Interesting Times for SCOTUS

Formal group photograph of the Supreme Court as it was been comprised on June 30, 2022 after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the Court. The Justices are posed in front of red velvet drapes and arranged by seniority, with five seated and four standing…Seated from left are Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagan. .Standing from left are Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson…Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The coming months are going to be very interesting for us court watchers. SCOTUS has at least two and possibly more critical cases coming before it. Some of them are also time critical. Some will allow the court to demonstrate that they really do believe in the judicial/constitutional philosophy thus exposed in recent and controversial decisions.

On the last point, the Colorado case (Anderson v. Griswold) removing Trump from the primary ballot seems to be the most likely case in point. In several recent decisions the court has used both the “Originalist” and “Textualist” doctrines to justify their rulings. The “Textualist” doctrine gives the court the best course to rule against Trump and the “Originalist” gives them two ways to rule one for Trump and one against.

Now let me state right here I do not expect SCOTUS to use any of these paths. I fully expect the court to find some way to totally dodge the issue, most likely using some arcane procedural reasoning. This court all too often has shown itself to have the backbone of a slug. That said let’s dive into the issues as I see them.

The “Textualist” ruling deals almost exclusively with the 14th Amendment and its 3rd Section, probably one of the most overlooked clauses of the Constitution. The only real issue is whether the President is an “Officer” of the United States. Given both the customs of the time and the debate on the Amendment it is clear that the President is an “Officer” of the United States. Let us totally bypass the illogic of saying that the only two offices that “Insurrectionist” could hold are the two highest offices in the nation. We are, after all talking about the “Radical” Republicans of the post Civil War and given the detailed list of the offices it is not reasonable to hold that the offices of President and Vice President are excluded.

This now lead us into one of the more interesting arguments “Originalist” reading can give us. Does the Amendment apply to all insurrectionists, past, present, and/or future? It can be argued that the “Insurrection” being referred to by the Amendment was the Civil War and it only applies to that one “Insurrection”. If that is the case then section 3 is a dead letter as the last surviving vet of the war died over 50 years ago. Unfortunately this kind of “Originalist” reading of the Constitution leads down a very twisty road as how do we deal with the following.

Given the above interpretation of how “Originalist” doctrine is would be applied, the 1st Amendment protection of free speech can only apply to the spoken or printed word. So it would not apply to Radio/TV/Movies as these Media did not exist nor even imaged when the amendment was written. The same for the Second Amendment, it could only apply to those kind of “Arms” that existed at the time of writing. To be fair we can say it would apply to modern ships and cannons but not to aircraft or spacecraft. I can see arguments both ways for submarines.

I shall leave you with just this point, these are just two of the problems facing SCOTUS using the “Originalist” doctrine in one case currently before it. The are several more now before it and I’m sure more to come in the near future. So keep your ears open and your head down it is going to get very very interesting.

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