The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The last post of the summer

Meteorological summer ends in just a few hours here in Chicago. Pity; it's been a decent one (for us; not so much for the Western US). I have a couple of things to read this afternoon while waiting for endless test sessions to complete on my work laptop:

And via Bruce Schneier, a group of local Chicago high schoolers will never give you up and never let you down.

Wait, Monday is August?

Somehow we got to the end of July, though I could swear March happened 30 seconds ago. If only I were right, these things would be four months in my future:

I will now go out into this gorgeous weather and come back to my office...in August.

The world Clarence Thomas wrought

Writing in The New Yorker last week, Corey Robin argues that the violent and authoritarian world-view of Justice Thomas (R) has much more internal consistency than we on the left usually ascribe to it, but that doesn't make it better:

Thomas’s argument against substantive due process is more than doctrinal. It’s political. In a speech before the Federalist Society and the Manhattan Institute which he gave in his second year on the Court, Thomas linked a broad reading of the due-process clause, with its ever-expanding list of “unenumerated” rights, to a liberal “rights revolution” that has undermined traditional authority and generated a culture of permissiveness and passivity. That revolution, which began with the New Deal and peaked in the nineteen-sixties, established the welfare state, weakened criminal law, and promulgated sexual freedom. The result has been personal dissipation and widespread disorder. Workers lose their incentive to labor. Men abandon wives and children. Criminals roam and rule the streets.

Liberals often claim that there is something hypocritical, if not perverse, about conservatives enshrining the right to bear arms without enshrining the right to abortion. Conservatives have an easy response: one right is found in the Constitution, both as tradition and text; the other is not. That’s what Justice Samuel Alito argues in Dobbs and in his concurrence, the day before, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, which struck down part of New York’s concealed-carry law.

Bodily autonomy is so foundational to contemporary understandings of freedom, however, that it’s hard to imagine a reason for denying it to women other than the fact that they are women. The fetish for guns, meanwhile, can seem like little more than a transposition of America’s white settler past onto its white suburban present....

Today’s felt absence of physical security is the culmination of a decades-long war against social welfare. In the face of a state that won’t do anything about climate change, economic inequality, personal debt, voting rights, and women’s rights, it’s no wonder that an increasing portion of the population, across all racesgenders, and beliefs, have determined that the best way to protect themselves, and their families, is by getting a gun. A society with no rights, no freedoms, except for those you claim yourself—this was always Thomas’s vision of the world. Now, for many Americans, it is the only one available.

To sum up our current state of affairs: it might have helped the United States if politicians on the left had taken seriously the worries that many of us expressed about the right's march to power. A minority dedicated to controlling the majority can succeed for a long, long time, until it wrecks the foundations of the society too much to survive. Just ask South Africa how that can go.

The perils of a political judiciary

Josh Marshall shares a couple of emails from attorneys dismayed by the politicization of the right-wing Supreme Court majority. One of them gets to the root of the problem:

I don’t believe laypeople really understand what a a heavy, heavy emotional lift it is for the vast majority of attorneys generally, and law professors in particular. The belief that we are serving rule of law and that that while decisions will always be shaped by human weakness, judges can and will render rulings contrary to their ideological predilections if the law requires it is central to our identity. It is what makes more than the lawyer jokes say we are. It is the essence the constitutional principle of due process, equal protection, Magna Carta law of the land. All that stuff. It’s hard to accept that it’s dead and courts are just political actors, even as right wing billionaires have plowed fortunes into making state and federal courts exactly that.

Matt Ford, meanwhile, examines the recent heckling of Justice Brett Kavanaugh (R) at a Washington steakhouse and finds no Constitutional right to dinner:

Is there actually a constitutional right to dinner? Or, more specifically, did the Constitution protect a right to dinner at the time that the Constitution was adopted? The Supreme Court has shown in Dobbs and other cases such as New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen that originalism is the only proper method to answer these questions. My own originalist analysis of this issue leads me to conclude that no such right to dinner exists in our legal heritage. Accordingly, I do not think such a right should be recognized now.

To understand whether Kavanaugh had a right to dinner at Morton’s, we must first look to the pre-constitutional context of medieval England to understand dinner’s place in the Anglo-American legal tradition. Antonin Scalia relied upon this time period in his majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, as did Justice Samuel Alito in his majority opinion in Dobbs. There is surely no better way to decide the scope of rights enjoyed by Americans living in 2022 than by surveying the works of legal thinkers from a different country, most of whom died well before the first shot was fired at Lexington and Concord.

This historical evidence also shows that dinner involves a “profound moral question,” as Alito said of abortion in Dobbs. That sets it apart from other constitutional rights that don’t raise moral questions, like what counts as cruel and unusual punishment or what counts as religious freedom. The nature of dinner—when it can be eaten, what can be served, and who may take part in it—is also a matter of sharp and persistent division among the American people themselves. That distinguishes it from other constitutional rights like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, where Americans rarely disagree. Dinner is just different, for reasons I will hint at but never explicitly say and that definitely have nothing to do with my personal views on the subject.

More constructively, James Fallows keeps his focus on a legal reform that would have bipartisan support if one group of partisans weren't batshit crazy:

It is hard to see how a democracy functions, long-term, with such limitless power in such unrepresentative and unaccountable hands. That is related to the critique that Elena Kagan made in her dissent from the disastrous ruling last week dis-empowering the Environmental Protection Agency, and is parallel to the case I made here.

Yesterday a group called Fix the Court released proposed legislation with a Plan A / Plan B structure.

—The main effect of the law, Plan A, would be to enact 18-year fixed terms for Supreme Court Justices, as many groups (including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and several U.S. Representatives) have proposed, and is long overdue.

—The innovation of the law is its “contingency” provision. The Constitutional validity of any term-limit rules might ultimately be appealed to the same Supreme Court whose members would be affected. And suppose they ruled against it? To keep themselves in their seats?

If that happened, according to this provision, Plan B would kick in: the Court would automatically be expanded, from nine members to 13. The logic of this approach was laid out by G. Michael Parsons, of NYU’s law school, in a detailed law-review article and an op-ed last year.

Of course, this requires that a majority of the US Senate believe in democracy and the rule of law, when it sure seems like they don't.

I've said this before: the next few years will positively suck for the most vulnerable among us as the right-wing Court continues its rampage. Maybe enough people will vote for candidates who can stop it?

Six murdered in Highland Park

A "well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State" just killed 5 people (update: now 6 confirmed dead) for no discernable reason in Highland Park, Ill., the next town over from the village I grew up in. I should note that Highland Park has one of the earliest and strictest gun prohibitions on record in the Chicago area, but cannot enforce these restrictions because a trade association bent on enriching its member manufacturers and retailers has convinced people living in rural areas that we city folk shouldn't decide for ourselves what constitutes appropriate gun regulations.

The body count of today's shooting—5 dead (so far), 16 wounded—suggests the shooter used a military-style weapon. I have had a firearms license for 28 years and I've got good pistol training. And yet I have never heard a good argument for anyone to have a military-style weapon like this.

Current Guard, military, or reservists can, of course, get these weapons—if they go to their base or post armory and sign them out according to regulations. Really: not even a full general officer or Navy admiral has any authority to get an assault rifle from an armory without showing cause. So if our own military keeps these things locked up, why can't a city?

One Daily Parker reader speculated that this may have been an anti-Semitic attack, given the demographics of Highland Park. I really don't care what the asshole's motivations were. I just care that he's hunted down, tried, and locked up for the rest of his life. (Illinois has a "guilty-but-mentally-ill" law that can keep someone who shoots up parades from rejoining society as long as it takes to treat them, even without a criminal conviction.)

Fuck you, Clarence Thomas. Fuck you, the lot of you reactionaries who think a  bunch of suburban moms being shot to death at a parade celebrating our country's self-governance is an acceptable price to pay so Wayne LaPierre can stay rich. Fuck you, everyone who thinks that having more guns in the area would have prevented this, given the huge police presence already in place around the parade route.

It's time Illinois passes gun safety laws and enforces them as long as possible. And it's time everyone who isn't a right-wing nut-job demand adequate gun-safety rules for the entire US.

The illegitimacy of the Supreme Court

Some fun facts about the Justices of the United States:

  • Five were appointed by presidents who took office despite losing the popular vote. All 5 voted to overturn Roe.
  • Three of the Republicans on the Court—the Chief Justice, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett—worked for President George W Bush's Florida recount team.
  • The 52 senators who voted in favor of Justice Kavanaugh's (R) confirmation represent 145.9 million Americans. The 48 senators who voted against him represent 180.7 million.
  • The 50 senators who voted in favor of Justice Coney Barrett (R) represent 157.0 million to the 170.5 million the 48 no votes represent.
  • Eight have law degrees from Harvard or Yale. (This will remain true next month when Justice Brown takes office.)

With those facts in mind, James Fallows argues that the Court burned its own legitimacy to ashes by not remembering the simple truth about judicial power:

[D]emocratic legitimacy depends in the long run on majority rule, combined with minority rights.

We’re now closer to systematic rule by a minority, rather than respect for its rights. A democracy cannot forever function this way.

The Supreme Court has a long up-and-down history of glory and of tawdriness. But I argue that the leaders and eras that stand up best in retrospect showed awareness that the Court’s power depended on legitimacy, and legitimacy depended on the Court’s care about how it fit into the longer-term life of a democracy.

[A] court concerned about legitimacy, would under- rather than over-intrude in public affairs.

Over-intrusion is what we have. In the anti-Miranda ruling. In the blocking of gun control. In the outright voiding of Roe v. Wade.

The Court can make its rulings. From behind its barricaded and no-guns-allowed building.

It cannot preserve its legitimacy this way.

Linda Greenhouse concurs:

Consider the implication of Justice Alito’s declaration that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” from the start. Five of the seven justices in the Roe majority — all except William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall — were appointed by Republican presidents. The votes necessary to preserve the right to abortion 19 years later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Roe follow-up decision that the court also overturned on Friday, came from five Republican-appointed justices.

In asserting that these justices led the court into grave error from which it must now be rescued, Justice Alito and his majority are necessarily saying that these predecessors, joining the court over a period of four decades, didn’t know enough, or care enough, to use the right methodology and reach the right decision. The arrogance and unapologetic nature of the opinion are breathtaking.

There will be turmoil now, for sure, as the country’s highways fill with women desperate to regain control over their lives and running out of time, perhaps followed by vigilantes across state lines. But the only turmoil that was caused by Roe and Casey was due to the refusal of activists, politicians and Republican-appointed judges to accept the validity of the precedents. Justice Alito’s reference to “turmoil” reminded me of nothing so much as Donald Trump’s invocation of “carnage” in his inaugural address. There was no carnage then, but there was carnage to come.

No, justices, your work isn’t done. What you have finished off is the legitimacy of the court on which you are privileged to spend the rest of your lives.

Here's some "turmoil:" some asshole in Iowa drove his truck into a pro-choice demonstration yesterday, injuring at least one woman.

One simple solution: 18-year terms. If we adopt this reform, Thomas (R) would be the first one to go followed by the Chief Justice (I) and Alito (R), which are strong arguments in favor as far as I'm concerned.

Thomas and Alito unchained

As everyone expected, the Supreme Court today overturned Roe v Wade, ending Federal protections for abortion rights until we find a political fix to the reactionary Court supermajority. (We will; it'll just take time.) I haven't read the published opinion, which 4 of the partisan Justices joined. Chief Justice Roberts (I) wrote his own concurrence accepting the outcome in this specific case but rejecting the broader reversal.

At first glance, Justice Alito's (R) opinion seems close enough to the draft leaked last month, so I'll move on from that for now. But we should all regard with horror and alarm this line from Justice Thomas's (R) concurrence, in which he expresses just how batshit crazy fundamental Christianist he really is:

[I]n future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___, ___ (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents, Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 9).

Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, 587 US __ (2022) (THOMAS, J., citing himself as evidence for his own insane assertions.)

In other words, Thomas wants to return to the halcyon days of the '50s—the 1850s. And isn't it a bit rich that this particular Justice wants to undo so much progress? If only he had the courage of his convictions so he'd resign as the Founders intended.

I think we're in for about 10 years of this kind of crap before people finally have enough, or worse. At least Thomas and Alito no longer make any pretense of impartiality or reason.

Another thing to remember: we need to look at the commercial cases the Court has decided this term. Abortion isn't the prize for the Right; it's the payoff to their supporters. The real money's in the real money. Don't forget that.

Thursday afternoon round-up

A lot has happened in the past day or so:

Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!

Hottest day in 10 years–almost

Chicago's official temperature last hit 38°C (100°F) on 6 July 2022, almost 10 years ago. As of 4pm O'Hare reported steady at 37°C (98°F) with the likelihood of breaking the record diminishing by the minute. At Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, we have 37.2°C, still climbing, but leveling off.

In other hotness around the world:

Finally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials captured a 95-kilogram, 5.4-meter Burmese python, the largest ever discovered in the state. Apparently it had recently dined on a deer. So far they have found over 15,000 of the snakes, none of them quite so large.

Update: Not that I'm complaining, but after holding just under 37°C for three hours, the temperature finally started to drop. At 6pm O'Hare reported 36°C. So no record.

Main battle concluded; mop-up skirmishes continue

A little more than four days after I first noticed Covid-19 symptoms, my body appears to have won the war, with my immune system putting down a few rear-guard actions in my lungs and sinuses quite handily. If I wake up tomorrow without residual coughing or sneezing, I'll be able to partially resume normal life, albeit masked. Good thing Cassie has a few weeks worth of food on hand.

In sum, I should be perfectly healthy to deal with the two crises sure to blow up next week: the final Supreme Court rulings of the term (including Dobbs), and three days in Austin, Texas, where the temperature will hit 39°C every day I'm there.

On Dobbs specifically, and Justice Alito (R) in general, former Jimmy Carter aide Simon Lazarus has some advice for the Democratic Party:

Alito’s intended audience is not elite thinkers or legal scholars but rather lay populations who do not closely follow high-profile legal kerfuffles. Polls indicate that majorities of this huge cohort favor legal abortion, but many do not consider it a top personal or political priority. Alito’s aim is to persuade such people that, whatever the real-world consequences, he is ruling in accord with what he and his colleagues on the right believe—legitimately—the law requires. And on those fronts his simplistic argument could work. In fact, there should be little doubt that it will prove effective—tempering criticism, inducing resigned acquiescence—unless liberals counter with messaging that is trenchant, credible, strategically targeted, and repeated at every opportunity.

Alito has unfurled a legal framework fit for legitimizing campaigns against not only abortion but any right not specified in the Constitution’s text. Liberals must discredit that framework with force and haste. They can no longer rely solely on their preferred tactic of parading the array of real-world horribles that will naturally follow in the wake of decisions that decimate the rights Americans have enjoyed for decades. They must meet their right-wing adversaries on their preferred terrain and successfully mass-market a liberal legal alternative.

In truth, his pitch is antithetical to how the Constitution has been understood from the founding era on.

So where to start? The top-line message point is simple: Fundamental, unenumerated rights—abortion, contraception, LGBTQ liberty, marriage equality, and others—are in fact in the Constitution.

Lazarus' answer? Start with the Ninth Amendment and work out from there.

History shows that the Right usually swings into power when life becomes unsettled, only to hurt so many people that the Left returns to power a few years later. The Right also tend to have better organization and focus, since they don't care as much about policy as they do about power and wealth; but they always, always over-reach and ultimately lose more than they win.

Future generations will look back on ours and shake their heads at Alito and Thomas just as we wonder how the 1830s and 1840s produced such horrible people as John C Calhoun and Jefferson Davis. But we're about to spend a decade or so with the Right finally getting what they've worked to achieve for 40 years. I hope we get through it without a war.