Archive for March, 2012

Surprise! Mandate’s fate may ride on Kennedy

Tom Goldstein, a veteran litigator before the U.S. Supreme Court and publisher of ScotusBlog, listened to the morning’s argument over the ObamaCare mandate and posted the following assessment:

“Towards the end of the argument the most important question was Justice Kennedy’s. After pressing the government with great questions Kennedy raised the possibility that the plaintiffs were right that the mandate was a unique effort to force people into commerce to subsidize health insurance but the insurance market may be unique enough to justify that unusual treatment. But he didn’t overtly embrace that. It will be close. Very close.”

I know firsthand that trying to discern a judge’s mindset based on the questions that he or she asks is tricky business at best. The judge may be asking tough questions of one side merely to hone his or her own later arguments in support of that side.

For example, consider the divergence between two witnesses to the discussion, first from Lyle …

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In Georgia Senate, a test of true conscience

The critical moment had come.

For almost four hours Monday afternoon and evening, members of the Georgia Senate had debated whether a proposed ban on abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy should apply even to “medically futile” pregnancies in which the fetus has little or no chance of life. Already approved in the House, the horrific provision would force expectant mothers in Georgia to carry those doomed pregnancies to full term, even though they knew that their pregnancies would end in excruciating death for their malformed babies.

At times, the debate had become bitterly personal. Many in the Senate chamber, particularly Republicans, also knew that the vote would determine whether they remained in good standing with Georgia Right to Life, which insists that medically futile pregnancies be included in the ban, no exemptions.

Now it was time to vote. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called for a show of hands: Who supported an exemption for medically futile pregancies, and who did …

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The goal is justice for Trayvon, not vengeance

Over the past few years, the handful of idiots calling themselves “the New Black Panther Party” have hit upon a mutually symbiotic relationship with Fox News and its allies on the right. The NBP clowns pretend to pose a serious radical danger to white people, playing to Fox’s need to scare its audience and validate their fears, and in return Fox gives the NBP a level of visibility that they in no way deserve given their tiny numbers and almost total lack of support in the black community.

That said, the alleged $10,000 bounty that members of the NBP have announced on the head of George Zimmerman, the gunman in the Trayvon Martin case, is absolutely unacceptable. If possible, criminal charges ought to be pursued against those who made that announcement. If criminal charges aren’t possible — if offering a financial reward for the murder of another person isn’t already a felony — then the law ought to be changed that oversight.

The goal is not vengeance for Trayvon Martin; …

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Ga. Legislature shows little regard for free speech

Georgia Republicans like to talk about honoring and protecting the U.S. Constitution. But they are about to pass a law that blatantly violates one of its most important protections, the freedom of speech.

I’m not a fan of picketing or demonstrations at private residences; as a matter of policy and decency, family homes ought to be off-limits. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Frisby v. Schultz, agreed, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing the majority opinion upholding a ban on demonstrations enacted by Brookfield, Wisc.:

“The type of picketers banned by the Brookfield ordinance generally do not seek to disseminate a message to the general public, but to intrude upon the targeted resident, and to do so in an especially offensive way. Moreover, even if some such picketers have a broader communicative purpose, their activity nonetheless inherently and offensively intrudes on residential privacy. The devastating effect of targeted picketing on the quiet enjoyment of the home is …

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In Supreme Court, a lot more at stake than Obamacare

Lyle Denniston has covered the U.S. Supreme Court for more than half a century. As an eyewitness, he probably knows the institution and its history better than anyone.

So when he writes the following at Scotusblog, it’s worth paying attention:

Without exaggeration, the final ruling has the potential to be the most important declaration on how the Constitution divides up power between national and state governments since the New Deal days some three quarters of a century ago. Without exaggeration, it could be the most important pronouncement on the federal “safety net” since the Social Security Act was upheld by the Court in 1937. Without exaggeration, a decision to strike down all or part of the new health law could be the most severe rebuff of Congress’s power over the national economy since the Sick Chicken Case in 1935. And, without exaggeration, a nullification of the Act in whole or in part could be the most devastating blow to presidential power and prestige …

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An honest look at the value of ethics laws

All of us — OK, maybe just most of us — think of ourselves as honest people.

But in the name of being honest, we should be willing to admit that we’re even more honest when we fear that someone might be watching. That fact doesn’t make us bad; it makes us human. Having a conscience is important, but a conscience is always strengthened by fear that somehow you might get caught.

If that fear diminishes, your conscience has a harder and harder time making itself heard, and temptation grows more powerful. It’s true for all of us, in every walk of life.

And in Georgia politics, that healthy fear of getting caught has all but disappeared.

That’s the real implication of the news that Georgia has been ranked 50th — dead last in the country — in the quality of its ethics laws and ethics enforcement. The legal mechanisms that might help keep our politicians honest simply do not exist or do not function.

And that didn’t happen by accident. Or as Zell Miller used to put it, that turtle …

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Constitutional torture in the cause of tort reform

Upon taking control of the U.S. House in 2010, Republicans announced that every bill proposed or passed in that chamber would be required to cite specific provisions of the U.S. Constitution that authorize Congress to take such action.

Here, for example, is the language originally contained in H.R. 5, which was approved in the House this week. The bill would abolish the Independent Payment Advisory Board and impose new national limits on malpractice claims.



So, “Health care and insurance industries are industries affecting interstate commerce….”?

They “affect interstate commerce by contributing to the high costs of health care and premiums for health care liability insurance purchased by health care system providers”?

Therefore, the federal government has the authority under the commerce clause to pass legislation dictating how states must handle those issues?

Interesting. Very interesting.

Now, as it happens, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments next …

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A Pierce-ingly ‘Boring’ way to kick off the weekend

Take two good Southern girls — sisters born three years apart, raised in Alabama and home-schooled by their Christian parents.

Send them to, say, Auburn University for college. Instill in them a love for music and performance and a desire to form their own band.

What would you get?

I bet you weren’t thinking of this:

(And to be honest, that’s not a good indication of most of the music put out by Allison and Catherine Pierce. But it’s a funny video and pretty dead-on in its social commentary on the Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian lifestyle.)

– Jay Bookman

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Developer bailout bill offers a sordid case study

Republicans at the state and federal level have not exactly been sympathetic to the plight of millions of homeowners who are struggling to pay off mortgages on houses that may have lost 30 percent or more of their value. In general, They take the stern approach: If you borrowed the money, repay the money. If you can’t repay the money, too bad. Hit the street.

However, it’s downright amazing how quickly that tune can change when it’s rich people who might need help.

Consider Senate Bill 448, which passed the Georgia Senate earlier this year and is now making its way through the House. In the version passed by the Senate, it would give large real-estate developers a way to retroactively dump much of the debt that they have personally promised to repay to banks in the state. It’s a pretty astonishing little piece of legislation.

(The bill was introduced by Sen. Don Balfour, a Gwinnett Republican and the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee. It’s certainly not hard to …

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Are we prepared to ‘right-size’ our defense commitment?

Take a look at two charts. The first comes from the International Institute of Strategic Studies, comparing the defense budgets of the 10 nations that spend the most in raw terms on their military.


h/t The Big Picture at

The second, which I compiled, compares the GDP of those same 10 countries.

Quite a difference with the chart above, correct?


Pay particular attention to the bars at the far right in both charts. As the top chart demonstrates, we spend 1.5 times as much on defense as the next nine countries combined. But as the second chart illustrates, that spending is sustained by an economy that is only 40 percent as large as those of the other nine countries combined.

That first chart is a relic of a lost age when our overwhelming economic superiority more closely matched our military superiority. It also represents an imbalance that cannot be sustained indefinitely. All of those billions of dollars that we’re spending on our military — much of it to …

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