Has the Supreme Court Become Dishonest and Untrustworthy? One of Its Members Thinks So.

 Happy Fourth of July weekend, and happy birthday to the United States of America, a wonderful country that, despite its problems, offers so much, including a legal system that insures that laws are followed and everything is fair. But more and more, trust in the most important part of that system, one of the basic foundations on which this great nation rests, is being eroded. The U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to be the final neutral arbiter of what is and what is not legal, but more and more the 5 person conservative majority on the court is undermining trust in the nation’s highest court, and ultimately the very fairness of how America works, by appearing to decide cases based on their personal ideology rather than an objective consideration of the law.


Just Thursday, and to little notice compared to the high profile ruling earlier in the week in the Hobby Lobby case, the court seemed to say that non-profit institutions have the right to impose their religious views on their employees, specifically in this case Christian opposition to contraception and abortion. (Read the ruling itself here.) There is one big and SCARY difference between this ruling and Hobby Lobby, and it raises serious questions about whether the conservative majority is honestly following the law, or dishonestly finding ways to impose their personal ideologies on how America works.

In Hobby Lobby the court said the owners of privately held companies don’t have to pay for insurance coverage for contraception for their workers…since that would violate the religious views and freedom of those owners. But the court respected the religious freedom of workers by providing a way they might still get coverage. The owners of the company just have to fill out some paperwork that says “Our religious views oppose contraception so we don’t want to contribute to insurance that pays for contraception for our workers”, and the company gets out of paying for contraceptive coverage, but the form then helps workers get coverage from the government. This exemption is expressly granted in the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obama Care), as a way to recognize people’s different religious views.

But in Wheaton College v Sylvia Burwell (Wheaton is a Protestant-based school in Illinois. Burwell is Secretary of Health and Human Services), the religious views of the organization, at least when it comes to opposition to contraception, win outright. The court said the organization can opt out of paying for contraception coverage AND that it does NOT have to apply for the exemption that would help workers get coverage from the government. Wheaton feels it has to fight contraception however it can, so signing the form saying “We don’t want to pay” is not enough.

Wheaton's workers can still try to get government coverage, but it’s much harder and involves more bureaucracy, paperwork, and time. So while this ruling fully respects the religious views of the organization, it clearly does not equally respect the views and religious freedom of the female worker.

The ruling is not final. It merely granted an injunction, a freeze on what Wheaton College is required to do while the school argues these fuller issues in a case now making its way up the appeals court system. But the basis of the ruling is clear. At least when it comes to the moral issue of contraception, which Christians oppose because it feels like abortion (even though there is nothing yet to abort), the U.S. Supreme Court says the owners' anti-contraception First Amendment religious views win and the workers First Amendment freedom of religion rights lose.

This is about much more than the fight over contraception, or abortion, or whether you are a conservative or a liberal and like or dislike any of the Court’s specific decisions. This is about the honesty of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and therefore trust in this important institution. The court used one line of thinking in one ruling, and then tossed it out in the next, allowing the majority to move toward more conservative values. Don’t take it from me that this is about the fundamental issue of honesty. Take it from three of the Court’s Justices themselves! In a remarkable and scathing dissent, the three women on the court, Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Ginsburg said:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today,” Sotomayor wrote. “After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position.”

That’s a pretty semantic of saying that the majority in this case (the Wheaton ruling was unsigned, although conservative activist judge Antonin Scalia went out of his way to sign that he ‘concurs”.)  is being dishonest. And that means that there is fair reason not to trust the Supreme Court, which in the end only operates with the trust of the public. And don’t take my word for that either.  Justice Sotomayor wrote that the court’s action, “undermines confidence in this institution.”

This is stunning! A Supreme Court Justice is arguing, in essence, that the public has reason to MISTRUST the ultimate arbiters of what is legal in America. In the context of many decisions that neutral legal scholars have called conservative activist interpretations of the law – granting individual rights to gun ownership, upholding the ‘personhood’ of corporations, overturning parts of the Voters Rights Act -  this recent decision is chilling evidence that the Supreme Court has become so ideological that the majority is not honest enough to be trusted as fair and impartial judges of how America is supposed to work.

This is NOT a critique of this ruling, nor of any specific decision. I am no legal scholar, and recognize that many people like the decisions the court has made while many don’t. But NONE of us should like that the supposedly fair final arbiter of the most contentious issues of the day is taking sides, and acting dishonestly in order to do so. And a majority of Americans feel that way. A survey by Rasmussen found that 61% of the public believes that the Justices rule from their own personal ideological agendas rather than on the facts. 

The Supreme Court is losing the only thing it really has to maintain it’s power, the trust of the American public. No mater what side you’re on, if you are patriotic American, that’s scary. The court that was established by the Founding Fathers was expected to be fair and impartial, and honest. That the people no longer believe it is, and that some of its own members share that view, is truly frightening news for our country on this July Fourth holiday.

           

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

Scroll down to load more…