The Daily Parker

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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?

The extremism of libertarians

The town of Croydon, N.H., had a serious problem with its libertarians earlier this year, when extremists took advantage of low voter turnout to cut the school budget in half:

On a snowy Saturday this past March, the 2022 meeting began in the two-century-old town hall, where the walls are adorned with an 1876 American flag made by the “women of Croydon” and instructions to reset the furnace to 53 degrees before leaving.

Residents approved the town budget in the morning. Then they turned in the afternoon to the proposed $1.7 million school budget, which covers the colonial-era schoolhouse (kindergarten to fourth grade) and the cost of sending older students to nearby schools of their choice, public or private.

This is when Mr. Underwood, 60, stood up and threw a sucker punch to the body politic.

Calling the proposed budget a “ransom,” he moved to cut it by more than half — to $800,000. He argued that taxes for education had climbed while student achievement had not, and that based in part on the much lower tuition for some local private schools, about $10,000 for each of the town’s 80 or so students was sufficient — though well short of, say, the nearly $18,000 that public schools in nearby Newport charged for pupils from Croydon.

The town rallied and managed to reverse the budget cuts at a special meeting in May. But wow, this is just like the libertarians up the way who tried (and failed) to co-exist with bears rather than pay for a wildlife warden.

Another detail: as the Times points out, Underwood—the guy who argued school activities aren't necessary—"starred on the tennis team, ran track, played intramural sports and joined extracurricular activities in math, creative writing, radio and student government." So libertarianism works really well if you get a leg up on everyone else before kicking the ladder away.

The weather is too nice to stay indoors

So I have queued up stuff to read later:

About the Rogers outage: the CBC published a chart showing that network usage hit 100% of its capacity immediately before it started to fall steadily before collapsing entirely around 4am ET. I wonder if the sequence will turn out to resemble the 1965 northeast blackout?

More Johnson reactions

No one seems sad that Boris Johnson has resigned his role as Conservative Party Leader, but many worry what he's going to do before he finally leaves Number 10. Some other reactions:

And my favorite so far:

Meanwhile and elsewhere

In case you needed more things to read today:

There are others, but I've still got a lot to do today.

Responses to taxing ammunition and magazines

On Tuesday, when my white-hot rage at right-wing gun nuts and the politicians that support them had cooled a little, I proposed taxing ammunition and magazines as one of a set of options available to states to reduce gun violence through economic friction. After sharing a link to the post on social media, I got a response from an experienced hunter I've known for years:

"Military style weapon?" The Henry lever action rifle, maybe the most popular deer rifle ever used, was designed as a "Military weapon". Almost every long gun in a hunter's safe was a Military style weapon at one point or another. The 30-06 that I use for deer hunting is a gas operated, semi automatic rifle with a muzzle brake and detachable box magazine. Just because it has a walnut stock and engraved receiver i guess it is not a "Military style weapon". If you are serious about banning guns, say you want to ban all semi automatic rifles. Otherwise what are you talking about?

In my opinion we should be focusing on the people not the firearms. How about enforcing laws that are already on the books, strengthening background checks laws, and keeping guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness. Fund the FBI so they can actually do the background checks, and require it in all 50 states. Prohibit gun purchase or possession by anyone with a history of violence, in all 50 states. Implement red flag laws that take away firearms from people who threaten mass shootings, are a danger to themselves or a danger to others. Require purchasers of semi automatic rifles to be 21 or older.

There is no feasible way to ban a "style" of rifle. Manufacturers will just modify the firearm, just like they did in 90s after President Clinton signed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. Sales will go up, just like they did then.

He adds:

Sport shooting is more common among gun owners than hunting. Some people just own a firearm for self defense. As far as hunting goes, I have several magazines for all of my hunting rifles in various sizes. The size depends on the game I'm pursuing and where I'm pursuing it. Deer is the most common thing I hear people talk about, but is not the only thing we hunt in this country. If I was hunting coyote, wolf, feral hogs, and most small game I'd prefer a larger magazine. If I'm hunting in bear country, you can bet I'm putting a larger magazine in my rifle and pistol.

I agree with some of what he said, as I responded:

The experience in other countries with similar laws and histories (Australia, Canada, UK, NZ) shows that removing certain kinds of guns from the equation reduces gun violence. I'm happy to make a distinction between hunting and everything else.

The argument that your hunting rifle is "military-style" isn't helpful. Sure, your gas-powered semiautomatic .30-06 (7.62 mm) rifle is essentially an M1 from WWII. Along the same lines, at one point the weapons of choice for armies worldwide were big sticks and rocks.

Even conceding that you shoot deer with a hunting version of a 1940s M1, you still don't need a .50-caliber cannon for that purpose. Or a 50-round, 9mm Thompson submachine gun, which predates the M1 by a couple of years. I mean, since early Gatling guns in the 1860s, we have had firearms that have *no* conceivable use as hunting or sporting weapons, with more destructive power than is safe to permit in private hands. Just as there are reasonable civilian uses for most types of explosives, we still don't let private citizens own tactical nukes or plastics.

Of course we need to look at the people who want to own guns, the same way we need to look at the people who want to drive cars. But no one gets an AR-10, and no one gets a tank. Maybe we make an exception for licensed ranges where people can fire AR-10s and drive tanks, but they don't get to take them off the property.

Getting back to my original proposal, is a $1 per round tax on your 7.62 ammo going to hurt your hunting? Really? It'll cost you $2 more to bag a deer. But maybe if the little shit who shot up the parade on Monday had paid a $90 tax on his ammo along with a $400 tax on each magazine, the cost would have been just enough for him to forget about it.

Finally, I have to say, it's frustrating trying to argue for a moderate position on this or any other issue when no one will accept any compromises. You know firearms, N. You know the difference between an AR-15 and a Winchester Model 70. Could you shoot up a crowd with the Winchester? Sure. But you'd never do as much damage as you would with an off-the-shelf Armalite.

I don't want to ban guns or stop legitimate sportsmen from hunting. I just want to make it very, very difficult for people to get weapons like the one that made 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy an orphan on Monday.

We're going to keep having this argument, but the fact remains, we're the only country in the world where this keeps happening.

Johnson resigns

In what The Economist calls "Clownfall," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Cons) this morning resigned as Conservative Party leader and will leave Number 10 as soon as the party chooses his replacement. But the Tories have deeper issues—after all, they supported him through every scandal but this last one:

Boris Johnson’s government has collapsed at last. For months Britain’s prime minister wriggled out of one scandal after another. Now, irretrievably rejected by his own MPs, he has accepted that his premiership is over. He has asked to stay until the autumn, but he should go immediately.

Mr Johnson was brought down by his own dishonesty, so some may conclude that a simple change of leadership will be enough to get Britain back on course. If only. Although Mr Johnson’s fingerprints are all over today’s mess, the problems run deeper than one man. Unless the ruling Conservative Party musters the fortitude to face that fact, Britain’s many social and economic difficulties will only worsen.

Right up until the end Mr Johnson clung desperately to power, arguing that he had a direct mandate from the people. That was always nonsense: his legitimacy derived from Parliament. Like America’s former president, Donald Trump, the more he hung on the more he disqualified himself from office. In his departure, as in government, Mr Johnson demonstrated a wanton disregard for the interests of his party and the nation.

Despairing of yet another scandal, over 50 ministers, aides and envoys joined an executive exodus so overwhelming that the BBC featured a ticker with a running total to keep up. In the end the government had so many vacancies that it could no longer function—one reason Mr Johnson should not stay on as caretaker.

As for staying on as a caretaker PM, his party have other ideas:

[S]enior Conservative MPs are pushing back against the idea that Johnson should be allowed to stay in office for any longer and want to see an interim leader in place, such as Dominic Raab. Labour also said it would force a confidence vote on the prime minister unless he stepped down from No 10 in short order.

Support drained away from Johnson as more than 50 ministers and government aides resigned in a rolling walkout, while a slew of once supportive backbenchers declared no confidence in his leadership.

The revolt began on Tuesday evening with the resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak as health secretary and chancellor respectively.

On the news, Sterling immediately started climbing from post-pandemic low of $1.19, and the FTSE 100 index also rose a bit. (The Pound hasn't traded at these levels since the mid-1980s, in fact, so I may have to stock up when I'm there later this month.)

Under the UK Constitution, the Prime Minister remains in office until the Queen invites a successor to take over, which will happen in this case when the Conservative Party elects a new leader. An early election seems unlikely, so the Tories will likely remain in power for a while, possibly until the next mandated election in January 2025.

Johnson being shown the door

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Cons) may finally have reached the limit of his ability to avoid consequences. Earlier today, five ministers resigned en masse, and now several others (including the Home Secretary) have gathered at Number 10 to hand Johnson his hat:

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, went in recently, and Priti Patel, the home secretary, arrived by a side entrance, according to PA Media. According to the Times’ Steven Swinford, four other cabinet ministers are saying Johnson should go (although that does not necessarily mean they are there now in person).

This news comes just minutes after Johnson left a meeting where the 1922 Committee (essentially the party rules committee) told him he's an "obstacle to the work of the government."

PMQs this morning was epic.

Updates as conditions warrant.

A suggestion to reduce gun violence that can pass the current Court

To absolutely no one's surprise, the little shit arrested for murdering six people in Highland Park, Ill., yesterday turned out to be a 22-year-old white kid with a violent social media history. And of course he bought the gun legally.

Every society has its psychopaths and angry young men. But most societies acknowledge this, and make it really hard for those assholes to buy guns. Here, we make it easier to buy a gun than to buy a car. That's just insane, but politically hard to change.

Right now, with the current right-wing Supreme Court and Senate, we can't pass meaningful gun safety laws. But I have an idea. Let's make it harder to get military-grade weapons through taxation.

What if Illinois added use taxes for ammunition and magazines? Any ammunition of magazines purchased in or brought into Illinois must have a tax stamp. Failure to show the proper stamp multiplies the tax by 10. Tax rifle ammunition at $1 per round, pistol ammunition at 25¢ per round, and shotgun ammunition at 10¢ per round, reflecting the social costs (externalities) of each. And tax magazines at $10 per round for the first 10 rounds and then $100 per round after.

So if you really want that Glock 9mm pistol with the 17-round magazine, filling it will cost you $800 in magazine tax and $4.25 in ammunition tax. But if you simply must have that AR-15 with its 20-round mag, then it's $1,100 for the magazine and $20 for the ammo.

This tax won't really bother legitimate hunters as hunting rifles tend to have 5-round magazines ($50 + $5), and a good hunter won't waste rounds on a deer. And, of course, there would be exemptions for law enforcement and Federal agencies. (Illinois has a huge Navy presence, for example, and the state can't tax them.)

Is this nibbling at the edges? Of course; obviously we need to ban these weapons entirely. But I think it would pass the current Court. And if it adds enough friction to purchasing military-style rifles to deter just one mass shooting a year, it will have saved lives.

Thoughts?

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.