Sunday, July 01, 2012

Rattling Around in an Ivory Tower: Supreme Court's 2012 Decisions

Over the course of one week, we witnessed what may have been the most significant events in recent US history. On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court ruled against the American People by declaring the Arizona's enforcement of existing federal law was "unconstitutional" by a 5 to 3 decision.

As most of you should know, Arizona's SB1070 codified existing federal laws (laws already on the books). These laws, largely unenforced by the federal government, were given "teeth" by the Arizona Legislature. The Federal Government's position was that a state, any state, could not interfere with immigration , and that Arizona had overstepped its legal boundaries. That was the federal government's domain. Somehow, the Supreme Court wasn't paying attention.

First off, existing federal laws allows a state the right to strengthen a federal law. It may not, in any way, take away from or undermine a federal law. So, how does taking various laws already on the books, pulling them together, and not just enforcing those laws, but actually to or enhancing those laws, in any way violate the US Constitution?

In its decision, the high court ruled against Arizona and the American People on three of the four issues it was asked to consider. Ironically, the one issue it left intact was the ability of the police to ask for documentation proving immigration status. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court, and cited it's decision on this point was unanimous. Individuals may not be stopped solely on the suspension of their immigration status however. Police must demonstrate "probable cause", which is a catch all phrase when police officers really don't have anything to go except suspicion of some crime (like driving under the influence). Currently, five other states --- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, and South Carolina ---have adopted some portion of Arizona's SB 1070 law.

Immediately after the Court's decision was announced, the Obama Administration took the highly unusual step of announcing a suspension of federal funds and agreements related to the enforcement of immigration laws. Additionally, a directive was issued, ordering federal authorities to ignore any requests for assistance from Arizonian police departments on illegal immigration matters. Additionally, the Office of Homeland Security has been order to cease detaining non-criminal related illegal immigrants and focus on those with criminal records (yes, I realized that's an oxymoron). Previously, Obama bypassed Congress and issued an executive order allow children of illegal immigrants currently in school or serving in the US military, an exemption whereby they may remain in America and apply for citizenship. The move, which clearly political, was designed to boost Obama's standing among Hispanics, are expected to the key targeted minority group in his reelection bid.

Obamacare Passes

The other decision was of course, Obamacare. In what can only be considered a huge surprise by everyone, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to allow the controversial law to stand. Perhaps the biggest shocker of all was Justice Roberts' endorsement of the bill, Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, however, may have set the stage for the bill's eventual repeal.

In writing the majority opinion, Roberts redefined the bill as a tax; a tax based on a penalty. The bill requires every individual (I don't know if that includes illegal immigrants) to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty, aka a tax. Apparently, as written, the bill was based on the Commerce Clause. On that basis, the prevailing opinion of the High Court was that it didn't not meet the necessary Constitutional requirements. However, as penalty or tax, it could be considered Constitutional under Congress' near unlimited taxing authority.

Furthermore, the recasting the healthcare bill has also puts Obama into an untenable political position. Obama has been adamant that his healthcare bill was not, in any shape , form, or fashion, a tax. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Court's ruling seems to make it appear that Obama either didn't understand his own bill or that he was lying when he claimed it wasn't a tax. There are a few things the American People won't stand. One is an outright lie and the other is a tax, especially one that is sneakily being applied.

Opponents have vowed, as they always do, to repeal the bill (which, under the Court's interpretation of the bill as a tax, Congress can do given its taxing authority), provided, of course, Obama is defeated in November and they, the conservatives, are reelected. Personally, I would their reelection contingent on the bill being repealed now...not later. Think of it as an election incentive.

Meanwhile, attention will turn to how the bill be implemented and who pays for what. At present, however, the bill requires everyone to apply and be accepted without restrictions, financial or otherwise, for any current or preexisting conditions. Currently, there is a wavier on certain preexisting conditions or a waiting period under most policies. The bill, in effect, penalizes those who are healthy by requiring their premiums to increase to absorb those who are not. This subsidized insurance creates a new taxpayer based entitlement, as if taxpayers can seriously afford it. What, in reality we will see will be an increased gap between the rich and everyone else and the continued shrinkage of the Middle Class (America is now, essentially, a two tier social structure with a small but very rich ruling oligarchy and a large pool of poor and working poor).

In addition, the bill puts restrictions on the availability of coverage. It limits who can and will be covered, as determined by age, gender, and race. It also prevents the individual from going "outside" of the system and agree to pay more for certain procedures (ever read the book or see the movie "Soyent Green by any chance?). Now you and I both know that the super rich will be exempt. They always are. They will find ways to get what they need when they need it, even (and especially) if it means leaving the country for treatments. Congress and their families are, naturally, excluded from the bill they believe is so good for us.

Another issue to consider is that how the bill was written and interpreted by the Supreme Court opens the possibility of a new class of bills which include within them undisclosed penalties or taxes. For instance, failure to keep your weight within certain guidelines could carry a financial penalty. Since doctors will now, in effect, be government subcontractors, they may be required to report "unhealthy" behavior to government "health police", who, in turn, has access a tax.
Since stores increasingly monitor our purchases in an effort to anticipate and manipulate our buying patterns, they may be required to turn that data over to the government for review to see if what we're buying is "acceptable". Farfetched? Certainly the technology is easily doable, and the opening could be through pharmacies, which are already federally regulated, and let's not forget that stores accept federal food stamps.

Just a reminder , with the Fourth of July approaching, that the American Revolution was started over taxes. Just saying.

Court Rejects Corporate Spending Limits

Lastly, in what was overlooked by just about everyone, the Supreme Court reaffirmed an earlier 2010 decision to allow corporations to spend what they want on elections, while the voters ---you and I --- remain capped, and all this under the heading of "money equals free speech" as Kentucky's Senator Mitch McConnell (R) has stated. In short, an artificial entity like a corporation has more 1st Amendment rights than individuals because it has more money.

In a five to four decision, the justices struck down a 1912 Montana law which limited how much money corporations were allowed to contribute to a political campaign. The court previously said that corporations and labor unions could give as much as they wanted to, provided the money was independent of the campaign's fundraising efforts.
In what can be only described as a "bubble headed" comment, Justices Anthony Kennedy stated that he didn't believe the unlimited spending gave rise to, or the appearance of corruption" to political campaigns. Yeah, right. Frankly, following this "money equals rights" logic, I am a little surprised someone hasn't considered introducing legislation allowing corporations to vote, and since they have more money, they get more votes! But, then again, why bother? After all, who needs to vote when you already own the game and its players?

Supreme Court Upholds Core of SB1070

Supreme Court Healthcare Decision

Court rejects corporate spending limits.

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