Friday, July 4, 2014

Conservative Commentary on the Recent United States Supreme Court Term, Part I

           There were five remarkable cases of interest to conservatives decided by the United States Supreme Court in its latest term, four of which protected liberty and one defended good government.  This Independence Day post is an analysis of each of the first four in the order in which they were announced since May.  I shall analyze the last case in Part II of this series of posts, the case about a religious exemption for closely-held corporations from the insurance mandate that includes abortifacients. 

            I had already posted in April about a case from earlier in the term, The Supreme Court Ruling Expands Freedom of Expression by Striking Down the Overall Cap on Political Contributions,, which was another victory for liberty.  

The Court rules prayer at public meetings of government bodies is constitutional
            A municipality in New York was within its constitutional right to invite local clergy lead prayers at public municipal meetings, even if the prayers were expressly Christian and not non-sectarian, the Court ruled.  It ruled that a government body is not required to recruit non-Christians, such as, in the case in question, from beyond the county, even if many fellow citizens attended a synagogue over the county line. 

            The Court upheld a 1983 ruling that public prayer is part of the historical fabric of America.  It noted private individuals conduct the prayer.  The targets of the prayer are the public officials, not the general public, the Court observed.  The Court determined that public prayer that invokes God help or thanks Him is understood not as an attempt to evangelize anyone, let alone to establish or “endorse” any particular religion, as it does not diminish anyone’s liberty.  Public prayer reminds the officials of the American Creed, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that freedom comes from God, not government.  Even atheists’ freedom of conscience depends upon this belief. 

The Court strikes down President Barack Obama recess appointments as unconstitutional violations of the separation of powers doctrine
            The Court ruled that Obama violated the Constitution by usurping Congress’s role in confirming presidential nominations.  Obama had made “recess” appointments, which Presidents may do when the Congress is in recess, when the Senate was conducting pro forma sessions every three days, arguing they were essentially in recess.  The Court ruled the Senate is the judge of when it is in recess under the Constitution, not the President.  Because the Senate was not in recess, the President had no constitutional authority to make the appointments.

            The question was not particularly liberal or conservative, but of overstepping the bounds of office by the Chief Executive.  There has been encroachment on executive power since the Vietnamese War by the Legislative Branch, particularly in matters of defense, where the President is the Commander in Chief.  The appointments made by Obama, however, were unusually partisan because they were to boards that are required to be filled by appointees of both major political parties.  His appointees tended to be biased to the left to such a degree as to upset the bipartisan balance on those boards, which is why congressional confirmation was necessary for the presidential nominees and why Obama avoided obtaining it.  Obama’s abuse of his recent appointment authority is part of a pattern of overreach, such as declining to enforce certain laws, despite a constitutional requirement that the President take care to execute the laws faithfully, and to issue numerous executive orders that usurp the legislative authority, in violation of the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers.

            As the appointments were invalid, the decisions made by the boards with the votes of the invalid appointees should now also be deemed invalid, as they lacked a quorum.
The Court strikes down abortion clinic protest buffer zones as unconstitutional restrictions on free speech
            Buffer zones outside of abortion clinics unconstitutionally violated the freedom of speech of pro-life protestors, the Court ruled.  The protest buffer zones were targeted against only those individuals who hold a particular opinion – the pro-life opinion, at a time when pro-lifers have their most effective opportunity to express peacefully their political opinions and to counsel women against abortions.  The zones were thus prejudicial against pro-life protestors, who are as free as any other citizen to engage in the freedom of speech on the sidewalk. 

The Court rules home healthcare providers cannot be forced to pay dues to government worker labor unions
            The Court ruled individuals who receive state funds to provide healthcare to family members in their own homes are not employees of the state and thus are not subject to being forced to pay dues for a public sector collective bargaining unit. 

           The plaintiff was a woman in Illinois who received state Medicaid funds for caring for her son at home, which by state law made her an employee of the state.  She was an agent of the state or an independent contractor who did not receive the usual state employee benefits such as tax-free health insurance or a pension, not a state employee, and thus not subject to all the laws regarding employees.  Therefore, there are no issues over which to bargain collectively such as to necessitate the forced payment of union dues.  The Court’s decision was a victory of the freedom of association.  

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