“It isn’t in poor taste, and it isn’t political opportunism—it’s the goddamn point.”
That’s what Jon Pavlovitz, a pastor from North Carolina, writes regarding the importance of talking about the recently-announced cancer diagnosis of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)—which he calls “tragic” and “horrific”—in the midst of a raging national debate over healthcare.
On Thursday, McCain’s doctors confirmed the 80-year-old senator and former presidential nominee had been diagnosed with an aggressive and malignant form of brain cancer. In the wake of the news there was an outpouring of support and well-wishes from across the political spectrum aimed at the senator and his family. Continue reading →
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is denied entry to a room where the draft Affordable Care Act repeal and replace bill was rumored to be hidden. (Photo: Sarah Kliff/Vox)
Amid reports that House Republicans are keeping their draft healthcare legislation in a secret location, Congressional lawmakers on Thursday convened an actual search party to find the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement bill.
Republican Sen. Paul Rand (Ky.) was the first to raise alarm when he tweeted: Continue reading →
A protest sign at the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017. (Photo: Larissa Puro/flickr/cc)
A leaked draft of a House bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was published Friday by Politico, and it reveals that Republicans are moving towards slashing subsidies and ending the Medicaid expansion—moves that are vastly out of step with the opinions of the American public.
The draft (pdf) reveals that Republicans are hoping to “take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020,” per Politico‘s Paul Demko. Continue reading →
This is a Mirena IUD, a form of long-lasting reversible birth control. Photo: Sarahmirk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
As uncertainty looms for millions of women about the future of birth control access under the new Trump administration and Congress, patients are speaking out, and states are stepping up.
Congress’s promise to eliminate the Affordable Care Act would wipe out the mandate that insurance providers fully cover birth control. However, family planning advocates are mobilizing patients to contact their representatives, and a handful of states are working to guarantee birth control coverage regardless of what will happen to the ACA. Continue reading →
‘The question is, will the Court sanction the use of religion to discriminate?’ wonders an American Civil Liberties Union legal expert. (Photo: Planned Parenthood/Twitter)
The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on Wednesday in Zubik v. Burwell, a reproductive rights case with high stakes and implications “far beyond the realm of reproductive healthcare,” as ProPublica observed.
In a case reminiscent of Hobby Lobby’s successful suit that permitted the for-profit corporation to refuse its employees healthcare coverage for birth control, in Zubik v. Burwell religious organizations argue that allowing their female employees to access birth control—even birth control provided by a third party—violates their religious rights. Continue reading →
In her iconic rendition of “Proud Mary,” Tina Turner begins with a sultry hiss:
Sometimes we like to do things nice and easy. But we never like to do things completely nice and easy, because sometimes we like to do things nice…and rough!
The same may be said when it comes to analyzing public survey data about the Supreme Court (to strengthen the metaphor, you could envision this law professor at his keyboard in a sequined cocktail dress, but I don’t recommend it).
There are certain “easy” things one can say about the numbers, and I will turn to them first. Then there are deeper implications, which is where the going gets rough, and I will discuss those second.
First, the easy bit.
Democrats and Republicans take turns yelling
The Pew Research Center has been conducting surveys on the Supreme Court for over 30 years. Their most recent survey from 2015 shows that 48 percent of the public holds a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, as compared to 43 percent, who report a negative opinion.
Pew reports a recent decline in public approval, which it attributes to a sharp drop in support from conservatives after the Supreme Court’s decisions in the same-sex marriage and Obamacare cases.
But before you conservatives get too hot and bothered, note this: as recently as 2010, the shoe was on the other foot, when declining public support for the Supreme Court was accelerated by liberals, who then viewed the court less favorably than conservatives.
None of this is especially surprising.
First, 70 percent of us, according to Pew, think that politics influences the choices justices make. And social science data corroborate the public’s view, by showing a strong correlation between a justice’s ideological predilections and the decisions he or she makes.
Second, 56 percent believe that that the justices “should consider what most Americans think” when they decide cases.
It’s true that canons of judicial ethics direct judges not to be influenced by “public clamor” when deciding cases. And indeed many college-educated folk share this view.
But when a significant segment of the public thinks that the justices make political choices and that the public’s political preferences should influence those choices, it follows that the public will view the court more or less favorably depending on whether the court implements the public’s political preferences.
All of which may have little to do with the legal questions the court is deciding.
For example, whether the public thought favorably of the Supreme Court after its decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act case may have more to do with whether the public liked Obamacare than whether it thought the legislation exceeded Congress’s constitutional authority to regulate commerce or raise taxes.
And so, Republicans and Democrats take turns yelling at the court, depending on whose ox the court has gored lately.
So far, so easy.
But here is where the sledding gets rougher.
Long-term loss in popular support
Over the past 30 years, the Pew numbers show that favorable views of the Supreme Court have declined from 64 percent in 1985 to 48 percent in 2015, while unfavorable opinions have increased from 28 percent to 43 percent.
It’s not as simple as saying that the Supreme Court has gotten too liberal or too conservative, because liberals and conservatives have both contributed to the long, slow decline in popular support for the Supreme Court.
Part of the answer may be that the public is simply fed up with the federal government generally, which includes the Supreme Court for reasons having nothing to do with the court specifically.
But something more is at work here, which has politicized the court in new and different ways. Just check out this political cartoon where a tree that has lost its leaves reveals twigs spelling out the faults of each of the government’s three branches. “Incompetence” is the legislative branch’s problem and “secrecy” the executive’s.
And the judiciary’s? “Politics.” But what does that mean?
The impact of the partisan divide
It is not just that the court or its justices have acquired an ideological bent – we’ve known that for a long time, and political scientists Greg Caldeira and James Gibson have shown that the public does not second-guess the court’s legitimacy on that basis.
To obstruct (someone, especially a candidate for public office) through systematic defamation or vilification.
The new politics of judicial appointments have transformed judicial selection into an ideological battleground that gets amplified in the public debate.
The traditional media now explain Supreme Court decisions with reference to the court’s ideological voting blocs; cable news stations such as Fox and CNBC report on the Supreme Court from decidedly partisan perspectives; while a new breed of citizen journalists offer a critique of the courts in a host of online venues that are unconstrained by the norms of traditional journalism.
At the same time, legislative oversight of such seemingly benign subjects as court practice, procedure, structure, jurisdiction and budgets have become more and more politically charged. For example, with the court’s ruling on Obamacare impending, ideologically aligned interest groups clamored for the disqualification of both Justices Kagan and Thomas.
The public’s confidence in the courts does not turn on pretending that sterile interpretations of “law” are all that matter to justices or that ideology plays no part in the choices justices make.
But the public does expect judges to be fair and to take law seriously. When people start to think that judges are nothing more than political hacks in robes, trouble follows.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Caldeira and Gibson have found that the court’s legitimacy suffers when Supreme Court appointments proceedings devolve into partisan warfare, in which each side accuses the other of appointing ideological extremists. This creates the perception that the judiciary is peopled with zealots who are indifferent to law and justice.
I don’t mean to suggest that the court itself shouldn’t bear some of the responsibility for declining public support. But it is hard for the public to feel good about its Supreme Court in a partisan climate this polarized.
After Justice Scalia’s death, for example, the Senate preemptively declared the president’s nominee unfit to serve before he or she was even named, on the assumption that working together to find an honorable, politically acceptable replacement was impossible.
Lost in this partisan fecal fest is an important truth: capable, qualified and honorable judges are not unicorns. They exist – and they are no less capable, qualified and honorable, simply because they do not always agree with each other, with us, or with the politicians who appointed them.
If politicians get their way, we would be horrified at what their words would mean.
Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House. Photo by Pete Souza [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Since the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “ObamaCare”) was signed into law in 2010, there has not been a more hated and controversial law as seen by the Republican party in American history. After echoing the words of political fear mongers such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, it did not take long for the Republican held- House to pass attempt after attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act to have it go nowhere in the Senate.
Now, as we watch the race for the 2016 Presidential election heat up, the latest battle cry, as stated by Senator Ted Cruz when announcing his bid in early April; “Imagine a president who will repeal every word of ObamaCare… and reverse every effect of this law…” He later stated in an interview that it was time to “elect a new president who will reverse the course the nation is on under Obama.”
So let’s dare to imagine, just for a moment, what it might look like to repeal every word and reverse every effect of the Affordable Care Act. Continue reading →
The great debates raging in our media in regards to the pros and cons of the ACA bring back a memory from decades gone by. An IBEW local union wanted to provide an alternative for its local membership for their dental coverage. The details of coverage and funding were worked out with great care and the general membership was given the ability to opt in to the coverage that would start to be provided 12 months from the start of funding the insurance plan.
When the insurance plan went live 12 months after the funding process started, the members who had signed up started taking advantage of this plan they had so carefully funded on such a great scale that the plan was bankrupt in 9 months.
What happened? Well, thanks to human nature, the membership had held off on using their existing coverage for that year, or waited until they HAD coverage under the new plan, and the amount of claims overwhelmed the coffers of the union dental plan.
The Affordable Care Act WILL see a great amount of claims from people who have not had insurance or have only had major medical coverage before being able to sign up for the insurance provided under the ACA. There will also be a large number of claims from people who had to wait until the pre-existing condition exclusion was lifted in 2014.
The true measure of success will be how many fewer uninsured people visit this country’s Emergency Rooms and how many people who have gone without coverage will now have a better quality of life thanks to their medical conditions being managed and not ignored.
That measure of success will also be debated in coming days, weeks, months and years.
Samuel Clemens (alias Mark Twain) would remind us that figures don’t lie, but liars figure.