Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Biggest Winners of Last Week's Supreme Court Decisions

Obama may be taking a victory lap over the final determinations of the U.S. Supreme Court this session, but he wasn't the biggest winner. Obama may have been happy, but in keeping an eye toward 2016, Charles and David Koch took home the ultimate prize. A quick look at each decision, and the impact, with a score from 10 to -10 to track the points the Koch Camp scores with each decision:

Lethal Injection (-1)
In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS ruled that a drug linked to three different botched executions could continue to be used. This didn't favor the Koch Camp, but you can't win them all. Liberals seeking to paint the brothers as pure evil would be surprised (on this and a list of other issues) that there's more agreement than not on criminal justice policies between the two sides. The Kochs have spent millions promoting criminal justice reform - including donations to (GASP!) the ACLU.

The Kochs are much more rational actors than they're given credit for, and disprove of criminal justice as it's practice in America. And while they'd never promote additional services to help the poor, they're opposed to actively punishing them for their socioeconomic status. Sure, they're appalled by the government spending billions to incarcerate people because those prisons are funded via taxes, but they've also been aligning with groups outright opposed to the death penalty.

Do they really care that much about the death penalty itself, or just the system's treatment of minorities committing low-level drug offenses? Hard to say, but the Charles Koch Institute is definitely devoted to reforming the system. Ergo, we rate this a -1, because I've no better score to argue for.

Same Sex Marraige (+7)
This victory is two-fold. The first is that gay marriage initiatives are major wins for Democrats. States putting the issue on the ballot in elections turns out the liberal vote, and colors elections blue. Depriving more States the opportunity to vote on the issue prevents this scenario. Additionally, while Koch Enterprises is headquartered in Kansas, the Kochs are New York City residents. They're not prejudiced people who discriminate based on skin color or sexual orientation.

Health Care Subsidies (+4)
Most people aren't aware of what the ACA decision actually did. The impact was the decision that the  federal government may subsidies to individuals in states that opted not to provide marketplaces for insurance coverage (in those instances, the feds came in and set up insurance exchanges sans state support). There are 6.4 million people in 34 states receiving $1.7 billion monthly who would be effected.

On the surface, the Koch Camp hates this decision. It deprived the country of the opportunity to take a nice bite out of Obamacare and makes future reforms to the law more difficult. However, significant writing has been devoted to the pressure such a result would put on officials in swing districts. The biggest conservative fear of Obamacare was that, once you give someone something, it's hard to take it away. Those receiving healthcare assistance now expect to continue receiving it, and if you don't promise to return, they'll vote for someone who will. The ruling Republicans wanted could have very well precipitated a blue wave that actually strengthened the ACA. This ruling, considering everything, may have been the best outcome.

Pollution Limits (+10)
This was the win no one is talking about. The decision wasn't earth-shattering, but did rule the EPA was failing to properly conduct cost-benefit analysis in setting emissions limits. The EPA was headed down a path of requiring more expensive scrubbers and other technology that significantly impacted the bottom line of polluting industries. Given the portfolio of Koch Industries, the brothers' wallets will be larger in future years as a direct result of this outcome.

Many of the remaining decisions really don't have much impact either way (a la the lethal injection case, although that one was big enough to be mentioned on page one - if for nothing else than Scalia's illogical ramble whence tying the death penalty to homicide rates). Those cases they shouldn't care about are:
  • In Holt v. Hobbs, the court found that Arkansas corrections officials had violated the religious liberty rights of Muslim inmates by forbidding them to grow beards over security concerns. 
  • In Young v. United Parcel Service, the court found that the lower courts had used the wrong standard to determine whether UPS had discriminated against one of its drivers, Peggy Young, who was pregnant. 
  • The court decided in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores that Samantha Elauf was not required to make a specific request for a religious accommodation to wear a hijab when applying for a position at a children’s clothing store owned by the company. 
  • The court decided in Elonis v. United States that prosecutors did not do enough to prove Anthony Elonis’s intent when he published threatening rap lyrics on Facebook directed at his wife. 
  • The court decided in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that Congress was not entitled to order the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested. 
  • The court decided in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans that Texas was free to reject specialty license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag. 
  • The court decided in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., that a town ordinance that places different limits on political, ideological and directional signs violates the First Amendment. 
  • In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, the court decided that plaintiffs suing under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 could prove discrimination using statistics to show that the challenged practice had produced a “disparate impact.” 
Three last cases to mention.

In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the court ruled that voters had the power to strip elected lawmakers of their authority to draw district lines.

In two Alabama cases, the court found that the State Legislature had relied too heavily on race in its 2012 state redistricting by maintaining high concentrations of black voters in some districts.

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the court ruled that states may prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking their supporters for money.

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