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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Supreme Court Goes Back to Work

The Daily Escape:

Pyramids viewed from Cairo Street, Egypt – photo by Hossam Abbas

The Supreme Court’s new term begins next Monday, and much of America’s culture wars will move in front of the bench for adjudication. Some of the issues being litigated include abortion, gay rights and gun control. It’s no secret that conservatives control the court, and its liberal wing is in retreat. This could be a momentous year in shaping the country’s socio-cultural future.

On Monday, October 7th, the justices will hear arguments in the case Kahler v. Kansas, regarding whether the 8th and 14th Amendments allow a state to abolish the insanity defense. Four states, Kansas, Utah, Idaho and Montana have abolished the insanity defense. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Kansas says yes, and so does the Trump administration.

Also on Monday, they will hear Ramos v. Louisiana, regarding whether the 6th Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone applies to the states. Currently, Louisiana and Oregon permit non-unanimous juries.

On Tuesday, the court hears a case concerning whether gay and transgender people are protected by federal civil rights laws that bar employment discrimination. Three workplace discrimination cases will be heard. Two of the three cases ask whether “because of sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents an employer from disadvantaging employees on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Fewer than half the states have laws against firing workers because they are gay or transgender. Now the Supremes will decide if the federal civil-rights laws protect the 8.1 million LGBT workers in America.

It may not surprise you that the Trump administration says Title VII doesn’t apply to gay and transgender workers, contrary to the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On November 12th, they will visit Trump’s effort to end DACA, the Obama program that protects mostly Hispanic young adults from deportation. The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Regents, University of California, where three cases were consolidated for argument in which lower courts decided that the Trump action violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

Also scheduled for Nov. 12 is a case in which a US border patrol officer shot and killed an unarmed Mexican teenager who was not on US soil, but hiding in a culvert between the US and Mexico. The question is whether federal courts can award damages to the family for the agent’s actions.

On December 2nd, they are scheduled to hear a major gun rights case. The case is NY State Rifle and Pistol Assn. v. City of New York. The challenge is to the city’s ban on the transport of licensed and unloaded guns outside the city limits. But the city amended the law, and is arguing that the case is now moot, since it has given the challengers what they sought. The case may be dismissed.

Among possible cases that have not yet been scheduled are two appeals regarding Republican-backed abortion restrictions enacted in Louisiana and Indiana. If the court were to take either or both of those cases, it would raise the possibility of a ruling that further curbs abortion rights.

The Louisiana case concerns a challenge by an abortion clinic to state requirements that doctors who perform the procedure must have “admitting privileges” with local hospitals. It is similar to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, when Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the court’s liberals. But last year, Kennedy retired and was replaced by Bret Kavanaugh.

It would be extraordinary if they take up this case and then overrule a precedent set just three years ago. The only thing that’s different is the composition of the court.

Looking further ahead, we may see contentious arguments on the limitations of presidential power. Likely subjects include the president’s push for the power to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; executive privilege in battles over Trump’s tax returns; and use of a national emergency designation to use money appropriated elsewhere to fund the border wall.

And finally, there’s impeachment. In April, Trump tweeted that if “the partisan Dems ever tried to impeach”, he would “first head to the US Supreme Court”. There is little doubt that the Supremes would move quickly to hear such a case.

It wouldn’t be smart for Trump to expect them to come to his rescue during impending impeachment proceedings. In 1993 Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for a unanimous court that impeachment authority “is reposed” in Congress, “and nowhere else”.

Then, if the House of Representatives actually impeached Trump, Chief Justice John Roberts will find himself playing a constitutionally required role: presiding over the president’s removal trial in the Senate.

All in, a pivotal term for the Supremes and for America.

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Saturday Soother – January 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP, looking down at the Wall Street trail – this photo was taken on New Year’s Eve by natsmith69. The photographer says he didn’t hike down because of the government shutdown.

Two topics for today: First, the December jobs report, which was encouraging in the face of a roller-coaster stock market. Employment rose a very strong 312,000 jobs in December, bringing the full count of jobs added for 2018 up to 2.6 million, the strongest year for job gains since 2015.

Unemployment ticked up to 3.9%, largely because more people were drawn into the labor market as measured by the civilian labor force participation rate. It moved up two-tenths to 63.1%, its highest level since 2014. That’s a reminder that the job market still has capacity to expand.

Wage growth accelerated slightly, and tied cyclical highs. Weekly hours worked edged up, job gains for the prior two months were revised upwards, and a very high 70% of private industries added jobs.

It seems that low unemployment has finally started to lead to pressure to raise pay.

Despite all of this positive labor market news, there are economic headwinds in the volatile stock market, Trump’s trade war, and slower economic growth abroad.

Some economists are forecasting a grim outlook for near-term US economic growth. OTOH, low unemployment, job gains, and higher wages should boost consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70% of the US economy.

Try to keep calm about the stock market. There isn’t much definitive economic news that should make you decide to bail out of stocks just now.

Item two: The shut-down. On Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) after another meeting about the shut-down, said that Trump threatened to keep the government closed for “months or even years” until he gets his desired wall funding.

Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) described the meeting as a “lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president.” She said both sides agreed to continue talks. She then said: (brackets by Wrongo)

 We cannot resolve this until we open up [the] government…

So far, most Republicans are keeping a stiff upper lip, saying just what Trump says. But there are a few cracks, notably Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and possibly, Susan Collins (R-ME), who are asking to re-open the federal government without a deal on funding the border wall.

Clearly there is a deal to be had. It probably looks like funding Trump’s wall, which is a rounding error in the federal budget, in return for passing a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief bill as part of immigration reform. Lawmakers in both parties are sympathetic to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The Hill reports that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of GOP leadership, said that while he hasn’t been involved in overall immigration discussions, expanding the scope of negotiations could be one way to break the logjam:

You know, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to make it bigger, and that’s always one of the options here…

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is urging Trump to strike a deal on comprehensive immigration reform:

Why would he not agree to such a thing…We could go small, we could go a little bigger… but I’d like to see the president say, ‘OK, we’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got divided government. I’m the president who can actually make this happen.’

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is pitching his proposal that would establish a $25 billion border trust fund and codify protections for DACA recipients. Remember that Trump rejected a similar offer from Senate Democrats last year, so it isn’t clear where the goalposts for such a deal are today. We’ll have to watch the drama unfold.

Time to let go of the news and settle into a Saturday soother, maybe while taking down ornaments. Start the process of soothing by brewing up a yuuge cup of Panama Ninety Plus Perci Lot 50 coffee ($60/8 oz.) from Birdrock Coffee of San Diego, CA. Coffee Review rates it at 97, with tastes of fruit while being giddily brandy-toned. Maybe that’s a rave.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the “Adagio for Oboe, Cello, Organ and Strings” by Domenico Zipoli. Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived much of his life in what is now Argentina. He studied with Scarlatti, became a Jesuit, worked as a missionary and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38:

If fate had granted Zipoli another 20 to 25 years, he would be regarded today as a major composer.

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