Thursday, June 17, 2021

Last Call For A Supremely Historic Day

First, the good news: in a 7-2 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act by dismissing Texas's challenge to the healthcare law.
The Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act yet again on Thursday, tossing out a Republican lawsuit that sought to overturn former president Barack Obama’s signature legislation.

The 7–2 decision brought together the court’s liberal wing and several of its more conservative members, including the two newest justices confirmed under former president Donald Trump, Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.

The majority concluded that Texas and the other Republican state attorneys general who sued lacked standing to bring the case at all, a ruling that brought the yearslong fight to an end without delving into the substance of the latest challenge to the healthcare law. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion, which was also joined by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

The ACA’s many provisions that transformed the US healthcare system will remain intact — including insurers being blocked from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, regulated individual insurance markets, and an expansion of Medicaid plans to millions of people with low incomes.

To establish standing, a party has to show that they suffer an injury traceable to the issue at hand. The Texas lawsuit centered on the individual mandate portion of Obamacare, a tax on people who decline to purchase health insurance, which did not directly affect state governments at all. The Republican states tried to get around this by arguing that encouraging people to sign up for health insurance causes extra paperwork costs for states as an employer. “Those forms don’t produce themselves,” then–Texas solicitor general Kyle Hawkins argued before the Supreme Court in November.

The court wasn’t having it. During last year’s hearing, Justice Elena Kagan said the Texas argument would “explode” standing doctrine

The Republican states tried to argue that the individual mandate penalty — despite being $0 — increased their financial burden by driving more people to join state medical insurance programs. But the court forcefully rejected that argument.

“Neither logic nor evidence suggests that an unenforceable mandate will cause state residents to enroll in valuable benefits programs that they would otherwise forgo,” says the decision.

The justices ruled that granting standing in a case like this would essentially give the courts a blank check to overturn legislation. “It would threaten to grant unelected judges a general authority to conduct oversight of decisions of the elected branches of Government,” says the ruling.
Texas's argument was simply that the federal government trying to get states to do things was inherently harmful to the states, which is the equivalent of a ten-year-old saying sending them to bedtime causes them irreparable harm and that kids should be allowed to sue to stay up as long as they want. It would have been the end of These United States™ effectively.

Two justices, Alito and Gorsuch, ignored the standing question and agreed with the Texas argument that the entire ACA was rendered unconstitutional in 2017 over the SCOTUS ruling that ended the individual mandate four years ago.  But not even Clarence Thomas bought that argument, neither did Kavanaugh, Barrett, or Roberts.

But in the other major ruling handed down Thursday, the court found unanimously, 9-0, that the city of Philadelphia could not force a Catholic adoption agency to screen same-sex couples as foster care providers.

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that Philadelphia may not bar a Catholic agency that refused to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for six members of the court, said that since the city allowed exceptions to its policies for some other agencies it must also do so in this instance. The Catholic agency, he wrote, “seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

The decision, in the latest clash between anti-discrimination principles and claims of conscience, was a setback for gay rights and further evidence that religious groups almost always prevail in the current court.

Philadelphia stopped placements with the agency, Catholic Social Services, after a 2018 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer described its policy against placing children with same-sex couples. The agency and several foster parents sued the city, saying the decision violated their First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free speech.

Lawyers for the city said the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, No. 19-123, was an easy one. When the government hires independent contractors like the Catholic agency, they said, it acts on its own behalf and can include provisions barring discrimination in its contracts.

Lawyers for the agency responded that it merely wanted to continue work that it had been doing for centuries, adding that no gay couple had ever applied to it. If one had, they said, the couple would have been referred to another agency.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against the agency. The city was entitled to require compliance with its nondiscrimination policies, the count said.

The case was broadly similar to that of a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

In 2018, the Supreme Court refused to decide the central issue in that case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: whether businesses may claim exemptions from anti-discrimination laws on religious grounds. It ruled instead that the baker had been mistreated by members of the state’s civil rights commission who had expressed hostility toward religion.

The foster care agency relied on the Colorado decision, arguing that it too had been subjected to hostility based on anti-religious prejudice. The city responded that the agency was not entitled to rewrite government contracts to eliminate anti-discrimination clauses.
The Roberts Court has made it very clear over the last several years that religious freedom trumps legal equality, and that government entities must always accommodate an organization's religious beliefs to deny services, employment, or recognition on the basis of sexual orientation. It is still a very loud reminder that both federal law and legal precedent still finds LGBTQ people to be permanently second-class citizens if their existence serves to harm the religious beliefs of others.

It's repugnant, but it will not change in my lifetime. It is the "separate, but equal" doctrine for the 21st century.
But Democrats didn't excite people, so we ended up with Trump packing the courts.

No Longer A Householder Name

Indicted former Ohio GOP House Speaker Larry Householder, charged on several federal counts related to bribery involving billions in grift to an energy company SuperPAC slush fund, has finally been expelled from the Ohio state House by a 75-21 vote. All but one Democrat voted to expel him, along with a majority of Republicans.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Ohio House removed Rep. Larry Householder from the chamber, ousting the former leader in a 75-21 vote Wednesday.

After a brilliant political comeback to lead the Ohio House of Representatives, Householder leaves his beloved chamber under the cloud of a federal indictment for the second time.

Householder maintains his innocence: "They say the truth will set you free. I look forward to it."

Householder's now-former colleagues utilized a little-used provision in the Ohio Constitution that allows lawmakers to police their own for disorderly conduct. The last legislator removed in this way was Hamilton County Rep. John P. Slough in 1857 for punching another representative.

Even getting the resolution to the floor for a vote was a monumental effort that eked by with one vote. Ultimately, he was removed by 42 fellow Republicans and 33 Democrats. One Democrat, Rep. Joe Miller of Amherst, and 20 Republicans opposed the resolution.

The expulsion came after months of inaction and Householder steadfastly refusing to resign despite the pleas of top Republicans and Democrats.

"This has been going on long enough," said Rep. Mark Fraizer, R-Newark. "It is time for this to come to a conclusion."

Timeline:The rise and fall of Ohio Rep. Larry Householder

Householder, 62, of Glenford, was arrested last July in connection with the state's largest bribery scheme. Householder is accused of orchestrating a nearly $61 million operation to win control of the Ohio House, pass a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants in northern Ohio and defend that law against a ballot initiative to block it.

Householder has pleaded not guilty to the offense. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
I expect the federal case against Householder will result in conviction, if it's bad enough to be brought during the Trump era, it must have been egregious.  Having said that, let's remember that every single Ohio state House Republican who voted along with Householder to run this billion-dollar bailout scheme was re-elected in 2020. Every single one of them. The voters don't care, and I expect if Householder isn't convicted and jailed before the 2022 primary, he'll be on the ballot and will win.

We'll see how the trial plays out, but I fully expect that Householder will be back in the Ohio state House, and sooner than people think.

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

In something of a major miracle, the US Senate just passed Democratic Sen. Ed Markey's resolution on making Juneteenth a federal public holiday, with avowed racist GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin finally dropping his opposition to the bill.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States
The legislation has gained momentum since the massive Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year and the Democrats' takeover of the White House and Congress. 
But Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blocked the bill in 2020, saying that the day off for federal employees would cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Johnson dropped his objection this week despite his concerns, paving the way for the bill's passage in the Senate. 
"Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate," said Johnson in a statement. "While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter." 
The measure needs to pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden to become law.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas, the end of slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. 
In 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday. In the decades since, every state but South Dakota came to officially commemorate Juneteenth, but only a handful of states observe it as a paid holiday.
I suspect many businesses will treat it much like Dr. King's birthday or the day after Thanksgiving: nice if your employer can give it to you off, but for the most part, it'll be ignored and most of us will be at work that particular day in favor of a "real" holiday like July 4th, or worse, given a choice of one of the two (I totally expect some tech company to announce that you can have your choice of one of the two holidays off in the very near future).

The measure should pass the House, although it won't be unanimous. You can bet the usual suspects will not vote yes, although I do expect the wiser ones will merely abstain.

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