The Trump administration informed a federal appeals court on Monday night that it would no longer defend the Affordable Care Act after a judge in Texas declared that the entire law must be struck down. The judge, Reed O’Connor, is a former Republican Senate staffer with a history of striking down policies opposed by conservatives. O’Connor’s opinion is widely viewed as ridiculous, even by conservative legal scholars and health policy experts.
Let’s start this column off with a bold assertion. Paying lawmakers good salaries is one of our country’s most important progressive reforms because it means that they don’t have to be wealthy to serve. High congressional pay is a safeguard against corruption, not a sign of it.
Hobby Lobby is the single most significant court victory ever achieved by America’s religious right. Before Hobby Lobby, religious conservatives could not wield their faith to undercut the rights of other people. After Hobby Lobby conservative religious objections may be used to narrow the rights of third-parties. Yet a passage in Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion for the Court in Hobby Lobby could — or at least, should — take on an entirely unexpected significance after Reed O’Connor, a partisan operative turned federal judge, struck down the entire Affordable Care Act on Friday in a case called Texas v. United States.
The Supreme Court held on Monday that employers can force their employees to sign away many of their rights to sue their employers. As a practical matter, Monday’s decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis will enable employers to engage in small-scale wage theft with impunity, so long as they spread the impact of this theft among many employees.
More than just an ideologically radical opinion, Judge Ho’s dissent from the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision not to rehear Zimmerman v. City of Austin is a monument to conservative political rhetoric and right-wing historical myths. It’s the sort of commentary one would expect to find in an especially strident political magazine — perhaps one of the publications one of Ho’s current law clerks used to write for. It is emphatically not the sort of writing one expects to find in a judicial opinion.
Justice Don Willett is charming. Best known outside legal circles for his Twitter feed, @JusticeWillett, the Texas Supreme Court justice — and now a Trump nominee to a federal appeals court — tweets largely apolitical commentary about Calvin and Hobbes, his children, and Oxford commas. This would all be well and good, if not for one other factor. This charming, intelligent, knowledgeable man also wants to dismantle much of the last 80 years of American law.
Here’s a pro tip for the lawyers at Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department: If you want to defend the president’s efforts to lock people out of the nation because of their religion, you might not want to rely on discredited Supreme Court decisions enabling a racist backlash. Palmer v. Thompsonis one of the great missteps in the Supreme Court’s often unfortunate history on matters of race. This case centered on the city of Jackson, Mississippi’s operation of five racially segregated public swimming pools. After a court ordered the pools integrated, the city closed the pools rather than operating pools where people of all races could swim. And the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 vote, let Jackson get away with this scheme.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a notorious racist. He prosecuted a former aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. after the former aide helped black voters cast ballots. He once claimed that immigrants “create cultural problems.” When Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) claimed at Sessions’ most recent confirmation hearing that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented,” Desiree A. Fairooz, a spectator who says she attended the hearing in silent protest, let out a chuckle. For this chuckle, she was arrested, dragged out of the hearing by Capitol police, and eventually convicted of disorderly conduct and “parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds.” She could receive up to a year in prison.
Friday evening, the Washington Post reported that about 100 foreign diplomats gathered at President-elect Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC to “to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.” The tour included a look at the hotel’s $20,000 a night “town house” suite. The Post also quoted some of the diplomats saying they intended to stay at the hotel in order to ingratiate themselves to the incoming president.