Tag Archives: Justice Clarence Thomas

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/12/17

Good morning, all!

1. I can’t keep writing the same post repeatedly as the politically correct, the historical censors, the Soviet-style Left and the gallactically stupid continue to tear down statues and eliminate honors to significant Americans who are predecessors deemed worthy.  Just hunt for the “airbrushing history” tag here and you’ll find too many already. We should note, however, how the cognitive dissonance scale is coming into play to the benefit of the unethical airbrushers.

In Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, this weekend will witness thousands of white nationalists and neo-Nazis demonstrating to protest a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee  from a city park, because, Lee’s sub-21, infinitely wise undergrads insist, erasing Lee from history will undo the legacy of racism, or something. Of course, for the Racist Right to be the ones protesting makes this position look reasonable. White supremacists organizing the protests unjustly associates Lee with their cause, making his statue mean something it never did, and attaching him to  cause that was not his. The protests against tearing down Lee’s statue–UVA’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, will be next on the non-person list, or close to it—should be coming from historians, scholars, liberals, believers in fairness, nuance, and integrity, and those who are literate enough to understand that the life of Robert E. Lee has much to teach every child and American about loyalty, hubris, hard choices, tragic choices, hypocrisy, courage and more. Why aren’t they protesting? Two reasons, now: they don’t want to be shoulder to shoulder with the scum of the earth, and they are too timid to stand up for crucial ethical principles, unlike the censors of Charlottesville, who don’t understand them, and the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who don’t have them.

2. And speaking of historical airbrushing and censorship: Last year, I designated the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C as an Ethics Dunce for omitting the second African American SCOTUS justice, Clarence Thomas from mention while devoting an exhibit to his unsubstantiated accuser, Anita Hill.  Now the museum has announced plans to honor Jim Vance.

Come on, you all know who Jim Vance is, don’t you? (D.C. area residents: shut up!) Jim Vance, who transformed America for blacks? Give up? Vance was a long-time popular local D.C. television news broadcaster, with a nice screen presence and a casual delivery.  He just died, and he was black. The museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said the broadcaster “symbolized that it was really important that America was changing and his presence was a symbol of that change.” Right, sort of….although Vance was hardly the first or the most prominent black newscaster in D.C. Clarence Thomas, however, was the first conservative black justice…which is, of course, why is being shown such disrespect by the “Nation’s Attic.”

I haven’t visited the huge, striking new museum on the mall yet, and I won’t until its shows signs of being am objective chronicler of history rather than a tool of interest group propaganda. Continue reading

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How Do We Know The Democrats Can’t Find Any Ethical Reason Not To Confirm Judge Gorsuch? Because They Searched And Searched, And The Best They Could Come Up With Was THIS [UPDATED]

Pathetic. Desperate.

Typical.

“And it’s a HAIL MARY PASS!!!!!!!”

Today headlines screamed—do mark the journalists and news organizations, for they exemplify Prof. Glenn Reynold’s jibe, “Democratic operatives with  bylines”—that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch had committed plagiarism in four passages of his 2006 book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” which was based on his 2004 Oxford dissertation, before he became a judge.

That’s a stretch, and more than that, making this a major new story now indicates bias.

In the most egregious of the passages cited, Gorsuch included a description of the famous “Infant Doe” case that tracks closely with the description in a 1984 law-review article by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma. Both versions primarily quote from the court opinion: Kuzma’s article tracks equally closely to the original opinion, a 1982 Indiana court ruling that was later sealed, a  pediatrics textbook, “Rudolph’s Pediatrics,” and a 1983 article in the Bloomington Sunday Herald. Gorsuch cited all of these, but did not cite Kuzma’s article.

He should have. That’s a citation error, but probably not plagiarism. Several the sentences in the book and the article are identical or close to it, and Gorsuch should have used quotation marks. However none of the sentences involved anything but factual  and technical descriptions. For example,the article states that “Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula indicates that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus,” and Gorsuch wrote, “Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula means that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus.” 

Now, if I were writing about esophageal atresia, about which I know nothing, in the course of an analysis of a larger issue, I would probably re-phrase that passage, perhaps writing, “When the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus, this is the condition called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula.” I haven’t added anything original, though. There are no new thoughts or content. My re-phrasing would just dodge the accusation of plagiarism. When I wrote my thesis, which involved reviewing multiple biographies of every U.S. President, it was not uncommon for me to find paragraphs in the earliest materials that were worked over and re-phrased again and again, with no quotes but citations.

The National Review, a conservative publication, so its position will be discounted as biased and partisan, tracked down Kuzma, who waved off the plagiarism charges:

“These passages are factual, not analytical in nature, framing both the technical legal and medical circumstances of the “Baby/Infant Doe” case that occurred in 1982. Given that these passages both describe the basic facts of the case, it would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.”

Weeell, that’s laying it on a bit thick. Gorsuch certainly could have done a more academically acceptable job of re-stating the substance of what she wrote; it’s not THAT “awkward and difficult.”

Continue reading

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Ethics Dunce: The Smithsonian Institution

anita-hill

The new Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is intended to celebrate the two aspects of African American influence on the nation mentioned in the title, and that includes honoring  influential and historically significant African American leaders. Among the figures ignored by the museum’s displays is Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, only the second black member of the Supreme Court. The museum does, however, celebrate the “heroism” of his last-minute accuser at Thomas’s confirmation hearings, law professor Anita Hill.

This is another and particularly sad reflection of the petty partisan bias and lack of integrity demonstrated by the Obama Administration at so many levels. It is stuffed with so many intractable ideologues, and often incompetent ideologues, that objectivity, respect and fairness are frequently too great an effort to muster. The museum honors Hill, who was recruited as a last ditch effort by Democrats to block President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of a black conservative judge to the Supreme Court and whose accusations of sexual harassment were never verified except by the confirmation bias of Democrats and Thomas’s enemies. It chose to snubThomas, which all involved had to know would be seen as an insult to the Justice, and a calculated one.

By all logic and reason, Hill should be, at best, a footnote to a Thomas display. Mean-spirited bias from the empowered Left under Obama has extended even to museum curating, which should be non-partisan. Continue reading

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Four Supreme Court Decisions: Abortion, Guns, Affirmative Action, Corruption…And Ethics. Part 4: Voisine v. United States

"Aw, come on, that was a love tap! Now put some ice on that while I go out and buy a Glock...."

“Aw, come on, that was a love tap! Now put some ice on that while I go out and buy a Glock….”

Be honest, now: you thought I’d never finish this series, did you? (Part 1 was posted June 28.)

In Voisine v. United States, a 6-2 U.S. Supreme Court holding issued on June 27 approved extending a federal statute banning firearms possession by anyone convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to include individuals who have “misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted to knowing or intentional) conduct.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said that “the federal ban on firearms possession applies to any person with a prior misdemeanor conviction for the ‘use…of physical force’ against a domestic relation. That language, naturally read, encompasses acts of force undertaken recklessly—i.e., with conscious disregard of a substantial risk of harm.”

The opinion isn’t remarkable, nor is it a significant attack on gun rights. The case is really about language, as so many Supreme Court cases are. From the opinion:

“Congress’s definition of a “misdemeanor crime of violence” contains no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior. A person who assaults another recklessly “use[s]” force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally. The relevant text thus supports prohibiting petitioners, and others with similar criminal records, from possessing firearms.”

The real question, from an ethical standpoint, is whether Congress can and should remove a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on a misdemeanor conviction for domestic abuse. Is that fair? Sure it is. It is already settled law that it is Constitutional to prevent convicted felons from owning  guns, even if it was a non-violent felony. From an ethical public policy standpoint, why would it be overly restrictive to ban gun ownership from those who engage in a violent misdemeanor?

Writing in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor (of all people), rejected the majority’s “overly broad conception of a use of force.” In the view of the two dissenters, “the majority blurs the distinction between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing” and thereby does a grave injustice to criminal defendants. Continue reading

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Four Supreme Court Decisions: Abortion, Guns, Affirmative Action, Corruption…And Ethics. Part 3: Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

shrinking-number-of-abortion-clinics-in-texas

[The Supreme Court came down with four controversial and ideologically contentious decisions in June, and I apologize for taking almost a month to cover them all. One of the reasons Ethics Alarms occasionally launches a series like this one is to ensure that developing ethics stories of importance do not push important issues to the sidelines. The fact that this four part series had only finished parts 1 and 2 was an irritant to me, as well as some readers.]

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, decided on June 27, the Supreme Court held in a 5-3 majority that two provisions of a Texas law, one requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and another requiring abortion clinics in the state to have facilities comparable to an ambulatory surgical center,  places a substantial and unconstitutional obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion, because they constituted an undue burden on abortion access.

Life would be so much simpler if our elected officials and activists employed an adaptation of the Golden Rule, and looked objectively at issues from the other side’s point of view. This is especially true in the realm of rights.  Second Amendment absolutists insist that virtually any laws regulating who can purchase guns, when and where they can purchase them, and how and how quickly they can be purchased are efforts to whittle away the right to bear arms. They also argue that such regulations have the ultimate goal of  eliminating that right entirely, which, in many instnaces is the case, especially if you listen carefully to the rhetoric of the legislators proposing such measures. There is little difference from this and what anti-abortion advocates are attempting to do with laws like House Bill 2 (H. B. 2).

The bill ostensibly is designed to make abortions safer, thus protecting women’s health, just as many gun laws are promoted as safety measures. Oddly, virtually all of the supporters of the Texas bill would make abortion illegal if they could. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, just as it’s a coincidence that the authors of bills requiring potential gun owners to jump through increasingly burdensome hoops and deal with mandatory trigger locks and “safe gun” technology would gladly repeal the Second Amendment if they could. The ethical principle is the same in both matters: a right isn’t a right if legal obstacles make it difficult to exercise that right.

The question is, what’s a reasonable obstacle? Any regulation imposed on a constitutional right must not create “a substantial obstacle” and must be reasonably related to “a legitimate state interest.” The Supreme Court uses the language and logic of case precedents, which are its previous examinations of these issues and the balancing they require. One such case, though I did not find it mentioned in the majority opinion or dissents in  Hellerstedt, would be the voter ID decision of many years ago, in which a strong majority ruled that the state interest in preventing fraudulent voters and maintaining the integrity of the election process justified inconveniencing those who were subjected to the extra burden of obtaining appropriate identification. In recent years, this decision has been questioned because many believe the motive behind voter ID laws is not really to protect the franchise, but to keep likely Democratic voting blocs from the polls.

Is there a difference legally between a bill that is authored with the intent to restrict the right to vote of older, poorer, and darker citizens while claiming that its sole purpose is to make sure non-citizens don’t affect the results of elections, and an identical  bill that is genuinely intended to safeguard the voting rolls, without any political motive at all? No, or at least there shouldn’t be. The Court’s job is to evaluate what the law does, not try to read the minds and hearts of those who wrote it. Justices only should try to do the latter when there is a debate over what the law says.

Ethically, however, there is a significant difference between a law using a public purpose as a sham to accomplish unethical ends, and a law with a legitimate purpose that has some negative side effects. Trying to restrict a citizen’s rights because one doesn’t respect those rights (or perhaps the citizen) is unethical.

The SCOTUS majority, in its typical examination of a balancing case like this, looked at whether there was a sufficient public safety benefit to a law that had resulted in a precipitous reduction in abortion services: Continue reading

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A Jumbo For Sulu

SuluGeorge Takei, the Japanese-America actor permanently enshrined in pop culture history for his role of Sulu in the original “Star Trek” TV series. He has essentially lived off that one felicitous part for forty years, recently acquiring less moldy,  non-sci-fi following by being a gay rights advocate.

Takei recently skimmed, or just didn’t comprehend, Clarence Thomas’s  audacious dissent to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling and Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion declaring same-sex marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Apparently he also does not comprehend that Supreme Court dissents are both stimulating and useful to legal scholars as well as those, unlike Mr. Sulu, possessing an open and curious mind.

Thomas made the unusual but provocative argument that human dignity is innate:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Thomas was expressing  his disagreement with the majority that the government withholding the right to marry from gays robbed them of human dignity. I think it is a rather pedantic argument that has more validity in the abstract than in reality, but the position that rights come from creation rather than the government is a core concept in the Declaration of Independence, and one that statists, as in “modern Democrats,” like to ignore. If individuals are born with rights, they cannot be truly taken away. If citizens must look to the government to have their rights granted to them, then government is granted too much power in exchange. Thomas’s philosophical argument is classic conservatism. Naturally, that means, in Takei’s intolerant and partyist world view, that he deserves abuse. Continue reading

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Instant Ethics Train Wreck: The Alabama Gay Marriage Stand-off

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

This summer, the Supreme Court will again take up the issue of the Constitutionality of state gay marriage bans, having left the question open (why, I don’t know) after striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Since that ruling, the states have been busy little bees, some passing laws banning same-sex marriage, some doing the opposite, then fighting out multiple appeals at various levels of the judicial system. Three things are certain: the cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage looks unstoppable; all states need to agree on what a legal marriage is; and some faith-based same-sex marriage opponents will not give in until the last dog dies.

Beginning at the end of last week, a messy situation in Alabama involving all of these factors burst into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The links in this post will let you immerse yourself in the mess if you choose: I’m going to try to be clear. Here is what has transpired so far:

1) A federal judge, District Court Judge Callie V. Granade,  struck down the state’s ban  on same-sex marriages in January and said that Alabama could start issuing licenses last week unless the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed her order. A stay was immediately requested by the Alabama Attorney General, who properly defended the state’s law.

2.) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to step in and stop her order from going into effect.

3) The U.S. Supreme Court also refused the stay request, allowing marriages to proceed in Alabama.

4) Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, reminded everyone that probate judges report to him, not the federal judge and not the Attorney General, and do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until he tells them to. He told them not to.

5) Some Alabama probate judges followed Moore, and some went ahead and issued the licenses. Mass confusion reigned.

6) Meanwhile, the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay pending its ruling on state same-sex marriage laws later this year was widely interpreted as tantamount to SCOTUS deciding the case before it was even argued.

7) Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the  majority’s rejection of the stay (we don’t know what the vote break was), argued that “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”

8) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, meanwhile, appeared to endorse gay marriage in an interview.

9) Attempting to break the impasse, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ordered Mobile County, Alabama to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, paving the way for resistant officials across the state to follow suit, in a decision stating that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage had been struck down and that ­Mobile County’s probate judge had to adhere to that decision.

10) Chief Justice Moore remains unmoved, but now most of the probate judges are following the federal order.

Got that?

Good, now you can explain it to me.

What a mess.

Here are the ethics verdicts on the participants so far: Continue reading

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