Category Archives: Supreme Court

Corporations Are People, My Friend

That titular comment was made by the silver-spooned Mitt Romney during the run-up to his being trounced by Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential race.  It, and many other silly comments like it, are a lot of the reason why he lost so handily.  Sadly, in this instance, he was kind of right.  The law of the United States is that any use of the words “person” or “whoever” in laws automatically includes corporations.

Much of the precedent has to do with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  I don’t mind laws protecting corporations from governmental interference.  A lot of the Fourteenth Amendment arguments make fairly good sense.  Where I draw the line is the Constitutional protections afforded corporations.  I don’t think it should be the Fourteenth Amendment that protects corporations.  I think it should be law.  What I find especially funny is the most vocal proponents of Constitutional protections for corporations tend to be the same people who also advocate Constitutional Originalism.  Corporations existed back in 1776.  It would have been really easy for the founders to include corporations in the Constitution if they thought it should be applied to them, but the Constitution doesn’t mention corporations.  Funny, that.  Of course, I also find Originalism to be an intellectually bankrupt idea and the personhood dichotomy is just one reason why.

We now have another attempt to expand corporate personhood coming up at the Supreme Court.  The case is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.  The issue is the Obamacare mandate that requires health insurance policies to cover birth control.  The argument is that the mandate violates Hobby Lobby’s right to religious expression under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  All because the owners of Hobby Lobby have a misguided bug up their ass about emergency contraception and how it works.  The RFRA was written in response to a Supreme Court decision that ruled the government is able to pass generally acceptable neutral regulatory laws that happened to curtail a person’s religious expression.  And since corporations are people, the RFRA also applies to corporations.

Think about that for a moment.  The argument is that a for-profit entity that only exists as a piece of paper filed in some clerk’s office can now have a religion and must be allowed to freely express that religion.  If this doesn’t show the perversity of corporate personhood, I don’t know what does.

Keep in mind, Hobby Lobby is not being forced to give emergency contraception to its employees, it is just required to provide insurance that makes it available as part of the insurance policy that they offer.  The moral decision to use emergency contraception rests squarely with the employee.  Hobby Lobby is no more culpable morally than they would be if someone stabbed another person with the crafting scissors they bought at Hobby Lobby.  They could easily just hire people who swear they won’t use emergency contraception.

The biggest issue is where does it stop?  Hobby Lobby’s argument is pretty narrow.  They are only against the emergency contraception birth control options.  The Catholic Church’s is not.  They are against ALL birth control.  Should the mandate not apply to companies run by Catholics?  What about those backwards religions that are against all medical care?  Should all of Obamacare not apply to them?  If Hobby Lobby is successful, the answer is almost assuredly yes.

This is one of those cases that is hard to predict given the current makeup of the Supreme Court.  Normally, I’d say this is an easy 9-0 victory for the Obama administration.  There’s no way that happens with this court.  I still think a fairly easy win is inevitable, though.  Your religious expression forbids you from using emergency contraception.  Your religious expression demands you proclaim the evils of emergency contraception.  Your religious expression gives you no rights to prevent others from making up their own minds.

Why, Supreme Court, Do You Make Me Agree With Antonin Scalia?

Another Fourth Amendment loss for citizens handed down by the Supreme Court.  The case is Maryland v. King (pdf).

The gist of the case is Alonzo King was arrested for an offense.  During the arrest, they took a cheek swab without consent to get DNA evidence from him.  He was never convicted of the offense for which he was arrested.  The DNA evidence they collected, though, brought to light that he was a suspect in a rape case.  The court, in a 5-4 vote, concluded that it’s perfectly fine for police to collect DNA evidence via cheek swab because it’s a trivial violation of a person’s privacy.

Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Roberts, Alito, Breyer, and Thomas.  Scalia wrote the dissent joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  And what a forceful dissent it is.  A peek:

The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence. That prohibition is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment. Whenever this Court has allowed a suspicionless search, it has insisted upon a justifying motive apart from the investigation of crime.

It is obvious that no such noninvestigative motive exists in this case. The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous. And the Court’s comparison of Maryland’s DNA searches to other techniques, such as fingerprinting, can seem apt only to those who know no more than today’s opinion has chosen to tell them about how those DNA searches actually work.

This case makes it ok for the police to collect DNA from anyone they arrest no matter the offense.  Protest against the government, DNA swab.  Talk back to a police officer, DNA swab.  You get a DNA swab!  YOU get a DNA swab!  YOU ALL GET DNA SWABS!

Blargh.  With all the talk about Obama disobeying the Constitution and taking away our rights, no one’s paying attention to the Supreme Court which actually IS taking away our rights.

One Monsanto To Rule Them All

The Supreme Court recently unanimously ruled in favor of Monsanto in a lawsuit that has far reaching implications for genetic modification and individual control of the food chain.  At issue was whether a farmer could buy soybeans from a grain elevator and plant them even though those soybeans were grown with Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybean stock.  The court ruled that the farmer violated Monsanto’s patent doing so.

There are a couple of interesting points to this.  First, the farmer does have a contract with Monsanto to buy its Roundup Ready soybeans and he did so for the traditional first planting season.  He then decided to attempt a risky second planting with the much cheaper soybeans he was able to purchase from a local grain elevator.  Second, 90% of soybeans grown in the United States are Roundup Ready.  Talk about a monopoly!  Third, the Supreme Court made it clear that all the thorny issues involved with this decision are only relevant to this decision and no inferences should be made as to the general legality of patented gene modification technology.

I call balderdash on that third point.  I am far from an expert, but I’ve never heard someone cite a case and the citation be rejected because the Supreme Court called no backsies when they made the decision.  Of course this decision is going to be used as precedent in the many cases to come!  The “this is not meant to be a sweeping decision” language is just political cover for an incredibly contentious issue.

Think about the implication here.  The Supreme Court has ruled that a company can create a self-replicating organic product and then decide how the offspring of that product is used ad infinitum.  I buy and plant Roundup Ready seed from Monsanto.  I plant those seeds and sell the resulting crop to person B.  Person B is restricted from planting the seeds I sold him.  Person B sells the seed to person C.  Person C is restricted from planting the seeds that person B sold him.  Monsanto can dictate exactly how those soybeans are used throughout the soybean’s life cycle no matter how many generations that soybean exists.  In theory, this means that Monsanto could dictate exactly what products are made with those soybeans.  Not that I think they would ever do something so stupid.

The farmer in this case almost certainly deserved to lose.  He signed a contract with Monsanto and he tried to skirt that contract in an inventive way.  The problem is HOW he lost.  The Supreme Court is saying that he violated patent law, not contract law.  Monsanto can and does go after farmers who plant non-Roundup Ready crops that happen to get cross pollinated with a neighbor’s Roundup Ready plants.  This Supreme Court decision declares that Monsanto has every right to do so.

This is one of those issues where the law definitely needs to be updated but there is so much money involved that there is almost unanimous political agreement that nothing will be done.  Self-replicating technologies should not be patentable.  If companies like Monsanto want to mess with genes to produce a superior plant they should mess with a few more genes and make those plants infertile.

Mama Mia, Antonin Scalia!

Justice Antonin Scalia is allowed out in public.  I would say this is a good thing if the words he used in public were able to be used against him to get him kicked off the Supreme Court.  Alas, they are not.

This time, Justice Scalia is praising the virtues of the very long history of women being excluded from jobs like CEO and such.  Always looking for a silver lining in a bad situation, Justice Scalia exclaimed:

Every cloud has a silver lining, and one of the benefits of the exclusion of women from most professions was that we had wonderful teachers, especially the women who today would probably be CEOs.

Tune in next week when we’ll hear Justice Scalia say:

  • One of the benefits of slavery was the blacks were able to learn a really good work ethic.
  • One of the benefits of smallpox blankets was the indians were able to develop an immunity to the virus.
  • One of the benefits of lynchings was the blacks moved to better paying jobs in the north.
  • One of the benefits of rape is the woman learns what bad sex feels like.
  • One of the benefits of me opening my mouth is that everybody can see what a dick I am.