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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Impeachment Trial Update

After a long night (Roberts did preside in his day job in the morning all the same) of Republicans blocking documents and witnesses, Republicans now are not only saying they are bored with the same old same old of the opening presentation of the managers but talking about blocking witnesses because Trump will claim privilege and that will take too much time to handle. This is b.s. in more ways than one. Will Roberts do more than (per a Sen. Collins note) than tell each side to play nice (which is fine; that's what presiding officers do).

Today was a brief opener for the Trump team though in a masterful finish the night before, House lead manager Rep. Schiff (a vegan btw) basically dismissed them via a pre-rebuttal before a powerful finish. I think the managers belabored the facts [I wished they covered more on his past/current actions to show the pattern of wrongdoing though that did come up] though it is partially a matter of appealing to changing audiences around the country. But, Schiff artfully began and closed the days. Also, there were excellent material including Nadler's summary of what is impeachable and the second half of Friday's presentation, regarding how Trump obstructed Congress. An important thing to underline. See here.

Lunar New Year: Year of the Rat

I guess the "new year" wasn't quite over.

ETA: As to the whole "morons" thing, I can't believe a certain "Trump shouldn't be impeached" op-ed was taken seriously as I noted in comments. Tired of morons.

Friends: Season 7

I noted that 2-4 really is when Friends shine though while watching the series from beginning to end that the first was pretty good and so on. After "taking a break," longer than Ross, to watch Good Trouble, I started to watch this season. It was nice to return to a comfortable group of people I feel very familiar and care about. Monica looks better (guess her plastic surgery settled in) and Chandler looks rather more worn down (his health issues might have affected his energy levels). On the whole, though earlier seasons had more moments of hilarity, there so far are several amusing (and touching) moments. Nice to see Ben.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Roe v. Wade Turns 47

Prof. Murray, of the Strict Scrutiny Podcast, was the pro-choice talking head on the Landmark Cases Roe v. Wade episode and contributed to a new collection of reproductive law stories (went to an event promoting it).  As she notes on that thread, not only is the Supreme Court (the Kavanaugh Court, who specifically was chosen for his views here, including delaying a teenage immigrant from having an abortion in a key case) going to hear a key case this term, but already many women only have abortion rights in name only.  I would cite such things like some states having one clinic (which sounds ridiculous), funding being blocked, waiting periods (especially for teens) among other things there.

I have been talking about this case on this blog for about the length of time it was operating.  Wrote about it in high school back before even the Webster was the warning sign thirty years ago. As a matter of constitutional law, this was influenced by the off way justices were appointed since 1969, helped by more than one tainted election (2000/2016).  It is a tad absurd that it was then that the last Court with a Democratic appointee majority ended with the effect not as blatant given the reality of liberal Republicans up to and including David Souter.  A lot of the focus should be in the state legislatures and the reasons why it is threatened there can be discussed too.

There is a continual argument that the best way is to send this back to the states. As I noted there, it's hard to see how that holds up, especially on a consistent basis, given the basic right at issue.  Some are wary about resting things on some right to privacy or "liberty" interest as was the approach post-Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which also opened up the path to more regulations. I repeatedly here explained how it fit into long precedent in this regard.  It is not just a matter of basic justice and health care. There are multiple clear constitutional demands.  And, as some even back then noted, this includes women being equal citizens.  There is in fact a connection there to the Nineteenth Amendment. As noted here, this factors into the ERA as well.

Surely, and the introduction of the book links says this, the federal courts or even courts at all (though state courts repeatedly matter a lot here, including state constitutions, which many wary of the federal courts are much less worried about) are not the only thing important here. New York, where abortion rights are rather safe as much as funding of health care (at least comparably), firmly as a matter of statutory law protected abortion once the Democrats gained full control.  Some have noted that even as abortion is legal, less and less doctors study it in school.  There is also a general need to convince people that at the very least abortion is a valid choice, especially in certain situations. 

It is somewhat amazing among other things that reproductive liberty -- and that is the wider issue -- is still seen as an open question. That we are debating the reach of contraceptives being covered on health care plans for workers and students. Modern means such as abortion pills and telemedicine (though some states limit this) help to some degree. We are not on the road to The Handmaid's Tale.  But, the threat is real and there still needs to be work to be done in the area of reproductive liberty.

As Roe v. Wade gets to the an age where women might be on edge of childbearing age -- though the wider issue of sexual liberty covers postmenopausal years too -- this is still the case. 

SCOTUS Watch: Order List (Impeachment Too)

There was some talk that there might be some notable action today, perhaps granting cases for next term, but the usual practice of grants on Friday, boredom on Monday (Tuesday with holiday) was followed as a whole. The big news is basically that SCOTUS did not vote to "fast track" a major ACA case that some liberal minded sorts thought should be taken. Overall, there was a decent argument not to take the case yet though the net result of that does help the Republicans/Trump by punting the issue until after the election.  OTOH, it is very well an election issue since it involves denying people of health care.

There was some odds and ends that as I say as a rule are of some interest and should be clarified by a FAQ.  There is also an interesting case flagged here by the "Jost on Justice" blogger and the page can be found here.  Justice  Breyer went along but noted there was a conflict in the circuits and that he thinks it would be a good natter for the Rules Committee involved in setting the rules of proceedings to reconsider.  A bit of triva: not only was the dissent below (it was a conservative leaning panel in a liberal leaning circuit) was on the Scalia Seat short list (Obama edition) but a case involved Rep. Biaggi, who was the grandfather of the current state senator (my own) of New York.

The Supreme Court hears three cases this week, including a possibly important religious funding of schools case tomorrow as Chief Justice Roberts presides over the impeachment trial in the afternoon/evening.  On that front, the head impeachment manager, Rep. Schiff, was excellent. The others were somewhat of a mixed bag though mostly put forth good cases in a professional detailed way with visual aids. The Trump team  overall had talking points and bluster mixed with b.s. Various requests for documents and witnesses were rejected party-line votes while the Democrats used their argument time to talk about the case as a whole. Roberts followed precedent and served a ministerial role as "presiding" officer, a role in other impeachments that would be done by the vice president or the pro tempore of the Senate.

The Republicans want arguments first, then votes on witnesses, Schiff calling that back-ass backwards or some such thing.  Thus, a series of amendments that pushed the final vote past 1AM with party line votes each time, except for Susan Collins joining the Democrats once when the managers asked for more time to answer motions.  After midnight, bad boy Nadler came in to call out the lies of the Trump team, which led to umbrage from them including a lay-up for Schiff when the White House counsel -- who given his job arguably shouldn't defend Trump alone here -- said Trump was a man of his word.  Roberts then admonished, including with a homely old precedent involving use of "pettifoggery," each side to be nice.  This went over real well -- both sides do it! -- on Twitter.

The rules passed 53-47 (party line) and everyone went to bed.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Disobedience (Novel)

The book came first, over ten years before the movie, but just read it now. Liked both and the movie expanded (especially the sex) and changed some things (e.g., in the book, Dovid becomes the rabbi and Esti is the one who speaks at the "hesped"). Maybe, it was just me, but book was a bit "creaky" at times though rewarding as a whole. Plus, it was only a bit over two hundred pages. And, nice to have multiple points of view, including a "community" view.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

NFL Championship Weekend [KC Wins; Reality Bites]

After Clemson finally lost, in part thanks to a rather remarkable TD in the closing seconds of the First Half, we are left with three football games plus the Pro Bowl. As a preliminary matter, it isn't really Kansas City's fault that the Texans made a stupid gamble (and lost) and then followed up with a horrible oopsie on the next kickoff (24-7 became 24-21 fast). And, then the Texans (24 points in under twenty minutes) just stopped scoring (seven points rest of game). But, what a horrible way to lose/win. Anyway, if my team isn't involved, I'm naturally for the underdogs. So, darn I hope the Titans win. I'm more agnostic on the night game. Guess the 49ers since they are the newbie. Pre-games comments. Now for the recap.

Titans, repeatedly helped by KC penalties, matched KC in First Half until repeatedly unable to stop on third down on the final drive and then a clinching "stop him, you assholes!" run by Mahomes. 21-17, same four point advantage as last week if a tad differently earned. Stalemate 3Q. Sealed it in 4Q & I don't want to see the Super Bowl. Hey, fandom isn't totally rational, plus just don't care much about the other teams (SF crushed Packers 27-0 in First Half; lost 37-20) and KC winning would annoy me. Still the Pro Bowl, I guess.

Bunch of News ...

(This was so detailed that for the first time ever I had an error message regarding using too many characters for labels!)

Some people badmouth Twitter, but it has value (various superior content) and you can have fun with it (celebrity accounts etc.).  A problem it has, but the same can be said about the 24/7 media cycle and blogs, is that you can be overwhelmed with things happening all the time.  Back in the c. 1990, I was a consistent reader of various publications (easy access via a convenient local library near my college) on a daily/weekly basis.  But, such constant updates wasn't a thing (did not even have CNN for a while).  The other issue are all those comments, many of them dubious, but it's amusing really that comments on a blog complains about something like that.


I admit to being addicted to this stuff -- again, I was a ready consumer of news when there was less of it.  Spend too much time on Twitter.  But, there is a lot of stuff happening.  For instance, the Virginia legislature this week ratified the ERA.  In theory, they are the final vote, but reality is a tad more complicated.  One place this was hashed over was over here, this being just one of many comments on the matter.  Simply put, the likely deciding factor here is going to be Congress.  And, it very well might be something that ultimately will be decided there after the elections, so this might be a factor in them to some extent. What you say Biden et. al.?

The question mark is the U.S. Senate and it isn't quite as dark probably as some might think long term.  There is also the question of what effect it will all have even if it is ratified. This sort of badmouthing of the effort is misguided. An amendment in bold type, so to speak, can help the efforts made in the trenches.  It also is an interesting question of "originalism" -- what would the congressional debate tell us?  Some think state ratification bodies matter as much or more.  Do the last three votes change the equation here, in part given they are viewing things in a "modern day" light with long Supreme Court equal protection precedents and current day conflicts in mind?  Or, maybe it is back to Congress, including the talk if they extend the deadline?


Of course, we have a more immediate constitutional moment: the impeachment trial began on Thursday.  The early moments underlines the whole thing is rather ceremonial, including walking the impeachment articles to the Senate (an argument can be made that this was necessary to "finalize" impeachment -- that is done though some use "impeach" to mean removal), Rep. Schiff (lead manager; Rep. Amash was not asked -- understand playing it safe but think he might have been a good addition to show it isn't just partisan -- though he was open to the idea) reading the articles to the Senate and escorting Chief Justice Roberts over.

I respect such ceremony though at times think we overdo this sort of thing and personally am not a fan of drawn out affairs.  It's a moot point, but if I was ever married, I would prefer a small ceremony if not simply eloping.  Impeachment to me is very important, including long term, and seeing Schiff read out those impeachment articles was somewhat emotional to me. There is a lie that Democrats are not patriotic or religious, but the evidence is ever present that they are.  As someone noted in this thread discussing VP Pence's Pence-like op-ed claiming being a profile in courage means Democrats voting to acquit (Sen. West Virginia nodding his head?), the true profiles in courage here were long term public servants (more than one leaning Republican) who testified and spoke out because of a sense of public duty.  That's a thing.  It isn't just smoke in this cynical world.

Pelosi handled this all rather well, including drawing out sending out the articles over to the Senate to play for time and put pressure on Republicans to show some credibility about making it an actual trial.  Not only did we have Lev Parnas "testify" on two national talk shows -- take his remarks with all the salt you want, but we should hear from him and it puts pressure on Republicans for more, he has receipts and there are ways to judge the validity of his remarks -- but a GAO report came out just on time to show Trump broke the law (other than you know bribery et. al.) by withholding funds.  I stick by my desire for a comprehensive impeachment inquiry that would have basically allowed the same thing to occur.  But, Pelosi is going to be a hard act to follow.  Women leaders, how about them?

Anyway, there is some hope that Roberts will somehow help justice along here, but that doesn't really seem his m.o.  Plus, historically, a presiding officer (remember for other impeachments it would be the vice president or their replacement, not such a judicial officer) here had little power.  Chase tried to push the envelope and was pushed back.  Precedent only takes us so far, but the whole ball of wax regarding interpreting the function here suggests it was valid. The nature of the presiding officer here does suggest something extra.  Roberts only presided over the swearing in ("impartial justice" separate oath) and the like on Thursday.  It was a bit weird to see him being sworn in by the Republican pro tempore.

The trial will come back on Tuesday and meanwhile both sides have time for briefs and such.  In that Pence thread, I summarized the Trump legal team, overstocked with troll bait.  The Trump side submitted more b.s. (starting with the "Honorable" Donald J. Trump heading) including calling the articles "constitutionally invalid." Usual overheated ("absolutely nothing wrong") rhetoric included in rather abbreviated form.  A certain level of disdain there.  Republicans want him in office until January 2025. Meanwhile, the House brief is an impressive over 100 page affair.

[A much longer Trump legal memorandum came out on Monday and from the overheated executive summary on is much the same basically including partisan potshots -- "House Democrats" (not "the House") are just making shit up as part of a partisan witch hunt -- mixed with the usual b.s. like talk of due process, ridiculously limited view of what impeachment covers and the inability to admit anything - "absolutely" innocent -- was done incorrectly.]


There were various things that occurred the last week that pop up in our continuing crazy news cycle.  A "fu" that underlines how horrible Trump being in power is and how it will poison us for years was a lower court opinion that was a gratuitous denial of a trans prisoner's request for female pronouns.  Friday this term also has repeatedly been a time to wait until mid to late afternoon to see what the Supreme Court did.  So, this time, before the holiday, it took three set of cases -- a personal jurisdiction matter, something involving "faithless" electors (and still no Third Amendment case?!  how about a grand jury incorporation case?)  and a third go-around on the contraceptive mandate (there was a 1B of sorts that included a strong Sotomayor dissent).  And, among the other "ugh" Trump news, a special owning the libs move on Michelle Obama's birthday (what? that's just a coincidence!).


Let's not just talk about politics.  The Oscars nominations came out (early February ceremony? seems a bit early) and the Best Picture nominations in particular seem more lacking than usual (plus other concerns like the Little Women director not being nominated).  I have not been into films in the movies for a few years now at least so the Oscars weren't really my thing as it used to be in the past.  But, 2019 seems to be something of an off year there to some degree looking at the options.  The reviews of multiple "best" films had a lot of middling reactions at the very least.  The only thing that really stands out for me is that I think there is a decent bet that the supporting actress in Little Women will win it.
Plus, there is the whole Mets (ugh their GM/owners) thing with Beltran being let go (after a drawn out secretive contemplation) given his role (still a tad hazy though I found an early report when it first came out that it was notable -- the report did single him out by name,  which is either unfair or a red flag) in the Astros scandal.  As I quickly noted earlier, some didn't care about the cheating, but personally appreciate some serious consequences occurred.  Beltran's stand-out role here to me makes it problematic -- at least right away -- to retain him as manager.

And, even Mets radio broadcaster Howie Rose's (and major Mets cheerleader/social media person) daughter said letting him go was the right move.  That video is impressive with a funny kicker that the person involved found amusing.  We are left to determining who will be the manager with pitchers/catchers coming in weeks away.  Probably will pick one of the back-up options with some connection to the team.  I prefer a veteran manager myself and at least one might fill in the Astros/Red Sox manager vacancies arising from this mess.

2020 starting well ...

Friday, January 17, 2020

Nude Dancing and the First Amendment

And Also: The characters in this book makes this not totally non-germane to the below discussion. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World concerns a murdered Turkish prostitute remembering her life in her last months on earth and how her friends find a way to give her a proper burial.  It is very good and tells the stories of its various characters in a respect way.
It seems to me beyond doubt that a barroom striptease is "expressive." Even if relatively restrained, as are the videos in evidence here, a striptease sends an unadorned message to a male audience. It is a message of temptation and allurement coupled with coy hints at satisfaction. In a real barroom, messages would probably also flow in the opposite direction, in the form of encouraging comments to the performer from the patrons.2 These responses speak strongly to the fact that a message is being sent and received.
2.  E.g., "Take it off; take it all off!"
If you like the various opinions in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, especially Justice White's (who has his moments) dissent, the opinions below are something too.  This was a matter of timing -- the ultimate decision was 5-4, the difference being the newly in place Souter, who concurred separately.  A few years later: “After many subsequent occasions to think further about the needs of the First Amendment, I have come to believe that a government must toe the mark more carefully than I first insisted,” Souter wrote. “I hope it is enlightenment on my part, and acceptable even if a little late.”  But, by then six votes was still there even though Souter put forth a stricter test to determine state interests are strong enough to ban.

[I edited this some over the last few days and will add this comment too. The Supreme Court repeatedly did not directly address this issue (as noted by the dissent referenced in a footnote) or do so in a honestly comprehensive way (as noted by the dissents in the two cases just cited). As with obscenity cases, the specifics of a case can lead you to differentiate.  I find such going into the weeds interesting as this blog suggests.  Thus, the second case above per the Stevens dissent -- Souter went along with the plurality's rule (thus giving it five votes, Barnes more fractured) but not its application  -- the law was particularly content based. The first case as applied was not -- the public nudity rule was simply not consistently applied.]

As with other issues along the edges with an ah titillating shall we say side, nude dancing is not prime free speech material* as matters of special importance goes.  In the 1970s, it was dismissed as having the "barest minimum of protected expression," anyway, the government was allowed to ban it if alcohol was served on the premises as a Twenty-First Amendment regulation.  Years later, when liquor advertising was involved in the 1990s (44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island), this was "disavowed."  It was left to Justice Marshall early on to both honor a broad view of sexual expression and deem this an unconstitutional condition.**
In support of these charges, the prosecution produced two police officers who testified to the following facts. Petitioner Giannini managed the Lighthouse Inn, a nightclub in San Pablo, California; petitioner Iser performed the "topless" dance featured at the Inn. Wearing tights and a transparent cape, Iser appeared on a spotlighted stage and performed various modern dances, including the "Swim." As part of the act, she removed the cape, exposing the upper portion of her body, and performed a dance called "Walking the Dog" to the music of a song by the same name. "Walking the Dog," according to the officers, consisted of petitioner Iser "wiggling around" for about 30 seconds on her hands and knees with her breasts exposed.
An opinion by the California Supreme Court in the late 1960s applied basic obscenity rules and determined that dance is obviously both expressive and that it did not lose the protection such expressive conduct retains just because a striptease was involved. Plus, the average topless routine would not be obscene. The current rules by the U.S. Supreme Court hold that it is protected, but is conduct for which it is easier to regulate.  Dance and something like burning a flag, however, is not quite the same thing there. One is traditional expressive conduct; the other is something that often if not expressive, but might be in a certain context.  So, it is more appropriate to regulate certain conduct by more lax rules than other types.

Also, the plurality basically says that nothing much is lost if you require minimum coverage though that sort of works both ways. After all, "secondary effects" (that Souter in that later case deemed a weak fit) such as its relationship with local prostitution or crime justified banning complete nudity.  The value of minimum coverage here rather unclear. If there are "secondary effects," dancing in a string bikini is unlikely to cause much more and free expression, especially when the regulation is tied to viewpoint (sexual related in some fashion), should demand a more compelling need.  Bans of alcohol, zoning, some sort of buffer zone ("no touching") and more might matter more than having g-strings and pasties. Plus, more neutral.

The use of sensuality and sexuality in expressive ways, and the specific way it is done, is clearly of some importance.  This goes back to the days of yore in the animal kingdom (if not before!) and humans express themselves in own way here is a variety of ways.  Multiple works use touches of sensuality, including nudity, for special effect here. One famous case noted that something as coarse as "fuck the draft" has a special meaning; saying the same thing in a more polite way ("damn the draft") would not have the same effect.  The power of nudity is why the government wants to cover up certain spots though over the years even sensual dancing has been targeted. Some think dance alone is too sinful.

When the Supreme Court got around to dealing with nude dancing without the complications of liquor use, the dubious line drawing that is going on here is more clear.  Unless one wanted to directly address the matter with pasties and g-string like covering.  Past cases made clear that dancing and even nude dancing would be protected in some fashion. Nudity in live performances is present in various plays such as Hair, so a complete ban would be problematic, at least under long-held precedents.  And, public nudity itself isn't completely banned either. Under traditional rules, e.g., a billboard with a nude picture would be banned. But, it is readily admitted that now you can have a range of nudity, including non-obscene films, in a range of public places.

"Public places" is also a bit of misnomer when you are talking about clubs or the like where only consenting adults enter or even a museum with certain types of explicit art. Traditional public nudity bans dealt with unwanted viewers and children and even then arguably they are applied in at least a discriminatory way.  To the degree more was banned, again, modern free speech law protects a lot of nudity with expressive conduct.  OTOH, the Supreme Court just this week turned down the New Hampshire case cited here, even if New York protects topless women though I have yet to see any walking down the street.

Thus, Justice White was able to fairly easily show that the real thing being regulated here is the message promoted by the particular form of dance at issue, which amounts to forbidden viewpoint discrimination.  As he notes, using a case where drug laws were deemed general in nature even if the result denied a person from practicing their religion did not apply. Toss in more respect for the expressive content of dance here (if not as in depth as the opinions below).  In the later case, Justice Stevens wrote the broadest dissent to argue basically the same point.  Plus, in Glen Theatre, the women weren't even on a stage or surely not lap-dancing, but in glass booths.

The oral argument in Barnes therefore needed to be more restricted in respect to the government.  Traditional public nudity laws does not mean various forms of nudity was unprotected expressive conduct. The state court protected certain performances with nudity.  There was some talk of a need of a "particularized message," but dance has that too and even your basic stripper often tends to have a set routine with some sort of theme. Bringing up that the women were doing it for money amounted to throwing everything to see what sticks since even Scalia noted that many performers did so for money.  It wasn't cited this way, but what if the strip routine was part of some wider work such as an old murder mystery involving a stripper?

This is the sort of thing were other than "yeah come on," applying the rules would seem to cover it.


* Barnes also notes there are other kinds of dancing, such as social dancing and dancing for exercise. I would think, though the justices saw it somewhat differently, social dancing would have some value as a liberty of association.  The concurrence there spoke of the liberty interest of dancing with friends, but as with other types of "intimate association," there is some associative interest there even if one is dancing in a crowded dance hall.

Social dancing often has some expressive content, even if it is not the driving focus of the activity. The controversial "message" of various types of dancing in that fashion arose repeatedly over the centuries. And, dancing for exercise probably is protected as a liberty in some form. But, the dancing here is clearly performance dance with expressive content and has been in some form since ancient times.

** A per curiam in 1981 clearly held that the 21A gave the state (NY) specific power to take away the liquor license (this minimum effect might be why Justice Marshall concurred in judgment) of an establishment that allowed nude dancing. Justice Stevens dissented, noting that perhaps alcoholic establishments might require special regulations, but the 21A does not provide some special blanket authorization.  Such is the current rule.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Death Penalty Watch

The impeachment trial began today (a lot of ceremony) and Beltran is no longer the manager of the Mets given his role in the Astros cheating scandal (he was singled out as the only player referenced by name in the report and earlier reporting said his role was significant). The whole thing is tragic but (now three managers lost their jobs) it is appreciated that there was some real punishment for cheating though I know some non-Dodgers fans are all "who cares," or worse, like a Mets advisor in an interview. Charming that.

Unless it is a special case, I'm not going to do a deep dive for executions like I did last year, but there were two executions still scheduled for this month. One, after merely a denial of a final appeal among the Order List on Monday (not a stand alone on execution day), occurred yesterday. Some horrible two time wife killer who should have staid in prison. The other, after thirty years and apparently how the jury wanted if given the chance, had his sentenced commuted to LWOP. Murdered during a robbery. Two as of now scheduled for February.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: A Visual History

I finished the new coffee table style book on the show and it is good with lots of pictures and information. I did not watch the show or the Tom Hanks movie yet, but did catch parts of two documentaries (there is a longer one and then a shorter television one). His faith in humanity and basic goodness is a model for our times. It is unfortunate the book did not cover this, even though he is interviewed and it is covered in at least one of the documentaries.