As we await President Joe Biden’s nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat that Stephen Breyer will vacate this summer, many commentators are saying the nominee will not alter the ideological balance of the court. The 6 to 3 split in favor of the right-wingers will not change. But each new member transforms the dynamics of the court. “The Court changes every time there’s a new face. The dynamics are different” when a new justice joins the court; “that is the way the system works,” Justice Harry Blackmun told Professor Philippa Strum in a 1993 interview. Biden has a golden opportunity to replace Breyer with a progressive justice — one who could help lay the foundation for a political shift in the future.
An examination of Breyer’s voting record in the areas of criminal justice and civil rights reveals that he has been out of step with his fellow liberals on the court.
Breyer cast a smaller percentage of liberal votes than any other Democratic appointee with whom he served on the court (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), according to a January 24, 2022, report by professors Lee Epstein, Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn.
This divide between Breyer and his liberal colleagues is particularly apparent in cases involving defendants’ rights and civil rights litigation.
On January 24, 2022, the British High Court of Justice allowed WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange to ask the U.K. Supreme Court to hear his appeal of the extradition order. In December 2021, the High Court had overturned U.K. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January 2021 ruling denying the U.S. request for extradition.
Following a three-week evidentiary hearing, Baraitser concluded that if extradited to the United States for trial, Assange was very likely to commit suicide because of his mental state and the harsh conditions of confinement under which he would be held.
During that hearing, the Biden administration didn’t provide the judge with any assurances that Assange would not be held in near-isolation in U.S. prisons. It was only after Baraitser denied extradition that the U.S. government came forward with “assurances” that Assange wouldn’t be subject to special administrative measures (SAMs) or be held in the ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. But those so-called assurances contained a loophole. They would be null and void if Assange were to commit a “future act” that “met the test” for the imposition of SAMs.
The late timing of the U.S. assurances precluded Assange’s defense from arguing that they were unreliable. Nevertheless, the High Court accepted the Biden administration’s 11th-hour assurances and ruled that Assange could be extradited to the United States.
January 22 marked one year since the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which the U.S. has refused to sign, became a binding treaty. To commemorate that anniversary and in anticipation of the impending release of the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, Veterans For Peace (VFP), a non-governmental organization that exposes the costs and consequences of militarism and war and seeks peaceful, effective alternatives, issued its own Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
The Pentagon’s 2018 NPR says the United States can use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.” This would allow the U.S. to engage in the “first use” of nuclear weapons. Anti-nuclear activists are pushing Joe Biden to reverse Donald Trump’s policies set forth in the 2018 NPR, including the first-use policy. Moreover, first use of nuclear weapons violates international law. It would also spell disaster for the survival of the planet.
VFP’s 10-page NPR replaces the goal of “full spectrum dominance” over the globe with “full spectrum cooperation.” It calls on the U.S. to implement a verifiable No First Use policy, take nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert and remove the sole authority of the president to launch a nuclear war. VFP urges the United States to begin good faith negotiations with the goal to eliminate all nuclear weapons and take immediate measures to decrease the risk of an accidental nuclear war. It also calls on the U.S. to sign the TPNW.
“The denial of this sacred right [to vote] is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1957. Now, on January 18, 2021 — one day after we celebrated King’s birthday and one year after a mob of right-wing Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election — the Senate is debating voting rights legislation aimed at stopping voter suppression. But the legislation appears doomed to failure.
The right to vote is “preservative of all rights,” the Supreme Court said in 1886 in the case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins. The Constitution mentions the right to vote in five separate places — the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments, each of which empowers Congress to enact “appropriate legislation” to enforce the protected right. Yet right-wingers — enabled by congressional Republicans and reactionary members of the Supreme Court — are mounting a full-court press to prevent marginalized groups from voting.
Despite the fact that we are in the midst of an unprecedented and deadly pandemic with no signs of abating, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court appears unlikely to stop the carnage. The reactionary “justices” seem more inclined to shield corporate profits and red states’ rights than to protect the health and safety of the people.
Scientists have achieved near unanimity that vaccines and masking are effective in preventing COVID infections. Nevertheless, the high court is being asked to block Biden administration rules that would mandate vaccines and/or masking and testing. On January 7, the court heard arguments in two sets of cases that will have widespread impact on the health of millions of people in the United States.
The high court is not considering whether to strike down the mandates but rather whether to stop them from going into effect while the lower courts consider their constitutionality, which could take several months. Meanwhile, untold numbers of people are getting sick and dying.
By Marjorie Cohn and Michael Steven Smith
Chesa Boudin has been serving San Franciscans as their district attorney for nearly two years. He is a leading progressive in what has been called the progressive prosecutors’ movement. Other progressive district attorneys in that small cohort are George Gascon in Los Angeles and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia.
In Berger v. United States, the Supreme Court said that the duty of a prosecutor “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Yet all too many prosecutors are more concerned with winning cases than with doing justice, which includes the protection of constitutional rights.
Boudin campaigned by proposing solutions to the disaster of mass incarceration, one of the leading civil rights issues of our time. He introduced policies of diversion and no cash bail. He put fewer juveniles behind bars. He opposed the death penalty and focused his efforts on helping victims of crimes.
In a patently political decision, the U.K. High Court reversed the British lower court’s denial of extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States on a narrow ground, despite the recent revelations of a CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate him.
Assange was charged by the Trump administration with violation of the Espionage Act for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. He could be sentenced to 175 years in prison if he is tried and convicted in the United States. But instead of dismissing Trump’s indictment, the Biden administration continues to pursue the case against Assange, notwithstanding the grave threats his prosecution poses to investigative and national security journalism.
For the first time in U.S. history, the Supreme Court is poised to take away a fundamental right from more than half of the people in the country. The Court’s December 1 oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization confirmed what progressives have feared since former President Donald Trump added three radical right-wingers to the court: The six conservatives on the high court are about to gut the fundamental right to abortion.
“If this court renounces the liberty interest recognized in Roe [v. Wade] and reaffirmed in [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey, it would be an unprecedented contraction of individual rights and a stark departure from principles of stare decisis [duty to follow precedent],” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the Supreme Court.
Yet “Justices” Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch appear ready to do just that. And while Chief Justice John Roberts may not be prepared to squarely overturn Roe and Casey, he signaled his readiness to uphold the Mississippi law that outlaws abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, essentially gutting the right of women to choose abortion.
The testimony has concluded in the Georgia murder trial of the three white men who targeted Ahmaud Arbery because he was Black and then killed him. Evidence presented at trial transported us back to the days of the infamous slave patrols. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are on trial for killing Arbery on February 23, 2020, during a purported “citizen’s arrest.”
Racism has infected every aspect of this case — from the defendants’ racial profiling of Arbery, to the 10-week delay in filing charges, to the seating of a nearly all-white jury, to the defendants’ racist statements, to the defense’s attempt to ban Black pastors from attending the trial.
Beginning in 1704, slave patrols empowered every white person to control the movements and activities of every Black person. Citizen’s arrest laws date back to 13th century Europe and were later brought to the British North American colonies. In 1863, Georgia adopted a citizen’s arrest statute to replace the slave patrols with another avenue to vigilante “justice.” The law deputized any white Georgian to seize and detain any Black person on suspicion of being an escaped slave.
In an effort to cut off the financial lifelines of six of the most prominent Palestinian human rights groups, the state of Israel has baselessly designated them as “terrorist” organizations.
On October 22, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that Israel will henceforth officially consider the six groups – Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — as “terrorist organizations,” attempting to link them to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is a leftist Palestinian political party with a military wing.
Israeli leaders have targeted the groups due to their support of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of Israeli war crimes as well as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against the illegal Israeli occupation.
When Israeli officials endeavored to present secret evidence of the supposed “terrorist” affiliations of the six organizations, they were utterly unable to do so. Israel’s action provoked outrage from international human rights experts and observers, who have depicted the move as an attack on human rights defenders and the Palestinian human rights movement.