The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has long shown its conservative biases. Its latest bias: fierce anti-unionism.
Law professors often write articles about the shortcomings of the federal judicial system but never get to the root of the problem. Namely, Supreme Court justices are lawyers.
Lawyers are legalistic, not humanistic. They are narrow-minded. They “follow the law” of yesterday, not modern views. They favor corporations rather than consumers. Lawyers tend to be conservative. You don’t get ahead in the legal business by being liberal.
Most federal judges are rich. In two terms President Reagan appointed 279 judges. The majority had a net worth of $400,000. One fifth were millionaires. Wealthy judges are unlikely to rule for working-class people.
And so it was in the recent Supreme Court ruling, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: a blatant slap at public-sector unions (teachers, police and firefighters).
Here’s how Nation magazine described it: “Friedrichs was thrown together by business-backed anti-union advocacy groups. Their suit was granted by a district court and an appeals court without hearing full evidence and little oral argument.”
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority found an excuse: the First Amendment. It ruled that the amendment forbids forcing public workers to support a union they decline to join, that they cannot be compelled to pay for advocacy they disagree with.
The argument is lame. The non-union workers are getting a free ride, receiving union benefits that they have not paid for. The benefits of paying union dues are enormous: collective bargaining and lobbying for higher pay, shorter hours and better working conditions.
Roberts called the free benefits “really insignificant” and “not posing much of a problem.” That’s easy for a wealthy man to say, a man who got rich by serving as a corporate lawyer.
A proper decision would have been to overturn the lower courts in the interest of fairness and justice. But as the Roberts Court so often does, it manufactures raw political decisions rather than making high-minded judicial ones.
Nibble, nibble, nibble
The Supreme Court keeps nibbling around the death penalty but refuses to abolish, simply quarreling over minor details and ways of execution.
In a recent decision, Hurst v. Florida, the court ruled that Florida did not give jurors a sufficient role in deciding whether defendants should be put to death.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court: “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to uphold a death sentence. A jury’s recommendation is not enough.”
Nor is it enough to “nibble, nibble little mouse,” as Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” phrases it. The evil of capital punishment should end in this sometimes uncivilized America.
Terribly prudish religion
When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani paid a state visit to Italy recently his host, Italian Prime Minister Renzi, prudishly ordered classic nude statutes covered with boxes.
Iran’s state religion is Sharia law (strict Muslim), a religion so backward it insists that great art be shielded. Renzi wanted to avoid embarrassing his host but succeeded in embarrassing the Italian people.
Next stop on Rouhani’s state tour: France. There, the French Prime Minister Hollande would have no such squeamishness: he canceled lunch because Rouhani insisted on a halal menu, which prohibits alcohol.
To paraphrase a wonderful French expression, the wine-drinking French call lunch without wine a day without sunshine.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)