Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Cannibalistic Precedent-Eating Leopards

There's a darkly amusing pattern that emerges during periods of Republican governance. As a general rule, Republicans support deregulating any arena to enable maximum exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people. In particular cases, though, individual Republicans might have personal reasons for opposing such exploitation and abuse. They have a niece who is diabetic, so they support limiting the price of insulin, or they have a sibling who is disabled, so they support expanding anti-discrimination protections for the disabled, or they have a parent with cancer, so they support enhanced government funding for cancer research, or they have a friend who died of gun violence, so they support reasonable gun control regulations.

The problem, though, is that while each Republicans has their personal exception, they don't have the same exceptions. So for each exception, the Republican is left alone with only Democrats backing his initiative, and is shocked and dismayed that his colleagues could be so heartless as to not even support insulin price limits/disability protections/cancer research/gun control. They then dutifully return back to the Republican mass and vote against their colleagues' exceptions, in accordance with the general rule, and so none of the exceptions ever pass. Rinse, wash, repeat forever.

One suspects we're about to see a similar dynamic on the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative supermajority that is out to draw blood. For the most part, the six right-wing votes are aligned -- like all Republicans, they are eager to jump on any opportunity to hurt the vulnerable and historically marginalized. But on individual issues, there may be an exception for a particular Justice. And that Justice will make a plea for his or her colleagues to slow down, to respect precedent, to here make an exception to the general principle of "the Constitution means what the founding fathers Texas GOP platform committee says it means". And the colleagues will say "LOL no, get bent," and the typical 6-3 decision will just be a 5-4 decision instead.

Like with congressional Republicans, the "exceptional" justice will rotate depending on the issue. On abortion recently, it was Chief Justice Roberts, whose opinions in Dobbs and Jackson were summarily ignored by his colleagues. Today, it was Justice Gorsuch on Indian law, as the Supreme Court in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, over a passionate Gorsuch dissent, radically undermined tribal sovereignty and cut off a signature Gorsuch opinion from just a few years back (McGirt v. Oklahoma) at the knees.

McGirt was a 5-4 opinion which held that much of Oklahoma remained tribal land, and that therefore under longstanding Court precedent the state of Oklahoma lacks criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indians in those areas. Many of us, myself included, wondered whether McGirt would survive the new regime on the Court (nobody really knew Barrett's position on Indian Law issues). But boy were we thinking too small. The Court did not overrule McGirt, it overruled Worcester v. Georgia, the famous case that respected Cherokee tribal autonomy against attempts by Georgia (with a healthy assist from Andrew Jackson) to obliterate the tribe. Nixing Worcester was not to my knowledge on anyone's radar screen. But the YOLO Court must have asked itself why it should settle for overruling a case from 2020 when you can take down a seminal Indian Law case from 1830 and neuter the 2020 one in the process? Now states presumptively have criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indians on tribal land, undoing nearly two centuries of law and precedent that respected tribal sovereignty in this area.

Justice Gorsuch's dissent is quite strong -- and, in fairness, this is an area where he's been consistently excellent on. But I can't help but feel like it is one big cry about precedent-eating leopards eating his precedent, when he himself is part of the same pack of precedent-eating leopards. Yes, they're cannibalistic precedent-eating leopards and they're coming for you too. You'll do the same to one of them shortly. What sympathy do you expect here?

This teeny, tiny bit of schadenfreude is the only bright spot in yet another grim day from the Supreme Court, which just is bestowing horror after horror upon the American people.

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