Connect with us
[the_ad id="89560"]

International

‘Revolutionary’ high court term on abortion, guns and more

Published

12 minute read

By Mark Sherman in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — Abortion, guns and religion — a major change in the law in any one of these areas would have made for a fateful Supreme Court term. In its first full term together, the court’s conservative majority ruled in all three and issued other significant decisions limiting the government’s regulatory powers.

And it has signaled no plans to slow down.

With three appointees of former President Donald Trump in their 50s, the six-justice conservative majority seems poised to keep control of the court for years to come, if not decades.

“This has been a revolutionary term in so many respects,” said Tara Leigh Grove, a law professor at the University of Texas. “The court has massively changed constitutional law in really big ways.”

Its remaining opinions issued, the court began its summer recess Thursday, and the justices will next return to the courtroom in October.

Overturning Roe v. Wade and ending a nearly half-century guarantee of abortion rights had the most immediate impact, shutting down or severely restricting abortions in roughly a dozen states within days of the decision.

In expanding gun rights and finding religious discrimination in two cases, the justices also made it harder to sustain gun control laws and lowered barriers to religion in public life.

Setting important new limits on regulatory authority, they reined in the government’s ability to fight climate change and blocked a Biden administration effort to get workers at large companies vaccinated against COVID-19.

The remarkable week at the end of June in which the guns, abortion, religion and environmental cases were decided at least partially obscured other notable events, some of them troubling.

New Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the first Black woman on the court. She replaced the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, who served nearly 28 years, a switch that won’t change the balance between liberals and conservatives on the court.

In early May, the court had to deal with the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion in the abortion case. Chief Justice John Roberts almost immediately ordered an investigation, about which the court has been mum ever since. Soon after, workers encircled the court with 8-foot-high fencing in response to security concerns. In June, police made a late-night arrest of an armed man near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home, and charged him with attempted murder of the justice.

Kavanaugh is one of three Trump appointees along with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett who fortified the right side of the court. Greg Garre, who served as former President George W. Bush’s top Supreme Court lawyer, said when the court began its term in October “the biggest question was not so much which direction the court was headed in, but how fast it was going. The term answers that question pretty resoundingly, which is fast.”

The speed also revealed that the chief justice no longer has the control over the court he held when he was one of five, not six, conservatives, Garre said.

Roberts, who favors a more incremental approach that might bolster perceptions of the court as a nonpolitical institution, broke most notably with the other conservatives in the abortion case, writing that it was unnecessary to overturn Roe, which he called a “serious jolt” to the legal system. On the other hand, he was part of every other ideologically divided majority.

If the past year revealed limits on the chief justice’s influence, it also showcased the sway of Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member of the court. He wrote the decision expanding gun rights and the abortion case marked the culmination of his 30-year effort on the Supreme Court to get rid of Roe, which had stood since 1973.

Abortion is just one of several areas in which Thomas is prepared to jettison court precedents. The justices interred a second of their decisions, Lemon v. Kurtzman, in ruling for a high school football coach’s right pray on the 50-yard line following games. It’s not clear, though, that other justices are as comfortable as Thomas in overturning past decisions.

The abortion and guns cases also seemed contradictory to some critics in that the court handed states authority over the most personal decisions, but limited state power in regulating guns. One distinction the majorities in those cases drew, though, is that the Constitution explicitly mentions guns, but not abortion.

Those decisions do not seem especially popular with the public, according to opinion polls. Polls show a sharp drop in the court’s approval rating and in people’s confidence in the court as an institution.

Justices on courts past have acknowledged a concern about public perception. As recently as last September, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said, “My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” Barrett spoke in at a center named for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who engineered her rapid confirmation in 2020 and was sitting on the stage near the justice.

But the conservatives, minus Roberts, rejected any concern about perception in the abortion case, said Grove, the University of Texas professor.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion that “not only are we not going to focus on that, we should not focus on that,” she said. “I’m sympathetic as an academic, but I was surprised to see that coming from that many real-world justices.”

The liberal justices, though, wrote repeatedly that the court’s aggressiveness in this epic term was doing damage to the institution. Justice Sonia Sotomayor described her fellow justices as “a restless and newly constituted Court.” Justice Elena Kagan, in her abortion dissent, wrote: “The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed.”

In 18 decisions, at least five conservative justices joined to form a majority and all three liberals were in dissent, roughly 30% of all the cases the court heard in its term that began last October.

Among these, the court also:

— Made it harder for people to sue state and federal authorities for violations of constitutional rights.

— Raised the bar for defendants asserting their rights were violated, ruling against a Michigan man who was shackled at trial.

— Limited how some death row inmates and others sentenced to lengthy prison terms can pursue claims that their lawyers did a poor job representing them.

In emergency appeals, also called the court’s “shadow” docket because the justices often provide little or no explanation for their actions, the conservatives ordered the use of congressional districts for this year’s elections in Alabama and Louisiana even though lower federal courts have found they likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters.

The justices will hear arguments in the Alabama case in October, among several high-profile cases involving race or elections, or both.

Also when the justices resume hearing arguments the use of race as a factor in college admissions is on the table, just six years after the court reaffirmed its permissibility. And the court will consider a controversial Republican-led appeal that would vastly increase the power of state lawmakers over federal elections, at the expense of state courts.

These and cases on the intersection of LGBTQ and religious rights and another major environmental case involving development and water pollution also are likely to result in ideologically split decisions.

Khiara Bridges, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, law school, drew a link between the voting rights and abortion cases. In the latter, Alito wrote in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion should be decided by elected officials, not judges.

“I find it to be incredibly disingenuous for Alito to suggest that all that Dobbs is doing is returning this question to the states and that people can battle in the state about whether to protect fetal life or the interest of the pregnant person,” Bridges said. “But that same court is actively involved in insuring that states can disenfranchise people.”

Bridges also said the outcomes aligned almost perfectly with the political aims of Republicans. “Whatever the Republican party wants, the Republican party is going to get out of the currently constituted court,” she said.

Defenders of the court’s decisions said the criticism misses the mark because it confuses policy with law. “Supreme Court decisions are often not about what the policy should be, but rather about who (or which level of government, or which institution) should make the policy,” Princeton University political scientist Robert George wrote on Twitter.

For now, there is no sign that either the justices or Republican and conservative interests that have brought so many of the high-profile cases to the court intend to trim their sails, Grove said.

That’s in part because there’s no realistic prospect of court reforms that would limit the cases the justices could hear, impose term limits or increase the size of the Supreme Court, said Grove, who served on President Joe Biden’s bipartisan Supreme Court commission on court reforms.

___

Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author

International

New Pompeii finds highlight middle-class life in doomed city

Published on

ROME (AP) — A trunk with its lid left open. A wooden dishware closet, its shelves caved in. Three-legged accent tables topped by decorative bowls. These latest discoveries by archaeologists are enriching knowledge about middle-class lives in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’ furious eruption buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic debris.

Pompeii’s archaeological park, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions, announced the recent finds on Saturday. Its director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the excavation of rooms in a “domus,” or home, first unearthed in 2018 had revealed precious details about the domestic environment of ordinary citizens of the city, which was destroyed in 79 A.D.

In past decades, excavation largely concentrated on sumptuous, elaborately frescoed villas of the Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeology activity in the sprawling site, near modern-day Naples, has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as of servants and other enslaved people.

“In the Roman empire, there was an ample chunk of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom ‘daily bread,’ was anything but a given,” Zuchtriegel said. ”A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious about climbing the social ladder.”

The finds unveiled on Saturday include furnishings and household objects in the domus, which was dubbed the House of the Larario for an area of a home devoted to domestic spirits known as lares. The home unearthed in 2018 has one in the courtyard.

Zuchtriegel noted that while the courtyard also had an exceptionally well-adorned cistern, “evidently, the (financial) resources weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home.” One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor apparently used for storage.

In a bedroom, archeologists found the remains of a bed frame with a trace of fabric from the pillow. The kind of bed is identical to three, cot-like beds unearthed last year in a tiny room in another residence that archaeologists believe doubled as a storeroom and sleeping quarters for a family of enslaved inhabitants of Pompeii.

The bedroom findings announced Saturday also included the remains of a wooden trunk with an open lid. Although the weight of beams and ceiling panels that crashed down in the wake of the volcanic explosion heavily damaged the trunk, among the objects found inside was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the ancient Greek deity Zeus being transformed into an eagle. Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the accent tables in vogue today.

Exposing the storeroom revealed a wooden closet, its backboard still intact but the shelves caved in. Archaeologists believe the closet had at least four panel doors and held cookware and dishes for the nearby kitchen. The excavators found a hinge from the enclosure.

Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of what had been a translucent, rimmed plate in brilliant hues of cobalt blue and emerald, and a well-preserved incense burner, shaped like a cradle.

Frances D’emilio, The Associated Press

Continue Reading

Economy

Surprise Senate vote would overturn Biden environmental rule

Published on

By Matthew Daly in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise victory for Republicans, the Senate on Thursday voted to overturn a Biden administration rule requiring rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells — an outcome aided by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin, a key player on energy and climate issues and a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, joined Republicans to support the measure, which was approved 50-47. The vote comes as Manchin has proposed a separate list of legislative measures to speed up federal permitting for major projects in return for his support of a Democratic bill to address climate change.

Republicans voted unanimously to overturn the Biden permitting rule, while Manchin was the only Democrat to support it. Three senators were absent: Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The vote sends the measure to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is unlikely to move forward.

Still, the vote signaled strong Senate support for action to reform the often onerous federal permitting process, which can take up to eight to 10 years for highways and other major projects. Streamlining federal review is a top Manchin and GOP priority that is not shared by most Democrats.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, sponsored the measure to overturn the Biden rule, saying new regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, will further bog down the permitting process and delay critical infrastructure projects the country needs.

The Biden rule — which overturns an action by the Trump administration loosening environmental reviews — requires regulators to consider the likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities before approving major projects. The new requirement “is going to add to the red tape” that prevents major infrastructure projects from being approved in a timely manner, Sullivan said.

While President Joe Biden has called infrastructure a priority — and pushed for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year — the new NEPA rule actually “makes it harder to build infrastructure projects” in the United States, Sullivan said.

“The only people, in my view, who really like this new system are radical far-left environmental groups that don’t want to build anything … and probably the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on the Senate floor. China and other competitors likely “love the fact that it takes 9 to 10 years to permit a bridge in the U.S.A.,” Sullivan said.

The White House strongly opposed the measure and threatened a veto if Congress approves it.

“This action would slow the construction of American infrastructure, lead to the waste of taxpayer resources on poorly designed projects and result in unnecessary and costly litigation and conflict that will delay permitting,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

Manchin countered that, “for years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system, and I know the (Biden) administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong.”

Manchin called Thursday’s vote “a step in the right direction” but said the measure likely “is dead on arrival in the House. That’s why I fought so hard to secure a commitment (from Democratic leaders) on bipartisan permitting reform, which is the only way we’re going to actually fix this problem.”

The new rule, finalized this spring, restores key provisions of NEPA, a bedrock environmental law that is designed to ensure community safeguards during reviews for a wide range of federal projects, including roads, bridges and energy development such as pipelines and oil wells. The longstanding reviews were scaled back under former President Donald Trump in a bid to fast-track projects and create jobs.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said in implementing the new rule that it should restore public confidence during environmental reviews. The change could speed development by helping to “ensure that projects get built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory.

Projects approved by the Trump administration were frequently delayed or defeated by lengthy court battles from groups challenging environmental reviews as inadequate.

Manchin, who brokered a surprise deal last week on climate legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said he’s won promises from Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress to pursue permitting reforms in the Senate to speed approval of projects in his energy-producing state and across the country. Manchin’s wish list includes swift approval of the controversial Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in his home state and Virginia. The pipeline is nearly complete but has been delayed for years by court battles and other issues.

Manchin’s list includes a number of proposals supported by Republicans, including a two-year deadline on environmental reviews; changes to the Clean Water Act; limitations on judicial review; and prompt action on projects determined by the Energy secretary to be in the national interest.

Environmental groups have decried Manchin’s proposals as counter-productive to the climate legislation and a threat to the environment and communities where projects would be built.

Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters, dismissed the Senate vote Thursday as “nothing more than a Republican-led stunt to appease their fossil fuel-industry allies.”

Foote and other environmentalists said strong NEPA review is needed to ensure that those most affected by an energy project have a say in the projects built in their communities.

“Thorough, community-based environmental reviews are critical to helping eliminate environmental racism and making sure low-income communities and communities of color are protected from polluters who want to build dirty, toxic projects in their backyards,” Foote said.

She called on Congress to approve the Manchin-Schumer climate bill as soon as possible. Schumer said votes on the bill are likely this weekend.

Kabir Green, director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, another environmental group, said Americans are “seeing the effects of climate change in catastrophic detail, from the heat waves in Texas to wildfires in New Mexico to the devastating flooding in Kentucky. But the Senate is voting to prevent the federal government from considering climate change when making decisions. This makes no sense.”

Continue Reading

Trending

X