At the monthly meeting of the Berkeley-Albany Bar Association this week, held at the La Rose Bistro (across the street from the Marine recruiting station -- my guilty pleasure. I LOVE the Marines. Sorry, Code Pink, but they really are an excellent group), we were served broiled salmon, artichoke hearts, the best creme brule I've ever tasted (not that I've tasted all that much but still....) and treated to attorney James Broznahan's annual report on the doings of the U.S. Supreme Court. I hope I got his quotes right -- I was writing as fast as I could -- but here's what I think he told all those attorneys and me:
"One major campaign issue that is not being mentioned that much this year is that whoever becomes our next president will be in a position to appoint one or more new Supreme Court justices." And this is a VERY big deal.
"Currently," attorney Broznahan continued, "there are four justices on the court who you might call legal realists. And the other five are more interested in legal procedure. And of the 60 cases that the Supreme Court heard this year, the vote has usually been five to four -- but sometimes Justice Kennedy voted with one group and sometimes he voted with the other. I bet he gets taken out to lunch a lot. The court is fractured right now and so Kennedy has a lot of power." And, hopefully, some salmon and creme brule as well!
"The most interesting cases decided by the court this year dealt with Guantanamo directives, the Washington DC ban on hand guns, the voter ID requirement and sentencing guidelines. The new voter ID can be a hardship on people who cannot afford to travel 30 miles to a DMV to get an ID card. And the sentencing guidelines now involve a presumption of reasonableness -- that a judge must consider the guidelines but can proceed in a manner he or she considers appropriate. Justice Roberts liked that one."
Also decided was that school children do not have the right to free speech. "When one high school student showed up for class wearing a T-shirt that read, 'Bong Hits for Jesus' -- how many of you know what that means?" I raised my hand. This was Berkeley after all. "-- the principal sanctioned the kid for wearing the shirt. And according to the Supreme Court, the principal does have the right to stop the student from wearing the shirt." Although it seemed to Mr. Broznahan that principals should have better things to do with their time than to take T-shirt slogans up to the Supreme Court.
"In a case where a corporation gave money to a pro-life group, it was ruled that corporations can pay for ads on political subjects and that donation limitations only apply to the candidates themselves." Now there's an interesting "Court War" result. We now have the right to be politically brainwashed by the big-money guys as long as they don't mention a specific name.
"In another case, an agnostic group objected to faith-based funding being allowed but not agnostic-based funding. The agnostic group lost because of their lack of standing." Government still cannot establish religion -- but apparently it's now okay to fund it.
"Another case involved the search of a vehicle by law enforcement officers wherein a driver was seized because of his passenger. The proceduralists favored this one because they generally tend to vote in support of government agencies. And also, in another case, it was ruled that the police can now ram your car -- but only with probable cause."
Then there was the hilarious case of the naked couple. "The police came through the door with guns drawn and lined a naked couple against the wall for 20 minutes. But it was the wrong house and the couple was of a different race than the suspects." Apparently the court ruled that the police were not guilty even though it took them 20 minutes to sort out that the naked couple were of the wrong race. Apparently 20 minutes is an admissible time to allow police officers to get their brains in gear. The "Court Wars" are on!
The next case involved whether or not it is admissible for your lawyer to represent you via speaker phone. "How many of you, if you were being sentenced, would want your lawyer to actually be there?" asked Broznahan. "But in the age of electronics, speaker-phones are okay. Even in a homicide conviction."
Here's another important procedural question. "Is it fair to ask the jury if they believe in the death penalty when they are trying a capital case? Some jurors really really like the death penalty." So will they be unbiased? That's for them to know and us to find out. "And what about lawyers who fail to investigate their client's case? Or what about mental incompetence? And race issues? You can consider race if you narrowly tailor it. The votes here were generally four to five. The same old same old."
Then there was a hearing on the Congressional act challenging partial-birth abortion. This focused on the centrality of choice. "When Congress passes a bill that effects all sorts of people nation-wide in all kinds of ways, it's a hard decision to make." Mr. Broznahan also talked about the standing of individual states regarding the EPA. "Massachusetts as a state has standing because a lot of people live there." Good. I just got an e-mail from my friend Jim that said the polar icecaps are melting at an alarming rate and global warming is something we all need to take seriously NOW.
And then there was the case of someone who was discriminated against at a job from the day they were hired but did not quit at that time, yet is now claiming that the statute of limitations clock did not start ticking back at the time of the first incident. But I didn't get to hear how that one turned out because I was being served the creme brule at that point and got majorly distracted.
"Justices Roberts and Alito have a conservative vision. Alito has remained true to the vision of the law that he presented at his confirmation hearings. Roberts appears to want to limit Supreme Court cases by procedural means, and also he appears to believe that it's not a judge's job to second-guess the government -- whether at Guantanamo or with the police stopping the car. Roberts has always been a prosecutor, not a plaintiff's attorney and this seems to effect his POV." Siding with the government is a Conservative thing to do? Apparently so. Apparently all is fair in love and "Court Wars".
"As to which justices will need to be replaced by the incoming President, it's hard to say. Stevens is 80 years old but seems to be healthy and hard-working and writes great descents." But if America does get stuck with another neo-con who President who stacks the Court in favor of the mega-corporations and such, then Kennedy will no longer have the swing vote. No more salmon and creme brule for him! And no more "People's Court" for us.
Please remember that whoever wins the 2008 presidential election will be shaping the lives of our children and grandchildren for the next 50 to 100 years. I TOLD you that this was going to be a BIG show! So, America, it is very important that we the viewers make sure this show has winners that we can all live with for a long, long time.
We need to vote wisely and well.
PS: Who am I voting for in the California primary? Obama speaks well, has some ideas that I agree with and also has the race factor going for him. It would be nice to have an African-American as President. And Hillary also presents herself well, she's a woman like me and has several platform points that I agree with. Plus there is the Bill factor. Sorry, guys, but as much as I hate that he screwed American workers with NAFTA -- Ha! You thought I was gonna say Monica? -- I still like the guy and hate that he just got Howard Deaned by the media. Right now, I'm leaning toward Hillary.
And as for the main election in November? Four more years of Republicans? Eeuuww! McCain is another Bush and Huckabee and Romney think that REAGAN was a hero. REAGAN? The guy that brought us dead babies in Nicaragua and that mess in Afghanistan that brought Osama to power? America just can't afford four more years of that. Plus either Obama or Hillary would do better by far on their worst day than Bush and Cheney ever did on their best! Although I did enjoy the day that Cheney got drunk and shot the duck hunter....