Civil-rights proponents scored an unexpected victory at the Supreme Court yesterday, when the justices, in a 5-4 ruling, shielded the Fair Housing Act. For more details, check out our report from yesterday, but the key detail is that the high court found that those facing housing discrimination can challenge laws and policies, even if they're not intended to be racially discriminatory.
What matters is the effect, not the stated objective, of a policy.
The New Republic's Rebecca Leber flagged an unfortunate argument from one of the four dissenting justices.
[Yesterday's ruling] upheld the "disparate impact" standard, which allows complainants to show a policy led to unequal results, no matter the original intention.
Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision.... He argued that "disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself." To make his case, Thomas pointed out that minorities sometimes do quite well.
To prove his point, the far-right justice pointed to -- in all seriousness -- professional basketball players.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia threw a bit of a tantrum yesterday in King v. Burwell, outraged that six justices considered legislative intent, legislative history, and context. "[The six-member majority] rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere," Scalia complained. "We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,"
Soon after, as the Washington Postreported, a House Republican announced new legislation to force the high court's justices to use the Affordable Care Act. It's called the "SCOTUScare Act of 2015."
Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) introduced a bill, piggy-backing off Justice Antonin Scalia's sarcasm, that would require all the justices and their clerks to get their health coverage through an Obamacare program as members of Congress and their staffs already do.
"By eliminating their exemption from Obamacare, they will see firsthand what the American people are forced to live with!" Babin said in a statement.
What Babin doesn't like about the ACA is not altogether clear. (If his name sounds at all familiar, the far-right Texan, less than a month into his first term in Congress, announced his belief that President Obama, without a doubt, "deserves impeachment.")
For what it's worth, the Republican freshman wasn't just blowing smoke -- he actually introduced this bill yesterday. The proposal picked up a bill number (H.R.2905), and was quickly endorsed by two co-sponsors: Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.).
It's too soon to say whether the bill will gain any real traction, but either way, there's something oddly perfect about the proposal.
It's very unusual for a sitting governor to be impeached. In fact, over the last century, it's only happened six times, the most recent being former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who's currently serving a 14-year prison sentence.
In Maine, there's a very real possibility that this small club will gain a new member. Consider this powerful editorial published yesterday by the Portland Press Herald.
Sabotaging House Speaker Mark Eves' private career revealed more of the mean-spirited, small-minded revenge politics for which Gov. LePage has become famous. But this time, he may have gone too far.
The Maine House should immediately begin an investigation of the governor, and if no new facts emerge that put his conduct in a positive light, he should be impeached and tried in the state Senate.
That may sound like an extreme reaction, but the governor's conduct takes Maine into new territory.
For those who've followed the far-right governor's strange career, LePage has earned a reputation for buffoonery, offensive antics, and a regressive policy agenda, but this new controversy points in a far more alarming direction.
When the governor tells unfortunate jokes about killing media professionals he doesn't like, it's cringe-worthy. When he's accused of using his office and public resources to punish political rivals, it may well turn out to be impeachment-worthy.
Let's back up and consider what the controversy is all about. Over at Daily Kos, Bruce Bourgoine published a good summary:
In early November 2012, literally just two days after President Obama won a second term with relative ease, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested it was time to bring his party's crusade to repeal the Affordable Care Act to a close. "It's pretty clear that the president was re-elected," the GOP leader said. "Obamacare is the law of the land."
The comments made quite a bit of sense. Republicans had tried to bring down the ACA through the courts, and that failed. Republicans had tried to bring down the law through legislation, and that failed. Republicans had tried to bring down the law at the ballot box, and that failed. Boehner's desire to simply move on was understandable -- he and his party had given it their best shot and came up short.
The Speaker's brief flirtation with reality, we know in hindsight, didn't last, and the GOP's repeal crusade was renewed soon after. Three years later, however, after losing a Supreme Court case they were certain they'd win, maybe now Republicans are prepared to move on and stop trying to take families' benefits away?
Of course not. The conservative Washington Examinerreported yesterday on Boehner's familiar posture.
"Obamacare is fundamentally broken, increasing healthcare costs for millions of Americans. Today's ruling doesn't change that fact," Boehner said. "Republicans will continue to listen to American families and work to protect them from the consequences of Obamacare."
"And we will continue our efforts to repeal the law and replace it with patient-centered solutions that meet the needs of seniors, small business owners, and middle-class families," he said.
As a substantive matter, Boehner's stale talking points are impossible to take seriously. As a political matter, the notion that the Speaker believes the public is clamoring for repeal is demonstrably false.
But the broader takeaway is more important: even now, despite a lengthy series of Republican debacles, despite the painfully obvious ACA successes, despite unambiguous court rulings, the GOP dream of dismantling the American health care system simply will not die.
Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the ever-expanding field of Republican presidential candidates and highlights a peculiar mailer distributed by the Republican National Committee that lists non-candidates among candidates on a fake... watch
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential history, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the Obama administration's Supreme Court victory fits in the context of his presidential legacy and in the scope of the history in establishing American health care. watch
Rachel Maddow plays audio from the arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that could decide the fate of gay marriage in the United States, and discusses speculation about the timing and substance of the ruling. watch
Tonight Rachel highlighted an unusual fundraising mailer sent out by the Republican National Committee in the form of a fake presidential primary ballot. Among the candidates included on the ballot are a lot of people who are not only not running for the Republican nomination, but who have explicitly said as much out loud and on the record.
The corresponding web page at the GOP.com site doesn't give much explanation as to why so many extra people have been added to the faux ballot, but does make it clear that the point is ultimately to raise money.
* South Carolina: "Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church."
* More from South Carolina: "A Post and Courier poll shows the S.C. House is inching toward the majority necessary to the remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. The Senate has already surpassed that support level."
* Action is not limited to the state level: "The National Park Service moved Wednesday to stop sales of the Confederate flag in federal parks, the Loop has learned."
* ISIS: "The militants of the Islamic State carried out two new offensives in northern Syria on Thursday, entering a provincial capital and detonating large bombs in the border town of Kobani, where intensive airstrikes by a United States-led coalition helped Kurdish forces rout the jihadists last year."
* This case can get crazier: "Another employee at the upstate New York prison where two inmates escaped earlier this month has been arrested, officials said Wednesday."
* That was quick: "A Kansas judge on Thursday blocked the state's first-in-the-nation ban on an abortion procedure that opponents refer to as 'dismemberment abortion.'"
* TAA: "The House gave final approval on Thursday to a significant expansion of aid to workers displaced by global competition, sending to President Obama the second half of a trade package that House Democrats had dramatically rejected just two weeks ago."
* Stunning allegations out of Baltimore: "Former Baltimore police officer Michael Wood spoke out on Twitter about the horrifying acts of abuse he saw during his time on the force, reinforcing many of the concerns raised by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the Baltimore Police Department's broader history of brutality."
About an hour after the Supreme Court agreed with him on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to briefly address the ruling. As msnbc's David Taintor reported, the president made clear that the health care reform law is "here to stay."
"The point is, this is not an abstract thing anymore," Obama said in a statement from the White House's Rose Garden. "This is not a set of political talking points. This is reality. We can see how it is working. This law is working exactly as its supposed to. In many ways, this law is working better than we expected it to." [...]
"This was a good day for America," he concluded. "Let's get back to work."
If you watch the video, note the pause between those last two phrases. I got the sense "Let's get back to work" was a phrase that wasn't in the prepared text -- it was, in effect, Obama's way of saying policymakers should move past the cheap shots and pointless charades, and instead engage in some actual, constructive work.
Also note the degree to which the president's remarks seemed understated. Those who expected Obama to spike the football or come out and do mic-drop might have been disappointed -- it was almost as if he assumed consumers would win the case, so there wasn't any point to over-the-top celebration.
I was also struck by the president's emphasis on the real winners today: it's just not his administration that prevailed; it's "a victory for hardworking Americans all across this country whose lives will continue to become more secure in a changing economy because of this law."
Two years ago tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, much to Justice Antonin Scalia's chagrin. Adding to his greatest-hits list, the far-right jurist called the majority's rationale "legalistic argle-bargle."
Today, as my msnbc colleague Irin Carmon reported, Scalia was once again in rare form today in his King v. Burwell dissent.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Writing on their behalf, Scalia accused the majority of acting in bad faith just to save the law. "So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare," Scalia wrote in the dissent. He said Roberts' reasoning was an act of "interpretive jiggery-pokery."
No, seriously. Scalia actually used the phrase "interpretive jiggery-pokery." It's on page 8. Two pages later, he published the phrase "pure applesauce" as a complete sentence.
The justice has been embarrassing himself with increasing frequency, but Scalia's reputation continues to deteriorate further.
The broader point, however, is less about the justice's strange word choice and more about his increasingly twisted approach to the law.
The high-profile cases at the Supreme Court generally get quite a bit of attention, and for good reason. This term, some incredibly important cases either have been decided or they're about to be.
But let's not overlook some of the disputes that have been just outside the spotlight. My msnbc colleague Zack Roth reported today, for example, on a case called Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project -- which in a surprise ruling, turned back an effort to weaken the Fair Housing Act.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday to reject a case that could have significantly weakened the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a landmark civil rights law. The ruling means the law will continue to cover actions in the housing sphere with a discriminatory result -- known as disparate impact -- not just intentional discrimination.
"Recognition of disparate-impact claims is consistent with the FHA's central purpose," Justice Anthony Kennedy, wrote in the court's majority opinion.
The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Note, it was a 5-4 ruling, with Kennedy joined by the court's four center-left justices: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
For those who haven't followed the case, phrases like "disparate impact" might seem a little confusing, but this case was ultimately about the scope of protections against discrimination --the court was asked to consider whether someone discriminated against in housing can sue under the Fair Housing Act, even if the policy in question wasn't intended to be discriminatory.
As SCOTUSblog's Amy Howe noted, in similar cases, federal officials have settled the case out of court rather than let the Supreme Court's conservative majority weaken the Fair Housing Act. But as it turns out, they had five votes anyway.
"[S]ince the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and against the backdrop of disparate-impact liability in nearly every jurisdiction, many cities have become more diverse," Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The FHA must play an important part in avoiding the Kerner Commission's grim prophecy that '[o]ur Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal.' ... The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act's continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society."
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