But apparently "Court Wars" is going to be a very big show -- even bigger than "Dance Wars". Why? Because the very future of democracy in America may depend upon the outcome of "Court Wars". You can't get bigger than that!
Ryan Seacreast, eat your heart out. I gots the first scoop!
At the monthly meeting of the Berkeley-Albany Bar Association this week, held at the La Rose Bistro (across the street from the Marine recruiting station -- my guilty pleasure. I LOVE the Marines. Sorry, Code Pink, but they really are an excellent group), we were served broiled salmon, artichoke hearts, the best creme brule I've ever tasted (not that I've tasted all that much but still....) and treated to attorney James Broznahan's annual report on the doings of the U.S. Supreme Court. I hope I got his quotes right -- I was writing as fast as I could -- but here's what I think he told all those attorneys and me:
"One major campaign issue that is not being mentioned that much this year is that whoever becomes our next president will be in a position to appoint one or more new Supreme Court justices." And this is a VERY big deal.
"Currently," attorney Broznahan continued, "there are four justices on the court who you might call legal realists. And the other five are more interested in legal procedure. And of the 60 cases that the Supreme Court heard this year, the vote has usually been five to four -- but sometimes Justice Kennedy voted with one group and sometimes he voted with the other. I bet he gets taken out to lunch a lot. The court is fractured right now and so Kennedy has a lot of power." And, hopefully, some salmon and creme brule as well!
"The most interesting cases decided by the court this year dealt with Guantanamo directives, the Washington DC ban on hand guns, the voter ID requirement and sentencing guidelines. The new voter ID can be a hardship on people who cannot afford to travel 30 miles to a DMV to get an ID card. And the sentencing guidelines now involve a presumption of reasonableness -- that a judge must consider the guidelines but can proceed in a manner he or she considers appropriate. Justice Roberts liked that one."
"In a case where a corporation gave money to a pro-life group, it was ruled that corporations can pay for ads on political subjects and that donation limitations only apply to the candidates themselves." Now there's an interesting "Court War" result. We now have the right to be politically brainwashed by the big-money guys as long as they don't mention a specific name.
"In another case, an agnostic group objected to faith-based funding being allowed but not agnostic-based funding. The agnostic group lost because of their lack of standing." Government still cannot establish religion -- but apparently it's now okay to fund it.
"Another case involved the search of a vehicle by law enforcement officers wherein a driver was seized because of his passenger. The proceduralists favored this one because they generally tend to vote in support of government agencies. And also, in another case, it was ruled that the police can now ram your car -- but only with probable cause."
Then there was the hilarious case of the naked couple. "The police came through the door with guns drawn and lined a naked couple against the wall for 20 minutes. But it was the wrong house and the couple was of a different race than the suspects." Apparently the court ruled that the police were not guilty even though it took them 20 minutes to sort out that the naked couple were of the wrong race. Apparently 20 minutes is an admissible time to allow police officers to get their brains in gear. The "Court Wars" are on!
The next case involved whether or not it is admissible for your lawyer to represent you via speaker phone. "How many of you, if you were being sentenced, would want your lawyer to actually be there?" asked Broznahan. "But in the age of electronics, speaker-phones are okay. Even in a homicide conviction."
Here's another important procedural question. "Is it fair to ask the jury if they believe in the death penalty when they are trying a capital case? Some jurors really really like the death penalty." So will they be unbiased? That's for them to know and us to find out. "And what about lawyers who fail to investigate their client's case? Or what about mental incompetence? And race issues? You can consider race if you narrowly tailor it. The votes here were generally four to five. The same old same old."
Then there was a hearing on the Congressional act challenging partial-birth abortion. This focused on the centrality of choice. "When Congress passes a bill that effects all sorts of people nation-wide in all kinds of ways, it's a hard decision to make." Mr. Broznahan also talked about the standing of individual states regarding the EPA. "Massachusetts as a state has standing because a lot of people live there." Good. I just got an e-mail from my friend Jim that said the polar icecaps are melting at an alarming rate and global warming is something we all need to take seriously NOW.
And then there was the case of someone who was discriminated against at a job from the day they were hired but did not quit at that time, yet is now claiming that the statute of limitations clock did not start ticking back at the time of the first incident. But I didn't get to hear how that one turned out because I was being served the creme brule at that point and got majorly distracted.
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