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Abe Fortas resigns from the Supreme Court under pressure. Fortas, a liberal Democrat and political crony of outgoing president Lyndon Johnson, was originally chosen by Johnson to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren, but conservatives in the Senate blocked Fortas’s confirmation (see June 23, 1969). President Nixon intended to fill the Court with as many of his choices as possible, and he, along with conservative Republicans and Democrats who do not agree with Fortas’s liberal stance on civil rights, targeted Fortas for a smear campaign designed to force him off the bench. Nixon used what White House counsel John Dean will later call “an ugly bluff” against Fortas: He has Attorney General John Mitchell inform Fortas that he intends to open a special probe into Fortas’s dealings—while on the bench—with a financier already under investigation. Mitchell insinuates that he will put Fortas’s wife, herself an attorney and partner at Fortas’s former law firm, and other former partners of Fortas’s on the witness stand. Whether Fortas actually had any direct illegal dealings with this financier is unclear—certainly his dealings had such an appearance—but the bluff worked; Fortas agreed to retire early, thus clearing a position on the Court for Nixon to fill. Nixon will find it difficult to replace Fortas with one of the Southern conservatives he wants on the Court; Senate Democrats will lead successful efforts to block the nomination of two of Nixon’s nominees, the respected, moderately conservative Clement Haynsworth, and the virulently racist G. Harrold Carswell, himself recommended by Mitchell’s assistant, William Rehnquist. (Carswell’s failed nomination will produce a memorable statement from Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE), who, in defense of Carswell, tells the Senate: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”) Nixon will use the defeats to make political hay in the South by claiming that Senate Democrats do not want a Southerner on the bench. (Dean 2007, pp. 127-129)
Deputy Attorney General William Rehnquist is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring John Harlan. Rehnquist was active in the Arizona Republican Party, and became well-known in the state as a conservative activist who, among other things, opposed school integration. Rehnquist befriended fellow Phoenix attorney Richard Kleindienst, who, after becoming attorney general under Richard Nixon, brought Rehnquist into the Justice Department. Rehnquist faced little difficulty in his confirmation hearings in the Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Hearings. (Oyez (.org) 9/3/2005) Rehnquist may have perjured himself during those hearings. He was confronted with charges that, as a Republican Party attorney and poll watcher, he had harassed and challenged minority voters in Arizona during the 1962, 1964, and 1966 elections. Rehnquist swore in an affidavit that the charges were false, even though the evidence available to the Senate showed Rehnquist did take part in such activities, which were legal in Arizona at the time. (Rehnquist will again deny the charges in 1986, when he is nominated for chief justice—see September 26, 1986). Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will observe: “After reading and rereading his testimony, it appears to me that what he was really saying to the Senate [in 1971] was that he was not quite sure himself of his behavior, but he could not bring himself to tell the truth. Thus, his blanket 1971 denial forced him to remain consistent to that denial in 1986, and since his blanket denial was a lie, he had to continue lying. His false statement to Congress in 1971 was a crime, but the statute of limitations had passed. His false statement to Congress in 1986, however, was pure perjury.” (Dean 2007, pp. 129-137)
The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, legalizes abortion on a federal level in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The majority opinion is written by Justice Harry Blackmun; he is joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and William Rehnquist dissent from the opinion. Blackmun’s majority opinion finds that the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. White’s dissent argues that the Court has “fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invest[ed] that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.” The decision does not make abortion freely available to women in any stage of pregnancy. It places the following constraints:
No restrictions on availability are made during the first trimester (three months) of a woman’s pregnancy.
Because of increased risks to a woman’s health during the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
In the third and final trimester, since the rate of viability (live birth) is markedly greater than in the first two trimesters, the state can restrict or even prohibit abortions as it chooses, “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Originally brought to challenge a Texas law prohibiting abortions, the decision disallows a host of state and federal restrictions on abortion, and sparks an enormous controversy over the moral, religious, and legal viability of abortion that continues well into the 21st century. (ROE v. WADE, 410 US 113 (1973) 1/22/1973; Mears and Franken 1/22/2003; National Abortion Federation 2010) In a related case, Roe v. Bolton, the Court strikes down restrictions on facilities that can be used to provide abortions. The ruling leads to the establishment of so-called “abortion clinics.” (CBS News 4/19/2007)
The Supreme Court, in the case of United States v. Nixon, votes 8-0 to uphold the subpoena of special prosecutor Leon Jaworski demanding the Watergate tapes for use in the trial of Nixon’s former aides (see March 1, 1974). (William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from deliberations.) The Court rules, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, that Nixon’s claim of “executive privilege” authorizing him to keep the tapes to himself does not apply, and that his lawyers’ claim that neither the courts nor the special prosecutor have the authority to review the claim also has no weight. Jaworski and one of his senior staffers, Philip Lacovara, argued the case against an array of lawyers for Nixon headed by James St. Clair. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jaworski. (UNITED STATES v. NIXON 7/24/1974; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
The Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, filed by Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) and former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) against the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo, challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) on free-speech grounds. The suit also named the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a defendant. A federal appeals court validated almost all of FECA, and the plaintiffs sent the case to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the contribution limits set by FECA because those limits help to safeguard the integrity of elections. However, the court overrules the limits set on campaign expenditures, ruling: “It is clear that a primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions… limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.” One of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that financial contributions to political campaigns can be considered expressions of free speech, thereby allowing individuals to essentially make unrestricted donations. The Court implies that expenditure limits on publicly funded candidates are allowable under the Constitution, because presidential candidates may disregard the limits by rejecting public financing (the Court will affirm this stance in a challenge brought by the Republican National Committee in 1980).
Provisions of 'Buckley' - The Court finds the following provisions constitutional:
Limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office;
Disclosure and record-keeping provisions; and
The public financing of presidential elections.
However, the Court finds these provisions unconstitutional:
Limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for presidential candidates who accept public funding;
The $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures;
The limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds; and
The method of appointing members of the FEC, holding that as the method stands, it violates the principle of separation of powers.
In May 1976, following the Court’s ruling, the FEC will reconstitute its board with six presidential appointees after Senate confirmation. (Federal Elections Commission 3/1997; Federal Elections Commission 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline 1999; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 ; Casebriefs 2012)
No Clear Authors - The opinion is labeled per curiam, a term usually reserved for brief and minor Court decisions when authorship of an opinion is less relevant. It is unclear exactly which Justices write the opinion. Most Court observers believe Justice William Brennan writes the bulk of the opinion, but Brennan’s biographers will later note that sections of the opinion are authored by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. The opinion is an amalgamation of multiple authors, reflecting the several compromises made in the resolution of the decision. (Toobin 5/21/2012)
Criticism of 'Buckley' - Critics claim that the ruling enshrines the principle of “money equals speech.” The ruling also says that television and radio advertisements that do not expressly attack an individual candidate can be paid for with “unregulated” funds. This leads organizations to begin airing “attack ads” that masquerade as “issue ads,” ostensibly promoting or opposing a particular social or political issue and avoiding such words as “elect” or “defeat.” (National Public Radio 2012) In 1999, law professor Burt Neuborne will write: “Buckley is like a rotten tree. Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.” Neuborne will write that his preference goes towards reasonable federal regulations of spending and contributions, but “any change would be welcome” in lieu of this decision, and even a completely deregulated system would be preferable to Buckley’s legal and intellectual incoherence. (Liptak 5/3/2010) In 2011, law professor Richard Hasen will note that while the Buckley decision codifies the idea that contributions are a form of free speech, it also sets strict limitations on those contributions. Calling the decision “Solomonic,” Hasen will write that the Court “split the baby, upholding the contribution limits but striking down the independent spending limit as a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech and association.” Hasen will reflect: “Buckley set the main parameters for judging the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions for a generation. Contribution limits imposed only a marginal restriction on speech, because the most important thing about a contribution is the symbolic act of contributing, not the amount. Further, contribution limits could advance the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Court upheld Congress’ new contribution limits. It was a different story with spending limits, which the Court said were a direct restriction on speech going to the core of the First Amendment. Finding no evidence in the record then that independent spending could corrupt candidates, the Court applied a tough ‘strict scrutiny’ standard of review and struck down the limits.” (Hasen 10/25/2011) In 2012, reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin will call it “one of the Supreme Court’s most complicated, contradictory, incomprehensible (and longest) opinions.” (Toobin 5/21/2012)
The Supreme Court, in the case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, rules 5-4 that corporations have the First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence political processes. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell finds that under the recent Buckley ruling (see January 30, 1976), corporate political donations are protected speech. Powell’s opinion finds that a Massachusetts criminal statute prohibiting corporations from spending money for the purpose of “influencing or affecting” voters’ opinions is not legitimate. The split among the justices is unusual, with Powell, a conservative, being joined by two more conservatives, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Potter Stewart, and liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. The four dissenters are liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, and conservatives Byron White and William Rehnquist. (FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012) Rehnquist’s standalone dissent advocates for far stricter controls on corporate spending in elections than most of the other justices’ dissents, with Rehnquist writing that such spending could “pose special dangers in the political sphere.” (Reclaim Democracy 4/26/1978; FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI 2012)
The Supreme Court refuses to hear a case brought against President Jimmy Carter by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and several other conservative lawmakers. In Goldwater v. Carter, the senators argue that Carter exceeded his authority in unilaterally withdrawing the United States from a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. Carter took the unusual step in order to recognize the Communist government in mainland China as the US-recognized representative government of China. Goldwater and his fellows argued that Congress, not the president, has the power to withdraw the US from a treaty with another nation. The Court, in an 8-1 decision with liberal Justice William Brennan dissenting, rules that the case is not appropriate for the judiciary, but should be resolved via negotiation and legislation between the legislative and executive branches. Conservative Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion. Congress, controlled by Carter’s Democratic Party, does not address the question of how to properly withdraw the nation from a treaty, and Carter’s action stands. (Savage 2007, pp. 141-142; Oyez (.org) 6/2007)
The Supreme Court, in the case of Federal Election Commission v. NCPAC, rules that political action committees (PACs) can spend more than the $1,000 mandated by federal law (see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976). The Democratic Party and the FEC argued that large expenditures by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975 violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which caps spending by independent political action committees in support of a publicly funded presidential candidate at $1,000. The Court rules 7-2 in favor of NCPAC, finding that the relevant section of FECA encroaches on the organization’s right to free speech (see January 30, 1976). Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion, joined by fellow conservatives Chief Justice Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Lewis Powell, and liberals Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and William Brennan. Justices Byron White and Thurgood Marshall dissent from the majority. (Oyez (.org) 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012)
According to former Reagan Justice Department official Terry Eastland, writing in his 1992 book Energy in the Executive, the process of selecting Antonin Scalia as a Supreme Court Justice begins now, well before anyone knows there will be a vacancy for him. Attorney General Edwin Meese asks his assistant attorney general, William Bradford Reynolds, to advise him in preparing a nominee, “just in case.” Reynolds assembles a team of Justice Department officials, who examine about twenty possible choices, mostly federal judges, focusing primarily on conservative judicial philosophy. Two individuals stand out: Robert Bork and Scalia. Eastland writes, “Neither was ranked over the other; both were regarded as the best available, most well-qualified exponents of Reagan’s judicial philosophy.” Both are seen as powerful and influential legal figures. When Chief Justice Warren Burger announces his decision to retire from the bench, Reynolds advises Meese to choose Justice William Rehnquist to replace Burger as Chief Justice (see September 26, 1986), and to choose either Bork or Scalia to replace Rehnquist. Reagan makes the final decision: Scalia. (Dean 2007, pp. 133)
Associate Justice William Rehnquist becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A strict conservative, Rehnquist will oversee the transformation of the Court from a middle-of-the-road, sometimes left-leaning instrument into a conservative entity dominated by the “axis” of Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986), and Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991). (Mauro 9/5/2005)
False Testimony? - According to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, writing in his 2007 book Broken Government, Rehnquist is the first true conservative fundamentalist to be appointed to the Court, “and he would set a pattern for other fundamentalists who found it necessary to make their way through the confirmation process by deception.” Dean, and others, have alleged that Rehnquist lied to the Senate both in his 1971 appointment to the Court as an associate judge (see January 7, 1972) and in his 1986 hearings for becoming chief justice. Dean will write that Rehnquist’s testimony during both sets of Senate confirmations hearings was “conspicuously false,” and in 1986 he committed “pure perjury.” In both sets of hearings, Rehnquist was embarrassed by a 1952 memo he had written while clerking for then-Justice Robert Jackson, in which Rehnquist had urged Jackson not to vote in support of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict that overturned the “separate but equal” clause that allowed for state-sponsored segregation. Although it is clear Rehnquist was stating his own pro-segregationist views, he apparently lied to the Senate over this memo as well, claiming that the memo was written to reflect Jackson’s own views and not his own. Dean will write, “It was an absurd contention, and a defamation of the dead justice for which he worked.” Law professor Laura Ray will observe in 1996: “With the [top] seat on the Supreme Court almost in his grasp, Rehnquist may well have retreated from an uncomfortable position taken almost twenty years earlier in the only way that seemed open to him. That such a step might tarnish the reputation of Justice Jackson years after his death does not seem to have been a concern.” (Dean 2007, pp. 129-137)
The Supreme Court rules in Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life that an anti-abortion organization can print flyers promoting “pro-life” candidates in the weeks before an election, and that the portion of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) that bars distribution of such materials to the general public restricts free speech. In September 1978, the Massachusetts Citizens For Life (MCFL) spent almost $10,000 printing flyers captioned “Everything You Need to Vote Pro-Life,” which included information about specific federal and state candidates’ positions on abortion rights, along with exhortations to “vote pro-life” and “No pro-life candidate can win in November without your vote in September.” The Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled that MCFL’s expenditures violated FECA’s ban on corporate spending in connection with federal elections. A Massachusetts district court ruled against the FEC, finding that the flyer distribution “was uninvited by any candidate and uncoordinated with any campaign” and the flyers fell under the “newspaper exemption” of the law. Moreover, the court found, FECA’s restrictions infringed on MCFL’s freedom of speech (see January 30, 1976 and April 26, 1978). An appeals court reversed much of the district court’s decision, but agreed that the named provision of FECA violated MCFL’s free speech rights. The FEC appealed to the Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the Court affirms that FECA’s prohibition on corporate expenditures is unconstitutional as applied to independent expenditures made by a narrowly defined type of nonprofit corporation such as MCFL. The Court writes that few organizations will be impacted by its decision. The majority opinion is written by Justice William Brennan, a Court liberal, and joined by liberal Thurgood Marshall and conservatives Lewis Powell, Antonin Scalia, and (in part) by Sandra Day O’Connor. Court conservatives William Rehnquist and Byron White, joined by liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, dissent with the majority, saying that the majority ruling gives “a vague and barely adumbrated exception [to the law] certain to result in confusion and costly litigation.” (Federal Election Commission 2011; Moneyocracy 2/2012)
In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court rules that the independent counsel law is Constitutional and valid. The ruling overturns a recent appeals court ruling striking down the law because it conflicts with the “unitary executive” theory of government (see January 1988). The ruling stuns the Reagan administration, who had fiercely argued against the independent counsel law, in part because conservative justice William Rehnquist authors the majority opinion. Only Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia votes in favor of the unitary executive. (Savage 2007, pp. 46-49)
The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, gives states significant rights to regulate or constrain the availability of abortions. The ruling splits the Court in a 5-4 vote. The case allows states to restrict the use of public money, medical personnel, or facilities in performing abortions. It upholds a Missouri law that restricts the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, counseling, or assisting with abortions. It adds restrictions to rights previously thought upheld and granted by the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973). The Missouri law holds that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being,” assumptions specifically not granted under federal laws and court decisions. The opinion is written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and joined by Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia form the majority vote with concurrent opinions; in his opinion, Scalia lambasts the other justices for not overturning Roe in its entirety. Justice Harry Blackmun joins Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens in dissenting from the majority verdict. Blackmun writes that the decision can be interpreted to overturn Roe entirely, and writes, “I fear for the future… a chill wind blows.” (Oyez 1989; Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (No. 88-605) 7/3/1989; FindLaw 7/3/1989; CBS News 4/19/2007)
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas begin (see July 2-August 28, 1991). Thomas is exhaustively coached by a team headed by former senator John Danforth (R-MO), whom Thomas had worked for when Danforth was attorney general of Missouri. As per his coaching, Thomas says as little as possible in response to senators’ questions, staying with generalities and being as congenial, diffident, and bland as the questions will allow. Still, some of his statements defy belief.
Abortion Rights - Thomas is well-known as an ardent opponent of abortion rights, but he claims in testimony that he has no position on the fundamental abortion case of Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), even though he has disparaged the case in his own legal writings. He even claims not to have discussed the case with anyone. His sympathetic biographer Andrew Peyton Thomas (no relation) later admits that “these representations about Roe proved a laughingstock.” Even conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich, who is running a “war room” to counter any negative statements about Thomas in the press or in the hearings, says publicly that Thomas has spoken of the case in discussions between the two, and calls Thomas’s dissembling “disingenuous” and “nauseating.” Weyrich considers, and rejects, withdrawing his support for Thomas.
Comparison with Rehnquist Hearings - Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “[I]t was clear that Thomas was going the route that [Supreme Court Justice William] Rehnquist had traveled” (see September 26, 1986): “Say anything that was necessary to win confirmation, regardless of the conspicuousness of the lie. Regrettably, it would get worse.” The Senate Judiciary Committee splits on sending Thomas’s name to the full Senate, 7-7, therefore making no recommendation either way. But head counts show that Thomas has a narrow but solid majority of senators ready to vote him onto the bench. (Dean 2007, pp. 146-153)
In the case of Shaw v. Reno, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that white residents in majority-black electoral districts can file lawsuits to challenge the drawing of those districts if they feel “traditional redistricting principles” were subordinated to racial concerns. The Court rules that legislative districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see June 29, 1989) cannot consider race any more than is necessary, and must not be “bizarrely shaped.” The case turned on efforts by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) to redistrict the state in an unusually irregular fashion; the plaintiffs brought suit charging that the only possible reason North Carolina could have had in such a redistricting was to segregate races for the purpose of voting. After the 1990 census, North Carolina earned a 12th seat in the US House of Representatives. The NCGA drew up a new map that created a majority-black district, and, after the attorney general objected to the mapping under Section 5 of the VRA, redrew the map to create a second majority-black district. The plaintiffs called the map an example of unlawful gerrymandering. The Court agrees that the redistricting is unlawful gerrymandering, and sends the case back to the NCGA for new mapping. Redistricting can use race as a factor without overtly discriminating against a particular race, the Court finds, but the irregular, “bizarrely shaped” districts created by the NCGA constitute what is, essentially, “political apartheid.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. The dissenters include Justices Harry Blackmun, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Byron White. The dissenters claim that the plaintiffs failed to present a legitimate claim because they did not claim a cognizable injury. However, the dissenters note, the gerrymandering of the North Carolina districts is apparent, though “benign,” as it was done to, at least some extent, facilitate the election of black representatives to Congress. In 2012, Casebriefs will observe, “This case involved two of the most complex and sensitive issues the Court has faced in recent years: the meaning of the constitutional ‘right’ to vote and the propriety of race-based state legislation designed to benefit members of historically disadvantaged minority groups.” (American Civil Liberties Union 2012; Casebriefs 2012; Oyez (.org) 7/21/2012)
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Committee. The case originated with advertisements run by the Colorado Republican Party (CRP) in 1986 attacking the Colorado Democratic Party’s likely US Senate candidate. Neither party had yet selected its candidate for that position. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) sued the CRP’s Federal Campaign Committee, saying that its actions violated the “party expenditure provision” of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) by spending more than the law allows. The CRP in turn claimed that FECA violated its freedom of speech, and filed a counterclaim. A Colorado court ruled in favor of the CRP, dismissing the counterclaim as moot, but an appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court rules 7-2 in favor of the FEC. The decision is unusual, lacking a clear majority, but being comprised of a “plurality” of concurrences. The majority opinion, such as it is, is authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court liberals, and is joined by fellow liberal David Souter and conservative Sandra Day O’Connor. Conservatives Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, and Antonin Scalia go farther than Breyer’s majority decision, writing that the provision violates the First Amendment when it restricts as a “contribution” a political party’s spending “in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with a candidate.” In yet another concurrence, conservative Clarence Thomas argues that the entire provision is flatly unconstitutional. Liberals John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent, agreeing with the appeals court. (Oyez (.org) 2011; Moneyocracy 2/2012) In 2001, the Court will revisit the case and find its initial ruling generally sound, though the later decision will find that some spending restrictions are constitutional. In the revisiting, four of the Court’s five conservatives will dissent, with the liberals joined by O’Connor. (Oyez (.org) 2011; Moneyocracy 2/2012)
In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court rules that anti-abortion demonstrators have the right under the First Amendment to confront pregnant women outside health clinics and “strongly urge” them not to have abortions. The decision casts doubt on an array of city ordinances and judicial orders barring protesters from confronting doctors, nurses, and patients outside clinics. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, rules that there is no “generalized right to be left alone on a public street or sidewalk.” Rather, picketing, leafleting, and loud protesting “are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment.” The Court affirms that protesters have no right to physically accost or interfere with clients or providers, nor may they trespass on clinic property. They do have the right to shout and chant on public property such as sidewalks. The ruling also reaffirms a 1994 decision that created protest-free zones, sometimes called “fixed bufffer zones,” at the doors and driveways of health clinics. (Los Angeles Times 2/20/1997)
The Bush presidential campaign files a petition in the US Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that Florida can continue manual recounts, and that those new recount tallies be included in the final election results (see November 20-21, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote Florida election law in mandating the recount tallies be counted, by essentially changing the law after the election had occurred; they also argue that Florida judges have no jurisdiction or legal authoritiy to order Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) to consider manually recounted votes. Both arguments are considered somewhat abstruse and technical. The Bush campaign also claims, with little legal backing, that to recount the votes violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Gore lawyers say that the matter is up to the state courts, and is not a federal matter warranting the involvement of the US Supreme Court. The Court agrees to hear the case, and sets the hearing date for December 1, 2000. (Supreme Court of the United States 11/22/2000 ; Certiorari Granted 11/24/2000 ; Guardian 11/25/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008) “We believe we stand on both strong political and legal ground for fighting beyond Sunday,” says Gore campaign adviser Ron Klain. After the Court agrees to hear the case, Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team, says she is ready to certify the election for George W. Bush tomorrow night regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. “The Department of State is prepared for the earliest contingency, which would be certification Sunday evening,” her chief of staff Ben McKay says. “This will be done publicly regardless of the outcome, which is, of course, unknown at this time.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Many Court observers, and some of the justices themselves, are surprised that the case is being heard. The Bush petition for certiorari, or for the Court to take the case, comes to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose task it is to consider emergency motions from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Kennedy pushes his colleagues to take the case, arguing that the Court is the true and ultimate arbiter of such matters, though he concedes that the Bush petition is legally questionable. The Court’s conservative bloc—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000), and Chief Justice William Rehnquist—agree to hear the case. (Court rules mandate that the consent of four justices, not a majority, is enough to hear a case.) The case is to be expedited in a way far different from the usual sedately paced Court proceedings. The sudden urgency has Court clerks scrambling to change their Thanksgiving plans and contacting the justices they work for. The clerks for the four liberal justices, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, are dismayed by the entire situation. “We changed our minds every five minutes about whether the fix was in,” one clerk later recalls. The liberal clerks find it almost impossible to believe that any Court justice would consider interceding in what is by constitutional definition an executive and legislative matter. Justice Stevens is not convinced of his conservative colleagues’ restraint, and begins drafting a dissent from what he fears will be a majority opinion granting Bush the election. The early draft focuses on the reasons why the Court should have never accepted the case. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Bush presidential campaign’s challenge on constitutional grounds of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on selective manual recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The case is Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board. Throngs of protesters surround the Supreme Court building. Inside, the justices’ questions indicate that they are divided on the legality of the Florida high court’s intervention, and some justices seem to think that Florida courts should resolve the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “We’re looking for a federal issue.” Justice Stephen Breyer asks, “What’s the consequence of our going one way or the other now in this case?” Observers will later describe Laurence Tribe, an experienced Supreme Court litigator representing the Gore campaign, as listless and flat, while Theodore Olson, arguing the Bush campaign’s case, is “more impressive.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia give the impression that they believe the Florida Supreme Court encroached on the Florida legislature’s bailiwick. Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) express their irritation with the Gore arguments. When the arguments are over, the justices meet in chambers for the usual conference. At one end of the argument is Scalia, who wants to overturn the Florida decision and in essence award George W. Bush the election, and at the other, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wants the Court to stay out of the case altogether. Neither justice can command a majority among the other seven. Rehnquist begins drafting a ruling asking the Florida high court to clarify its ruling, to cite the state constitution in its decision (which the Bush team had argued would have been improper), or under state law (which the Bush team had found arguably permissible). All nine justices eventually sign onto Rehnquist’s opinion. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will observe: “The unanimity was, in fact, a charade; four of the justices had no beef at all with the Florida Supreme Court, while at least four others were determined to overturn it. But this way each side could claim victory: the liberal-to-moderate justices had spared the Court a divisive and embarrassing vote on the merits, one they’d probably have lost anyway. As for the conservatives, by eating up Gore’s clock—Gore’s lawyers had conceded that everything had to be resolved by December 12—they had all but killed his chances to prevail, and without looking needlessly partisan in the process. With the chastened Florida court unlikely to intervene again, the election could now stagger to a close, with the Court’s reputation intact, and with Bush all but certain to win.” On December 4, in a setback for the Gore campaign, the Court unanimously sets aside the Florida Supreme Court ruling and remands for clarification the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. (Supreme Court of the United States 12/4/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
The US Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in the lawsuit Bush v. Gore on the Florida recounts and election results. The Bush campaign has challenged the legality of a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating the recounting of “undervote” ballots (see December 7-8, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that manual recounts violate the Constitution’s mandate of equal protection. Gore lawyers argue that the overriding issue is the importance of counting each vote cast. By the afternoon, the public is hearing the arguments via audiotapes. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the Court’s most hardline conservatives, drew criticism when he said in an earlier opinion that the majority of the Court believed that George W. Bush had “a substantial probability of success,” a conclusion disputed by other justices such as John Paul Stevens. Scalia now says that he is inclined to vote in favor of Bush because, he says, “the counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm [to Bush]” (see December 8-9, 2000). (Kettle 12/11/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Kennedy Determines that 'Equal Protection' Is Key to Reversing Florida Decision - Al Gore’s lawyers, led by David Boies, believe that one of the Bush team’s arguments is flawed: the idea that the Florida Supreme Court exceeded its bounds restricts one appellate court far more than another appellate court is willing to condone. Unbeknownst to the Gore lawyers, Justice Anthony Kennedy agrees with the Gore team on this issue. Kennedy has no intention of finding in favor of the Gore position, but he does want the other four conservatives on the bench to come together behind the Bush argument that using different standards for ballot evaluation in different counties violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution, an argument that most of the justices, litigants, and clerks have not considered up until now. As a practical matter, enforcing a single standard of ballot evaluation among the disparate Florida counties would be virtually impossible. And the Court under the leadership of Chief Justice William Rehnquist has, until now, been reluctant to interpret the equal-protection clause except in the narrowest of circumstances. Neither the Bush nor the Gore lawyers had given that argument a lot of attention, but it will prove the linchpin of the Court’s majority decision. As oral arguments proceed, and Kennedy pretends to not understand why this is a federal argument, clerks for the liberal justices find themselves sourly amused at Kennedy’s pretense. “What a joke,” one says to another. When Kennedy cues Bush lawyer Theodore Olson that he is interested in the equal protection clause as an argument—“I thought your point was that the process is being conducted in violation of the equal-protection clause, and it is standardless”—Olson quickly pivots and begins building his case under that rubric. Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter use the equal-protection argument to suggest that the best and simplest solution is simply to remand the case back to the Florida Supreme Court and ask it to set a uniform standard. Breyer has been working for days to convince Kennedy to join the four liberals in sending the case back to Florida, and for a time during the oral arguments, believes he may have succeeded. The liberal clerks have no such hopes; they believe, correctly, that Kennedy is merely pretending to consider the option. “He probably wanted to think of himself as having wavered,” one clerk later says. A brief private chat with Scalia and his clerks during oral arguments may have swayed Kennedy back into the fold, assuming he is wavering at all.
Demands for Identical Standards among All Florida Counties - Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) rails at Boies over the idea that the 67 counties cannot all have the same standards of ballot evaluation, and shows impatience with Boies’s explanation that for over 80 years, the Florida courts have put the idea of “voter intent” over identical ballot identification standards. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
The US Supreme Court issues a ruling in Bush v. Gore (see December 11, 2000) that essentially declares George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of the Florida presidential election, and thusly the winner of the US presidential election (see Mid-to-Late November 2000). The decision in Bush v. Gore is so complex that the Court orders that it not be used as precedent in future decisions. The 5-4 decision is split along ideological lines, with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) and Anthony Kennedy, two “moderate conservatives,” casting the deciding votes. In the per curium opinion, the Court finds: “Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional… we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed.… It is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.” The decision says that the recounts as ordered by the Florida Supreme Court suffer from constitutional problems (see December 7-8, 2000). The opinion states that differing vote-counting standards from county to county and the lack of a single judicial officer to oversee the recount violate the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The majority opinion effectively precludes Vice President Al Gore from attempting to seek any other recounts on the grounds that a recount could not be completed by December 12, in time to certify a conclusive slate of electors. The Court sends the case back to the Florida Supreme Court “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.” Four justices issue stinging dissents. Justice John Paul Stevens writes: “One thing… is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer adds that “in this highly politicized matter, the appearance of a split decision runs the risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the court itself.” (Per Curiam (Bush et al v. Gore et al) 12/12/2000; Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Drafting Opinions - After oral arguments concluded the day before, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that if they were to remand the case back to Florida, that order must go out immediately in light of the approaching deadline for certification of results; Stevens quickly wrote a one-paragraph opinion remanding the case back to Florida and circulated it, though with no real hope that it would be adopted. The five conservative justices are determined to reverse the Florida decision. For the rest of the evening and well into the next day, December 12, the justices work on their opinions. Stevens prepares the main dissent, with the other three liberal justices preparing their own concurrences. Stevens and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg find no support whatsoever for the equal-protection argument, and say so in their writings. Justices Breyer and David Souter give the idea some weight; Souter says that the idea of uniform standards is a good one, but these standards should be created and imposed by the Florida judiciary or legislature. Stopping the recounts solves nothing, he writes. It soon becomes apparent that neither Kennedy nor O’Connor share Rehnquist’s ideas on the jurisdiction of the Florida court, and will not join him in that argument. Kennedy writes the bulk of the majority opinion; as predicted, his opinion focuses primarily on the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. The liberal justices and clerks find Kennedy’s reasoning that stopping the recounts is the only way to ensure equal protection entirely unconvincing. Anthony Scalia circulates a sealed memo complaining about the tone of some of the dissents, asking that the dissenters not call into question the Court’s credibility. (His memo prompts Ginsburg to remove a footnote from her dissent commenting on Florida’s disenfranchised African-American voters; some of the liberal clerks see the incident as Ginsburg being bullied into compliance by Scalia. Subsequent investigations show that thousands of legitimate African-Americans were indeed disenfranchised—see November 7, 2000.) Kennedy sends a memo accusing the dissenters of “trashing the Court,” and says that the dissenters actually agree with his equal-protection argument far more than they want to admit. When he has a line inserted into his opinion reading, “Eight Justices of the Court agree that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy,” some of Stevens’s clerks angrily telephone Kennedy’s clerks and accuse them of misrepresenting Stevens’s position. They demand that the line be removed. Kennedy refuses, and Stevens rewrites his opinion so that he is no longer associated with the position. Kennedy is forced to rewrite the statement to say that “seven,” not “eight” justices agree with his position. One of Stevens’s clerks, Eduardo Penalver, tells Kennedy clerk Grant Dixton that what Kennedy had done was disgusting and unprofessional. Breyer and his clerks are also unhappy about Kennedy’s assertion, but take no action. The line prompts many in the media to claim, falsely, that the decision is a 7-2 split and not a 5-4. The main document, a short unsigned opinion halting the recounts, is written by Kennedy. Two portions are particularly notable: Kennedy’s assertion that the ruling applies only to Bush, and not to future decisions; and that the Court had only reluctantly accepted the case. “That infuriated us,” one liberal clerk later recalls. “It was typical Kennedy bullsh_t, aggrandizing the power of the Court while ostensibly wringing his hands about it.” Rehnquist, Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas join the decision, though Scalia is unimpressed with Kennedy’s writing and reasoning. Reportedly, he later calls it a “piece of sh_t,” though he will deny making the characterization.
Lack of Consensus - The lack of consensus between the conservative justices is relatively minor. Among the four liberal justices, though, it is quite pronounced—though all four wish not to end the recounts, only Stevens has a strong position and has stayed with it throughout the process. Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer were far less certain of their opposition, and resultingly, their dissents, unlike the impassioned Stevens dissent, are relatively pallid. Some of the liberal clerks say that the four’s lack of consensus helped the solid conservative majority stay solid: “They gave just enough cover to the five justices and their defenders in the press and academia so that it was impossible to rile up the American people about these five conservative ideologues stealing the election.”
Final Loss - Gore, reading the opinion, finally realizes that he and his campaign never had a chance with the five conservative justices, though they had hoped that either O’Connor or Kennedy would join the four liberals (see (November 29, 2000)). He congratulates his legal team, led by David Boies, and commends it for making it so difficult for the Court to justify its decision. Some reports will circulate that Souter is depressed over the decision, with Newsweek reporting that he later tells a group of Russian judges that the decision was “the most outrageous, indefensible thing” the Court had ever done. He also reportedly says that had he had “one more day,” he could have convinced Kennedy to turn. However, Souter will deny the reports, and those who know him will say that such comments would be out of character for him. For her part, O’Connor will express surprise that anyone could be angry over the decision. As for Scalia, some Court observers believe that his open partisanship during the process will cost him any chance he may have had to be named chief justice. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004)
George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, replacing President Bill Clinton. Bush is sworn in after a tumultuous, sharply disputed election that ended with a US Supreme Court decision in his favor (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He takes the oath of office on the same Bible his father, George H.W. Bush, used in his own 1989 inauguration; the oath is administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In his brief inaugural address, delivered outside the US Capitol, Bush asks Americans to “a commitment to principle with a concern for civility.… Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” In words apparently chosen to reflect on the criticisms surrounding former President Clinton and his notorious affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Bush says, “I will live and lead by these principles—to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.” He continues addressing the American people, saying: “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” At a post-ceremonial luncheon, Bush issues a series of executive orders, some designed to block or roll back several Clinton-era regulations. He also acknowledges that because of the election turmoil, many Americans believe “we can’t get anything done… nothing will happen, except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.” He then says: “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done. Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America.” (Bruni and Sanger 1/21/2001)
Thousands of Protesters - Thousands of protesters line the streets during Bush’s ceremonial drive to the Capitol, a fact not heavily reported by many press outlets. Salon reports, “Not since Richard Nixon paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1973 has a presidential inauguration drawn so many protesters—and last time, people were out to protest the Vietnam War.” Though Capitol Police refuse to estimate the size of the crowd lining the street, Salon reports that “many thousands of protesters were in evidence.” Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the umbrella organization that helped coordinate the protests, says: “The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process. They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.” Some of the people on the streets are Bush supporters, but many more are not, and carry signs such as “Bush Cheated,” “Hail to the Thief,” “Bush—Racism,” “Bushwhacked by the Supremes,” and others. The crowd, though outspoken in its protests and unrestrained in its heckling of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is generally peaceful, and no serious violence is reported, though a few minor altercations do take place, and large contingents of police in riot gear—including personnel from every police department in the District of Columbia as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from departments in Maryland and Virginia—are on hand. At least one protester throws an egg at the limousine transporting Bush, Cheney, and their families to the inaugural ceremonies; perhaps in response to the protests, Bush breaks with tradition laid down by earlier presidents and does not walk any large portion of the parade route. Nine people are arrested for disorderly conduct, most for allegedly throwing bottles and other debris. Bulter says: “Of course, we’re ashamed that Bush has decided to be a ‘uniter’ by uniting people against him. They all chose to come out in the freezing rain—even the weather couldn’t stop these people.” Protester Mary Anne Cummings tells a reporter: “I think it’s important to remind the incoming administration the country does not want a right-wing mandate. They did not vote for a right-wing mandate.” (Lindsey 1/20/2001; CNN 1/20/2001; Bruni and Sanger 1/21/2001) Thousands of protesters march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities as well. (CNN 1/20/2001)
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in its first-ever ruling, overturns a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 17, 2002) that stopped the Justice Department from being granted sweeping new powers to conduct domestic surveillance on US citizens. (American Civil Liberties Union 11/18/2002; FindLaw 11/18/2002 )
'Rubber Stamp' - The ACLU’s Ann Beeson says of the ruling, “We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubberstamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants. “As of today, the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans’ homes and offices.” The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the original ruling stand. The ACLU and its partners are considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, as well as asking Congress to legislate tighter restrictions on the Justice Department’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance. Beeson notes that appealing the FISA Review Court’s decision might be impossible: “This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American’s privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Hearing a one-sided argument and doing so in secret goes against the traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy.” The FISC Review Court is a special three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in accordance with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The judges include appellate court justices Laurence Silberman, Edward Leavy, and Ralph Guy, Jr. (American Civil Liberties Union 11/18/2002)
Law Professor Slams Ruling - Law professor Raneta Lawson Mack is highly critical of the ruling. Mack writes that the court twisted its reasoning upon itself in order to give the Justice Department what it asked for. It misrepresented the facts and legal arguments of the case. It gratuitously insulted the ACLU and other “friends of the court” in its ruling. It wrote that the entire FISA law is constitutional even though its standards conflict with the Fourth Amendment. To justify its ruling from a legislative standpoint, the Review Court cherrypicked statements by legislators that supported the Justice Department’s stance while ignoring those from other viewpoints. It called the Bush administration’s efforts to challenge the “firewall” between law enforcement and foreign intelligence as “heroic,” even though the Justice Department, Congress, and FISA itself recognizes and accepts the dichotomy. It accepted without question or evidence the government’s contention that false, misleading, or inaccurate FBI affidavits in numerous FISA applications were a result of “confusion within the Justice Department over implementation” of the firewall procedures that the Justice Department itself drafted and implemented. Mack writes that the court failed entirely to grapple with one key question that, if considered, would, in her opinion, “easily have laid bare the Executive Branch’s thinly-veiled quest for unconstrained authority to invade the privacy of US citizens with minimal oversight.” The question is, “why would the government need to alter procedures for obtaining FISA warrants when the lower FISA court had never rejected an application? Indeed, according to the lower FISA court opinion the court had ‘reviewed and approved several thousand FISA applications, including many hundreds of surveillances and searches of US persons [and had] long accepted and approved minimization procedures authorizing in-depth information sharing and coordination with criminal prosecutors.’” The lower court ruling provided for coordination and sharing of information between law enforcement and government agencies, Mack notes, and writes that in light of that finding, “can the government seriously contend that the minimization procedures that it drafted in 1995, which the lower FISA court dutifully adopted, were too restrictive, warranting a still more lenient approach?” Mack considers the ruling to be “legally unsound.” She is appalled by the Review Court’s groundless implication that FISA hindered the ability of the FBI to anticipate and perhaps prevent the 9/11 attacks. “What the lower FISA court recognized and, indeed, what all Americans should legitimately fear is that the Executive branch is disingenuously using its September 11th failures in conjunction with the hastily drafted and poorly crafted Patriot Act to ‘give the government a powerful engine for the collection of foreign intelligence information targeting US persons.’ By adhering to the minimization procedures, the lower FISA court merely sought to assure that the balance between legitimate national security concerns and individual privacy was not disturbed by seemingly unconstrained executive power.… [T]here is… no question that a secret FISA appellate court structure, with judges hand selected by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, that hears only the government’s evidence, and grants only the government a right to appeal is a singularly inappropriate forum to resolve issues that threaten the fundamental rights and values of all US citizens. The only question that remains is how much further our justice system will be derailed in pursuit of the war on terrorism.” (Mack 11/26/2002)
The Supreme Court rules in the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. The case addresses limitations on so-called “soft money,” or contributions to a political party not designated specifically for supporting a single candidate, that were imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), often known as the McCain-Feingold law after its two Senate sponsors (see March 27, 2002). A three-judge panel has already struck down some of McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on soft-money donations, a ruling that was stayed until the Court could weigh in. Generally, the Court rules that the “soft money” ban does not exceed Congress’s authority to regulate elections, and does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The ruling is a 5-4 split, with the majority opinion written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens and his conservative colleague Sandra Day O’Connor. The opinion finds that the “minimal” restrictions on free speech are outweighed by the government’s interest in preventing “both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and… the appearance of corruption” that might result from those contributions. “Money, like water, will always find an outlet,” the justices write, and the government must take steps to prevent corporate donors from finding ways to subvert the contribution limits. The majority is joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, and the four other conservatives on the court—Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—dissent. (Legal Information Institute 12/2003; Oyez (.org) 2011) The case represents the consolidation of 11 separate lawsuits brought by members of Congress, political parties, unions, and advocacy groups; it is named for Senator Mitch McConnell, who sued the FEC on March 27, 2002, the same day the bill was signed into law. Due to the legal controversy expected to be generated by the law and the need to settle it prior to the next federal election, a provision was included in the BCRA that provided for the case to be heard first by a special three-judge panel and then appealed directly to the Supreme Court. This District of Columbia district court panel, comprised of two district court judges and one circuit court judge, was inundated with numerous amicus briefs, almost 1,700 pages of related briefs, and over 100,000 pages of witness testimony. The panel upheld the BCRA’s near-absolute ban on the usage of soft money in federal elections, and the Supreme Court agrees with that finding. However, the Court reverses some of the BCRA’s limitations on the usage of soft money for “generic party activities” such as voter registration and voter identification. The district court overturned the BCRA’s primary definition of “noncandidate expenditures,” but upheld the “backup” definition as provided by the law. Both courts allow the restrictions on corporate and union donations to stand, as well as the exception for nonprofit corporations. The Court upholds much of the BCRA’s provisions on disclosure and coordinated expenditures. The lower court rejected the so-called “millionaire provisions,” a rejection the Supreme Court upholds. A provision banning contributions by minors was overturned by the lower court, and the Court concurs. The lower court found the provision requiring broadcasters to collect and disclose records of broadcast time purchased for political activities unconstitutional, but the Court disagrees and reinstates the requirement. (Legal Information Institute 12/2003) McConnell had asked lawyer James Bopp Jr., a veteran of anti-campaign finance lawsuits and the head of McConnell’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, to take part in the legal efforts of the McConnell case. However, before the case appeared before the Supreme Court, McConnell dropped Bopp from the legal team due to a dispute over tactics. (Kirkpatrick 1/25/2010) The 2010 Citizens United decision will partially overturn McConnell (see January 21, 2010).
The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). (Coffin 6/25/2004; Dean 7/2/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 167-168) The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
In the case of Rasul v. Bush, involving Guantanamo detainees Shafiq Rasul, Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks, and Asif Iqbal, the Supreme Court holds in a 6-3 ruling that the US exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo Bay, and thus, that the Guantanamo prisoners have the right to challenge their detentions before a judge. Under the habeas corpus statute, Justice John Paul Stevens writes for the majority that “aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts’ authority.” (Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al. 6/28/2004) It is unclear whether the court’s ruling is intended to extend to detainees held in other parts of the world, but given the court’s reasoning, it appears that decision applies to detainees both in Guantanamo and elsewhere. (New York Times 6/29/2004)
Conservative Dissent - The three dissenting justices are conservatives William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Scalia says the decision is “an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field.” He acknowledges that the location of Guantanamo has in fact been intended to keep detainees outside of the reach of the judiciary. “Today, the court springs a trap on the executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the oversight of federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction, and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees,” Scalia writes. Stevens writes that it does not matter what status the Guantanamo inmates have regarding the question of whether they should have access to a US court. “What is presently at stake is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing.” And this, he writes, they do. The case is subsequently sent back to a lower court to consider the prisoners’ claims. (Guardian 6/28/2004)
Side-Stepping the Ruling - The media characterizes the decision as a rebuke for the Bush administration, which had argued that the courts have no right to interfere in the commander in chief’s decisions involving wartime policies. However, the decision says nothing about what rights the detainees might have once they get inside a courtroom, and therefore actually places little real restraint on the government. White House officials will decide that the detainees have no rights in the courtroom whatsoever—although the Court has ruled that they can file lawsuits, those lawsuits must be dismissed out of hand because the detainees have no right to actually present a case. The Republican-led Congress will later pass a law stripping courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo lawsuits. (Savage 2007, pp. 192)
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (see September 26, 1986), 80, dies after a ten-month battle with thyroid cancer. He will be replaced by John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), who formerly clerked for him. Rehnquist’s term as Chief Justice marked a “sea change” in the direction of the Court. Former Clinton solicitor general Walter Dellinger says: “It is quite clear that there are three dominant chief justices of American history, and they are John Marshall, Earl Warren, and William H. Rehnquist. I think that there’s just no question that he’s of enormous historical importance.” Conservative law professor and former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, says that Rehnquist presided over a “sea change” in the Court, taking it sharply to the right. (Neary 7/20/2005; Mauro 9/5/2005; Dean 2007, pp. 129-137)
US District Judge James Robertson resigns from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a special, secret court set up to oversee government surveillance operations. Robertson refuses to comment on his resignation from FISC, but two of Robertson’s associates say that Robertson’s resignation stems from his deep concerns that the NSA’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is not legal, and has tainted the work of the court. Robertson, formerly one of ten “revolving” members of FISC who periodically rotate in and out of duty on the court, continues to serve as a Washington, DC district judge. Colleagues of Robertson say that he is concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush’s program subsequently could have been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program, a practice specifically prohibited by the court. Robertson, a Clinton appointee selected for FISC by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has also been critical of the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and recently issued a decision that sidetracked Bush’s use of military tribunals for some Guantanamo detainees (see November 8, 2004). Even though Robertson was hand-picked for FISC by the deeply conservative Rehnquist, who expressly selected judges who took an expansive view of wiretapping and other surveillance programs, (Holland 12/21/2005) some conservative critics such as Jim Kouri, a vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, call Robertson a “left-leaning, liberal” “Clintonista” jurist with ties to “ultra-liberal” civil rights associations and a desire for media attention (though Robertson has refused to speak to the press about his resignation). Critics also demand that less attention be directed at the NSA wiretapping program and more on finding out who leaked the information that led to the New York Times’s recent revelatory articles on the program (see Early 2002). GOP strategist Mike Baker says in response to Robertson’s resignation, “Only the Democrats make confirmations and appointments of people by Republican President [sic] a question of ideology. The news media try to portray [Robertson] as non-partisan. He’s as liberal as they come and as partisan as they come.” (Kouri 12/23/2005) Presiding judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is arranging for a classified briefing of all the remaining FISC judges on the wiretapping program, partly in order to bring any doubts harbored by other justices into the open. Sources say Kollar-Kotelly expects top NSA and Justice Department officials to outline the program for the judges. No one on FISC except for Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, have ever been briefed on the program. If the judges are not satisfied with the information provided in this briefing, they could take action, which could include anything from demanding proof from the Justice Department that previous wiretaps were not tainted, could refuse to issue warrants based on secretly-obtained evidence, or, conceivably, could disband the entire court, especially in light of Bush’s recent suggestions that he has the power to bypass the court if he so desires. (Leonnig and Linzer 12/22/2005)
Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” (Spaulding 12/25/2005)
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