April 2012

  • April 30, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Pop quiz: What is the central constitutional provision at issue in the Supreme Court’s review of the Affordable Care Act? If you said the Commerce Clause, you’re one step ahead of many of the tea partiers who protested outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments.

    Responding to questions from staff at the Constitutional Accountability Center, tea partiers bearing signs that read “Obamacare is unconstitutional” couldn’t name any part of the Constitution that they believe the law violates.

    “Well, I should know better. I should be able to answer that question and I can’t,” said one protester in a video produced by CAC, “Tea Party vs. The Constitution: ObamaCare Edition.”

    “If you read the Constitution, there’s nothing in there about health care,” said another.

    Others, when told that the Commerce Clause is what authorized Congress to pass the law, said the Commerce Clause was “added later” and was not part of the original Constitution.

    And when the interviewer tried to correct them by pointing out that the Commerce Clause is in Article 1, Section 8 of the original Constitution, one protester responded, “There’s no use in arguing about that because I don’t think either of us know for sure.”

    Watch the full video, including facts from experts who know what the Constitution actually says, below:

  • April 27, 2012

    The Senate confirmed Gregg Costa and David Guaderrama to fill judicial emergency vacancies in the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas. “While this process took far too long and there remain too many unfilled judicial vacancies in Texas, this vote represents modest progress,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D-TX). There are still four U.S District Court vacancies in Texas.

    In addition, the Senate approved Brian Wimes for the Eastern and Western districts of Missouri by a vote of 91-1. All three votes were part of the deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans to confirm 14 judges by May 7. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was the sole nay vote.

  • April 27, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For what feels like decades, reporters, pundits, and ideologues, mostly on the right, but some on the left, have lauded Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his wit, pointed oral argument questioning and allegedly brilliant writing. But those plaudits, in light of the justice’s performances during oral argument in cases challenging health care reform and Arizona’s racial profiling law, are wobbly at best, bordering on delusional.

    In reality Scalia increasingly has difficulty, as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently noted, containing his rabid partisanship. It’s unbecoming. During the Affordable Care Act oral argument it appeared, at times, that his only preparation involved reading right-wing blogs railing about the slippery slope to regulations mandating purchases of broccoli and gym memberships. At oral argument in Arizona v. U.S., regarding challenges to several portions of the state’s anti-immigrant law, Scalia “left no doubt from the start that he was a champion of the Arizona crackdown and that he would verbally lacerate anybody who felt otherwise,” Mibank wrote.

    Milbank continued, “Scalia’s tart tongue has been a fixture on the bench for years, but as the justices venture this year into highly political areas such as health-care reform and immigration, the divisive and pugilistic style of the senior associate justice is very much defining the public image of the Roberts Court.”

    And it’s not a flattering image. Not only does Scalia come off as a ringleader of right-wing hacks in robes, he increasingly comes off as clueless or heartless. During the health care oral argument, questions from Scalia and some of the other right-wing justices prompted a string of commentators to question whether the justices understood the health care insurance market.

  • April 27, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Leslie Proll, Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund’s Washington Office


    The current foreclosure crisis constitutes a monumental civil rights issue. Communities of color were targeted for risky mortgage loans, have experienced disproportionately high foreclosure rates, and have been stripped of vast amounts of wealth because of discriminatory lending practices. From 2005 to 2009, median wealth fell by 66 percent among Latino households and 53 percent among African-American households, compared with just 16 percent among white households, largely due to declining home values. From 2009 through 2012, African Americans are projected to lose an estimated $194 billion in housing equity, and Latinos are expected to lose $177 billion.

    Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the destructive effects of the foreclosure crisis on communities of color have yet to be fully realized. They face another devastating blow caused by further discriminatory treatment towards homes and neighborhoods by the very lenders who initiated the foreclosures. 

    The civil rights problems that permeate the foreclosure crisis are unfolding in stages. First, lenders targeted communities of color with subprime and other risky loan products that led to foreclosure. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the largest residential fair lending settlement in history, in which Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that Countrywide Financial discriminated against African-American and Latino borrowers during the housing boom. DOJ found that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and interest rates to 200,000 African-American and Latino borrowers than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered borrowers of color into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans. Countrywide was not an isolated example. Other research has found that African-American and Latino borrowers were much more likely to receive subprime loans than white borrowers, even after controlling for income level or credit risk. 

  • April 27, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Amanda Frost, Professor of Law, American University, Washington College of Law


    Opponents of the health care reform law argue that it takes away their liberty to make choices about health care.  In their brief to the Supreme Court, the twenty-six states challenging the constitutionality of the so-called individual mandate – the provision requiring those who can afford it to purchase health insurance – claim that it undermines “the very liberty that the Constitution was designed to protect.”  But in fact the legal questions before the Court have almost nothing to do with liberty when it comes to health care or health insurance, as the challengers’ own concessions make clear. 

    The states challenging the law do not deny that almost everyone needs health care at some point in their lives, and they even agree that the government can make people pay for health care through health insurance.  They take issue only as to when the government can compel that purchase, arguing that no one can be forced to buy insurance before they need to pay for health care.  The challengers also admit that the federal government could force everyone to pay higher taxes to cover the health care costs of those without insurance.  Nor do they deny that the federal government can require doctors to provide emergency care to those without health insurance, and then to allow those doctors to pass along the costs of that care to the rest of us through higher insurance premiums and taxes – indeed, that is how our system currently operates.  Finally, the challengers acknowledge that the states themselves could pass laws mandating that all their citizens purchase health insurance, as Massachusetts has done. 

    All that is really at stake, then, is whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to require individuals to purchase health insurance before they need to pay for their health care.   That “freedom” seems far from the heady liberty interest that opponents of the law claim this case is all about.