Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

More From The SCOTUS Nomination Freakout—Unethical Quote Of The Week: Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.

The damage that President Reagan will do through this nomination, if it is not rejected by the Senate, could live on far beyond the end of his presidential term. President Reagan is still our President. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate, and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and on the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

From Senator Ted Kennedy’s speech on the Senate Floor on July 1, 1987, in response to President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court

Kennedy’s outrageously unfair, vicious, and hyperbolic attack on Robert Bork, then one of the most respected jurists in the country, “worked,” in the sense that it catalyzed an unprecedented assault on a Presidential nominee who was not merely qualified but spectacularly qualified for a seat on the Court, shattering all previous norms and traditions regarding the confirmation of Justices by the Senate. It would not be inaccurate to mark Kennedy’s speech as the beginning of demonization as a standard tactic in mainstream politics, in which the mere fact of being liberal or conservative justifies the characterization of an individual or a group sinister or evil. (See: Southern Poverty Law Center) In hindsight, Kennedy’s rhetorical excess was eventually acknowledged on all sides of the political spectrum to be a false characterization of Bork as a judge and as a human being, though Kennedy, as far as I know, never apologized for it….but then he never apologized for a lot of things. Continue reading

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From “The Ends Justifies The Means” Files: Senator Feinstein’s Ugly Hybrid, And An Ethics Test For Democrats

The test is simple: how unethical are Democrats willing to be, and how flagrantly, as they desperately try to derail President Trump’s nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, when the right to fill such a vacancy is one of the President’s unquestioned powers, as long as his choice meets basic minimum qualification standards?

Based on the recent tweets from superannuated California Senator Feinstein, fighting for her professional life and apparently pandering to the extreme Left as a result, the answer is “Very unethical, unfortunately.”  The Senator tweeted,

“Two-thirds of Americans don’t want women’s access to reproductive health care restricted. President Trump’s SCOTUS nominee could do just that by overturning Roe v. Wade and setting off at least 20 states’ “trigger laws” restricting abortions.

and…

“Overturning Roe v. Wade would take us back to the days of women being severely injured and dying because they can’t get basic medical care. We’ve come too far to go back to those days.

These are both ugly hybrids designed with malign intent, kind of like the Indoraptor in “Jurassic Park II,” except the components of the vile mutation in this instance aren’t a T-Rex and a Velociraptor, but misrepresentation and fear-mongering.

1. President Trump’s (at this point) un-named nominee can’t “overturn” anything; only the full court can do that. He or see could  ride in the Kentucky Derby, I suppose. Any of Obama’s appointees “could” also “overturn” Roe, if enough Justices went along with them. In a case presenting that possibility. Of which there are none currently before the Court. And which may not get before the Court.

Ethics offense: Deliberately making the public more ignorant. And fear-mongering.

2. Feinstein is falsely using “reproductive health care” as a substitute for “abortion.” They are not the same thing.  I don’t know what polling results the Senator is referring to, but if it involved “reproductive health care,” it wasn’t about abortion specifically. Pew, which is the closest thing we have to a fair and non-partisan survey organization, found only 25% of the public wants abortion to be legal in all cases, which is what no restrictions on access to abortion means, assuming Feinstein’s ” “reproductive health care” is the deceptive code it appears to be. (If she really means “reproductive health care,” she’s nuts. Who has ever stated an opposition to “women’s access to reproductive health care”?)

Ethics offense: Dishonesty. Deceit. Obfuscation. Misuse of statistics to confuse rather than clarify.

And fear-mongering.

3. The second tweet is irresponsible and flat-out false. Overturning Roe-–in that yet to be identified future case that has gone through the lower courts and poses the issue in a way that a majority of the Court deems appropriate for review, with the result accomplished by the presumed vote of the unidentified Justice who, like the rest of the yet to be assembled Court majority, will determine the case without regard for the facts or established law, stare decisus or the outcome of oral arguments—would not do anything but return the determinations of policies regarding what restrictions, if any, will be placed on abortion to the states, and to the voters in those states, with the results very much in doubt.

Ethics offense: Deliberately making the public more ignorant. Dishonesty. Deceit. Obfuscation.

And fear-mongering.

No elected official who deliberately engages in dishonest tactics like this can or should be trusted by the public with power or influence. We should all keep close watch on how much lower abortion advocates are willing to go. For the ends do not justify the means, and politicians, parties, and party leaders who signal otherwise are a menace to democracy, no matter what the issue may be.

 

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Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/8/18: Idiots, Bigots, Liars and Freakouts

Good Morning!

My favorite hymn, naturally: the first selection at my father’s 2010 funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, the stirring finale of “Mrs. Miniver,” and it was composed by none other than Sir Arthur Sullivan.

1. What’s the ethical response to these kinds of stories? I’m pretty sure I don’t have it, whatever it is. From today’s New York Times: “This year, a tourist in India was mauled to death when he tried to take a selfie with a wounded bear.” Last week, an Australian tourist was nearly killed when a shark that she was hand feeding dragged her into crocodile-infested waters. How should we feel about such people? “Serves the morons right” isn’t an ethical response, but that kind of clueless idiocy gets people killed all over the world, every day. Laughter is tempting, but seems cruel. I can’t apply the Golden Rule, because there is no way I can imagine myself behaving quite that stupidly. Is “I’m genuinely sorry that you’re an idiot” mockery, or compassion?

2. What’s going on here? I sure can’t figure it out. The quickest way for you to get up to speed is to click on the link and read the twitter feed backwards. Here’s a summary: two police officers claimed that they were harassed at a Raleigh, N.C. barbecue restaurant, with staff calling out “Fuck the police!” The police association wrote about the alleged incident on Facebook, the restaurant denied the account, and an investigation indicated that the complaints were exaggerated at most, and perhaps fabricated completely.  Then the association posted this:

Huh? The issue is NOT resolved until we learn what, if anything the officers were reacting to, why they made a false claim, and what kind of discipline they face, if any. Meanwhile, the story was reported on social media by a criminal defense attorney (all criminal defense attorneys hate and distrust cops, and vice-versa) whose characterization of the episode is that the police “terrorized a local business.” Terrorized? (Pointer: valkgrrl)

3. As the self-segregation of America continues...Outspoken conservative Hollywood actor James Woods was dropped by his agent, Ken Kaplan, who wrote, “It’s the 4th of July and I’m feeling patriotic. I don’t want to represent you anymore. I mean I can go on a rant but you know what I’d say.” Woods replied,

 “Dear Ken, I don’t actually. I was thinking if you’re feeling patriotic, you would appreciate free speech and one’s right to think as an individual. Be that as it may, I want to thank you for all your hard work and devotion on my behalf. Be well.”

Commenting on this, Constitutional Law expert Jonathan Turley opined, Continue reading

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Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, “Welcome July And Hope It’s Better Than June” Edition [UPDATED]

Happy July!

(On an especially dead weekend on Ethics Alarms. But ethics never sleeps…)

1. But I thought everyone wants open borders! The Harvard-Harris poll on illegal immigration, North Korea, trade and tariffs, and the Russia investigation certainly isn’t reflected in the news reports. But then, we can’t trust polls, and we certainly can’t trust Harvard.

I suppose the theory behind yesterday’s protests is that the squeaky, angry wheel gets the insane national policy. My guess is that this particularly squeaky, angry wheel  gets a Republican Congress.

2. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! (Cont.)  Yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page managed to contain two of the more outrageous anti-Trump screed of recent vintage. One, by Dave Eggers, attacks “the cultural vacuum in the White House.” I suggest reading this one as a template for anti-Trump propaganda, and the kind of dishonesty underlying so much of it.  He begins,

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been no official concerts at the White House (the Reagans had one every few weeks). No poetry readings (the Obamas regularly celebrated young poets). The Carters began a televised series, “In Performance at the White House,” which last aired in 2016, where artists as varied as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride performed in the East Room. The Clintons continued the series with Aretha Franklin and B. B. King, Alison Krauss and Linda Ronstadt.

But aside from occasional performances by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the White House is now virtually free of music. Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists. Mr. Trump disparaged the play “Hamilton” and a few weeks later attacked Meryl Streep.

Normally, this is where I’d quit reading—when the writer deliberately distorts the facts and employs deceit to make his case. The President disparaged the cast of “Hamilton,” not the show itself, after its performers unethically ambushed Vice President Mike Pence, who was then only another audience member, and should have been respected as one. I have launched (let’s see) three theater companies and two professional performing groups, and I disparaged that cast as well. Meryl Streep, the well-known pal of Harvey Weinstien, went on national television and gratuitously insulted the President, who does not turn the other cheek. He didn’t  attack Streep because she is an artist. He attacked her for being a grandstanding partisan shill.

He engages in this kind of deceit throughout, such as when he writes, in conclusion,

“Admittedly, at a time when Mr. Trump’s policies have forcibly separated children from their asylum-seeking parents — taking the most vulnerable children from the most vulnerable adults — the White House’s attitude toward the arts seems relatively unimportant. But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel.”

Funny: art hasn’t made Eggers less dishonest and deceitful. The illegal immigrants at the border were not “asylum-seeking,” because they didn’t follow the procedures for seeking asylum. They were apprehended foreign citizens trying to sneak into our country and claiming that they were seeking asylum to hamstring border enforcement,  and were using their children as human shields, placing the Trump administration into the Catch-22 of either waiving the laws or giving open-borders activists a club to beat it with—as the Times knows, since it has explained this dilemma itself. To attribute  pure law enforcement decisions to the dearth of piano and cello concerts in the White House is forced even by the Times’ standards. Mostly Eggers is just revealing the classist snobbery underlying much of the elitist attacks on President Trump.

As an artist, and someone who has worked in the arts and indeed would have made it my career if it were financially feasible, I could not care less how many concerts a President hosts, or how many artists he fetes. I want him to do his job, and I don’t particularly care to be paying for his glitterati  nights, either.

A President’s taste in art and culture doesn’t affect the public one whit. I don’t think I would pay a dime to hear any of President Obama’s hip-hop artists or rappers. Meanwhile, Clinton having “Aretha Franklin and B. B. King, Alison Krauss and Linda Ronstadt” at the White House didn’t make him empathetic enough not to exploit Monica Lewinsky. Jack Kennedy was a  stone-cold sociopath: what did he learn from dining with “Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robert Lowell, Geraldine Page and George Balanchine”?

Hitler loved fine culture so much he had his Nazis steal thousands upon thousands of invaluable works of art across Europe, because he wanted a new explosion of creativity among the German people. Boy, if that made the Germans less “cruel,” imagine what they might have been like without their art!

And Nixon played the piano! Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision”

How refreshing it is, while at least half the pundits and journalists are misrepresenting the Masterpiece Bakery decision to the public, to read an Ethics Alarms comment that both clarifies Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion’s flaws and also highlights an important issue that only the routinely-derided Justice Thomas focused on.

As it happens, I disagree with Thomas that a custom wedding cake for a gay wedding is  necessarily “compelled speech.” What is it saying? If it can’t be reasonably interpreted to express a position that can be fairly attributed to the baker, then it’s the customer’s speech, not the baker’s. I know there are cases where sign-makers and others have been upheld in their refusal to reproduce messages they personally find offensive. We saw a hint of that in the silly “Summa ___ Laude” cake fiasco. My position is that a business that creates a setting for speech by others should have no right to interfere with that message—hateful messages, obscene messages, it shouldn’t matter. It should be no more acceptable for a sign-maker to say “I won’t make that sign” than for a cabbie to say, “I won’t drive to that address,” or a haberdashery to refuse to let you buy a suit that makes you look fat.

Here is Glenn Logan’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision:

Justice Thomas, in his partial concurrence:

“Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’” of same-sex couples, “‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’” and subjecting them to “‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Johnson, supra, at 414. A contrary rule would allow the govern­ment to stamp out virtually any speech at will.”

This is the opinion that should’ve carried the day. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion is a blatant special pleading, fallacious on it’s face when he claimed the CCRC disparaged Phillips’ position. Even if I allow the comments made by some CCRC members do in fact disparage Phillips’ religion, the law makes it clear that religion is inoperative as a defense against its requirements anyway. How, then, can hostility to religion matter one jot or tittle, and isn’t such expression protected in its own right? The CCRC needed not show the least deference to Phillips’ religion, because the law that creates it manifestly doesn’t: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 6/5/18: Cakes And Fakes

Good morning…

1. Dummies or Liars? In a comment about yesterday’s 7-2 SCOTUS ruling favoring the Christian cake shop in another baker vs. gay couple controversy, Still Spartan wrote, ” I also don’t want to spend the next few months explaining the ruling to non-lawyer liberals who already are beginning to tear their hair out because they don’t understand the opinion.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what she will have to do, and the rest of us, as there is already a deliberate effort underway to misrepresent the decision and deceive members of the public too lazy to read Supreme Court opinions, or too under-educated to understand them. (It really isn’t that hard.) This is fear-mongering, and also an effort to undermine the Supreme Court, which can be expected to be blocking a number of left-driven totalitarian measures in the not-too-distant future.

For example, on “The Late Show,” where a disturbingly high percentage of millennials get their news commentary, the smug, insufferable Stephen Colbert described the ruling this way:

“It’s a bad day for gay rights in America. And also for cake rights because this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple. That is tough news. But to lighten the blow the Supreme Court did send the gay couple a lovely cake” which was a cake in the shape of the middle finger.

Hilarious! And a complete misrepresentation of the opinion. The question is, did Colbert and his writers really not understand the ruling? What are the odds that any of them read it? If they didn’t know what the ruling was, isn’t it irresponsible to pass along false information? Or did they know that the opinion in no way undermined the rights of gays to be served in public accommodations like everyone else, but found, and correctly so, that the process was rigged against the baker because of open hostility to religious freedom? If so, the “joke” was deliberate misrepresentation.

The fact that the lie would have been in service of a joke is not a justification. Spreading falsity in public is harmful, and it does not matter who does it, or why.

2. From the “Stop making me defend the New York Yankees!” files:  This is an integrity vs. cash test for Major League Baseball. ESPN announced that it was picking up the Yankees’ one 1 o’clock Sunday, July 8 game with the Blue Jays in Toronto for its 8 p.m. Sunday night Game of the Week. This decision, however, was announced after the Yankees and Orioles players agreed to make up last week’s rained out game as part of a doubleheader on July 9.  As now scheduled, the Yankees will have to play three games in a 24 hour period. The Yankees would probably not leave the ballpark in Toronto until midnight, then have to go through customs, getting into Baltimore at 4 or 5 a.m., into their hotel rooms around 7, and be due at Camden Yards in a few hours.

This is potentially dangerous to the players (baseball is hard to play while asleep), and also undermines the team: the Yankees are expected to be in a neck-and-neck race with the Boston Red Sox for primacy in the American League East, and a single game could be crucial. If the Yankees are forced to play Sunday night on July 8, the Yankee management and players are threatening to retaliate against ESPN by refusing all interviews with ESPN broadcasters. Of course, killing those in-game interviews will only improve the broadcast.

Then the Yankees will claim that the Red Sox were colluding with ESPN, and there will have to be an investigation… Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court  found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation.  It is based entirely on  the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s  hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.

Observations:

1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.

2. Read the opinion, and the dissent. Also, if you really want to impress your friends, access the resources available here.

3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:

  • “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
  • “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
  • “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”

The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”

4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
Continue reading

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