Young scholar, now lawyer, says Justice Clarence Thomas groped her in 1999

The National Law Journal/Law.com reports: The anticipation of meeting a U.S. Supreme Court justice for the first time turned to shock and distress for a young Truman Foundation scholar in 1999 when, she says, Justice Clarence Thomas grabbed and squeezed her on the buttocks several times at a dinner party.

On Oct. 7, a night dominated by the disclosure of Donald Trump’s audio-recorded boasts about grabbing women, Moira Smith posted on Facebook a memory of her encounter with Thomas. “He groped me while I was setting the table, suggesting I should sit ‘right next to him,’ ” Smith wrote. Smith, now vice president and general counsel to Enstar Natural Gas Co., in Alaska, was 23 at the time of the dinner party at the Falls Church, Virginia, home of her boss.

Smith’s claim came amid the outrage and ongoing national conversation about inappropriate sexual treatment of women by powerful men, male acquaintances and strangers. The disclosure of the Trump tape has spurred women in startling numbers to come forward publicly with old memories of unwanted touches.

Smith spoke with The National Law Journal/Law.com multiple times by email and phone after she revealed her allegation on Facebook. Her three former housemates during the spring and summer of 1999 each said in interviews they remembered Smith describing inappropriate contact by Thomas after she came home that night from the dinner or early the next morning. They also remembered their own shock and inability to advise her about how to respond. Another Truman scholar that summer, whom Smith would later marry and divorce, said in an interview he “definitely remembered” her sharing with him what had happened soon after the dinner party. [Continue reading…]

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Case accusing Bush officials of 9/11 abuses heads to Supreme Court

The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to decide whether high-ranking George W. Bush administration officials — including John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director — may be held liable for policies adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The case began as a class action in 2002 filed by immigrants, most of them Muslim, over policies and practices that swept hundreds of people into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on immigration violations in the weeks after the attacks. The plaintiffs said they had been subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses.

The roundups drew criticism from the inspector general of the Justice Department, who in 2003 issued reports saying that the government had made little or no effort to distinguish between genuine suspects and Muslim immigrants with minor visa violations.

A divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, let the case proceed last year.

“The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy,” Judges Rosemary S. Pooler and Richard C. Wesley wrote in a joint opinion. [Continue reading…]

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If Merrick Garland serves on the Supreme Court it could be good for the environment

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Mother Jones reports: Merrick Garland has spent the last decade in the weeds of some of the most contentious clean air cases in history — and he’s consistently come out on the side of the environment and against big polluters.

Garland, the DC Circuit Court chief judge who is President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, faces a steep climb to confirmation in the face of fierce opposition from Senate Republicans.

But if Garland makes it to the Supreme Court, the battle over Obama’s flagship climate regulations will likely be one of his first big cases. That policy, known as the Clean Power Plan, aims to slash the nation’s carbon footprint by restricting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency built the plan on a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows it to set emissions standards for existing “stationary” sources (i.e., power plants, rather than, say, cars) and then leave it up to each state to choose how to reach that standard. The rule was immediately challenged by two dozen coal-reliant states, which have argued that it oversteps EPA’s legal authority because it applies to the whole electricity system rather than to individual power plants. Shortly before Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to put the plan on hold while Garland’s current colleagues in the DC circuit court weigh its legality.

The climate regulations will likely wind up in front of SCOTUS sometime next year. So, Garland’s record on cases involving the Clean Air Act—which many legal experts see as the world’s single most powerful piece of environmental law—is a helpful guide for how he might rule. Garland once described the Clean Air Act as “this nation’s primary means of protecting the safety of the air breathed by hundreds of millions of people.” [Continue reading…]

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On the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court

Lawrence Goldstone writes: With his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat, President Barack Obama has made clear the tone he wishes to strike with the nation. He faced a difficult choice: whether to nominate an eminently qualified liberal or an eminently qualified moderate. In opting for the latter, Obama has eschewed the standard Republican strategy of aiming every policy decision at the party’s most extreme faction, and instead sought to nominate a justice whom large swathes of both parties will see as appropriate to the high bench.

Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is man whose academic, personal, and judicial credentials are such that Senator Orrin Hatch said just last week that the president “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man” to fill the seat, but “he probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election, so I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.” In what is certain to cause Hatch to shift uncomfortably in his Judiciary Committee seat, Obama did precisely what the senator suggested and nominated an appellate court judge who has been lauded for a measured, non-ideological approach to the law.

Far more interesting, however, than Obama’s opening move is how Republicans will respond. Even before Scalia was buried, Republican Senate leaders announced that they would refuse to consider an Obama nominee. In choosing to strike preemptively, they locked themselves into a strategy that is somewhere between questionable and idiotic, and just may be the coup de grace to their political party, which now seems likely to be led by Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]

Garrett Epps writes: There are two possible interpretations of the president’s Garland strategy. The first is that Obama is playing on Republican fears of whomever a President Hillary Clinton might tap for the role and is trying to lure the Republicans into confirming an older, more moderate nominee. If they are successfully lured, then mission accomplished. If, however, Obama does not lure Republicans into confirming Garland, he will have at least embarrassed them and exposed the nakedly political nature of their tantrum.

The second interpretation — which I incline to — is that the meritocratic Boy Scout in Obama has called this shot. Garland is a terrific nominee and would make a wonderful justice. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said Wednesday morning, Obama almost certainly made the pick “because he thought this was the best possible choice for the Supreme Court.” Obama might be unwilling to pass up a chance to make such an appointment, and to the extent there is political calculation behind it, the president is banking on the residual idealism of some Republican senators to respond. He may believe there is at least some chance Garland will be confirmed. If so, his belief in that reservoir of public spirit is a testament both to his own generosity and to his persisting naïveté.

Of course, the idea that Garland, at 63, is an older nominee who would serve a shorter time on the Court and pose less danger to the conservative legal agenda assumes facts not in evidence. Almost exactly a century ago, another Democrat named a Jewish nominee in an election year. The nomination was deeply controversial, and the Senate delayed hearings and a vote for four months — still a record for delay. The nominee was Louis D. Brandeis. He was 59 years old. Nearly a quarter-century later, at 82, he retired as perhaps the most influential liberal justice in American history. [Continue reading…]

Jay Michaelson writes: I was one of Judge Garland’s law clerks in his second year on the D.C. Circuit bench, back in 1998. Perhaps it sounds self-serving to say so, but Judge Garland is one of the hardest working, fairest-minded people I’ve ever met. He worked harder than any of us, staying late into the night, sometimes cutting out of the office to make time for his kids before coming back in for the midnight shift. Watching him stand alongside President Obama this morning filled me with respect and pride — in the moments when I could forget the disrespect he is soon to endure.

I also had some firsthand exposure to how he thinks. There was not a single case I worked on with him, from the most mundane Federal Energy Regulation Commission matter to a 20-plus-year-old civil rights case, in which politics played into his considerations. Conscience, sure — Judge Garland often reminded me that there were human beings on both sides of these contentious cases — but never ideology.

Not all judges on the D.C. Circuit were of that persuasion. I was friends with clerks for other judges, and some (whom, of course, I won’t name) would simply tell their clerks how they wanted the case to come out, leaving the clerks to get from point A to point B. That was never my experience with Judge Garland. [Continue reading…]

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President Obama introduces Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee

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How Scalia’s death might help our planet

Eric Holthaus writes: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death at a remote Texas ranch has triggered a political earthquake and instantly changes the outlook for a host of high-profile issues the court is currently considering. But perhaps none of these are as consequential as the fate of the planet itself. As Climate Central’s John Upton wrote, “in dying, Scalia may have done more to support global climate action than most people will do in their lifetimes.”

Scalia’s death comes just days after the Supreme Court issued an unprecedented stay that temporarily blocked the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s centerpiece climate legislation. The Clean Power Plan isn’t perfect, but it was on pace to double the already accelerating rate of coal-fired power plant retirements by 2040. Last week’s surprising action by the Supreme Court — dubbed a “nightmare scenario” by the Hill — raised substantial fears among environmentalists that the court’s conservatives might eventually block the Clean Power Plan completely. At the very least, the stay buys some time for Republican hopefuls in this year’s presidential election; if one were to win, he could just cancel the executive order that launched the plan in the first place.

The stay is still in place, but the climate law experts I talked to say Scalia’s death greatly boosts the eventual survival chances of the Clean Power Plan. A 4-4 court would guarantee that the lower court ruling would stand—and the D.C. Circuit Court is expected to approve the plan. [Continue reading…]

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The Supreme Court halted Obama’s climate change plan. This doesn’t bode well

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Scott Lemieux writes: Hours before New Hampshire’s primary voters made Donald Trump the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday night – I can’t really believe this even as I type it – the US supreme court reminded us of why the upcoming presidential election is so important. On a party-line vote, the court temporarily stopped Barack Obama’s clean power plan from going into effect. This decision could well portend a future one that will have devastating consequences – not only for the climate but for the state of our lawmaking process.

The decision also underscores the urgency of the November elections in two ways: it will be a choice between a candidate who supports taking action against climate change and one who believes it should be ignored, and it will present a choice between a president who believes that the federal government has the authority to effectively regulate and one who believes that the supreme court should arbitrarily throw monkey wrenches into the political process. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court: If it’s worth it for corporations, pollution may be okay

Jay Michaelson writes: While LGBTs and healthcare reformers are still nursing their celebratory hangovers, the final Supreme Court case of the 2014-15 term just junked twenty years of environmental regulations.

The case, Michigan v. EPA, specifically dealt with the EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act—a long, twenty-year process that has been opposed by industry at every turn, even as mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants has ++irreparably poisoned the Great Lakes .

Today, the clock has been set back. In its third 5-4 decision of the day, with Justice Kennedy again providing the swing vote, industry has prevailed. Writing for the court, Justice Scalia held that the EPA had to factor in costs in deciding whether to regulate, not just how to regulate. [Continue reading…]

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Rainbow White House

Quartz: The White House was quick to celebrate today’s historic decision by the US Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states of the nation.

Soon after the Supreme Court announced its decision, the White House Facebook page changed its profile photo to a picture of the iconic building’s walls in the colors of the rainbow, the universal symbol of the gay rights movement.

At 11am, the President addressed a crowd in the Rose Garden behind the White House—whose walls, alas, remain white despite the Facebook change—heralding the Supreme Court’s decision as “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

“This ruling is a victory for America,” Obama said. “This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.”

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U.S. Supreme Court strikes down ‘born in Israel’ passport law

The Washington Post: The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the president alone has the power to recognize foreign nations, and it struck down as unconstitutional a congressional attempt to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on passports.

President Obama and President George W. Bush had said the 2002 passport law embraces the interpretation that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, something the executive branch has long held should be settled by the parties in the Mideast. They refused to let the State Department honor such requests.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said Congress has a role in managing the nation’s foreign affairs but not in recognizing foreign nations and governments.

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Behind the Supreme Court’s Obamacare case, the Federalist Society’s hidden hand

By Nina Martin, ProPublica, March 3, 2015

The Supreme Court has no shortage of potentially precedent-shattering cases on its docket this term. But the one the justices are hearing tomorrow, King v. Burwell, could be the most consequential.

King focuses on the issue of whether low-income people who get insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchanges are entitled to tax subsidies. Much has been said (and written) about what could happen if the justices rule “no”: Millions of people in as many as 37 states could lose their health coverage. The political earthquake could be cataclysmic.

Yet, few reports have highlighted the role of the Federalist Society, the conservative law group whose ideas are at the intellectual heart of the King v. Burwell challenge. That’s not surprising, given that the group’s members have played a mostly behind-the-scenes part in King 2014 and in many of the most significant conservative legal victories of the last 30 years.

In a new book, “Ideas with Consequences: The Federalist Society and the Conservative Counterrevolution,” Pomona College political scientist Amanda Hollis-Brusky channels her inner investigative journalist to trace the group’s influence on the courts, and especially, the Supreme Court.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q. What is the Federalist Society? What did it grow out of?

A. The Federalist Society was founded in 1982 by a small group of conservative and libertarian law students at Yale and the University of Chicago. Many of the founders had worked on the Reagan presidential campaign, and when they arrived in their elite law schools, they noticed a profound mismatch between the ideas that were achieving political ascendancy 2014 about limited government and free markets and states’ rights 2014 and a liberal orthodoxy that was embedded in almost all major legal institutions of the time.

Flash forward 30 years: The Federalist Society has matured into a self-professed “society of ideas” that claims 40,000 to 60,000 members. These include every Republican-appointed attorney general and solicitor general since the 1980s, dozens of federal judges, and four sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices: Antonin Scalia, who was one of the organization’s original mentors at the University of Chicago; Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

[Read more…]

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Is translating jihadist texts on the internet a crime?

Mark Joseph Stern writes: In the spring of 2005, Tarek Mehanna began translating radical Arabic books and videos into English for the website At Tibyan. The materials had an undeniable flavor of terrorism, encouraging readers to join al-Qaida and kill American soldiers in Iraq. But even the government acknowledges that Mehanna never translated anything at the direct behest of al-Qaida operatives—which is why it’s rather surprising that the government successfully prosecuted him for providing “material support” to a terrorist organization and sentenced him to 210 months in prison.

Everybody agrees that Mehanna supported al-Qaida’s cause; At Tibyan is a fairly popular terrorist forum, and Mehanna translated its content with the clear intention of swaying opinion toward the jihadist cause. But translating, publishing, and praising ideological texts, no matter how morally vile, is generally considered to be a basic free speech activity. Everyone knows that the First Amendment protects translations of Mein Kampf. Why did Mehanna’s translation of jihadist hosannas land him behind bars?

That’s the question Mehanna is asking the Supreme Court, which will decide whether to take his case later in September. If the justices do agree to review Mehanna’s conviction, it’ll be wading into a constitutional controversy at once timeless and novel. The court has long recognized that cheerleading for terrorism may eventually cross the line from free speech to a criminal act. But the Internet’s ability to spread ideas and connect like-minded people may now force the justices to reconsider that boundary. And if the court lets Mehanna’s conviction stand, it may wind up drawing the line dangerously close to the kind of Internet activity some of us engage in without a second thought.

The Supreme Court has been grappling with the question of dangerous speech for as long as America has been attempting to suppress dissent in the name of national security — that is, pretty much forever. For our first century or so, nobody thought that criminalizing anti-American speech raised a real First Amendment concern. But in a 1919 case called Abrams v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, joined by Justice Louis Brandeis, cracked the orthodoxy wide open, issuing a stunning dissent from the conviction of a revolutionary anarchist who advocated a violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Holmes described a constitutional command to tolerate anti-government speech, explaining that censorship of “opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death” is unacceptable unless those opinions “imminently threaten” the country’s safety.

Today, Holmes’ view is more or less the law. But that hasn’t kept Congress from passing censorship laws on the theory that a certain group’s speech qualifies as a clear and present danger to the country. [Continue reading…]

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