Tag: SCOTUS

Predicting the Supreme Court

Josh Blackman, my sometimes co-author, who is the president of the Harlan Institute (with which I too am associated) and czar – his title, not mine – of FantasySCOTUS.net, has co-authored a fascinating article that analyzes an information market he created to predict Supreme Court cases.

During the October 2009 Supreme Court term (last year), the 5,000 members of FantasySCOTUS.net made over 11,000 predictions for the 81 cases decided. Based on this data, FantasySCOTUS accurately predicted a majority of the cases and the top-ranked experts predicted over 75% of the cases correctly. FantasySCOTUS even has a Prediction Tracker to provide real-time predictions as to how the Supreme Court will decide.

Josh’s article is an absolute must-read for anyone who follows the Court closely and tries to figure out what “The Nine” will do.  While I myself haven’t had the time to participate in FantasySCOTUS, perhaps I should go there every now and again to be better able to answer (the very common) media questions of how cases turn out.

Credits for Crucifixes. Or: What’s the Matter with Kagan?

Justice Kagan’s dissent yesterday in the Supreme Court ruling upholding Arizona’s education tax credits seems to me so obviously mistaken on both the facts and the law that I feel I must be missing something. I offer my initial analysis briefly below, and if anyone can tell me if/where I’m going wrong, my e-mail address is just a Google away.

First, Kagan and her fellow dissenters express dismay at the putative novelty of the majority’s distinction between tax credits and government spending. But, more than a decade ago, this very same distinction was acknowledged by the Arizona Supreme Court in Kotternman v. Killian, and that AZ Court ruling itself cites a string of precedents from around the country supporting it. Clearly, the majority’s ruling is far from novel, and Kagan and the dissenters should know that.

Next, Kagan claims that the majority’s ruling would preclude taxpayers from suing the government for operating a program that gives tax credits exclusively to one religious group. She claims that taxpayers of other faiths would lack standing. That seems quite wrong. The pivotal issue is that taxpayers would have to show a specific personal harm resulting from the government’s actions in order to have standing. In the case of Arizona’s tax credits, as the majority acknowledged, there is no harm to taxpayers. Everyone is eligible for the credit and credits can be claimed against donations to any type of scholarship organization, of any faith or no faith. By contrast, under Kagan’s straw man example of a credit for the purchase of crucifixes, non-christian  taxpayers would suffer a specific personal harm: they would be denied the right to use the credit to purchase religious symbols of their own faith (or to buy “Who is John Galt?” posters if they happened not to be religious). This harm would be the direct result of government action–specifically, of the government’s decision to favor Christians over members of other faith groups and secular taxpayers.

A program that discriminates based on religion causes harm to taxpayers by virtue of excluding them from participation. That, in turn, is a clear equal protection violation, not to mention a violation of at least two of the three prongs of the First Amendment Lemon Test, and so such taxpayers would not only have standing to sue they would win the suit.

Again, the AZ tax credit program causes no such harm, because anyone, regardless of faith, can participate, and no one is compelled to support any kind of religious education. Why could Kagan and her co-dissenters not see this?

How Do I Overturn Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Tomorrow morning, the United States Supreme Court will hear one of the most important education cases in a generation: the appeal of a 9th Circuit ruling that would cripple or end Arizona’s k-12 scholarship tax credit program.

As you’d expect, commentators aren’t sure how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule: it may decide to overturn the 9th Circuit on the merits of the case, or it could overturn the 9th Circuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs never had standing to sue in the first place. Heck, there might even be people who think SCOTUS will uphold the lower court’s ruling… can’t actually find anyone who thinks that, but they could be out there… somewhere.

On the merits, the law and evidence are clear. Arizona’s program allows private individuals to donate to non-profit k-12 scholarship organizations and get a tax credit when they do–much as federal tax deductions are available for donations to non-profit charities. Since federal deductions for donations to religious organizations are Constitutional, the same applies to the credits in the AZ case. Respondents (those trying to kill the program) didn’t marshal a serious argument to the contrary. In fact, one of the cases they cite actually eviscerates their own argument, as I noted in Section II (b) of the Cato Institute Winn brief co-written by Ilya Shapiro and myself.

The rest of Respondents’ merits arguments are equally ineffectual, not only taking a form (relying on a moving statistical target) that has already been explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court in Zelman and elsewhere, but actually being wrong on the facts as well (see Section IV of the Cato brief linked above).

But while I’ve been exclusively focused on the merits of the case, it seems that the legal experts defending Arizona’s tax credit program have been arguing that the Respondents (originally, the Plaintiffs) never had a right to sue in the first place (“standing”), because they cannot show, in the context of Supreme Court precedents, how they have been harmed.

Both the SCOTUS blog’s reporter and independent experts seem to think the Court will overturn the 9th Circuit on the standing issue before even considering the merits, and I’m confident that the Court will overturn on the merits if it ever gets that far.

If the ruling comes down in either of those ways, modern education tax credit programs will retain their perfect record of never having been overturned by a court–a record not enjoyed by any other private school choice policy. The reason that is so very important is explained in the final section (V) of our Cato brief.

The Next Step for SpeechNow

The plaintiffs in the SpeechNow.org case have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to decide “whether, under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the federal government may require an unincorporated association that makes only independent expenditures to register and report as a political committee.”

You can read all about this important case here.

The Ninth Circuit as a Denial of Service Attack on American Justice

The Supreme Court is expected to decide tomorrow whether to summarily overturn a Ninth Circuit Court ruling, hear an appeal of that ruling, or let the Ninth Circuit’s decision stand. The case involves Arizona’s k-12 scholarship tax credit program that helps families afford private schooling, which the Ninth Circuit found last year to violate the First Amendment.

Before the Ninth Circuit handed down its decision, I predicted that it would rule against the tax credit program, and that it would eventually be overturned by the Supreme Court. The first part of that prediction came to pass, and I still expect the second part to as well. For the reasons why SCOTUS will overturn the Ninth Circuit, see Cato’s brief in the case

Ilya Shapiro (with whom I co-wrote that brief) draws attention today to a great column by George Will in which Will likens the Ninth Circuit to a “stimulus package” for the Supreme Court. It’s a funny analogy, but it’s too benign. It’s more accurate to see the Ninth Circuit as a Denial of Service Attack on American justice. A D.O.S. is a computer attack that prevents Internet surfers from accessing a particular website/server by flooding it with spurious requests. By failing to take Supreme Court precedents seriously, as the Ninth Circuit routinely does, it creates a torrent of ridiculous rulings that demand the Supreme Court’s attention, thereby preventing the nation’s highest court from taking other important cases.

If there is a way for SCOTUS to reprimand the Ninth Circuit for spuriously consuming the nation’s most important legal resources, it would be in the interest of justice for it to do so.

Crocodile Tears? Liberals Lament Lack of Their Own on the Court

An interesting narrative has arisen among some on the left that the nomination of Elena Kagan shows what chumps Democratic presidents are.  That is, not only could President Obama have tapped a stronger “progressive” voice, but he – like President Clinton before him, and unlike Republican presidents – put avoiding political fights ahead of moving the Court left.  Since LBJ, Democrats have opted for a “moderate technocrat” like Stephen Breyer rather than a “lion” like William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall.  (Sonia Sotomayor was good and necessary for identity politics, the argument continues, but, let’s face it, she’s no liberal Scalia.)

Take this opening quote from a New York Times article that came out the day of the nominee’s announcement: “The selection of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the nation’s 112th justice extends a quarter-century pattern in which Republican presidents generally install strong conservatives on the Supreme Court while Democratic presidents pick candidates who often disappoint their liberal base.”  Or Dahlia Lithwick’s op-ed in Slate about how liberal law students are so many lost sheep because their ideological heroes are deemed unconfirmable and therefore not part of the nomination discussion.

Well.  A few things on this: First, even if the argument were true, it’s simply not statistically significant because we’re only talking four Democratic appointments (Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Clinton, Sotomayor and Kagan by Obama; poor Jimmy Carter had none, the same number George W. Bush would have had had he not been re-elected).  Second, if you line up the Republican and Democratic nominees in recent decades, it’s conservatives who are disappointed (need I even mention John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, let alone Earl Warren and Brennan himself, all Republican nominees).  Third, to say that someone like Ginsburg – a push-the-envelope feminist and ACLU lawyer – is a moderate is to center the jurisprudential spectrum around the law faculty lounge.  And fourth, as David Bernstein details, it is people like Richard Epstein – and other Federalist Society regulars like Dan Troy, Miguel Estrada, John Eastman, Frank Easterbrook, Stephen Bainbridge, and Todd Zywicki (as well as Cato’s own Roger Pilon, Randy Barnett, and Ilya Somin) – who would be considered filibusteringly beyond the pale, much more than Lithwick’s vaunted American Constitution Society stalwarts.

In short, if anything it is Republicans who can rightfully be disappointed in their presidents’ nominees – though Kennedy’s seat was of course originally to have been filled by Robert Bork. More unfortunately, it is libertarian law students who can lament that their kind lacks representation on the High Court – though note that the second choice for Kennedy’s seat was Douglas Ginsburg (the last judicial martyr of the drug war).  And so, as the Court remains securely to the left of the American people, just today ratifying radical assertions of federal legislative and judicial power, Elena Kagan is poised to fit right into that jurisprudential “mainstream.”  Good for the left, bad for the Constitution.

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