We rethink the week with Stephen Pimpare, Professor at the University of New Hampshire and a nationally recognized expert on poverty, homelessness, and U.S. social policy; Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University; Dean Spiliotis, Civic Scholar and Presidential Scholar at Southern New Hampshire University; and Ron Abramson, immigration attorney at Shaheen and Gordon.
We discuss the Supreme Court’s decision on the midnight before Thanksgiving striking down New York Gov. Cuomo’s restrictions on large indoor gatherings as they applied to churches and synagogues. NY’s restrictions were recently established in order to protect public health in the wake of the enormous spike in COVID-19 illnesses and deaths. In a 5-4 ruling from which Chief Justice Roberts dissented (!), the Court held that the public health restrictions imposed too much of a burden on people’s constitutional right to freely exercise their religion when they wanted to.
Some commentators saw this as the first indication of the Court’s new lineup along ideological lines: Barrett adds a fifth very conservative vote, removing Roberts as the “swing” vote who determines the outcomes of high-profile cases. Other observers think that the legal implications of this midnight ruling was more of a political statement, a warning to Pres-elect Biden that, even if he is able to persuade the Senate to enact any progressive (i.e., non-“centrist”) laws, the Court will strike them down. No longer will Roberts be able to save the ACA.
We remark on the stridency of Justice Alito’s dissent – and its alarmist diatribes against what he calls slanted news. This is not the careful legal reasoning of which he is capable. Should we read anything into his focus on scoring political victories rather than legal reasoning? Does this signal a return to the 1930’s when the Supreme Court cut the legs out from under FDR’s New Deal by declaring that the government does not have the authority to take many of the actions that it has been undertaking in the 88 years since then?
We also discuss Pres. Trump’s agenda for his final weeks in the White House. It appears he plans to leave office only after burning down as much of the federal government’s institutions as he can. How many ancient means of execution will the United States reinstate into our system of “justice”? How many pardons will allow conspirators against democracy to walk free? How many more Americans will die from COVID-19? How many asylum-seekers – children and adults – will be deported back to countries where their lives are in grave danger? Whoever is masterminding all of Trump’s hateful plans, it must be someone who is quite knowledgeable about how to utilize the powers of the administrative state.