R. 95, would stop that. But the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that any savings is not significant. Cole has also introduced H.R. 94, a bill that would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit public spending on political party conventions. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this would save $126 million over the 2014-2023 period.

 

Skilling:  Remember Jeffrey Skilling? The Enron CEO who got 24 years for bilking his employees and investors? Well, he just cut a deal with prosecutors that lowered his sentence to 14 years, meaning he’ll get out in 2017. But, as part of the deal, $40 million of his fortune, which has been frozen since his conviction in 2006, will be distributed to his victims. (Reuters) Good deal?

 

Obamacare:  The administration finalized its policy that requires nearly all employers to provide contraception coverage in their employee health insurance policies, free of co-pays. Only religious institutions as defined by the IRS will be exempt. Religious-affiliated institutions, like universities, won’t be exempt. They will have to provide health insurance coverage with contraception but the insurer will absorb the cost of contraception. If they are self-insured, they will have to find an insurer to cover the contraception and the cost will be reimbursed by the federal government. (NPR) For-profit corporations who oppose birth control, like Hobby Lobby, are still suing. Since they won’t be paying for the contraception, the only objection they could possibly have is that they don’t want their employees to have access to birth control. Talk about controlling women. Geez.

 

Tar Sands Mining:  We’re not talking here about the Keystone pipelines. It’s a tar mining operation at the Tavaputs Plateau not far from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Eastern Utah. A Canadian company that calls itself U.S. Oil Sands (formerly Earth Energy Resources) has been given the go-ahead to start tar sands oil production. “The company anticipates that it will produce 2,000 barrels of oil a day once it is ramped up to full production. With a 7-year project lifespan, one estimate puts its contribution to the country’s fuel supply at 6 hours.” (AlterNet)

 

Coal Burning:  Over the past 3 years the European Union has increased its use of coal by 11%, but its imports have increased to 26%, much of that from the U.S. Now they’ve found that, in 2010, these emissions “caused 22,000 premature deaths.” (EcoWatch)

 

Rising SeasRolling Stone did an interesting piece on coastal cities that are in serious danger: New York City (particularly Queens and Brooklyn), San Francisco and cities near the Bay in Silicon Valley, New Orleans (of course, it sits in a bowl), Washington D.C. (built on swamps), Boston (much of it is landfill), Galveston (of course, it always floods), Norfolk (it’s sinking like New Orleans and Galveston; don’t forget our naval station), Miami and Tampa/St. Petersburg (all are low-lying cities). Another Rolling Stone’s piece says that Miami will be completely underwater by the end of the century.

 

Obama’s Plan:  He laid out the elements he wanted to accomplish, including limiting carbon pollution for new and existing power plants, increasing renewable energy generation on public lands, enhancing fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles, domestic and global cuts in super pollutants like HFCs, and an expanded commitment to international leadership on a wide variety of climate-change issues. (Think Progress)

 

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