It’s The Small Things That Matter

The public discussion of Trump’s ability to appoint another Supreme Court Justice has focused on the large issues:  Roe v. Wade, LGTB rights, etc.  However, it will be with the small things that the Trump Court (and that’s what it will be unless stopped) where the American project will be most corroded.  A case in point is the recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the E.D. of Michigan, Gary B. v. Snyder.

As described by the Court:

Plaintiffs are minor children who attend, or attended, public schools in Detroit. They have alleged that the conditions of their schools are so poor, and so inadequate, that they have not received even a minimally adequate education. Specifically, they alleged they have been denied access to literacy on account of their races, in violation of their rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. They brought suit against the Michigan state officials they believe to be responsible.

After reviewing current Supreme Court precedent, the Court rejected the challenge to the state funding mechanism, holding that the right to an education is not a fundamental right, thus:

When a classification involves neither fundamental rights nor suspect classes, it “is accorded a strong presumption of validity.” In such cases, the classification “must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification.” For this reason, a plaintiff facing a motion to dismiss “must allege facts sufficient to overcome the presumption of rationality that applies to government classifications.”

Rationality is a forgiving standard. “[A] government action is considered irrational only if it is ‘unrelated to the achievement of any combination of the legitimate purposes.'”  To prevail, a plaintiff must either “negativ[e] every conceivable basis which might support the government action,” or demonstrate “that the challenged government action was motivated by animus or ill-will.”

(Citations omitted.)

The opinion was scholarly.  It was “well-reasoned,” at least to the extent that “well-reasoned” means “reasoned based upon logic of the precedents upon which the case relies.”  But we all know that the outcome is wrong.  As even the Court admitted:

Plainly, literacy—and the opportunity to obtain it—is of incalculable importance. As Plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy. Applying for a job, securing a place to live, and applying for government benefits routinely require the completion of written forms. Simply finding one’s way through many aspects of ordinary life stands as an obstacle to one who cannot read.

Yet, the Court, correctly I suspect, felt constrained by precedent to hold that the right to literacy is not a “fundamental right.”

Look at the list of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump previously issued.  I suspect that if you go through the list and examine the professional biographies of each person on the list, you will find that, overwhelmingly, they have fairly good academic pedigrees.  That simply means that they will artfully express their social and political biases skillfully and even brilliantly in the constrained language of legal legerdemain.

5 thoughts on “It’s The Small Things That Matter”

  1. Being supplied with stuff, such as food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, etc., can never be considered a fundamental right under the American system. The fundamental right is to be allowed to pursue these things free of government constraint except to equally protect the right of others to do the same. That doesn't mean these things cannot be done by legislatures through legislation, but individuals can't count on the courts to create such legislation when the legislature will not. This looks like "legerdemain" to those who have been fooled into thinking that "equal protection" meant that a few unelected philosopher kings would and should impose their virtually infallible notions of fairness on the people's elected representatives. No, sorry, in a democracy the voters have to do that themselves.

    1. When the government creates a right, such as to Social Security benefits or public housing, then it must distribute the right equally to people in the same situation. The government created a right to public education, and it should distribute that right equally to people in the same situation. For instance, all third-graders, regardless of what neighborhoods they live in, ought to have the same class sizes, the same school supplies, and so forth. But they don't, because of one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever: San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973), which held that public schools may be funded by property taxes, so that rich kids get a better education than poor kids. Of course, we ought to spend more on the education of poor kids, because they need it more; they are not in the same situation as rich kids. Those who are African American still suffer from the effects of slavery and Jim Crow, including the current Jim Crow–drug prohibition and mass incarceration.

  2. Almost all the heavy lifting in supreme court decisions seems to be about deciding the territory on which the discussion will be held. It's "rational basis" of "Chevron doctrine" when justices want to uphold something, strict scrutiny or minimum deference when they don't. Same with standing. Somehow a presidential candidate had standing when other people's votes were being counted, but the voters themselves don't get standing on the question of whether their votes are meaningful. It's almost as if some very articulate people had figured out the result they wanted to reach and then crafted premises they could use to reach that result by superficially valid argument.

    (If, for example, the right to an education is a tool to abolish teachers' unions, suddenly the argument becomes more credible.)

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