Jun 212015
 

The Supreme Court will rule on King v. Burwell in the coming days and the outcome could determine whether millions of people will continue to receive subsidies to purchase health insurance. But as Ezra Klein rightly points out, a ruling against the government won’t destroy the Affordable Care Act. In blue states that have set up their own exchanges (like Minnesota), the ACA will continue to function as if nothing had happened. It’s people living in red states who will suffer the  consequences of an adverse ruling. And some Republicans may rue the day that this suit was filed in the first place. They’ve had the luxury of taking potshots at the ACA without having to propose a serious alternative. If millions of their constituents suddenly learn that they are losing coverage, Republicans will be pressured to come up with some kind of solution. Whether they can pass anything is another matter entirely.

I’m still cautiously optimistic that the government will prevail, but a bad decision won’t realize conservative fantasies of a wholesale dismantling of health care reform. There will be turmoil and some people could suffer real harm if Republicans refuse to act. The law itself will remain and most states will eventually find a way to ensure their citizens enjoy its full benefits.

Apr 092015
 

Republican legislators in red states like Kansas and Missouri are doing their damnedest to ensure that poor people never experience one moment of fun or pleasure on the public dime. The Kansas legislature recently passed a bill that would prohibit people from using their cash assistance at pools, movie theaters, cruise ships, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses. It would also restrict them from withdrawing more than $25 per day from their benefit accounts. A Missouri bill would prevent people from using food assistance to purchase seafood, chips, soda, energy drinks, and cookies.

Some restrictions on public benefits make sense, but these bills seem largely motivated by moral panic and antipathy. Republicans generally regard poverty as the direct result of moral failings. Conservative ideology demands that people with moral failings be treated with a firm hand or they will continue to make bad choices. These bills also provide a troubling insight into the conservative imagination. They perceive poverty as fun. They think that poor people spend their days going to the movies, eating lobster, and taking the occasional cruise courtesy of the taxpayer. Their deeply distorted view of poverty leads to policies that only compound the stresses that poor people experience every day. It’s cruelty thinly disguised as paternalistic compassion. And in most red states, that cruelty is only becoming more entrenched.

 

 

Apr 012015
 

Indiana lawmakers are really bad at understanding cause and effect. How else can we explain their stunned and bumbling reactions to the swift public condemnation of the “religious freedom” law that they recently passed? They should have been prepared to give a full-throated defense of their discriminatory law before the ink was even dry on the governor’s signature of the bill. They should have proudly declared that their fellow conservative Christian evangelicals deserve protection from the strains of living in an open, diverse society. They should have presented reams of testimonials from thousands of Christian businesses owners who lie awake at night, terrified at the prospect of selling a pizza to a gay couple or baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. Instead, they’re still staring slack-jawed into the high beams of censure from a modern world that is becoming ever more foreign to them.

I don’t have a problem with people opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their views are rooted in superstitious silliness, but they are free to hold them. But when those in power implicitly legalize discrimination as a reactionary response to changing social mores and then get called on it, they have no right to wave their hands and claim it’s all a big misunderstanding. Lawmakers in Indianapolis, who most likely regard themselves as “real” Americans, decided to pass legislation that spits in the face of American ideals of equality and fairness. They don’t get to claim victimhood after the fact.

Feb 172015
 

I’m late commenting on this, but I wasn’t too surprised when news broke that Hamline and William Mitchell law schools are merging. Even before the recession, it seemed unlikely that the Twin Cities could support four area law schools (St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota being the other two). The recession and subsequent decline in law school enrollment only hastened what was almost certainly inevitable. This merger could actually hint at brighter job prospects for future graduates from the remaining three law schools, although they are still likely to leave school with obscene amounts of debt.

Feb 042015
 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler formally announced strong net neutrality regulations that would allow the FCC to regulate broadband providers as a public utilities. This move was widely expected, but it still reflects a major shift in the politics of net neutrality. A year ago, it was almost inconceivable that the FCC chairman, a former telecom lobbyist, would propose such a sweeping reclassification of broadband services. Net neutrality advocates did a masterful job of mobilizing public opinion to such an extent that the FCC had no other viable course of action.

The new rules don’t go as far as some would like. Broadband providers will not be required to lease their infrastructure to other companies interested in providing broadband service, which would do a great deal to increase competition and lower prices. However, the rules will require providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. I’ve noticed recently that Comcast has been throttling certain sites that I visit (such as digital comics seller Comixology), so these rules are certainly needed. The Internet has become too vital to daily life to allow telecom companies to continue operating in a completely unregulated environment.

Jan 162015
 

Apologies for the extended silence. The new year brought me a nasty cold that took a while to kick. But all is well now.

The Supreme Court seems poised to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. I posted on Twitter that I’m expecting a 6-3 ruling unless Roberts gets a serious case of cold feet. Depending on how SCOTUS rules on the King v. Burwell case, June could be a month of both euphoria and devastation for us progressive Court watchers. I still have hope that the Court won’t stick a knife in the Affordable Care Act, but man, I’m nervous. It may be time to start that weekly delivery of lobster and caviar to Roberts’ chambers.

Oct 072014
 

The Supreme Court doesn’t allow itself many progressive moments. And even when those moments arrive, the Court likes to be coy about it, presumably to give Scalia the opportunity to have a tantrum in private. Yesterday’s decision to let stand various appellate decisions striking down same-sex marriage bans is not the end of the struggle for marriage equality, but it perhaps marks the beginning of the final chapter. A lower court could still uphold such a ban, forcing the Court to issue an actual opinion on the matter. But it seems nearly inconceivable that the Court would uphold such a ban after yesterday’s news. The unconstitutional nature of these bans is now a settled matter.

The Court is likely to continue dismantling the Voting Rights Act, so we should try to appreciate these rare instances when the Court shows that it is still capable of demonstrating good sense.

Jul 032014
 

A friend objected to my characterization of the Hobby Lobby decision as a ruling designed to placate those employers who object to the notion of sex for pleasure. He (because of course it was a “he”) maintained that the Court had preserved the rights of employers to exercise their religion as they saw fit. But other conservatives seem more than happy to confirm my assertion that they really don’t like the idea of women having sex for reasons other than procreation.

Here’s Rush Limbaugh’s thoughts on the matter:

Pregnancy is something that you have to do to cause. … Yet we treat it as a great imposition that women need to be protected from. It’s a sickness, it’s a disease, it’s whatever, and there’s gotta be a pill for it. Yet they wouldn’t have the problem if they didn’t do a certain thing. It’s that simple.

And Erick Erickson’s:

My religion trumps your “right” to employer subsidized consequence free sex.

And Sean Hannity’s:

I was in the drugstore the other day, and guess what? There’s a whole section of birth control. Go buy it! You can get a condom in a New York bar for free. As a matter of fact, you can take a handful.

Hobby Lobby is a terrible decision that legitimizes gender discrimination in the workplace out of a misplaced desire to protect every manisfestation of religious freedom, no matter the consequences. It is rooted in notions of sexuality and religiosity that will soon only exist in the exurbs and retirement homes. But until then, misogyny has a friend in the Supreme Court.

Aug 232013
 

President Obama commented today that law school should be two years instead of three. He’s right. While I enjoyed my 3L year and took some interesting classes, it didn’t teach me anything that would have made me a better attorney. If it’s possible to earn a master’s degree in two years, a law degree shouldn’t take any longer.

“But it’s a doctorate!” you say. Shut up. We’re not learning how to cut people open or teach particle physics. Two years should be enough time to learn the necessary writing and critical thinking skills that most attorneys need. Law schools will likely resist any change that would result in lower revenue, but perhaps a few courageous deans will implement this idea and other schools will be pressured to follow suit.

What do my fellow attorneys think? Did that third year impart crucial wisdom to you?

Jul 262013
 

The Department of Justice has filed suit against the State of Florida for warehousing kids with disabilities in nursing homes and keeping them isolated from their families and communities. The DOJ alleges that the heavy institutional bias of Florida’s Medicaid program violates the rights of these kids under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as articulated in the Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead ruling. The children in question have complex medical conditions and some rely on ventilators or feeding tubes.

The lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise to Florida officials. The DOJ has been warning the state for the past couple years that its segregation of kids with disabilities was a serious problem that could result in legal action. But Governor Rick Scott and his Tea Party allies in the legislature instead chose to refuse federal funds that would have helped these kids remain at home because they wanted to make a political statement about the Affordable Care Act. Florida also has not increased its reimbursement rates for home care services since 1987.

For people with disabilities, Florida and Minnesota might as well be different countries. It shouldn’t be this way, but our fragmented Medicaid system perpetuates these gross inequities. Perhaps this lawsuit and others like it will persuade state policymakers to reassess their priorities and work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that both kids and adults with disabilities can live and thrive in their communities.