Sessions: “Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another”

13 07 2009

Senator Jeff Sessions’ statement at today’s hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court:

Justice Sotomayor has said she accepts that her opinions, sympathies and prejudices will affect her rulings. Could it be that her time as a leader in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a fine organization, provides a clue to her decision against the firefighters?

While the nominee was chair of that fund’s litigation committee, the organization aggressively pursued racial quotas in city hiring and in numerous cases fought to overturn the results of promotion exams. It seems to me that in Ricci, Judge Sotomayor’s empathy for one group of firefighters turned out to be prejudice against another.

That is, of course, the logical flaw in the empathy standard. Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another.

This is an odd argument to make considering how SCOTUSblog found that in race discrimination cases Judge Sotomayor’s record is strikingly similar to those of her other colleagues on the Second Circuit, which include members of both parties and is overwhelmingly white.

Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals.

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous. (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.) Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge. In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case. So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Secondly, it seems rather awkward for Senator Jeff Sessions to accuse a person of color of racism considering his own checkered past.

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Limbaugh: “You See How this Race thing Works”

13 07 2009

Right wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh instructs the public on how racial prejudice works in the United States. Somehow he stunningly concludes that Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” statement is somehow worse that former Virginia George Allen using the term Macaca to refer to a South Asian volunteer for the now Senator Jim Webb Virgina.

(H/T:  Media Matters)





Debunking Bogus Claims Made By Critics of Sotomayor

29 05 2009

Karl Frisch of Media Matters takes on two of the bogus claims made by the right against nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

By now you’ve no doubt heard Exhibit A — Sotomayor’s February 2005 comment at a Duke University School of Law forum that the “court of appeals is where policy is made.” This, they claim, proves that Sotomayor would be little more than an evil activist jurist on the bench. Her words — taken out of context time and again by conservative and mainstream media outlets — make clear that Sotomayor was simply explaining the difference between district courts and appeals courts. Her comments were in sync with the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States‘ explanation of the federal appellate court’s “policy making” role. That’s a view even conservative legal god Antonin Scalia seems to share and even go beyond, having articulated the “policy making” role of the courts himself and noting that “the judges of inferior courts often ‘make law.’ ”

For Exhibit B, we find media conservatives in a huff over not only Obama’s stated intention to nominate someone possessing “empathy” among other qualifications but also Sotomayor’s 2001 comment that a “wise Latina woman” might bring a little something extra to the bench in adjudicating race and sex discrimination cases. Conservatives in the media leapt at the president’s “empathy” comment, typically portraying it as proof of Obama’s intention to nominate a liberal activist to the Supreme Court rather than a jurist committed to the Constitution, even though the president said that his nominee would demonstrate both.





Conservatives on the Brown Decision

19 05 2009

This is just ridiculous. In an ongoing series decrying U.S. Supreme Court decisions they do not like, Bench Memos, a conservative law blog run by the National Review, cited the Brown v. Board of Ed decision, which found that racial segreation violated “equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment,” as an instance of liberal judical activism.

And they did so on the 55th Anniversary of the court’s decision. 

1954—In Brown v. Board of Education, a unanimous Supreme Court abandons available originalist justifications for its ruling that state-segregated schools violate the Equal Protection Clause—justifications that would have been far weightier, and commanded far more public respect, than its own makeshift reliance on contemporaneous psychological research of dubious relevance. Contrary to conventional understanding, the Court declines to revisit its notorious 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson and instead limits itself to the question whether the separate-but-equal rule of Plessy “should be held inapplicable to public education.”

For some reason I don’t people were scrambling to use “originalist justifications” to end segregation in the 50s. 

Interestingly enough, while Brown is rightly credited with dealing a huge blow to Jim Crow segregation few appreciate how it change the Senate’s posture toward the judiciary and Supreme Court nominees in particular. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Yale law professor Stephen Carter sums up the after effects this way: 

Before that 1954 case, it was virtually unheard of for a nominee to appear in person before the Senate. Only two had been called, each because of special circumstances surrounding the nomination. But there was always a sense that demanding testimony was somehow unseemly. The bar frowned on the practice, and the senators avoided it. Abraham Lincoln, questioned about his nomination of Salmon P. Chase as chief justice, responded, “We cannot ask a man what he will do, and if we should, and he should answer us, we should despise him for it.”

Brown changed everything. Infuriated by the Supreme Court’s temerity in striking down public school segregation, the Southern Democrats who in those days still largely ran the Senate began to require that all potential justices give testimony before the Judiciary Committee. When the nominees appeared, the Dixiecrat Senators grilled them on Brown. The first was John Marshall Harlan in 1955, who declined invitations to discuss either specific cases or judicial philosophy as “a matter of propriety.” One by one, later nominees followed his example.

Some of them suffered for it. Justice William Brennan was roughed up at his hearing by Senator Joseph McCarthy, not even a member of the committee, who was permitted to make a special appearance to torment Brennan about his views on Communism. In the 1960s, Thurgood Marshall was grilled on minutiae about the history of the Constitution, part of an effort by opponents to demonstrate that the man who had by that time won 29 out of 32 cases before the Supreme Court was intellectually not up to the job.

 





A Skeptical Court Hears Voting Rights Act Case

30 04 2009

Yesterday, a skeptical U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain states and localities with a history of voting discrimination submit changes in voting procedures, or gain “pre-clearance,” by the federal government for approval.

The case involves a municipal utility district in Texas that wants to sidestep needing to comply with the provision because it claims the kind of discrimination that it once deterred no longer exists. Board member elections in the utility district require pre-clearance since the entire state of Texas falls under the jurisdiction of Section 5.

The case is called Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder.

Adam Liptak’s summary in the NYT of yesterday’s oral argument was spot on, especially his description of Justice Kennedy’s hostile line of questioning. And if his questioning is any indication, which in this case I think it is, Kennedy will likely write the majority or controlling opinion as he did in the Section 2 case earlier this year and erode much of Section 5, while of course noting that racial discrimination “is not ancient history.”

Perhaps, the real question here is how badly the Court will gut Section 5 and if it will introduce or demand that Congress create a more precise and less far reaching standard in determining which states and jurisdictions should be covered and why, even if in 2006 it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act only after it held 19 hearings and reviewed thousands of pages of testimony and documents.

Plus, a very curious exchange between Justice Scalia and Debo Aegbile from LDF during yesterday’s oral arguments.

Scalia actually suggested that simply because the VRA was cleared both chambers of Congress by wide margins, even if both houses and the Oval Office were controlled by Republicans at the time, we should be skeptical of its validity. In other words, we should be skeptical of the law, which has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, because it got too much support. Huh?

If we applied that same line of thinking to other laws enacted by Congress such as the American Disabilities Amendments Act that passed this fall and signed by a Republican president, then I suppose we should consider them invalid too. Or maybe we should consider the unanimous opinions like in Brown v. Board of Ed invalid because they also had too much support.

What happened to judicial modesty and due deference to legislative bodies that conservatives love to spout?

Here’s the exchange:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Adegbile, what was — I read it in the briefs, and I forget what it was. What was the vote on this 2006 extension — 98 to nothing in the Senate, and what was it in the House? Was –

MR. ADEGBILE: It was — it was 33 to 390, I believe.

JUSTICE SCALIA: 33 to 390. You know, the — the Israeli Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, used to have a rule that if the death penalty was pronounced unanimously, it was invalid, because there must be something wrong there. Do you ever expect — do you ever seriously expect Congress to vote against a reextension of the Voting Rights Act? Do you really think that any incumbent would — would vote to do that?

MR. ADEGBILE: Well –

JUSTICE SCALIA: Twenty-five years from now? Fifty years from now? When?

MR. ADEGBILE: Justice Scalia, I think some members of Congress did of course vote against the Act.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Thirty-three members of the House and nobody in the Senate.

MR. ADEGBILE: Thirty-three members of the House, indeed. But I think the — the reason that they voted for it is what’s more important. Congress did not assume that section 5 was necessary. It took a very careful examination to see how it was operating, and the determination was that in the absence of section 5, because of the repetitive violations, because of 620 objections — there was evidence that approximately 60 percent of those show some evidence of intentional discrimination.

If you take away the prophylaxis, the discrimination will return in a way that we don’t need to revisit. The history has been that voting discrimination manifests itself through repetitive efforts and…..

Besides Texas, eight other states are covered by the provision, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Most of Virginia and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota are also covered.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to eliminate discriminatory voting practices by state and local governments. The law has been renewed and amended several times since it was passed, most recently with a 25-year renewal in 2006 where it cleared the Senate by a 98-0 and the House 390-33.





Member States Reach Agreement on Anti-Racism Document

22 04 2009

The anti-racism Durban Review Conference on 21 April adopted its final outcome document. It has its flaws particularly some questionable free speech paragraphs and its vulnerable to the charge that it did not need to include language regarding foreign occupation, though there is no mention of Israel by name. There are also a lot of NGO groups that are understandably frustrated at how language about the transatlantic slave trade was watered down in the final out come document.

But considering what the previous drafts looked like this final outcome document is a dramatic improvement. What’s more, the NYT has correctly framed this as a victory for the UN process and a loss for Ahmedinejad and those who wanted to use the Israeli-Palestinian question to either overshadow all other global racial discrimination issues or not participate in the conference at all.

The adoption of the resolution by the committee that coordinates the conference ended months of negotiation that removed contentious clauses referring to Israel and Palestine and trying to make defamation of religion an offense against human rights.

The conference will formally adopt the document here on Friday, but it is no longer open to debate or amendment, diplomats said.

Announcing the adoption of the resolution to warm applause from delegates, the conference president, Amos Wako, who is from Kenya said: “What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process. It shows that boycotts do not assist.”

“This is very good news indeed,” said Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights commissioner, who hosted the conference. “It’s the culmination of months of deliberation.”

[snip]

Announcing the adoption of the resolution to warm applause from delegates, the conference president, Amos Wako, who is from Kenya said: “What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process. It shows that boycotts do not assist.”

I fully expect a lot of critics to focus on the language regarding foreign occupation and free expression. But in the meantime I think the administration has got to be reconsidering participating in the follow process, given how this turned out.

Plus, the outcome document is very progressive on a whole range of issues from calling for a aggressively punishing hate crimes to urging governments to embrace equal opportunity programs from establishing national human rights bodies to affirming the right to organize to calling for the humane treatment of migrant workers in addition to calling for the ratification of other U.N. social justice treaties.





Homeland Security Sees Uptick in Hate Group Recuritment

17 04 2009

A Department of Homeland Security report on the rise of right wing hate groups and extremism was leaked this week. The DHS report is called “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

Unsurprisingly, the report found that the spike in undocumented immigration, the current economic downtown, and the election of the first African American president have spurred their efforts in winning new recruits.

Not exactly news to many of us, but its different when you see this documented by the government.

Of course, much of the controversy surrounding the report has focused on how these groups recruit disgruntled military veterans that find it difficult to readjust to civilian life, but that’s far from the report’s central focus. And anyone who takes time to read it would soon discover that himself.

But even if some civil libertarians and conservatives raising concerns about whether or not the government should be monitoring political beliefs, I think this presents many civil and human rights advocates with an opportunity to to promote greater awareness about the rise of hate crimes and their clear, though often overlooked, relationship to hate speech. That’s not to say we should go out of our way to criminalize intolerant speech, but being vigilante about countering intolerant speech can be critical to reducing hate crimes.

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act, which seems like it will be introduced this session of Congress, would provide local authorities with more resources to combat hate crimes and give federal government jurisdiction over processing hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate.

In my opinion, I think the key findings in the report include:

  • Over the past five years, various rightwing extremists, including militias and white supremacists, have adopted the immigration issue as a call to action, and recruiting tool. Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.
  • In contrast to the early 90s, the advent of the Internet and other information age technologies s has given domestic extremists greater access to information related to bomb-making, weapons training, and tactics, as well as targeting of individuals, organizations, and facilities, potentially making extremist individuals and groups more dangerous and the consequences of their violence more severe.
  • Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Information from law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.
  • Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action.
  • Historically, domestic rightwing extremists have feared, predicted, and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States. Conspiracy theories involving declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps often incorporate aspects of a failed economy.

Also, see Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano’s statement on the report here.