Tag Archives: Justice Joseph Alito

Mid-Day Ethics Refreshment, 6/12/2018: “Ethics Isn’t A Horse Race, It’s A Marathon” Edition

Good afternoon…

1. Culture rot symptoms. Once upon a time it would have been unthinkable and shameful for the owner of a losing horse in a Triple Crown race to claim that dirty tactics have affected the outcome. That, however, was before the loser of the 2016 Presidential election did the equivalent sour grapes act, loudly and continuously. This is how important cultural ethics norms fall off in chunks.

Justify becoming the only undefeated Triple Crown champion after Seattle Slew as he won the Belmont Stakes was immediately smeared  by Mike Repole, co-owner of fourth-place Vino Rosso and last-place Noble Indy. He didn’t claim Russian collusion, just equine collusion.

“Justify is a super horse. He is a Triple Crown winner and he’s undefeated,” said Repole “But I can see the stewards looking into this over the next couple of days. I probably expect them to look into reckless riding by Florent and bring him in to question him about what he was thinking and what his tactics were.”  He accused jockey Florent Geroux of riding Restoring Hope, Justify’s stablemate, to clear the way for Justify to win the race.

“It definitely seemed to me [Restoring Hope] was more of an offensive lineman than a racehorse trying to win the Belmont,” Repole told reporters, “and Justify was a running back trying to run for a touchdown.” Nice. the complaint instantly became the main story of the race, before Justify’s jockey and owners were able to bask in the rare accomplishment for a day or two. Ironically, Repole’s own Vino Rosso was assisted by similar “lineman” tactics by another horse, Noble Indy, like Vino Rosso trained by Todd Pletcher. Concludes racing expert Pat Forde,  “It’s almost certainly why Noble Indy was entered. Basically, Pletcher’s two-horse racing tactic simply ran up against a better two-horse racing tactic.”

And the tactic is legal. Never mind. Graceful losing is on the way out, thanks to our politicians.

2. He gets it, and he doesn’t even read Ethics Alarms! The Ethiopian cabbie who drove me home from the morning mandatory legal ethics seminar that I teach every month for newly-minted D.C. lawyers spent that first half of the trip complaining about President Trump. Then he said, “Now, I didn’t vote for him, but I respect him. I respect him because he is the President of my country, and my fellow citizens elected him. I can complain about him to you, because you are an American too. If a foreigner gets in my cab, however, and starts insulting the President, I pull over and order him out.” Continue reading

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Here Is Why Baseball Fans, And Almost Everyone Else, Are Ignorant Of How The Law Works…

Last night, while I was watching a lousy Red Sox loss to the Oakland A’s, the Boston broadcasters announced their mid-game poll: “Do you agree with the Supreme Court decision on sports betting?” Viewers were supposed to text one number for yes, another for no. It was quite clear that the Sox announcers themselves had no clue what the decision was, however, as Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien began debating the pros and cons of legalizing sports betting. The debate was edifying, but had nothing to do with the Court’s decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association whatsoever.

They and thousands of Red Sox fans had no clue what the decision was, and their ignorance didn’t stop them from voting on what they thought it was. What they thought it was came from second and third hand social media posts, and misleading headlines (“Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Sports Betting Law”) as well as brain-dead reports on the meaning of the majority ruling. (“Today the Supreme Court opened the door to legalized sports betting by declaring the federal law banning it unconstitutional…”). On a local news channel in the D.C. area, a reporter was dispatched to “investigate” if the reporting on the decision was accurate. “We began by reading the decision itself,” he said,

Wow! What a concept! Read the opinion rather than depend on ignorant reporters who don’t know the Constitution from “Hiawatha” to explain it based on what they think they know, which is not remotely like knowing anything!

Quoting again from ScotusBlog, here’s what “the decision on sports betting” was…

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

Later on, Alito makes it clear that the decision isn’t pro-sports betting or anti-sports betting. The decision is anti-the federal government telling the states that they can’t pass certain kinds of laws, and the subject matter of those laws are irrelevant to that principle. The decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association  no more approves legalized sports betting than it approves speed limits over 90 or letting felons vote in state elections. The decision says that while the federal government can pass its own laws, it can’t order the states not to pass laws.

Never mind! Thousands of Red Sox fans had opinions based on misunderstanding the decision, just as many bloggers and online commenters worked themselves into a frenzy about the evils or benefits of sports betting, aided by journalists who literally, not figuratively, didn’t know what they were writing about, and didn’t have the integrity or common sense to find out.

Good job, everybody!

 

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 5/15/2018: Alito Gets One Right, Ellison Deceived, And An Ancient, Unethical Tactic Works Once Again…

To a glorious morning, Ethics-Lovers!

1. Bad Alito, Good Alito.  As I briefly noted yesterday (and hopefully will do in detail today), Justice Alito authored an unethical and embarrassing dissent defending a lawyer who deliberately betrayed his client by telling the jury that he had killed someone his client denied killing. Bad Alito. However, the arch-conservative jurist also authored the majority opinion in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, in which the SCOTUS majority struck down a virtuous but unconstitutional law, and did so clearly and well.

These are, I think, my favorite Supreme Court opinions, where the Court ignores the motives and objectives of a law and simply rules whether the legislature is allowed to behave like that. I don’t know, but I would guess that most of the majority feel the way I do about organized sports gambling: nothing good can come of it, and a lot of harm is inevitable. One they get the green light, I’m sure that as many states will take over sports gambling for its easy revenue as now prey on its poor, desperate and stupid with their state lottery scams. Everyone involved–sports, fans, athletes, states, the public’s ethical compass—is going to be corrupted by letting the sports betting genie out of its bottle: just watch.

Nevertheless, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992  law known as PASPA, should have been struck down decades ago; I’d love to know why it took so long. No, it did NOT ban sports betting, though this is what far too many news reports tell you. Congress can ban sports betting directly if it chooses to, as it is interstate commerce. This isn’t in dispute. What it did in 1992, however, was to order states not to pass laws states have a constitutional right to pass. The distinction matters. From SCOTUS Blog, which is usually the best source for analysis of these things:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. [The] justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine…

…In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court began by explaining that the “anticommandeering doctrine may sound arcane, but it is simply the expression of a fundamental structural decision incorporated into the Constitution” – “the decision to withhold from Congress the power to issue orders directly to the States.” And that, the majority continued, is exactly the problem with the provision of PASPA that the state challenged, which bars states from authorizing sports gambling: It “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” “It is as if,” the majority suggested, “federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty,” Alito concluded, “is not easy to imagine.”

…The court also rejected the argument, made by the leagues and the federal government, that the PASPA provision barring states from authorizing sports betting does not “commandeer” the states, but instead merely supersedes any state laws that conflict with the provision – a legal doctrine known as pre-emption. Pre-emption, the majority explained, “is based on a federal law that regulates the conduct of private actors,” but here “there is simply no way to understand the provision prohibiting state authorization as anything other than a direct command to the States,” which “is exactly what the anticommandeering rule does not allow.”

Got it.

Good decision. Continue reading

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McCoy v. Louisiana

Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Robert LeRoy McCoy, who was convicted of three counts of murder after his lawyer refused to follow his instruction and plead not guilty as he directed. I had predicted that his convictions would be over-ruled; I also wrote,

“If the Supreme Court does anything but overrule Louisiana in this case by a 9-0 vote, I may turn in my law license in exchange for a free Whopper at Burger King.”

Well, the vote wasn’t 9-0. I think instead of turning in my license, I’m going to turn in my respect for the so-called conservative wing of the Court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsberg, with Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts, and Kennedy concurring. Two of the conservatives concurred in a dissent authored by Alito: Gorsuch and thomas.

I haven’t had time to read it as carefully as I have to to do a thorough analysis, but I read it well enough to flag it as an embarrassing collection of rationalizations. While the majority opinion interprets a straightforward case according to what is significant about it—a lawyer pleaded guilty for him when his client demanded that he plead non guilty, thus making the conclusion unavoidable, Alito resorts to desperate excuses. Well, this kind of case isn’t likely to happen again. So what? A man was robbed of his Sixth Amendment rights! His story was ridiculous. So what? If that’s his story, he has the right to tell it. The lawyer was placed in a tough situation by a client whose claims were unbelievable. The jury decides who to believe, and a defendant has the right to let them do that. McCoy’s lawyer didn’t believe him. So what? Welcome to criminal defense work. McCoy was going to be convicted anyway.

What????

I can’t believe a Supreme Court Justice is making these arguments. So what? The principle of the rule of law is that it is vital that the defendant, if he is convicted, is convicted the right way, constitutionally. The conduct of McCoy’s lawyer was indefensible under the ethics rules, and the Constitution.

Reading the whole opinion and the dissent is revealing, and not in a good way. The majority opinion shows us that the Supreme Court can’t say the sky is blue without making the case in the mots turgid way possible. This opinion should have been a few pages at most.

The dissent lets us know that Justices Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas look for minuscule fragments of justifications to avoid doing the right thing.

 

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Windy Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/2/18: More Supreme Court Fun, Transparency Games, Ethical and Unethical Quotes Of The Day…

GOOD MORNING!

(Wind storms all over Virginia, knocking out power and my e-mail, and blowing over a tree that narrowly missed my son’s car!)

1 Lack of Transparency? What lack of transparency? During a lecture and moderated discussion at U.C.L.A. this week in which he was a a participant and invited guest, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was heckled with hisses, jeers, shouted insults and profanity from students and protesters, some of whom were ushered and even carried out by police officers. A programmed sixth grader in the audience even questioned him about the fairness of passing permanent tax cuts for companies and expiring cuts for individuals, because as we all know, 10-year-olds are well-versed in tax policy theory.

Afterwards, Mnuchin  revoked his consent for the official video of the event to be released, perhaps because he was flustered by the harassment and it showed. In response to criticism of this virtual censorship,

The Treasury Department, through a spokesperson, said that what the Secretary did wasn’t what he obviously did—a Jumbo, aka “Elephant? What elephant?”—saying,

“The event was open to the media and a transcript was published. He believes healthy debate is critical to ensuring the right policies that do the most good are advanced.”

He just doesn’t want anyone to see or hear the debate.

A related point: The protests were organized by Lara Stemple, a U.C.L.A. law professor, and students and faculty members participated. Protests are fine; disrupting the event is not. Faculty members who assisted in the heckling should be disciplined, and students who participated should be disciplines as well.  It’s an educational institution, and all views sgould be openly explored and heard without interference. No guest of the university should be treated this way. Ever. No matter who it is or what their position. The treatment on Mnuchin was unethical.

2. More Supreme Court fun with ethics! Minnesota’s law banning “political” clothing and buttons from polling places is being challenged as an affront to free speech. The law prohibits people from wearing a “political badge, political button or other political insignia” at a polling place on an election day, and a member of the tea party movement sued after his “Tea Party” message got him in trouble when he came to vote.

Here is Justice Samuel A. Alito’s exchange with Daniel Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who was defending Minnesota’s law:

“How about a shirt with a rainbow flag?” asked Alito. “Would that be permitted?”

“A shirt with a rainbow flag?” Rogan repeated. “No, it would — yes, it would be — it would be permitted unless there was — unless there was an issue on the ballot that — that related somehow to — to gay rights.”

Justice Alito: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

Mr. Rogan: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication—and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor—

A T-shirt bearing the words of the Second Amendment? Alito asked.

Probably banned because of the gun-control issue, Rogan said.

The First Amendment? Alito asked. Probably not, Rogan answered.

Got it. The First  Amendment isn’t a political statement, but the Second Amendment is. That led Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to observe: “Under your interpretation of ‘political,’ it would forbid people from wearing certain portions of the Bill of Rights into a polling place but not other portions of the Bill of Rights. And I guess I’m just wondering what compelling interest Minnesota has identified that requires a statute that goes so much further than the vast majority of states?”

In contrast, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked J. David Breemer, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing the challengers, “Why should there be speech inside the election booth at all, or inside the what you call the election room? You’re there to vote.”

This is a problem requiring an “all or nothing” solution. Either all forms of political speech must be allowed, or no speech at all. In a sick time where citizens honestly argue that a MAGA cap or a picture of a gun makes them feel threatened and “unsafe,” the ethical option would seem to be Justice Kennedy’s. No speech, messages, no logos, no photos, no American flags. Last fall I voted wearing my Red Sox jacket.

Uh-uh. Continue reading

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Ethics Quote of the Week: Justice Antonin Scalia

“Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us — but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” 

Justice Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority opinion of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that over-turned a California law restricting the access of children to violent video games. Scalia was responding to the argument by conservative colleague Joseph Alito, who described the wide range of violent and offensive experiences a child could have though video-gaming, such as reenacting the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech,  raping Native American women or killing ethnic and religious minorities.

Scalia is the Supreme Court justice liberals love to hate, but he is the most stalwart defender of the First Amendment since Justice William O. Douglas and Justice Hugo Black on the Warren Court. As political warfare increasingly focuses on the tactic of suppressing and inhibiting speech and ideas rather than rebutting them, Scalia’s uniform rejection of any effort to squelch the free exchange of ideas, even disgusting ideas, is the last line of defense against government-imposed political correctness, nanny state thought control, and puritan censorship. While sufficiently important ends, such as protecting our children and our culture, may justify some extreme means, Scalia’s opinion reaffirms the core American principle that those means can never include government restriction of speech in its broadest definition. Continue reading

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State of the Union Ethics Alarms

President Obama’s State of the Union message didn’t quite set off accusations of mendacity on the scale of President Bush’s yellow cake uranium comment in 2003, and Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t yell out “You lie!” (thanks for that, Joe), but the President did make some assertions that, if not intentionally inaccurate, were recklessly misleading. The most striking one was contained in the President’s attack on the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission He said:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

This prompted Justice Joseph Alito, sitting with his colleagues, to say quietly, to himself or to Justice Sotomayor who was next to him, “Not true, not true.” And he was right: much of the statement wasn’t accurate. (Was Alito’s mouthed protest any sort of civility breach? No. Obama couldn’t see it; it is possible nobody heard it at all. Justice Alito was not mouthing the words for lip-readers in the television audience. No ethics foul. However, Alito may want to practice his poker face in the future.  Next time, he won’t be so surprised: for a President to directly criticize the Supreme Court in his address is almost as rare as a Congressman shouting “You lie!”) Continue reading

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