Without Courage, Integrity And Professionalism In The Legal Profession, The Rule Of Law Hasn’t A Prayer: The House of Representatives v. Burwell Saga

" Nice law firm you got here. Too bad if something were to happen to it..."

” Nice law firm you got here. Too bad if something were to happen to it…”

As I explained  here and here in 2015, the process of judicially determining whether the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional or not was unethically sabotaged by  threats to and improper lobbying of the law firm that had agreed to defend it. The Justice Department and the President had refused to do their sworn duty to uphold the laws of the United States, and same-sex marriage activists pressured the biggest client of the firm that had accepted the case to pass the pressure along. It worked. The firm dropped the case, precipitating a resignation by the partner handling it and this ringing assertion of traditional legal ethics:

“…[D]efending unpopular positions is what lawyers do. The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law.”

This was, we are learning, not an anomaly. On the Volokh Conspiracy, law professor Josh Blackmon relates how the same strategy of applying of unethical political pressure, and the unprofessional capitulation of major law firms to it, nearly made a legitimate challenge to illegal payments to insurers under Obamacare impossible. He explains in part: Continue reading

Ethics Review Of “Supreme Court Vacancy Theater”

Court vacancy

The short review would be “Yecchh.”

The reason that the earlier Ethics Alarms post about the death of Justice Scalia expressed the wish that President Obama on his own declare that he would defer the almost certainly futile appointment of a successor to the tender care of the next President was precisely because it was obvious that any other course was just going to create more ugly partisan name-calling and hypocrisy, accomplishing nothing positive and wasting a lot of energy and time. I also knew that this most divisive of POTUS’s would no more do that than he would deliver his next speech in a duck voice. Thus we have the theater, with people who should know better acting like the Republican Senate’s announcement that it would not be voting on President Obama’s nominee, should he make one, is some  kind of gross breach of duty and ethics, and people who don’t know better acting as if being one Justice short is some kind of Armageddon. Neither is true.

Nor is there any reasonably similar set of circumstances and conditions that makes the GOP’s entirely political decision, and Obama’s entirely political decision to test it, some kind of breach of precedent. There is no precedent—not with these factors in play:

A Democratic President with both Houses controlled by the Republicans

An ideologically and evenly divided Court, with the new Justice potentially having a momentous and nation-changing effect on the determination of many looming cases

An unusually partisan and ideological President who has proven unwilling and unable to seek legitimate input from the opposing party, and who, in fact, has been personally and bitterly insulting toward it

A rebellion against the “establishment” in both parties, from the extreme reaches of both parties, on the grounds that neither is extreme or combative enough

A lame duck, not especially popular President and an approaching national election that is currently being molded by unpredictable personalities and events, and is likely to be hotly contested..

The Supreme Court unusually central to the government of the country.

The vacancy on the Court being created by the death of one of the Court’s most influential, ideological and powerful members.

A degree of political division in the public not experienced since the Civil War.

These are all material factors, made more material in some cases because of the other factors. Thus accusations that the Republican have engaged in some kind of grand, historical crime against democracy is, to the extent the accusers believe it, crap, and to the extent that they don’t, ignorant. Continue reading

President Obama’s Paris Lie And The Tommyboy Effect

No, not THAT Tommyboy, though the photo might not be far off...

No, not THAT Tommyboy, though the photo might not be far off…

In Paris yesterday, President Obama said at a news conference, “I mean, I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries.” It’s a jaw-droppingly false and irresponsible statement, especially since where he made it was just devastated by multiple mass shootings, with ISIS-affiliated terrorists killing random victims in public places with automatic rifles. Just one mass shooting at the Bataclan theater took almost a hundred lives.

The Volokh Conspiracy (now under the auspices of The Washington Post),  as other fact-checking columns have done previously with similar assertions of this sort as Obama has demagogued the gun control issue, definitively rated the statement false:

Is the president’s statement about “other countries” accurate? No. For example, on Nov. 20, 2015, mass shooters attacked a hotel in Mali, murdering at least 19 people.

Although President Obama has relatives in Kenya, his statement suggests a lack of awareness of events there. On April 2, 2015, criminals murdered 142 students at the University College Campus of Garissa, in northeastern Kenya. Among the other mass shootings in Kenya in recent years are those as Lamu (29 murdered, July 5-6, 2014), Mpeketoni (53 murdered, June 15-17, 2014),  Majembeni and Poromoko (15 murdered, two days after Mpekoni) and the Westgate Mall in Nairobi (67 murdered, Sept. 21, 2013)…On Saturday, Boko Haram attackers murdered four people in Nigeria, and four more in Niger. Last weekend, four Egyptian policemen were murdered in a drive-by shooting. As reported by CBS News the day before Thanksgiving, “Two massacres that killed 15 people in less than 12 hours rocked Honduras and left the country’s top cop in tears on Wednesday”…Suppose we accept the president’s implicit premise that “other countries” includes only the most-developed countries of the West. With this limitation, what is the accuracy of his statement that “these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries”? Plainly false, especially considering that the president was speaking in Paris, the site of multiple mass shootings on Nov. 13 and of the Charlie Hebdo mass shootings in January.

Of course it’s false. It is also, to be blunt, stupid, given the locale, and also unpresidential for a leader to be criticizing one’s own nation overseas (but we are used to that from Obama.)

More interesting to me was the phenomenon I observed over at Mediaite, where the comments almost invariably disintegrate into simple-minded-talking points, rationalizations and name-calling. A significant group of commenters, led by a snide, arrogant Obama defender calling himself “Tommyboy,” argued that only hateful, biased, “Repugs” could find fault with Obama’s statement. He didn’t literally mean that “this” doesn’t happen in other countries. Only fools could argue that he meant that, because it would be nonsense, especially given the locale. He’s a smart guy, so he would never say something stupid.

Later, Tommyboy’s proof was that Obama always uses this hyperbole, and thus it is an act of hate and bias to take the words to mean what the words do. Interesting theory: as long as a politician always uses the same misleading words, we should assume that he’s not trying to mislead. Continue reading

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


(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

Update On “The Hitching Post,” The For-Profit Chapel Being Required To Hold Same-Sex Weddings

Emily Litella

“Never mind!”

From NPR in Boise:

The city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, says the Hitching Post, a for-profit wedding chapel owned by two ministers, doesn’t have to perform same-sex marriages.The city has been embroiled in controversy ever since the owners of the Hitching Post sued the city. They say a city anti-discrimination law threatened to force them to marry same-sex couples now that gay marriage is legal in Idaho…Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d’Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt.

But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit. “After we’ve looked at this some more, we have come to the conclusion they would be exempt from our ordinance because they are a religious corporation,” Gridley explained.

…Leo Morales of the ACLU of Idaho said the exemption makes sense as long as the Hitching Post primarily performs religious ceremonies. “However, if they do non-religious ceremonies as well, they would be violating the anti-discrimination ordinance,” Morales said. “It’s the religious activity that’s being protected.”

…The group that helped create Coeur d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance says the Hitching Post shouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriages. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations says in a letter to the mayor and city council that the Knapps fall under the religious exemption in the law.

In other words, the result is as I said it would be, and as Professor Volokh opined that it should be.

The ethical thing, of course, would be for the Knapps to treat same sex couples as the loving human beings they are and marry them like they do any other loving couples. But when it comes to administering a religious ceremony, the State cannot force the Knapps to do what their beliefs don’t permit. Meanwhile, that’s some legal talent they are hiring in Idaho. “But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.” Upon further review? I’d think the city’s attorney would actually read the applicable statute before threatening a business and its owners without cause.

Oh, Mike? Upon further review, the Constitution doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit either. But thanks for causing a thoroughly unnecessary controversy based on knee-jerk political correctness and sloppiness. Unless… you knew your theory was garbage all along, and were trying to bluff the Knapps into doing what you felt was the right thing, and their constitutionally guaranteed rights be damned. You wouldn’t do that, would you? I hope not. It would be unethical.


On Forced Acceptance Of Same-Sex Marriage: The Slippery Slope Stops Here


Donald and Evelyn Knapp, pictured above, are ordained ministers who conduct weddings at their for-profit chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called “The Hitching Post.” After this year’s ruling by an Idaho federal judge that the state had to recognize  same-sex weddings, a City of Couer d’Alene deputy city attorney went on  local TV to say that for-profit wedding chapels could not legally turn away a gay couple without risking a misdemeanor citation. The Hitching Post, he noted, “would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.” The Knapps say the the City Attorney’s office has made the same assertion in telephone conversations with them.

Now, the Volokh Conspiracy reports, the Knapps have moved for a temporary restraining order, arguing that applying the anti-discrimination ordinance to them would be unconstitutional and would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They have to win. As Professor Volokh, a First Amendment authority of fame and renown, explains, Continue reading

Obamacare Defenders, Spinning

Are you hypnotized yet?

It would be nice, it really would, if partisans on both sides of a legitimate, close issue of national importance would admit that there are valid arguments on each side, show some mutual respect, and not frame their arguments as if anyone who thinks differently is deluded, stupid or evil.

Thus it has been elevating, if, I suppose, misleading, to read over a year’s worth of debate on the topic now under consideration by the Supreme Court, Obamacare’s so-called individual mandate, over on the scholar and lawyer- glutted blog, the Volokh Conspiracy. Written by distinguished and articulate academics, it is a right-leaning and libertarian site for sure, yet manages to cover all sides of most of the issues it considers thoroughly and fairly. Nobody could read the detailed, case and precedent-filled essays about the individual mandate and think for a moment that its constitutionality is an open and shut case. It’s obviously a very close question, and one that involves far wider implications than merely one health care law. This is one of the periodic landmark constitutional cases in which the Supreme Court is being asked to approve another key adjustment in the meaning of our remarkably flexible but hard to amend national by-laws, or, in the alternative, put up a red flag and a brick wall that reminds our government that there are some things is cannot do, even if it would dearly like to.

If you care about the case being argued in the Supreme Court as I write this, go read some—it would take you a month to read it all—of the discussions on this topic over at Volokh. If you can understand the sometimes technical and overly-dense writing, you will recognize how difficult a legal issue this is. If you can’t understand it, then stop rendering opinions about the case, the mandate, and the inevitability of its approval or rejection. Journalists and pundits should follow the same advice. Continue reading

A Ban on Threatening “Spiritual Injury”: Unconstitutional But Ethical?

There you go, Bill, letting people be unethical again...

Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment  provocateur, notes that Minn. Stat. Ann. § 211B.07 makes it a gross misdemeanor to

“….directly or indirectly use or threaten force, coercion, violence, restraint, damage, harm, loss, including loss of employment or economic reprisal, undue influence, or temporal or spiritual injury against an individual to compel the individual to vote for or against a candidate or ballot question.

The professor opines that the spiritual injury part, at least, is unconstitutional. Interesting.

Prohibiting the interference and manipulation of a human being’s rights of autonomy and self-determination by using threats to compel his voting choices is a legitimate area for the law, because ethics is notoriously inadequate at preventing electoral abuses. It is also an area where the law is an especially blunt instrument, and many conceivable violations of § 211B.07 would seem to risk colliding with free speech. “If you don’t vote for Ron Paul, I’ll never speak to you again!” comes to mind. The threat of “spiritual harm”—“Vote for Mitt Romney, my flock, or I condemn you to Hell!” adds the  free exercise of religion to the mix, particularly when the threat is linked to a position of a candidate that violates religious doctrine.

I have no difficulty concluding that any and all threats to force a citizen to vote according to another citizen’s desires are wrongful and damaging to democracy, and should be condemned and discouraged to the maximum extent possible. Ethical though such prohibitions may be, some, like the use of threatened spiritual injury, are impossible under the Bill of Rights.

So threatening to send someone to Hell if they vote for Newt Gingrich—a reasonable result, when you think about it—is unethical, but a law punishing that threat is unconstitutional.

Sorry, Ethics…looks like it’s all up to you!


An Appropriate Limit on the First Amendment Right To Be A Total Jerk

"Pardon? I'm not sure I understood that last remark."

If you peruse the various debates on Ethics Alarms, you will note that every time someone writes or says something cruel, dishonest or uncivil that appropriately brings down criticism or worse on the miscreant’s noggin, he and his defenders  will argue that the First Amendment should render them immune from the consequences of their words. This is not what the First Amendment is about, however. It is about the government not being able to punish them for what they say, with some exceptions. Even then, it is possible to be so inarticulate in your jerkish expression that your utterances are beyond even that constitutional protection.

For example, when you bark like a dog.

Or to be more accurate, when you set out to tease and annoy a police dog by barking. Mason, Ohio has an  ordinance making it a crime to “willfully and maliciously taunt, torment, [or] tease … any dog used by the Police Department in the performance of the functions or duties of such Department.” That’s exactly what Mason Police Officer Brad Walker found a drunken Ryan Stephens doing to Timber, a K-9 German Shepard behind a screen in his police cruiser. Continue reading

Ethics Lessons From a Missing “at”

An embarrassing story from Fairfax,Virginia yields several ethical truths.

A Virginia man facing a fine or worse for not stopping properly behind an unloading school bus got off scot free after it was discovered that he hadn’t broken any law—at least the way the law is printed in the statute books.

The law reads:

“A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

Got that? You break the law by not stopping a school bus that is already stopped. Continue reading