The Trumpified court pays off for conservatives; Abortion rights on the line, again

Ten more members of Congress joined Rep. Bennie Thompson’s lawsuit against Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two extremist groups for their roles in the January 6 insurrection: Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Hank Johnson, Jr. ((D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal ((D-WA), and Maxine Waters (D-CA). In the amended complaint, each House member describes (PDF) their experiences during the insurrection, describing it as “a meticulously organized coup … that placed members of Congress and the integrity of our democracy in peril.” Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio has also been a defendant.

Tennessee filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking to halt an appellate court’s ruling against the state’s mandatory 48-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. The state’s waiting period was found to be “gratuitously demeaning” and unconstitutional by District Judge Bernard Friedman (Reagan appointee) in October 2020. Tennessee appealed to the 6th Circuit, a three-judge panel made up of two liberals and a conservative was assigned to the case. However, one of those judges – Amul Thapar (a Trump-appointee) – urged the state to seek a hearing before the full court, which the majority of the court granted despite the three-judge panel never having had a chance to formally weigh in.

6th Circuit Judge Karen Moore, a Bill Clinton appointee, objected to the disruption of the court’s traditional processes ((PDF), alleging that the Circuit’s conservative majority is trying to engineer an outcome favorable to the state:

“Judge Thapar disagreed [with the panel’s decision],” she said. “So vehemently did he disagree that he called for ‘immediate correction’ of the stay order, urging appellants to seek initial hearing en banc. “Appellants readily obliged, filing a petition for initial hearing en banc. By granting that petition, a majority of this court has sent a dubious message about its willingness to invoke that extraordinary — and extraordinarily disfavored — procedure in ideologically charged cases.”

Moore opined the vote was the outcome of a prediction by the majority “that the panel would reach a conclusion on the merits of the case that a majority of the en banc court disagrees with. That prediction is a dangerous one.” (Courthouse News)

Tennessee also appealed the panel’s ruling to the Supreme Court in an emergency application on its shadow docket. The petition is before Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who could rule on the request alone or refer it to the full court.

In its brief, the state contends that leaving the Sixth Circuit’s stay (invalidating the waiting period) in place “would irreparably harm Tennessee and its citizens” because “some unborn children will be aborted who might otherwise be spared that fate.”

  • Related: “Trump Judge [Thapar]: Professor Has a First Amendment Right to Misgender a Trans Student in the Classroom,” Slate.

In another late-night shadow docket ruling, the Supreme Court voted on Friday to block California’s pandemic-related restriction on holding religious gatherings in the home. Unlike most other shadow docket opinions, the order in this case included the majority’s and minority’s reasoning. The Court’s five-member conservative majority – including Trump’s three appointees – argued that California is treating secular activities “more favorably” than religious services. Justice Elena Kagan, her two liberal counterparts, and Chief Justice John Roberts voted in favor of the restrictions:

“And (the majority) once more commands California to ignore its experts’ scientific findings, thus impairing the State’s effort to address a public health emergency.”

  • Further reading: “[A] study, to be published in The Supreme Court Review, documented a 35-percentage-point increase in the rate of rulings in favor of religion in orally argued cases, culminating in an 81 percent success rate in the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.,” NYT.
  • Op-Ed: “The Supreme Court’s Religious Persecution Complex,” The New Republic.

The Supreme Court is considering a case that could potentially result in “blanket constitutional protection of dark money and secret influence,” according to a brief filed by fifteen Democratic Senators. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a front for the Koch family’s network, brought the suit challenging California’s practice of collecting information on large donors to local nonprofits, arguing that disclosing the names and addresses of donors puts them in danger should the information accidentally become public.

The issue is not a clear conservative-liberal divide, however, as groups like the ACLU, NAACP, and Human Rights Campaign have urged the Supreme Court to strike down California’s reporting requirements in light of past unintentional donor data leaks, which could put donors in danger. The cadre of nonprofits and dark money groups previously lost their appeal at the 9th Circuit, which found:

There can be no question that this risk…is exceedingly small, so the plaintiffs did not show “a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of [their major] contributors’ names will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to force the administration to allow cruises to begin running again. “We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week. The cruise industry has been under heavy restrictions since the start of the pandemic – restrictions that DeSantis argues should be lifted now that millions of Americans are being vaccinated every day.

Former White House advisor – and architect of Trump’s family separation policy – Stephen Miller is launching a legal group to challenge Democrats’ agenda in the courts. Miller’s group, America First Legal Foundation, has the backing of Trump and a board of directors including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. “Those who believe in America First must not shy away from using our legal system to defend our society and our families from any unlawful actions by the left,” Miller said in a statement.

Further reading:

Tampa Bay Times: “Former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles was in possession of campaign documents of two spoiler no-party candidates who ran in separate, competitive Miami-Dade state Senate races in 2020…Artiles, 47, is facing multiple felony campaign-finance related charges in connection with recruiting and paying an alleged spoiler candidate with the goal of swaying the outcome of Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race.”

Law&Crime: “The Supreme Court rejected an attempt by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to overturn sanctions affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court for his threatening rant against a lawyer for the Sandy Hook victims’ families who sued him for defamation.”

AP: “The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate on Wednesday, stripping the governor of one of his last remaining tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the state stands on the precipice of another surge in infections.”