On Monday, May 16, 2011, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Samuel A. Alito spoke at a function sponsored by the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. I attended because I was curious about his thought process; what was going on in his mind? I had no idea what Justice Alito was going to discuss until he began to speak. I recorded his speech on a small recorder and I took some notes.
Alito is part of a Supreme Court majority that has repeatedly written opinions that have wrested power from average citizens at the expense of powerful corporations. Yet Justice Alito began his talk by proudly reciting an inscription on the walls of the United States Supreme Court: “Equal Access to the Law.” That’s a strange line to recite by a judge who has voted to bar ordinary citizens from having meaningful access to courthouses (see AT&T v Concepcion) and barred them from having meaning access to democracy itself by unleashing an ocean of money into the electoral process (see Citizens United and see here).[caption id="attachment_18157" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image: Creative Commons"][/caption]
Alito titled his talk “The Top 10 Things You Might Not Know about the United States Supreme Court.” Because Alito is often touted as an “intellectual,” I assumed that the talk might be intellectually challenging, but it was a self-absorbed and disingenuous talk delivered in a humorless tone. Alito’s talk was also highly defensive, as described below. His talk was especially disappointing in light of Alito’s claim that he has given this same talk to other audiences on many other occasions. That would presumably would have given him the opportunity to hone some inspirational messages into his talk, but I felt no inspiration. Feel free to disagree with me after listening to Alito’s entire speech here. Without further ado, here are Samuel Alito’s “top ten things” along with my reactions to these “things.”
Topic one: “Most cases are not about the Constitution.”
I never assumed otherwise, and I suspect that most audience members (all most all of them practicing attorneys) never assumed otherwise. It was curious is that Alito mentioned Brown versus Board of Education as one of the great cases coming out of the United States Supreme Court. Brown was a case in which the court was looking out for the little guy, something the current court has not shown much interest in doing. Therefore, one might wonder how the majority on this court would have reacted in such a case had this majority been sitting on the bench back in 1954. If this sounds harsh, give me one reason to think otherwise. Brown pitted the Court against legislators; it was inconvenient decision for those in power. It was a decision driven by a desire for “social justice,” an alien concept for the current court.
Topic two: “Most cases are governed by precedent.”
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Here’s some good news from the U.S. Supreme Court:
The Federal Reserve will disclose details of emergency loans it made to banks in 2008, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an industry appeal that aimed to shield the records from public view.
The justices today left intact a court order that gives the Fed five days to release the records, sought by Bloomberg News’s parent company, Bloomberg LP. The Clearing House Association LLC, a group of the nation’s largest commercial banks, had asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
It takes some real chutzpah to deny the public the right to know how $3.5 trillion in public funds were used.
In the February 7, 2011 edition of The Nation, Garrett Epps argues that the political right is trying to steal the United States Constitution “in plain sight,” and that it’s time to take it back because it belongs to all of us. His article is titled “Stealing the Constitution: Inside the right’s campaign to hijack our country’s founding text–and how to fight back.” Epps argues that it’s time to counteract the “poisonous rubbish” that the far right’s self-appointed constitutional “experts” are teaching well-meaning citizens. One of those “experts” of the far right is United States Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia, who has just agreed to serve as a faculty member for Michele Bachmann’s new “Constitutional School” for new members of Congress.
How has the political right been able to successfully portray itself to be the only party that can meaningfully define the Constitution? One big reason is that legitimate constitutional scholars are unwilling to step into the fray in a public way. Instead,
Scholars from top schools hold forth with polysyllabic series of hermeneutics that ordinary citizens can’t fathom. Meanwhile, conservatives don’t hesitate to speak directly to the public-and, often, to dumb down the Constitution. They purvey a simple method: anyone who doesn’t support the far right version of the Constitution is at best unpatriotic, at worst a traitor.
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This from Raw Story:
A study has found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has undergone a fundamental shift in its outlook, ruling in favor of businesses much more often than previous courts.
According to the Northwestern University study, commissioned for the New York Times, the Roberts court has sided with business interests in 61 percent of relevant cases, compared to 46 percent in the last five years of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who passed away in 2005.
I’d heard about this Boring case a couple of years ago, and it finally has reached a verdict. In essence, Google’s Street View crew accidentally drove up and filmed a private road, and the owners had nothing better to do than sue. I’m picturing some legal adviser drooling over Google’s coffers and thinking they had an angle to get something substantial in the form of a settlement. But the case was pretty weak, with several judges simply stripping off charges, until they were left with second degree trespass. But they won! They beat Google!
As Geek.com puts it: Boring couple win $1 compensation for Street View trespassing.