HB V

is older than it's ever been and now it's even older

8/06/2001

The Worst SCOTUS Decisions ever, part II



One of the most impressive things I learned trying to pick cases for last session’s bloggage is the amazing amount of bad cases to choose from. When growing up, I had an impression that the Supreme Court was an essentially progressive institution, making a few aberrant decisions but generally a vanguard of goodness in American history. How wrong I have been. The SCOTUS has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. Except for one burst of forward thinking rulings during the Warren Court, it has generally been hostile towards the rights of individuals and oppressed groups within society. Chief Justice Rehnquist, for example, has a long history of opposing integration and when prepping Justice Jackson for the Brown v. Board of Education case, wrote a memo arguing for the upholding of Plessy. With no further ado, more awful decisions.

  • Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) Opinion by: Byron White. This case is one of the most egregious precedents still in effect. After twenty years of judicial precedent enshrining a right to privacy, in this case the court upheld an anti-sodomy statute where police officers broke into a homosexual’s house, finding him inflagrante delicto. The swing vote was Lewis Powell’s, whose famous quote was that nothing in the Constitution "would extend a fundamental right to homosexuals to engage in acts of consensual sodomy." In 1990, he noted that he “probably made a mistake in that one.” Thanks for nothing, Lewis.


  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) Opinion by: John Marshall. This case was one of the Cherokee cases, in which the Cherokee nation fought removal of the tribe to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma; where the grass remains green and the sky remains blue and the rivers still run). Marshall ruled that the Cherokee are not a foreign nation and exist at the pleasure of the United States; instead they are “Domestic Dependent Nations.” The result of this ruling was to legitimize first the statutory land theft of millions of Native Americans, as well as the eventual genocide of people and cultures. Although the Cherokee cases actually barred the government from removing the Indians, Andrew Jackson ordered the removal anyway on the Trail of Tears, one of the ugliest single events in US history. In discussing this case with Jeff, he noted that:
    It's true that many thought Marshall's rulings were liberal -- but the difference between people trying to give a legal basis for land theft (Marshall) despite constitutional and international law and those (Jackson) who merely wanted a Hitlerian scorched earth strategy is not as great as one might think.

  • In re Debs (1895) Opinion by: David Brewer. This unanimous decision ruled that the Federal government has sweeping power under the Interstate Commerce clause of the constitution to break strikes and jail union leaders. An awful decision, rendered unanimously, that hypocritically crushed labor rights in the same year that they ruled that the government has no power to break up the Sugar Trust or impose an income tax (although the latter was overturned by the Sixteenth Amendment, and the former was overturned statutorily). Dubiously based on the notion that the disrupting of the railroads was delaying the delivery of mail, Debs granted sweeping rights to management to use injunctions to break strikes. One of the decisions that give corporations more rights than they ought to have.


  • US v. Leon (1984) Opinion by: Byron White. To adequately explain this, you have to understand the Exclusionary rule. This is the judicial principle that holds that evidence obtained illegally by police is excluded from the trials of defendants. It is also one of those ideals that is railed against by conservative “law and order” pundits who claim it’s responsible for many guilty people going free on technicalities. However, it’s not true; fewer than 0.4% of cases referred to prosecutors are declined on Exclusionary rule problems (source). Nonetheless, in Leon, the court unveiled a sweeping exception to this: the “honest mistake” exception. Yes, if police make an “honest mistake” in their representations of probable cause to a judge, the search is ok even if they were completely wrong. This is a bad decision because it sets the courts in a position of reading people’s minds; arbitrarily deciding if the police’s mistake was an honest one or not and rendering the Exclusionary rule essentially meaningless as long as the police have a plausible story.

A movement in the making

As previously pointed out, we Americans get far too little vacation time. Except for president Bush, who apparently sees no problem taking a full month’s vacation while most Americans get a miserable two weeks, spread out all year to provide a little bit of relief from work. We should support candidates who are in favor of more holidays and more vacation time. The lack of leisure time is a market failure, mostly induced by the tipping of the scales of the “free market” towards corporate business interests. See above.

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