A bad rebuttal

If there’s anything that annoys me more than bad arguments, it’s people circlejerking in support of bad arguments. I was just reading up on a recent (though, as yet, undecided) Supreme Court case where the analysis did just that. (Update: The case has been ruled on. It was 6-2 in favor of the government.) The case itself isn’t overly interesting, but it gained some attention this past winter because Justice Thomas broke his rather lengthy silence to ask a few questions. To give a brief summary of the case itself: Two men were convicted of domestic assault misdemeanors that, by state law, would not preclude them from owning firearms. However, federal law says if those misdemeanors are domestic assault crimes which meet particular, limited criteria, then they can’t own guns. The men are arguing that the state law allows for broad criteria in obtaining a conviction. Essentially, federal law requires the use or attempted use of force. State law allows for recklessly injuring or physically contacting a person. It seems open and shut to me: federal law requires a particular fact, but state law allows for different facts. This means that it is possible that the federally required facts were never established, so the government ought to lose this one. It looks like things aren’t going to go that way, but then I’ve yet to get Obama’s nomination to fill Scalia’s seat.

In reading about the case, I came across this little tidbit about Justice Ginsburg:

One last notable point: anyone who suggests that Justice Ginsburg may be slowing down, should read the last two pages of Villa’s argument. Villa suggested what seemed like a difficult hypothetical: what if she “came up to somebody who I thought was my husband and I patted him on the back and said ‘hi, honey,’” but it wasn’t him? Could that be a reckless offensive touching? But when Justice Sotomayor appeared momentarily slowed by this example, Justice Ginsburg incisively noted that “there isn’t a [domestic] relationship [as] the statute requires.” “That is true,” conceded Villa, and she quickly reserved the remainder of her time.

What a hugely irrelevant rebuttal. It doesn’t matter if the statute requires pigs to fly out of someone’s butt. The issue at hand is what defines “reckless offensive touching”. In this case, it was asked if a mistaken pat on the back would meet the definition. That question went unanswered due to a red herring: Ginsburg insisted on defining “reckless offensive touching” within a particular context despite the phrasing existing independent of said context. Moreover, the question can easily be changed to fit Ginsburg’s illegitimate objection: What if someone accidentally pats their son on the back because he looks so much like her husband? That would satisfy the domestic relationship required of the statute. (I emphasize statute here because no relationship is required of the argument.) Could we answer the question then? According to Ginsburg, the answer is yes, though, how the domestic relationship would play any role in such an answer is unclear.

A victory for science at the Supreme Court

In the most “duh” decision in who knows how long, the Supreme Court ruled today that large, profit-driven corporations (or anyone, for that matter) cannot patent naturally occurring genes:

Pronouncing what may seem like a patent truism, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that biotech researchers have to create something to get monopoly protection to study and apply the phenomenon. Because Myriad Genetics, Inc., “did not create anything,” the Court struck down its patent on isolating human genes from the bloodstream, unchanged from their natural form. Because Myriad did create a synthetic form of the genes, however, that could be eligible for a patent, the Court concluded.

The decision was a major blow to a company that believed it had a right to be the sole user and analyst of two human genes that show a high risk, for women found to have them in their blood, of breast and ovarian cancer.

This is a huge win for science, future research, and, frankly, human lives. Aside from the obvious dubiousness of patenting something that isn’t man-made, it was unconscionably unethical for Myriad Genetics to pursue this case at all. They should feel nothing but shame and moral grief at the human life they were inherently putting at risk. This was a rare excellent decision from the SCOTUS. (Surprisingly, they didn’t randomly and arbitrarily decide, for no discernible reason whatsoever, to also declare that any of the genes involved were people.)

Is it a tax or a fine? You can’t have it both ways, Republicans.

The Republican outrage to the Affordable Care Act prior to the Supreme Court ruling was primarily premised in the idea that it was a fine. That is, Republicans argued that by being fined for not having healthcare, they were being coerced into something. And, of course, that is inherently anti-liberty. That was the issue. Now, however, the Court has called the act a tax. Naturally, Republicans are pounding that phrase into the ground. It makes sense since President Obama hasn’t raised taxes, despite that being all we’ve heard for nearly four years. (In fact, he has lowered them.) They finally have the ammunition they want. (Except that the tax increases primarily go towards insurance companies, the wealthy, and certain other groups. The middle class isn’t terribly affected, and even for those that are, they only face a 1% increase.)

But this raises a serious problem. If this is a tax, then it cannot also be a fine. And if it isn’t a fine, it is not an attack on anyone’s liberty. (Unless someone is ready to argue that all taxes are anti-liberty, I suppose.) The Republicans need to make a choice here: They can call this a tax; They can call it a fine; They cannot call it both. Of course, I know they will not make that choice. They will continue using both lines of rhetoric – because honesty is hard, amirite? – but logically speaking, their hands are tied one way or the other.

5-4

As always, we got rousing coverage from the cable news networks:

The Supreme Court upheld the individual insurance mandate of President Obama’s “Affordable Health Care Act” in a 5-4 decision on Thursday, sending cable news and Twitter into a frenzy.

Moments after the 193-page ruling was released by the court, several media outlets–including CNN and Fox News–erroneously reported on-air that the mandate had been struck down.

“BREAKING NEWS: INDIVIDUAL MANDATE STRUCK DOWN,” CNN’s on-screen scroll blared. “Supreme Court finds measure unconstitutional.”..

CNN, though, was not alone in its rush to report the news.

“Fox News was so eager to see the healthcare mandate fail they forgot to read past the 1st page of the ruling,” Jason Keath wrote, pointing to a screengrab of the network’s breaking news stumble.

Sorry, Christians, but gays are people, too

Good news has been popping up over the past week or so for the rights of gay Americans:

A federal appeals court in California has denied a petition to have Prop 8 -the 2008 California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman – further reviewed by a larger panel of judges, which means the case likely is headed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In February , the majority of a three judge panel sitting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Prop 8 ruling that the initiative “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California and to officially reclassify their relationship and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” The court ruled on narrow grounds specific to California and Proposition 8. It did not find a fundamental right of same sex couples to marry.

Supporters of Prop 8 – opponents of gay marriage – had asked for “en banc” review of the case. This would have meant that the Chief Judge of the circuit along with 10 randomly selected judges would have mooted their colleagues’ decision and started anew. But in a filing today the court said that a majority of judges had voted to deny the petition.

We all know that Political Figure Scalia made his decision on this matter a few decades ago, and we all know that once Political Lapdog Thomas gets word of his lawless colleague’s position he will also be voting against equal rights. But that said, it’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court, even with 4 devoted bigots, will ultimately rule against fair treatment under the law. Sure, it took them until the 1950’s to make the right call on the mirror issue of racial segregation, gays in America have been swift with showing just how much of this country they are. Now that over half the nation is ready for equal rights for gays, I think the Supreme Court may be ready, too.

Plus there’s this:

Today’s ruling comes a week after a federal appeals court in Boston struck down a key provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In that case, legally married same sex couples argue that the federal government is denying them benefits available to opposite sex couples.

The Supreme Court will most likely consider both the Prop 8 case and the DOMA cases next term.

The tide is a-turnin’.

Where Scalia and Thomas are plainly moral monsters

The Supreme Court recently made a 7-2 ruling which favored convicted murderer Cory Maples. Here are the basics. Maples was represented by a prominent firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, following his murder conviction. He and his current lawyers contend that the lawyers who represented him during his trial were incompetent (and underpaid) and as such he should be able to appeal his sentence of death. (He is not contesting his guilt.) Unfortunately, a series of terrible events made him miss a filing deadline. His first pro bono lawyers left Sullivan and Cromwell without informing their client. Then crucial letters he had sent off were marked returned to sender instead of being passed on to other lawyers. His local counsel, needed for formality reasons, took no action because the other lawyers were suppose to take the lead. A clerk also did nothing. Maples found out about everything about a month after the deadline. State and federal courts then said they could not waive the deadlines, largely because the actions of one’s lawyers is seen to also be the actions of the client.

Clearly we have a whole bunch of horseshit going on here. Maples is the victim of circumstances beyond his control from his prison cell. He did everything within his own power to meet the deadline for appealing. Justice Ginsburg, noting that deadlines usually are not touched by the courts, said this situation was unique because Maples “lacked any clue that he had better fend for himself.” It’s obvious that Maples deserves better than this, regardless of his crime.

What makes this all especially egregious is that Maples has a pretty good claim that had he been adequately represented he probably would have avoided the death penalty. The jury vote for murder-by-committee was 10-2, the minimum required under Alabama law. Had his trial lawyers not “appear to be stumbling around in the dark”, as one of them actually said in court, then it seems perfectly plausible that the man could have convinced at least one more person that he doesn’t deserve to be murdered.

Political figure Antonin Scalia and Chester the Terrier avatar Clarence Thomas saw things differently. They believed Maples was represented just fine through the whole process. After all, Scalia notes, once Sullivan and Cromwell were informed of the error their former employees made, they took action. This makes sense. I mean, who wouldn’t want a system where post hoc representation is the norm? “Sure, your lawyer was snorting blow and banging hookers while paying alley bums to get into fist fights, but his firm took action and fired him 8 years after your conviction. I don’t see what you’re whining about, pussy.”

Scalia then takes things one stupid step further and makes this terrible argument:

“The trick will be to allege,” Justice Scalia wrote, “not that counsel was ineffective, but rather that the counsel’s ineffectiveness demonstrates that he was not a genuinely representative agent.”

In other words, this decision may open up better legal avenues for defendants, thus we shouldn’t allow it. This is why I hate this purely political piece of shit. He is more concerned with closing off doors to fair trials than making the right decision. Justice Ginsburg notes that this situation is quite specific and unique, so Scalia’s argument is moot, but I don’t see what it matters even if he is right. So what if clients can argue that they never had genuine representation? Let the courts decide if that’s the case or not – just as they did here.

This is the M.O. for Scalia. He looks down the road at results he would personally dislike and sacrifices doing what is legally right as a result. Take Lawrence v Texas. He was perfectly happy to allow anti-sodomy laws because he feared the decision would open the road to gay marriage. It wasn’t that he thought there was any real legitimacy to the government criminalizing private acts of sex. Nope, he just doesn’t want them there gays to be gettin’ married. Just the same, he doesn’t want to see Maples get a fair shake at the system if it means a lot of other people will have more options; the man wants to keep doors closed. It’s such insane logic that I can’t help but condemn this shitbag for being a moral monster. He forsakes the law and tries to bring harm to people on illegitimate grounds. I really won’t be in the least bit upset when he dies. (The same goes for the pube guy.) I just hope it happens while we have a Democrat in office.

Supreme Court: Video games are art

Siding with reality, the Supreme Court has ruled against California in a decision regarding the status of video games:

Video games are art, and they deserve the exact same First Amendment protections as books, comics, plays and all the rest, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday in a ruling about the sale of violent video games in California.

California had tried to argue that video games are inherently different from these other mediums because they are “interactive.” So if a kid has to pick up a controller and hit the B button — over and over again until he starts to get thumb arthritis — to kill a person in a video game, that’s different from reading about a similar murder, the state said.

The high court didn’t buy that argument, however.

I was reminded recently that this case was coming to a head and I wondered to myself how ‘Justice’ Scalia would rule. After a little consideration, I surmised he would come down in favor of the gaming industry. He often makes poor decisions based upon little to nothing, but this case was just too obvious for him to get wrong:

“Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

So not only does the interactive medium not make video games fundamentally different than things like music and literature (in terms of being art), it actually is a feature which helps to define it as art. Everyone has been telling this to California all along, but I’m glad the Supreme Court could articulate it so well.

And as much as I dislike Scalia, I’ve always thought he was a decent writer, sometimes even humorous. He doesn’t fail to deliver here:

That’s all well and good. But the most fun to be had in this potentially dry court opinion is when Scalia starts writing about how gory old-school stories are, too. He’s trying to make the point that stories have included violence for as long as there have been stories.

The examples are pretty hilarious:

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” he writes.

Then there’s this:

“Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.”

And, finally, if that wasn’t enough eye-related violence for you:

“High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake.”

Well done, sir. Now excuse me while I go snipe some Elites.