The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ruling seasons begins

The Supreme Court began its early-summer ruling season a bit early this year, starting with an opinion from Justice Thomas (R) that will make it easier for the state to kill innocent people:

[The] opinion claimed that a law restricting the power of federal courts to toss out convictions in state courts prevents Jones from seeking relief. But Thomas’s reading of this law is novel — his opinion had to gut two fairly recent Supreme Court decisions to deny relief to Jones.

Before Monday, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler (2013) should have guaranteed Jones a new trial. Both decisions deal with what should happen in the unusual circumstance when someone accused of a crime receives ineffective assistance of counsel, twice.

In Strickland v. Washington (1984), the Supreme Court held that a conviction must be tossed out if defense “counsel’s performance was deficient” and if this “deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” This safeguard against constitutionally inadequate lawyering would be meaningless if people who received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial could not challenge that conviction, either on appeal or in some other proceeding.

Martinez and Trevino established that someone convicted of a crime must have at least one shot at challenging their conviction on the grounds that they received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to the effective assistance of counsel at trial,” [Justice] Sotomayor (I) writes in the first line of her dissent. She continues that “this Court has recognized that right as ‘a bedrock principle’ that constitutes the very ‘foundation for our adversary system’ of criminal justice.”

Thus in Sotomayor’s mind, and in the minds of the two other justices appointed by Democratic presidents who joined her opinion, the purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether or not someone is actually guilty of a crime — and to do so through an adversarial process where both sides are represented by lawyers who can present the best possible legal and factual case for the prosecution and the defense.

This is consistent with Thomas’s longtime position. As far back as Herrera v. Collins (1993), Thomas joined an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, which claimed that there is “no basis” in the Constitution for “a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction.” At the time, however, Thomas was the only justice who joined Scalia in this view.

Scotusblog also has its doubts:

Thomas spent the first 11 pages of his 22-page opinion recounting the grisly facts of the murders the defendants were convicted of, extolling the states’ authority to enforce criminal laws, and emphasizing the importance of the finality of convictions. Finally arriving at the issue at hand, Thomas cited cases holding that defendants are generally held responsible for their attorneys’ errors, and noted that while that general rule does not apply when counsel is constitutionally ineffective, the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a right to counsel at the post-conviction stage – therefore, at this stage, the defendants were “at fault.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, dissented. Her opinion was striking, even for a justice who is known for passionate dissents. She called the majority opinion “perverse,” “illogical,” and said it “makes no sense.”

The dissent zeroed in on the court’s prior holdings that the procedural default rule only applies to defendants who are “at fault” for failing to raise a claim, and that a defendant represented by a constitutionally ineffective lawyer cannot be held to be “at fault” for his lawyer’s errors. This requirement underscored what Sotomayor saw as the core absurdity in the majority’s reasoning: “A petitioner cannot logically be faultless for not bringing a claim because of postconviction counsel’s ineffectiveness, yet at fault for not developing its evidentiary basis for exactly the same reason.”

The debate between Thomas and Sotomayor in Shinn has reverberations beyond the cases of Barry Lee Jones and David Martinez Ramirez. Sotomayor argued that the majority opinion “tellingly” relied on dissents in Martinez and Trevino to support its reasoning. While the conservative majority’s explicit overruling of precedent has recently captured the public’s attention (albeit through a leaked draft), the practice of citing dissents to “hollow out” past precedents has garnered less scrutiny. But Sotomayor’s opinion subtly emphasized the danger that practice poses for the legitimacy of the court’s decision-making. Noting that the court in this case “resuscitates” an argument “that previously was relegated to a dissent,” Sotomayor contended that the argument “is just as unavailing now that it has captured a majority.”

Finally, one procedural quirk is worth mentioning in a case all about whether death row defendants are “at fault” for the failures of their constitutionally ineffective lawyers. In Ramirez’s case, Arizona did not object to the evidentiary hearing in the district court and did not raise AEDPA’s bar on developing new evidence until the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Ordinarily, an argument not raised in the district court is forfeited. But here, in a footnote, Thomas stated that the Supreme Court has “discretion to forgive any forfeiture” and because deciding the issue would reduce the likelihood of future litigation, “we choose to forgive the State’s forfeiture before the District Court.”

We will no doubt see a series of rulings like this, shielding the state from its errors while making life much more random and unforgiving for people already at a disadvantage economically or socially. As I hinted yesterday, authoritarians don't accept dissent of any kind, no matter how obviously stupid their own positions. Thomas wants to live in the world of Inspector Javert and Brazil. So, clearly, do the other four Republicans on the Supreme Court, and for some reason in this case, the Chief Justice.

We're in for a decade or so of really bad judicial outcomes. Let's hope we can get the pendulum swinging the other way soon.

Theocratic rumblings in America

Two stories that bear connecting. First: the Southern Baptist Convention found in an internal investigation that its leaders had covered up sexual assaults and other bad behavior throughout the hierarchy:

The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, by far. It is the nation’s most powerful and influential evangelical denomination, by far. Its 14 million members help define the culture and ethos of American evangelicalism.

Last June delegates, called “messengers,” to the SBC’s annual convention responded to proliferating reports of inadequate or corrupt responses to sex-abuse allegations by voting overwhelmingly to commission an external review of their own leaders. The executive committee hired a firm called Guidepost to conduct the investigation.

The report is a calamity. My friend Russell Moore, a former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called it an “apocalypse.” The report says that “for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists” contacted its executive committee “to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff.”

Page after grim page reveals crushing scandal after crushing scandal. One abuse survivor, a woman named Christa Brown, said that an executive-committee member turned his back to her when she addressed the committee in 2007. Another member allegedly chortled at her.

I highlight reports of abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in one of its largest Christian camps, in one of its largest Christian universities, and in its most prominent apologetics ministry because it is past time to recognize that the culture of American evangelicalism is broken at a fundamental level. How many times must evangelicals watch powerful institutions promote and protect sexual predators before we acknowledge the obvious crisis?

Meanwhile, these same religionists have slowly but surely imposed their (need I bother to say hypocritical?) version of morality on the majority of Americans who disagree with it, culminating, we all expect, in the reversal of a secular view of abortion that has been law for 49 years:

In deciding Roe, the court made its commitment to secularism explicit. It had to. The question of when human life began and the exact status of a fetus were essentially religious questions. Different religious groups took divergent positions on abortion. Taking a stance within the dispute would involve the court in a religious debate, which it was loath to do because such a decision would violate the separation of church and state that it had earlier proclaimed.

[C]onservatives...became aggressively hostile to the ideal of secular legislation and to the notion that the state has any role in protecting the individual from religious groups. In recent years, the conservatives on the court have used the notion of religious freedom to carve out larger and larger institutions in American life — including for-profit corporations — that are able to make religious determinations limiting the choices of others. In doing so, they have helped unleash the religious authority that the court tried to contain in the 1960s and early 1970s.

With this history before us, the next steps may be easier to see. The invalidation of Roe, and of women’s right to an abortion, is not really an end but a beginning. Just as the court’s original decision in Roe v. Wade represented the apotheosis of a secular order through the privatization of religious sentiment, the court’s coming decision to overturn Roe represents a straightforward attack on the American secular ideal. It will probably be the first of many developments, as the wall of separation crumbles and as conservative religious authority floods American life.

You don't need a Ph.D. in psychology to understand why, either. The Christianist mindset is authoritarian, teaching that there is only one correct answer to any question. I'm not even sure that the abortion "debate" really matters to Christianist leaders except that they don't want anyone to challenge the authority they believe comes to them from their imaginary sky friend.

The end of Roe may wake up a few more people to the creeping Christianism coming from the Right, but maybe not. The revanchists will lose, but it may take a long time.

Texas: where the 1860s meets the 1960s?

Today's head-scratcher comes from Loving County, Texas, population 57, where state authorities have arrested the county judge for—wait for it—cattle rustling:

Judge Skeet Jones, 71, the top elected official since 2007 in the least populated county in the continental United States, is facing three felony counts of livestock theft and one count of engaging in criminal activity, accused of gathering up and selling stray cattle, authorities said.

Officials with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the lead agency on the case, offered few specifics about the alleged crime. Commissioned through the Texas Department of Public Safety, the association has “special rangers” —  certified peace officers — who investigate livestock theft and other agriculture crimes. 

Jeremy Fuchs, a spokesman for the association, said the yearlong investigation is ongoing and more charges are possible.

Skeet Jones has gotten into trouble before, but nothing like this. In 2016, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct determined Jones failed to follow the law by charging steep fees — about $600 to $750 — for reducing tickets including speeding and marijuana possession down to parking tickets.

The judge denied any involvement in negotiations over tickets and told the commission he just approved the plea deals presented to him. He was issued a public warning and ordered to take 10 hours of additional education.

Read the whole story. Texas just ain't like most places.

Spring, Summer, Spring, Summer, who knows

This week's temperatures tell a story of incoherence and frustration: Monday, 26°C; Tuesday, 16°C; yesterday, 14°C; today (so far), 27°C. And this is after a record high of 33°C just a week ago—and a low just above 10°C Tuesday morning.

So while I'm wearing out the tracks on my window sashes, I'll have these items to read while my house either cools down or warms up:

And finally, Ian Bogost feels elated that cryptocurrencies have crashed, particularly because he doesn't own any.

Margaret Atwood on the Alito draft opinion

Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale in the 1980s, when the establishment of a theocracy in 21st-century Massachusetts seemed like science fiction. Today, she worries she might only have gotten the location wrong:

Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

For instance: It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.

Let’s look at the First Amendment. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The writers of the Constitution, being well aware of the murderous religious wars that had torn Europe apart ever since the rise of Protestantism, wished to avoid that particular death trap.

t ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.

If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?

I sure don't. Why do Republicans?

Just one or two stories today

Sheesh:

And finally, when I left for San Francisco on Saturday morning, it was 10°C and sunny. Here we are about 76 hours later and it's 30°C. We really don't have spring or fall here some years.

Monday morning round-up

According to my Garmin, I got almost 18 hours of sleep the past two nights, but also according to my Garmin (and my groggy head), few of those hours made a difference. I take some of the blame for that, but on the other hand, someday I want to stay in a hotel room where I can control when the air conditioner turns on and off.

Anyway, while I slept fitfully, these stories passed through my inbox:

And finally, good news for the Brews & Choos Project: Lagunitas plans to re-open their taproom later this year.

More Dobbs reactions

A day and a half after the unprecedented leak of Justice Alito's (R) draft opinion in Dobbs v Jackson, everyone and her dog has a reaction piece:

  • David Von Drehle in the Post warns that Alito's arguments in Dobbs, if accepted as the final majority opinion, would imperil many other rights based on privacy law: "[S]hould Alito’s draft opinion be affirmed by the court’s majority, there will be little to prevent states from enacting limits [on contraception] if they wish. Women will have only as much guaranteed autonomy over their childbearing as they had in 1868. Alito’s draft recognizes the rights of an hour-old zygote, but not of a 12-year-old impregnated by a rapist."
  • Jennifer Rubin concurs, saying the Court's "religion-driven mission" puts other settled law like Griswold v Connecticut and Lawrence v Texas in the crosshairs: "At its core, this Supreme Court’s right-wing majority seems eager to cast aside the restraints of precedent, making good on their supporters’ agenda rooted in Christian nationalism. In assuming life begins at conception (thereby giving the states unfettered leeway to ban abortion), Alito and his right-wing colleagues would impose a faith-based regimen shredding a half-century of legal and social change."
  • Josh Marshall calls bullshit on Alito's long-professed "originalism:" "Alito recognizes that there are interpretive frameworks that address new issues not explicitly referenced in the constitution. That’s in this decision. But he keeps coming back to “history and tradition” as what really seems like a separate basis of authority. Basically old school values. And lots of rights won’t make that cut."
  • Alex Shephard calls bullshit on Republicans trying to blame the leak for the Court's loss of legitimacy when, really, the activist Republican justices killed it: "There is a long tradition in conservative circles of finding every opportunity to claim victimhood. ... [But] the court’s legitimacy problems can, frankly be traced back to Bush v. Gore, if not earlier, when five Republican-appointed justices decided a presidential election based on their own partisan affiliations; this paved the way for President George W. Bush to appoint Samuel Alito."
  • Law professor and former Federal prosecutor Joyce Vance concurs, saying "Reversing Roe, particularly in the manner Alito does, condescending, patronizing, forcing an end to women’s full participation as equals in society, will forever change the belief that the court is above politics and the public’s confidence in the Court."
  • Adam Liptak of the Times agrees, hinting that Alito or one of his clerks might have leaked the draft as away of pressuring Justices Kavanaugh (R) or Gorsuch (R) to stay in the majority.
  • George Will, fresh from his local dispensary, says the end of Roe gives everyone a chance to start over. Everyone, I suppose, except the women whose lives will be ruined or lost because of unwanted or unsafe pregnancies.
  • Stephen Colbert Tweets, "I can’t believe how gullible Susan Collins is. But Susan Collins can." But Eric Garland reports on some aspects of Collins' history that paint a much worse picture of the Senator.
  • Julia Ioffe reminds us that five of six of the Republican justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

But, hey, guys? Please keep covering the other stories of the day. Like, for example, the corruption of Justice Thomas (R) and his wife.

Do not do these things, UK edition

Two surprising stories out of the UK involving public figures who behaved badly and got caught. First, former tennis star Boris Becker will spend 30 months in jail for hiding assets from the UK bankruptcy court:

The former tennis star had faced a jail sentence of up to 28 years under the Insolvency Act. He was found guilty of four charges by a jury at Southwark crown court earlier this month but acquitted of further 20 counts relating to his 2017 bankruptcy.

Once nicknamed Britain’s favourite German – the 54-year-old once joked he was “top of a short list” – the six-time grand slam winner was worth about £38m in his heyday in prize money and sponsorship deals.

Also today, Conservative MP Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Devonshire) turned himself in to the Commons standards committee after admitting he watched pornography in the House of Commons:

Rumours about the identity of the MP had been rife in Westminster since it emerged earlier this week that a female Conservative minister had reported seeing a colleague watching pornography on his phone in the Commons – an account corroborated by another MP.

Before Parish’s name emerged, several Conservative MPs, including Nickie Aiken and Simon Hoare, had called on the unnamed MP accused of watching pornography to resign, rather than risk others being wrongly named.

Guys, what the hell. Just don't.

Sure Happy It's Thursday vol. 2,694

Some odd stories, some scary stories:

  • Microsoft has released a report on Russia's ongoing cyber attacks against Ukraine.
  • Contra David Ignatius, military policy experts Dr Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds call Russia's invasion of Ukraine "the death throes of imperial delusion" and warn that Putin will likely escalate the conflict rather than face humiliation.
  • Russia historian Tom Nichols puts all of this together and worries about World War III—"not the rhetorical World War III loosely talked about now, but the real thing, including the deaths of hundreds of millions."
  • The Saudi Royal Family finally returned a Boeing 747-8 to the manufacturer after it had sat on the apron in Basel, Switzerland, for 10 years. The plane has 42 hours on it but may have to be scrapped.
  • In other B747 news, Boeing admitted to $1.1 billion in cost overruns for the four planes the Air Force ordered to carry the President. Boeing will eat the costs after making a deal with the XPOTUS for a fixed-price contract. The Air Force should receive the planes in 2026.
  • George Will thinks we should amend the Constitution to prohibit people who have served as US Senators from becoming President. He argues that too many senators use their office to run for president. But since World War II, all but one former senator who became president came from the Democratic Party (Biden, Obama, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, Truman), so I'm not sure it would pass the States even if it didn't also have to pass the Senate.

Finally, DuPage County officials have demolished a partially-completed mansion that sat vacant for 10 years, to the eternal sadness of its owner.