How far right will Trump’s nominee move the Supreme Court?

first_img With both sides wary of tampering, a government professor tries to game the game on what tactics could follow a close result Harvard community reflects on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazing, tireless fighter for rights Related President Donald Trump plans to name a Supreme Court justice this week to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg from a list of 44 nominees. He has said that he will choose a woman and wants to fill the vacancy before the November election. Court observers speculate that he will choose from five contenders: Judge Bridget Bade (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit), Judge Amy Coney Barrett (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit), Judge Barbara Lagoa (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit), Judge Joan Larsen (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit), and Kate Todd, deputy assistant and deputy counsel to the president. All of the candidates lean much farther right than the liberal Ginsburg, which means the current 5-4 conservative edge on the court would become a powerful 6‒3 majority. How far right could the court move? Really far, says Maya Sen ’00, A.M ’11, Ph.D.’12, a political scientist at Harvard Kennedy School who studies political ideology in the legal profession and the judiciary. Sen and colleagues Adam Bonica (Stanford), Adam Chilton (University of Chicago), and Kyle Rozema (Washington University in St. Louis) analyzed the 44 names on Trump’s list and found that whoever is chosen will be much more conservative than the average American. The Gazette spoke with Sen about the effects this nomination will have on the court’s balance.Q&AMaya SenGAZETTE: Given that the Federalist Society assembled this list, whomever Trump selects will be ideologically conservative. But you and your colleagues have determined that these candidates are not only more conservative than the average American and many major Republican politicians, they’re more conservative than the majority of other conservative judges. Can you explain?SEN: We take this methodology that’s been developed for calculating people’s political preferences, basically their ideology, and we model that as a function of their campaign contributions. The logic is that if I donate money to my senator, Elizabeth Warren, and my House representative, Katherine Clark, both fairly liberal-leaning members of the Massachusetts congressional contingent, you would be able to triangulate my ideology and back out that I’m liberal-leaning also. Because if I was conservative, I wouldn’t be donating money to Elizabeth Warren. The reason why it’s really nice for judges is because the standard measures for estimating ideology don’t really work for judges. Judges tend to sit by themselves, or they sit in small groups of three, and so you can’t use the standard techniques. The standard measure for comparing congressional candidates or congressional representatives or senators in terms of ideology is to look at who they vote with.So we used this campaign finance method to look at the donations made to or by the people on Donald Trump’s short list. We have millions and millions of contributions, not just by them, but by ordinary people from across the political spectrum. The data set is around 100 million people. Thirty-eight of [the 44] had been active political contributors or people had donated to them. There was one notable exception to that: Amy Coney Barrett. She does not have any financial political activity. She’s never received and never made any [political] donations. That might be part of a long-term strategy for appearing to be above the political fray. So we’re looking at other ways to get at her ideology. We’re still working on that.The chart plots the distribution of campaign finance (CF) scores of potential nominees. A score below -1 indicates a person is more liberal than about 16 percent of the population, with a score above +1 indicating they are more conservative than about 16 percent of the population. The chart also includes federal circuit court judges as of 2018, illustrating that compared to the judges who are right of center, 83 percent of Trump’s list of potential nominees are in the top half of those conservative judges. Graphic courtesy of Maya SenGAZETTE: Like former Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, J.D. ’86, there is no long paper trail of judicial opinions by Coney Barrett, to easily quantify her views, as she spent most of her career in academia. But she did clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, has expressed views on issues that are reliably conservative, and has the approval of the Federalist Society.SEN: She’s conservative enough. Is she as conservative as Clarence Thomas or is she more like Samuel Alito? I don’t know, but she’s conservative to the point where she’d be a very reliable voting member of the conservative supermajority.GAZETTE: Trump has stated he intends to appoint a woman to the bench. If it is Coney Barrett or Judge Barbara Lagoa, what does adding another conservative justice do to the ideological parity of the court?SEN: [Chief Justice] John Roberts ’76, J.D. ’79, was the swing vote [last term]. Given that Justice Anthony Kennedy, L.L.B. ’61, had retired and he was the previous swing, the swing moved to the next conservative person on the scale. Everyone knew [Roberts] would be the pivotal person and that’s what happened. He was in the 5‒4 majority across all of the blockbuster cases. Now what happens is that a person who was a reliable liberal has passed away, and that means that Justice Ginsburg is going to be replaced with someone who is more conservative than Justice Roberts. Every one of the 44 is more conservative than Roberts and almost certainly than the next most conservative two people, [Justices Brett] Kavanaugh and [Neil] Gorsuch, J.D. ’91. People are disagreeing about who the next swing [vote] will be, Kavanaugh or Gorsuch. I think it’s going to be Gorsuch. [But either way,] these are two incredibly conservative men. The shift is going to be significant.,GAZETTE: Why is the judiciary’s rightward drift happening? Is it simply the volume of federal vacancies a Republican president and Republican Senate majority have been able to fill since 2017?SEN: I think it is a combination of things. One is undoubtedly the very deft strategizing by Senate Republicans to maintain vacancies during the last part of the Obama administration. There was a concerted effort to keep as many seats open and to stall as long as possible with the hopes that a Republican would win the White House in 2016. There were all these vacancies ready for Trump.With Trump, I think he hasn’t been given a wide latitude with his judicial appointments. His administration is working closely with the Federalist Society. He’s been advised by Leonard Leo, head of the Federalist Society. It’s a legitimate network with a deep bench of very talented, very smart people who have this goal dating back to the mid-1980s. This is what they’ve been working for. You can see, all of these efforts, all of this infrastructure they put in place. This is their moment. I’m not a member of the Federalist Society, but you have to hand it to them. From a strategic, raw political perspective, they just outmaneuvered the Democrats.GAZETTE: Many liberals and even some moderates view an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court as a negative. Is there an ideal ideological balance the court should maintain?SEN: That’s a really hard question. There are many reasons why that’s a hard question, but one of them is that scholars [and] lay observers of the courts, we don’t even agree on what the “ideal” is. Is the ideal for the court to be representative? That’s one possible ideal. I think Democrats would say is it a progressive court that protects the rights of minorities? That’s one ideal. Republicans would say are these non-activist judges who respect the Constitution in its original meaning? That’s another ideal. If we’re thinking about how representative the court is of ordinary Americans, this is a pretty sharp shift to the right. This would put the court ideologically out of step with average Americans. This would make the court much more representative probably of the Republican Party. So if we want the court to be representative, this is not a step in the right direction. With the Roberts court last year, with Roberts as the swing [vote], they were reaching pretty moderate decisions. At this moment, the court is kind of in sync with public opinion. But what I expect will happen is it will move sharply to the right. The conservative voting bloc is much more emboldened, or it will be. That’s going to lag a little bit — the court being out of step with public opinion. We’re not going to see the real ramifications of that for another year. It’ll take maybe three decisions for the court to walk back the moderate reputation it earned last term. How to change an election The life and legacy of RBG Possible bellwethers: Turnout, Florida, and voters 65 and older Pollster looks at how pandemic, loss of RBG may affect election GAZETTE: Short of another vacancy, what factors could shift the court ideologically in the other direction?SEN: Expanding the court under a Biden administration would increase the number of justices — I’ve heard anything from two to nine or something. I don’t think there’s a clear frontrunner in terms of a plan. My sense is that this is something that people who are more ideologically to the far left are supportive of. My reading of the politics of it is that moderates like [Democratic presidential nominee Joe] Biden and [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein and [Sen. Joe] Manchin are not really supportive of it. It really is a nuclear option. The one that’s the most politically viable is term limits because there are reasons why Republicans might find that appealing; and there are reasons why Democrats would find that appealing. So it seems like there’s more common support for term limits. For Republicans, it’s attractive because you don’t get these [judges] who drift toward the liberal side over time, which is something they’re very worried about. You don’t get the Earl Warrens. For Democrats, you don’t get people who refuse to retire.GAZETTE: What effect does a Supreme Court that’s out of step ideologically with the electorate have on democracy?SEN: We have some inklings based on decisions that the Roberts court has rendered on voting rights, and we know the conservative bloc is less supportive of expansive voting rights. They are more tolerant of partisan gerrymandering; they were willing to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. So the expectation is that this is not a court that is going to be friendly to voting rights. And so, the real concern that people who operate at the intersection of judicial politics and electoral politics have is that this is a court that could potentially undermine electoral and democratic systems in the United States and make it harder for people to vote than it is currently. If you have that, it just gets harder and harder to vote, and districts become more and more gerrymandered, and so that just entrenches a certain party in power. And in this case, that would be the Republican Party. That’s the worry. Once you undermine the way that our elected officials are elected, it’s really tough to bounce back from that. You have to consistently rely on these huge margins of victory to regain some semblance of representation. And that’s really hard.This interview has been edited for clarity and length.last_img read more

Read More »

US News ranks Vermont Law School as best in nation

first_imgUS News & World Report again has ranked Vermont Law School’s environmental law program as the best in the nation. The 2011 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools appears on USNews.com on Thursday, April 15, and on newsstands on Tuesday, April 27.“I’m gratified at this recognition of the depth and breadth of our environmental curriculum, clinic and institutes,” said Associate Professor Marc Mihaly, director of the school’s Environmental Law Center (ELC). “Our success reflects the dedication of our environmental faculty and our wonderful community of students who over the years have populated key legal and policy positions in government, non-profits, law firms and corporations with a strong positive environmental direction.”Vermont Law School has placed first 13 times since the U.S. News environmental specialty rankings began in 1991, including the past two consecutive years, and has never placed lower than second. To develop its specialty rankings, U.S. News asked legal educators to identify the top programs.The ELC offers the largest and deepest selection of environmental law courses in the nation. The multidisciplinary program in law, policy, science and ethics attracts law and graduate students, lawyers, government officials, teachers, scientists and citizen activists. Since its creation in 1978, the ELC has trained people to be environmental leaders in government, nonprofits, corporations and private practice — locally, nationally, and internationally.The ELC administers the Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree program for lawyers and non-lawyers and the Master of Laws (LLM) in Environmental Law, a post-Juris Doctor degree for experienced attorneys who seek to specialize.Vermont Law School offers clinical, research and experiential environmental programs through the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, the Institute for Energy and the Environment, the Land Use Institute, the Environmental Tax Policy Institute, the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, and the Environmental Semester in Washington.The ELC’s Summer Session participants learn the legal and scientific underpinnings of environmental policy and explore major environmental issues with national experts in a collaborative setting. The Summer Session offers a broad curriculum, a Visiting Distinguished Environmental Scholars program and a lecture series that features summer faculty members, distinguished summer scholars and environmental summer media fellows speaking about current issues in their fields.“We’re very pleased that Vermont Law School has retained its number-one environmental ranking,” said Dean Jeff Shields. “The rankings also show that we do very well in other important areas of comparison, including our 13.5 student/faculty ratio and our 95.2% employment rate at nine months after graduation.”##Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, is the nation’s top- ranked environmental law school, according to U.S. News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum that emphasizes public service, a Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) degree for lawyers and nonlawyers, and two post-JD degrees, the Master of Laws (LLM)  in Environmental Law and the LLM in American Legal Studies (for international students). The school also features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center and the South Royalton Legal Clinic. For more information, visit www.vermontlaw.edu(link is external).Source: Vermont Law School, South Royalton. 4.15.2010last_img read more

Read More »

Does High-Potency Marijuana Do More Damage To The Brain?

first_imgForbes.com 28 November 2015There’s been a long and heated debate about whether marijuana actually triggers long-term changes in a person, both neurologically and psychologically. Some research has found that pot is linked to psychotic symptoms, and it’s certainly been linked to schizophrenia across multiple studies. However, it’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem, since it can be difficult to tell which is the pre-existing “condition,” the pot smoking or the psychological/psychotic symptoms. Now, a new study from King’s College London finds that smoking skunk, a high-potency variety of pot, is linked to changes in the white matter connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. And this seems to be true whether a smoker experiences psychosis or not.Skunk has higher levels of the psychoactive compound Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than “regular” pot, and has become much more prevalent in recent years, as people seek out more potent versions of the drug.Keep up with family issues in NZ. Receive our weekly emails direct to your Inbox.The researchers scanned the brains of 56 people who had sought treatment for a first episode of psychosis, and 43 healthy controls. The team looked at the density in the brain’s corpus callosum, the vast network of white matter tracks that extend from neurons in one hemisphere to cells in the other. Damage to the white matter connections means less efficient communication between brain cells, which itself can be linked to cognitive problems.It turned out that there some significant links between how often a person smoked and how likely they were to have changes in their white matter: People who smoked skunk more often had a greater likelihood of damage their white matter than people who smoked less frequently or who smoked lower-potency version. And using skunk was linked to white matter damage regardless of whether or not psychotic symptoms were reported.“We found that frequent use of high potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibres in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not,” said author Paola Dazzan. “This reflects a sliding scale where the more cannabis you smoke and the higher the potency, the worse the damage will be.”http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/11/28/does-high-potency-marijuana-damage-the-brain/last_img read more

Read More »

Stop the Bickering Now: It Can Do No One Any Good

first_imgEver since Mr. Christopher Neyor published his Open Letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf last week, there has been a torrent (flood, violent flow) of accusations and counter accusations among government officials and even sponsored by the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.We think this is most unfortunate, for it is tantamount to “washing our dirty clothes” in public, which is totally unnecessary.  Only people in slums, who have no washing facilities within their homes, do that—and most do so in the back, not the front yard.But here we are—Mr. Neyor and the government itself, spilling it all out there, on the front pages of the newspapers, and on the airwaves, too!Whom is this hurting? Not Mr. Neyor, who has already, by his Open Letter, opened himself up to a barrage of revelations, criticisms and attacks, true or untrue; not President Sirleaf, who has already reacted in a somewhat restrained fashion—only because she was approached for her side of the story.  No, it is hurting Liberia and her government. We say that because here we had critical negotiations between two sovereign governments, Kuwait and Liberia, having taken place, only see some of these exposed in public—and not simply that, but exposed in a vicious and acrimonious manner.Question: When will we ever be able to get the Kuwaitis to sit with us again in any negotiations for any reason?  But doing what we have done, we have created in the minds of many governments and international institutions serious apprehensions about how serious, sensible, mature and considerate we are when dealing with development partners.Let us return to Mr. Neyor’s Open Letter and reflect on what the Daily Observer and other parts of the Liberian media have been arguing about the importance of transparency in government.We have constantly frowned upon shady deals in government circles, of many GOL Ministries and Agencies of not coming clean to the media and the public, yea the Liberian people, about what government is doing. This seems to have been going on from the very beginning of the operations of this most vital sector, petroleum and the company that manages it, the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL).  That is why it was possible, in the very beginning, for one Nigerian businessman to walk away with US$250 million without investing a cent in Liberia.  All he did was to buy one of the oil blocks, then resell it to Chevron and walk away with that staggering amount, made off of Liberia’s resources, without the Liberian people knowing anything about it.  The President has had to higher several persons to head both the National Oil Company itself and its Board of Directors.  After she removed Dr. Foday Kromah she appointed Mr. Neyor and after him Dr. Randolph McClain. As for the Board, it was first headed, under Ellen, by Mr. Clemenceau Urey, who was summarily removed to install her son Robert Sirleaf.  That appointment was greeted with an avalanche of local and international criticism, but she remained stoic about it until she could no longer withstand it, and replaced him with her Legal Advisor, Counselor Seward M. Cooper.It seems that even up to this day the public has little knowledge of the workings of NOCAL.  This newspaper has reliably learned that there is still very serious speculation about exactly WHO is running NOCAL, even as we know that Dr. McClain is still its President and Counselor Cooper its Board Chair.  Is there, as is being talked about behind the scenes, an unseen hand calling the shots at NOCAL?We have indeed heard at least one name, but for legal considerations, we dare not mention it.Here again we reassert the need for transparency and accountability in government, to save the President herself and her government from the exact same situation that gave rise to Chris Neyor’s Open Letter.Here again we are confronted with stark reality of the Biblical dictum: “The truth shall make you free.”Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more

Read More »