Rosalie Abella: An attack on the independence of a court anywhere is an attack on all courts

As one would expect, eloquent and pertinent, including her comments on the Canadian approach to integration:

It was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 that brought the Supreme Court of Canada – and judicial independence – to the public’s attention, and introduced it to a uniquely Canadian justice vision, a vision that took the status quo as the beginning of the conversation, not the answer. The Charter both represented and created shared and unifying national values. The judges on the Supreme Court of Canada in the eighties, when the Charter was first enacted were bold and fearless. So much so that as a result of their leadership, one of Canada’s leading exports today is her justice system, its rights jurisprudence and the independent stature of its judiciary.

Not surprisingly, our constitutionalization of rights was not without controversy. If, as Isaiah Berlin once observed, there’s no pearl without some irritation in the oyster, by the nineties there were those who saw the Charter as a whole pearl necklace. As for the judges, they understood that controversy was inevitable, but they also understood that one person’s controversy may be another person’s remedy. So they embraced controversy and forged ahead.

And out of the ashes of controversy, the Supreme Court developed a robust new justice consensus for Canada. Where for others pluralism and diversity are fragmenting magnets, for Canada they are unifying. Where for others assimilation is the social goal, for us it represents the inequitable obliteration of the identities that define us. Where for others treating everyone the same is the dominant governing principle, for us it takes its place alongside the principle that treating everyone the same can result in ignoring the differences that need to be respected if we are to be a truly inclusive society.

Integration based on difference, equality based on inclusion despite difference and compassion based on respect and fairness: These are the principles that now form the moral core of Canadian national values, the values that have made us the most successful practitioners of multiculturalism in the world, and the values that make our national justice context democratically vibrant and principled.

All this came from the Supreme Court, all this came to be understood by the public as being properly within the domain of the Supreme Court and, most notably, all this was, on the whole, respected and accepted by the legislatures. Criticisms and questions were of course raised, but usually with civility. And the Court’s integrity was never seriously publicly questioned. We have, in other words, been very lucky … so far.

What have I learned about judicial independence from Canada’s experience? I learned that democracy is strengthened in direct proportion to the strength of rights protection and an independent judiciary, and that injustice is strengthened in direct proportion to their absence. A Supreme Court must be independent because it is the final adjudicator of which contested values in a society should triumph. In a polarized society, it is especially crucial to have an institution whose only mandate is to protect the rule of law.

It is the media’s job to gather and disseminate the information we need to participate in the public conversations that lead to deciding whom to elect – or defeat; it is the legislature’s job to take the public’s pulse and decide which of its opinions to implement as public policy; and it is the Court’s job to decide how best to protect democracy’s core values, regardless of public opinion. Only Courts are not entitled to abandon their commitment to those core values – human rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and protection of woman and minorities, among others. Those are the values a Supreme Court has in its tool kit, and those are the values it must protect as it grapples with some of society’s most complex issues, such as the relationship between state power, rights and public safety; the relationship between minority rights and majoritarian expectations; or the relationship between religious demands and secular beliefs. These are the kinds of challenges that attract intense public scrutiny, and they are the kinds of issues that cannot be decided – or be seen to be decided – without a fiercely independent judiciary. They are also the kinds of decisions that define a nation’s values and, in defining its values, define not only its identity, but also its soul.

Many countries around the world are having existential crises over their national identities. They have made Faustian bargains, selling their democratic souls in exchange for populist approval. Their humanity has been the victim. So have their minorities. So have human rights. This, to me, is unconscionable.

I was born in 1946 in a German displaced-person’s camp to Holocaust survivors right after the Second World War. That was the devastating war that inspired the nations of the world to unite in democratic solidarity and commit themselves to the promotion and protection of values designed to prevent a repetition of the war’s unimaginable human-rights abuses. That’s why we had the Nuremberg Trials, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Yet here we are in 2018, seven decades later, watching that wonderful democratic consensus fragment all over the world, shattered by polarizing insensitivity; an unhealthy tolerance for intolerance; a cavalier indifference to equality; a deliberate amnesia about the instruments and values of democracy that are no less crucial than elections; and a shocking disrespect for the borders between power and its independent adjudicators, like the courts, who are made to choose between independence, ideological compliance, and survival.

Israel is having its own existential crisis and, with respect, the humanity of its soul is at risk unless the country understands that it cannot survive as the vibrant and complicated democracy that bloomed out of the desert 70 years ago without fiercely protecting the independence of its 70-year-old Supreme Court.

What is putting this at risk? The deliberate attempts to undermine public confidence in the Court’s integrity; the unforgivable sacrificing of the Court’s international reputation on the altar of partisanship; the hyperbolic rhetoric of hate that greets unpopular decisions; the menacing volley of simplistic pejorative labels, like “unpatriotic,” that too often replace mature debate; the demeaning of human rights by trivializing it as a weakness of the “left,” whatever that means, instead of recognizing that human rights is essential to the health of the whole political spectrum. All this is corrosive not only of the Israeli judiciary’s independence, but of Israel’s democracy.

Why is this any of my business? Because an attack on the independence of a court anywhere is an attack on all courts. It is not only my business as a judge, it is my business as a citizen of the world, a world I grew up thinking would be based on a commitment to human rights. But I am not the judge who matters. Israel’s most important judge is history, and history’s judgment is based not only on a country’s survival, but on its character and the values it represents and promotes.

The Israeli Supreme Court is the most precious jewel in the democratic crown Israel put on in 1948. Tampering with its independence and legitimacy is tampering with its integrity, and tampering with its integrity is tampering with Israel’s soul. That would break the hearts not only of judges all over the world who have looked to the Israeli Supreme Court for guidance and inspiration for the last 70 years, but the hearts of everyone all over the world who cherishes democracy.

Source: Rosalie Abella: An attack on the independence of a court anywhere is an attack on all courts

How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment – The New York Times

Good long read and analysis:

On the final day of the Supreme Court term last week, Justice Elena Kagan sounded an alarm.

The court’s five conservative members, citing the First Amendment, had just dealt public unions a devastating blow. The day before, the same majority had used the First Amendment to reject a California lawrequiring religiously oriented “crisis pregnancy centers” to provide women with information about abortion.

Conservatives, said Justice Kagan, who is part of the court’s four-member liberal wing, were “weaponizing the First Amendment.”

The two decisions were the latest in a stunning run of victories for a conservative agenda that has increasingly been built on the foundation of free speech. Conservative groups, borrowing and building on arguments developed by liberals, have used the First Amendment to justify unlimited campaign spending, discrimination against gay couples and attacks on the regulation of tobacco, pharmaceuticals and guns.

“The right, which had for years been hostile to and very nervous about a strong First Amendment, has rediscovered it,” said Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University.

The Citizens United campaign finance case, for instance, was decided on free-speech grounds, with the five-justice conservative majority ruling that the First Amendment protects unlimited campaign spending by corporations. The government, the majority said, has no business regulating political speech.

The dissenters responded that the First Amendment did not require allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace and corrupt democracy.

“The libertarian position has become dominant on the right on First Amendment issues,” said Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the Cato Institute. “It simply means that we should be skeptical of government attempts to regulate speech. That used to be an uncontroversial and nonideological point. What’s now being called the libertarian position on speech was in the 1960s the liberal position on speech.”

And an increasingly conservative judiciary has been more than a little receptive to this argument. A new analysis prepared for The New York Times found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been far more likely to embrace free-speech arguments concerning conservative speech than liberal speech. That is a sharp break from earlier eras.

As a result, liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.

“The left was once not just on board but leading in supporting the broadest First Amendment protections,” said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights. “Now the progressive community is at least skeptical and sometimes distraught at the level of First Amendment protection which is being afforded in cases brought by litigants on the right.”

Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict.

Take pornography and street protests. Liberals were once largely united in fighting to protect sexually explicit materials from government censorship. Now many on the left see pornography as an assault on women’s rights.

In 1977, many liberals supported the right of the American Nazi Party to march among Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Ill. Far fewer supported the free-speech rights of the white nationalists who marched last year in Charlottesville, Va.

There was a certain naïveté in how liberals used to approach free speech, said Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

“Because so many free-speech claims of the 1950s and 1960s involved anti-obscenity claims, or civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests, it was easy for the left to sympathize with the speakers or believe that speech in general was harmless,” he said. “But the claim that speech was harmless or causally inert was never true, even if it has taken recent events to convince the left of that. The question, then, is why the left ever believed otherwise.”

Some liberals now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo.

“When I was younger, I had more of the standard liberal view of civil liberties,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a law professor at Georgetown. “And I’ve gradually changed my mind about it. What I have come to see is that it’s a mistake to think of free speech as an effective means to accomplish a more just society.”

To the contrary, free speech reinforces and amplifies injustice, Catharine A. MacKinnon, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in “The Free Speech Century,” a collection of essays to be published this year.

“Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful,” she wrote. “Legally, what was, toward the beginning of the 20th century, a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections.”

Changing Interpretations

In the great First Amendment cases in the middle of the 20th century, few conservatives spoke up for the protection of political dissenters, including communists and civil rights leaders, comedians using vulgar language on the airwaves or artists exploring sexuality in novels and on film.

In 1971, Robert H. Bork, then a prominent conservative law professor and later a federal judge and Supreme Court nominee, wrote that the First Amendment should be interpreted narrowly in a law-review article that remains one of the most-cited of all time.

“Constitutional protection should be accorded only to speech that is explicitly political,” he wrote. “There is no basis for judicial intervention to protect any other form of expression, be it scientific, literary or that variety of expression we call obscene or pornographic.”

But a transformative ruling by the Supreme Court five years later began to change that thinking. The case, a challenge to a state law that banned advertising the prices of prescription drugs, was filed by Public Citizen, a consumer rights group founded by Ralph Nader. The group argued that the law hurt consumers, and helped persuade the court, in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, to protect advertising and other commercial speech.

The only dissent in the decision came from Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court’s most conservative member.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a former dean of Stanford Law School, wrote that it did not take long for corporations to see the opportunities presented by the decision.

Conservatives in Charge, the Supreme Court Moved Right

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s last Supreme Court term contained hints of his retirement and foreshadowed a lasting rightward shift.

“While the case was litigated by consumer protection advocates,” she wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “corporate speakers soon became the principal beneficiaries of subsequent rulings that, for example, struck down restrictions on including alcohol content on beer can labels, limitations on outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and rules governing how compounded drugs may be advertised.”

That trend has continued, with businesses mounting First Amendment challenges to gun control laws, securities regulations, country-of-origin labels, graphic cigarette warnings and limits on off-label drug marketing.

“I was a bit queasy about it because I had the sense that we were unleashing something, but nowhere near what happened,” Mr. Nader said. “It was one of the biggest boomerangs in judicial cases ever.”

“I couldn’t be Merlin,” he added. “We never thought the judiciary would be as conservative or corporate. This was an expansion that was not preordained by doctrine. It was preordained by the political philosophies of judges.”

Not all of the liberal scholars and lawyers who helped create modern First Amendment law are disappointed. Martin Redish, a law professor at Northwestern University, who wrote a seminal 1971 article proposing First Amendment protection for commercial speech, said he was pleased with the Roberts court’s decisions.

“Its most important contributions are in the commercial speech and corporate speech areas,” he said. “It’s a workmanlike, common sense approach.”

Liberals also played a key role in creating modern campaign finance law in Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that struck down limits on political spending by individuals and was the basis for Citizens United, the 2010 decision that did away with similar limits for corporations and unions.

One plaintiff was Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, Democrat of Minnesota, who had challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 presidential primaries — from the left. Another was the American Civil Liberties Union’s New York affiliate.

Professor Neuborne, a former A.C.L.U. lawyer, said he now regrets the role he played in winning the case. “I signed the brief in Buckley,” he said. “I’m going to spend long amounts of time in purgatory.”

To Professor Seidman, cases like these were part of what he describes as a right-wing takeover of the First Amendment since the liberal victories in the years Chief Justice Earl Warren led the Supreme Court.

“With the receding of Warren court liberalism, free-speech law took a sharp right turn,” Professor Seidman wrote in a new article to be published in the Columbia Law Review. “Instead of providing a shield for the powerless, the First Amendment became a sword used by people at the apex of the American hierarchy of power. Among its victims: proponents of campaign finance reform, opponents of cigarette addiction, the L.B.G.T.Q. community, labor unions, animal rights advocates, environmentalists, targets of hate speech and abortion providers.”

The title of the article asked, “Can Free Speech Be Progressive?”

“The answer,” the article said, “is no.”

Shifting Right

The right turn has been even more pronounced under Chief Justice Roberts.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a larger share of First Amendment cases concerning conservative speech than earlier courts had, according to the study prepared for The Times. And it has ruled in favor of conservative speech at a higher rate than liberal speech as compared to earlier courts.

The court’s docket reflects something new and distinctive about the Roberts court, according to the study, which was conducted by Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis; Andrew D. Martin, a political scientist at the University of Michigan and the dean of its College of Literature, Science and the Arts; and Kevin Quinn, a political scientist at the University of Michigan.

“The Roberts court — more than any modern court — has trained its sights on speech promoting conservative values,” the study found. “Only the current court has resolved a higher fraction of disputes challenging the suppression of conservative rather than liberal expression.”

The court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953 to 1969 was almost exclusively concerned with cases concerning liberal speech. Of its 60 free-expression cases, only five, or about 8 percent, challenged the suppression of conservative speech.

The proportion of challenges to restrictions on conservative speech has steadily increased. It rose to 22 percent in the court led by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger from 1969 to 1986; to 42 percent in the court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist from 1986 to 2005; and to 65 percent in the Roberts court.

The Roberts court does more than hear a larger proportion of cases concerning conservative expression. It is also far more likely than earlier courts to rule for conservative speech than for liberal speech. The result, the study found, has been “a fundamental transformation of the court’s free-expression agenda.”

In past decades, broad coalitions of justices have often been receptive to First Amendment arguments. The court has protected videos of animal cruelty, hateful protests at military funerals, violent video games and lies about military awards, often by lopsided margins.

But last week’s two First Amendment blockbusters were decided by 5-to-4 votes, with the conservatives in the majority ruling in favor of conservative plaintiffs.

On Tuesday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that requiring health clinics opposed to abortion to tell women how to obtain the procedure violated the clinics’ free-speech rights. In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that was a misuse of First Amendment principles.

“Using the First Amendment to strike down economic and social laws that legislatures long would have thought themselves free to enact will, for the American public, obscure, not clarify, the true value of protecting freedom of speech,” Justice Breyer wrote.

On Wednesday, in announcing the decision on public unions, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the court was applying settled and neutral First Amendment principles to protect workers from being forced to say things at odds with their beliefs. He suggested that the decision on public unions should have been unanimous.

“Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned,” he wrote. “Suppose, for example, that the State of Illinois required all residents to sign a document expressing support for a particular set of positions on controversial public issues — say, the platform of one of the major political parties. No one, we trust, would seriously argue that the First Amendment permits this.”

In response, Justice Kagan said the court’s conservatives had found a dangerous tool, “turning the First Amendment into a sword.” The United States, she said, should brace itself.

“Speech is everywhere — a part of every human activity (employment, health care, securities trading, you name it),” she wrote. “For that reason, almost all economic and regulatory policy affects or touches speech. So the majority’s road runs long. And at every stop are black-robed rulers overriding citizens’ choices.”

via How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment – The New York Times