How to explain the justices shoving the law rightward, while everyone thinks it is dead center or too far left?Their metaphor is magic — the article is accompanied by a photoshop of the Chief Justice in magician garb about to pull something out of a hat — and that question fails to acknowledge the difference between absolute and relative position. Obviously you can push — or shove as the exaggerated language of anguished liberals will have it — something to the right and have it still be on the left if the thing started out way the hell to the left. And obviously liberals know this: Tell Friedman/Lithwick that Anthony Kennedy is in the legal/political center because he's at the center of the current array of Supreme Court Justices. It will take them much less than a second to decide to inform you of the distinction between absolute and relative position.
Like TV's "Masked Magician," Friedman and Lithwick want to reveal the secrets behind what they'd like you to think are magic tricks the Court uses to conceal its terrible right-wingitude.
First, they say, there's "stacking the deck": "picking cases with facts so extreme that only one outcome seems possible." One of only 2 examples they give is Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the Supreme Court, in 2005, upheld the federal law banning so-called partial-birth abortion. Friedman and Litwick say:
The law bans late-term abortions in which the fetus is partially delivered before its brains are sucked out and skull collapsed. If you find it hard even to read that, you've caught the point: That's deck-stacking.But the Court didn't choose that case out of a big pool of abortion cases in order to get something with "gruesome facts" that would keep us from "notic[ing] the major inroads the case makes on women's rights more generally." Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003, right after the Supreme Court had stricken down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law in 2000, in Stenberg v. Carhart. The Court in Stenberg showed legislatures what would be needed to pass a law against these abortions that would avoid the same constitutional flaw and Congress responded with a statute that we knew would have to go through judicial scrutiny and end up in the Supreme Court.
That it came to the Supreme Court in 2005 has nothing to do with the Court "stacking the deck"! Friedman and Lithwick just don't like what the case said about abortion rights, but the truth is that Gonzales v. Carhart was a moderate decision that avoided both extremes and, because of that, produced a separate opinion by Justices Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia (rejecting abortion rights altogether and questioning Congress's use of the Commerce Clause to regulate abortion), as well as a dissenting opinion consisting of the 4 Justices who, with the now-retired Justice O'Connor, had formed the majority in Stenberg.
The second "trick" Friedman and Lithwick identify is "misdirection":
While we are watching the term's "big" cases, it works its magic on the ones we aren't paying attention to, which often matter more. In this enterprise, the court is aided and abetted by the media.Speaking of tricks, calling this a trick is itself a trick! It lets Friedman and Lithwick discount all the big cases that came out liberal and cherry pick any and every case that came out conservative. Hey! Look what the Court did in here! They proceed to tell you about their least-favorite recent cases.
Iqbal, Twombley, Garrett, Gross, Rapanos, Rent-a-Center. Maybe you haven't heard of most of those. But these are the cases that, read together, are making it harder and harder for everyday litigants to walk into a courthouse and hold unscrupulous employers, manufacturers of defective products, or polluters to account.And you could pull out an equivalent list of little cases that make it easier. So what?
Friedman and Lithwick have 3 more tricks to reveal/do, so if you're up for their whole show, click through and read.