Thursday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/24/2020: It’s “Supreme Court Day”!

Literally!

On this day in 1789, The Judiciary Act of 1789 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Washington, thus establishing the Supreme Court of the United States. Notably, it was then designed as a tribunal made up of only six justices—an even number! (The Horror!)  President Washington quickly nominated John Jay to preside as Chief Justice, and John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison and James Wilson to be Associate Justices.  You should know Rutledge: he sings that cool song about slavery and the Triangle Trade  in “1776.”  You also should recall Wilson from that show—he’s the one slandered by being portrayed as a total weenie, which he most assuredly was not.  Two days later, the six appointments were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Nobody thought it was a big deal.

1. We knew the New York Times’ “1619 Project” was flagrant Black Lives Matter-inspired propaganda and based on lies, correct? Ethics Alarms discussed this when the Pulitzers honored the thing’s Liar in Chief, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who even admitted that it was really more about creating a useful “narrative” than accurately presenting history. Ben Crump, the serial race-hustler who gets huge damage settlements for family members of black victims of various tragedies by proclaiming the police and America as racist, cited  the “1619” project’s narrative yesterday while helping to incite riots. See? It works!

But the project is used in many school systems as “history,” and the central dishonesty was a problem, so the Times, without announcement or explanation, erased the central claim of the 1619 Project, which was that the year the first slaves were brought to Colonial Virginia was the “true founding” of the United States.

The  initial introduction to the Project, when it was rolled out in August 2019, stated that

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from the New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

Sometime this year, the text became,

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

The change was discovered after Hannah-Jones denied  last week that the project’s core thesis was what she and the Times  had said it was. It “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she said. Well, not any more. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/2/18: Democratic Dinners, TV Weatherman Edicts, Truth As Racism, And More

Good Morning!

I see that the October jobs report this morning is spectacularly good, with 250,000 jobs added. It is amazing that so many Americans are going to vote against Republicans in the midst of such a strong economic surge following the end of Obama’s recovery-strangling policies. The lesson for future leaders, perhaps, is that the public cares more about a President constantly acting like an asshole than they do about what he accomplishes. From an ethics point of view, I would see that as a positive development, if I didn’t strongly suspect that the real reasons for apparent votes against self-interest are 1) that the news media isn’t reporting the economic news with anything like the enthusiasm it would if this were a Democratic administration, 2) that people really believe the ridiculous spin that this is somehow an Obama recovery, and 3) that so many young Americans have been indoctrinated into socialism that even as Venezuela crumbles, they are still buying the fantasy.

1. Next try: The Oprah-Jennifer Lawrence Dinner. This is pretty funny. Following the lead of other Democratic state organizations, The New Hampshire Democrats insulted the party’s two founders, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, also two of the nation’s greatest leaders, by removing their names from the annual party dinner.  For 2017, the event was renamed…wait for it!…the Kennedy-Clinton Dinner! Yup, two serial sexual assaulting misogynists, assuming it’s Jack and not Teddy being honored, in which case it’s a negligent killer, for the Party of Women. What a brilliant choice! How can anyone not vote for a party capable of a decision like that? But for some reason, as the Harvey Weinstein Train Wreck rolled along, the new name came under criticism. Who could have foreseen that? So the dinner has been renamed again; now it’s called the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, after the cruelly-treated wife of another Democratic icon.

2. Who makes these rules? Why, Al Roker, that’s who! After he was called a hypocrite on social media for dressing up as “Doc Brown,” the Christopher Lloyd character in the “Back to the Future” films—Al, you will recall, helped get Megyn Kelly fired for saying that a white person could impersonate a black character using dark make-up without engaging in racially offensive conduct—tweeted,

“I’m going to say this one last time, but the folks who get it, understand and the ones who DON’T, won’t. I can be Doc Brown, and I wear the outfit and wig and not change my skin color if you’re white , you can be President Obama if you want. Just don’t color your skin!”

Wait: what about hair, Al? I’ve read that it’s racially offensive for a white person to wear a black-hair wig, like an Afro or Bob Marley hair. But it’s okay for you to wear a crazy old white guy wig?

Why, Al? For that matter, why isn’t wearing make-up that allows someone to actually look like the person or character he or she is portraying acceptable? Who makes these rules? Oh! Right! You do!

When I first saw that picture, I didn’t know who the hell Al was playing. I thought it might be Michael Jackson if he had lived, let himself go, and grew his nose back. Continue reading

Abortion, Ethics, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

protest SCOTUS

The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a major abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The case was brought by several Texas abortion clinics and three doctors who perform abortions in the state. They seek to strike down two restrictions in a law enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013 that requires all abortion clinics to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing, and also requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital.

Abortion rights groups argue that the restrictions are expensive, unnecessary and specifically designed to put many of the clinics out of business. In fact, the law has already caused many clinics to close. The number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped  to about 20 from more than 40.

The Supreme Court will measure the law against the court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which held that states were not permitted to place undue burdens on the constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus was viable. Undue burdens, include “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”

Legally, it’s a tough case, like all SCOTUS cases. Ethically, it’s pretty repugnant. All of the supporters of the bill, including the drafters, are adamantly anti-abortion, though the law is ostensibly aimed a making abortions safer. While the briefs to the court argue that the restrictions were put in place to foster safety, it’s a sham argument, crafted to meet the Casey test. Make no mistake about it: the purpose of the law is to make abortions as difficult to get performed in Texas as possible. There are literally no lawmakers behind the law nor supporters of the law who don’t want abortion banned. What a coincidence! Yesterday, at the huge demonstrations in front of the Court, the groups weren’t divided into  “Safer abortions” and “More accessible abortions.” The armies were pro- and anti-abortion, and intensely so. Thus the Supreme Court is going to decide if a law designed to interfere with a Constitutional right should be upheld because it can be justified on legitimate medical safety grounds.
Continue reading

Ethics Update: The Frontrunners

the-three-stooges6

There was ample evidence over the past week that all three of the candidates currently leading their respective party’s races for the presidential nomination are unqualified for the office by virtue of their deficiencies of competence, character, and principles. Hillary Clinton had the most spectacularly revealing week, but first, the other two….

Donald Trump: Hubris, incompetence, disrespect and unfairness

1. “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump boasted at a campaign rally yesterday. I know, it’s a joke. It’s also an astoundingly stupid thing to say, even in jest, and reveals massive hubris, the quality that brought down many a Greek king and the worst and most dangerous of all Trump flaws. This is what will get him, sooner or later. 3000 years of history and literature teach us that. The comment also reveals utter contempt for his supporters; he is essentially calling them blind morons. The crowd in Iowa laughed….because they are.

2.“Our great veterans are being treated terribly,” Trump says in a new campaign video. “The corruption in the Veteran’s administration, the incompetence is beyond. We will stop that.” Then critics pointed out that the clips used showed Russian veterans, not Americans, and he pulled the ad.

This is the man whose only claim to legitimacy is his management wizardry. Such an error, however, is proof of sloppy oversight and incompetent delegation. Moreover, this is the second time a Trump campaign ad  included mislabeled material: his illegal immigration ad earlier this month used footage of people crossing the Moroccan border to represent the U.S.-Mexico border. Conclusion: he’s faking it, “it” meaning everything. This is all posturing and bluffing, like a student taking an exam for a course he never studied for. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx)”

legs

(Some of the many legs Kim Davis and Ted Cruz don’t have to stand on…)

My posts are long enough, I think everyone will agree, and often a lot more than that. Believe it or not. I’m always debating whether to include more detailed and footnoted arguments that make the blog more like the New Yorker, and I usually opt for the shorter version. I am always grateful when an articulate commenter expands on the post expands, at any length, on what I present and adds some of the sources I have read and others, putting more flesh on the bones of my position.

johnburger2013 has done Ethics Alarms a service by doing this regarding my posts about recalcitrant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, now known as Inmate 8522901, and hosanna to that. In particular, I am grateful for his Scalia reference. The Volokh Conspiracy is the best reference for issues like this, as Prof. Volokh and his cohorts lean libertarian but brook no nonsense. You know, like Ted Cruz’s rant. Thanks to jvb also for using that site deftly.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx): Continue reading

Disqualified For High Office: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx)

See, Ted, it's crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don't believe with minimal harm.

See, Ted, it’s crazy to keep criticizing Iran while suggesting that the US should be come LIKE Iran. Oh, never mind. Just stay in the Senate, and you can say stupid things you don’t believe with minimal harm. Deal?

Eventually, I may have to post a full list of the current Presidential candidates who have definitively disqualified themselves, by evidence of character, integrity, honesty, temperament, trustworthiness, leadership ability  and core values (or, in the cases of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the absence of them), from the very office they seek. Frankly, I’m afraid that no one will be left.

Senator Ted Cruz’s recent statement about Kim Davis, the now correctly jailed Kentucky clerk who cites God’s authority to justify defying the law, is so irresponsible, dishonest and cynical that he has to be moved to the top of the list.

Here it is. My comments are in bold.

“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. This is wrong. This is not America…

This is a lie, and a gross mischaracterization of the facts. Kim Davis can live and worship any way she chooses. She objects to same sex marriage, and she may refuse to associate with gay married couples, refuse to attend gay weddings, make whatever statements opposing gay marriage she chooses, picket gay weddings, lobby for a Constitutional amendment and more.

What she cannot do is refuse to perform the duties of her office, and withhold from citizens the government services they have a right to receive because of her religious beliefs. It is beyond legitimate question in law and ethics that she does not have the right to do this. She has been arrested for defying a court order and being in open contempt of legal judicial authority. This is not unprecedented, this is America, and must be America if democracy and rule of law is to function. Continue reading

Playing Dangerous Cognitive Dissonance Games With U.S. The Supreme Court

The cognitive dissonance scale, now being used to weaken a crucial U.S. institution for political gain.

The cognitive dissonance scale, now being used to weaken a crucial U.S. institution for political gain.

Of all government institutions, the U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally only trailed the Presidency in public trust and esteem. There are several good reasons for this. One is that being appointed for life, the Justices are presumed to be less subject to the personal and political agendas that make the positions of politicians suspect. Another is that the Court has often taken heroic stances that made the United States a better nation and more just culture. A third is that unlike elected political offices, that of a judge requires an education and technical expertise that the average citizen does not possess. The Justices are traditionally accorded the deference given to experts. Perhaps the most important reason we trust the Court is because we need to do so. It was made the third branch to protect the Constitution against violations of core rights, as well as to be an objective mediator when the other branches, or states, or courts, reach an impasse. Of the many ingenious devices the Founders put in place, the U.S. Supreme Court is one of the wisest.

That the Court is accorded inherent respect and trust is essential to the stability of our government. What the Court says, goes, and the culture and society, including the most furious dissenters in political parties and interest groups, must follow a ruling and constrain its efforts within those boundaries. There have been times when the Court recognized that its unique credibility obligated it to intercede in dangerous conflicts that might otherwise escalate to social unrest or worse. The 2000 Presidential election was a potentially dangerous situation because the result in Florida rested on a margin of error that the available technology was incapable of resolving with certainty.  Unlike the similarly dubious results in the 1960 election, the initial losing candidate and his party decided to plunge the nation into an electoral morass, in this case one complicated by politicized state courts, vague local statutes, confusing ballots, partisan media reports and varying standards of what constituted a vote, with the rotten cherry on top being a rare situation (it had happened only three times before)  in which a popular vote loser was  the apparent electoral vote winner. The Supreme Court stepped up and stopped it from spinning out of control, in essence declaring a winner. It was a courageous and responsible act, one that many (including me) predicted, and though it came at a high cost, one that exemplified why the Court’s public acceptance must be high—so it has some room to fall when it has to take a controversial stand.

This crisis was not the beginning of the effort by parties and activists to discredit the Court by impugning its motives and undermining the public’s trust, but it caused a permanent escalation. It was when the insinuation that a Justices nominated by Republican Presidents (or Democratic ones, depending on who’s leading the chorus of critics) see their job as bolstering that party’s policies and interests became routine. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: Justice Antonin Scalia

Scalia

“If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

——U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia, excoriating his colleague, Justice Kennedy, who was the fifth vote in the majority of SCOTUS’s ruling today,  authored by Kennedy,  that same-sex marriage was a Constitutional right  no state could deny. Scalia filed an angry and intemperate dissent, low-lighted by this comment in a footnote.

Wrote Prof. Stephen Gillers, legal ethicist:

“How after this can Kennedy work with him?  Scalia has himself “descended” from the manner of argument found  in  opinions of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the invective and mockery of the Internet. Lawyers have been chastised for less derisive comments in briefs. Yet here we have it from our Supreme Court.  Scalia sets a bad example that will harm civility in lower courts and at the bar.”

Exactly.

The rest of Scalia’s dissent is hardly more restrained, either.

You can read the opinion and dissents in Obergefell v. Hodges here.

UPDATE: Here’s a screenshot of another selection, courtesy of Slate:

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Arguing with the majority’s wisdom and legal analysis is one thing, mocking a Justice’s writing style is quite another—unprofessional, uncollegial and below-the belt. Yes, Nino is a much better writer than Kennedy, but belittling his efforts shows neither proper judicial temperament nor appropriate respect for the Court itself. Some commenters excuse this because they disagree with the ruling: Irrelevant. Check your rationalizations, especially #2. The “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse, or “They had it coming.”

Ethics Dunce: Law Professor Josh Blackman, Too Desperate To Take A Cheap Shot At Justice Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Scalia, though not quite to the absurd degree of Sarah Palin, is a conservative who inspires such visceral dislike from the residents of the American Left that he often inspires them to behave irrationally in their eagerness to express their contempt. Such was the case this week, when Scalia sharply rebuked a lawyer making his oral argument before the high tribunal in the case of Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States, a property rights dispute over the conversion of abandoned railroad rights of way into public trails. The advocate, Steven Lechner, was before Scalia and his colleagues for the first time, and began his argument by reading from his notes. This is not cool, and violates Supreme Court tradition, rules, and long-observed standards.

Tony Mauro, blogging at the Legal Times, explains: Continue reading