Monthly Archives: August 2017

Sarah Palin’s Defamation Suit against the Times Dismissed

In the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a public figure can only prevail in a libel suit against a press organ if it can be shown that the press organ not only reported false information but acted with either “malice” or “reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.”  On the basis of that precedent, the same press organ, the New York Times, just won another case, this time in a lawsuit brought by Sarah Palin.

On June 14, 2017, right after a shooting at a baseball field in Washington that wounded Republican Representative Steve Scalise and three other individuals, the New York Times ran an editorial that looked back at a 2011 shooting in Arizona where the wounded included Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  The editorial referred to an ad campaign that Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee had run which identified districts held by Democrats, and implied that the ad campaign had encouraged political violence by targeting individual politicians.  In other words, the editorial implied that Sarah Palin was at fault in the shooting of Representative Giffords.

There is no dispute that what the Times editorial said was wrong.  It is, after all, a fact of life that both political parties today are trying to win electoral districts against each other, and that there is a big difference between expressing the hope that a representative from the other party will lose the next election and expressing the hope that such a representative will be shot.  The Times agreed, and changed the offending portions of that editorial online.  Still, Sarah Palin feld aggrieved, and she sued.

A federal district court judge has just dismissed her suit.  Again, nobody is disagreeing that the Times did something careless, but Sarah Palin did not quite meet the threshold of proving that they were reckless.

New York Times article, August 29, 2017

Politico article, August 29, 2017

The Texas Voting Rights Case

From the start of the republic, every state ran its own elections and had its own voting laws, and for the most part that has not changed.  States can still decide, for example, whether person on probation or parole can vote.  (In the early years, of course, voting was limited to property owners.)  The federal Constitution has not at any time standardized the voting laws, but it has been amended to spell out specific kinds of deprivation and discrimination that is not permitted.  Among those amendments is the 15th, prohibiting racial discrimination, empowering Congress to enforce it with appropriate legislation.  That appropriate legislation came almost a whole century after the amendment was passed: the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 2011, Texas passed a voter ID law which appeared designed not only to make sure voters had photo ID, but to make sure they had the kinds of photo ID that whites were most likely to have.  (For example, state employee ID cards were not on the acceptable list, but gun permits were.)  Since then, the law has been amended so that persons who have a hard time getting the required ID can file a hardship appeal.  Good enough?  Not so, according to Federal District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos.  The state will be appealing it.

The South is where the overlap between political party and race is most graphic.   Making it harder for non-whites to vote benefits the Republican Party.  Moreover, there was a time–late 19th, early 20th century–when a restrictive voting law could pass muster with the federal courts as long as it did not explicitly mention race.  But now, federal judges are more inclined to consider not just the text of a law but its apparent motivation and purpose.

Even so, party makes a difference in the federal courts almost as much as it does in the state legislatures.  The 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down one portion of the Voting Rights Act (the part that required particular states and regions to ask permission of Washington to change their voting laws) was on straight party lines.  (Shelby County v. Holder.)  In the long run, Trump’s appointees to the federal courts may well be of the view that the Texas law is fine and dandy.  And if you’re expecting the Republican Party to be on the decline on account of Trump’s ongoing behavior problems, maybe it will be, but it hasn’t begun yet.

By the way, Judge Gonzalez Ramos is an Obama appointee, but the Senate confirmed her unanimously in 2011.

Article in, August 23, 2017

Politico article, August 23, 2017

Text of the ruling


Not All Republicans in the Senate Pretend to Like Trump

During the campaigns of 2016, some conservative contributors to National Review (this one, for example) made it clear that they considered Donald Trump patently unfit to be president, and in the Republican electorate there was a Never Trump movement whose members at the convention made some last-ditch efforts to block Trump’s nomination.

In Congress, there are some die-hard Trump fans, but most Republicans seem to be taking it one day at a time, trying to work with Trump while criticizing him guardedly when he makes his more outrageous utterances.  But there are some anti-Trump Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraka and Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.  Both of these men are concerned about the future of both the Republican Party and conservative ideology, both of which they see as threatened by Trump.

Flake has just written a book on the subject.

Article by Senator Flake himself posted on Politico, July 31, 2017

Interview with Senator Flake on NPR, July 31, 2017

And the conservative Heritage Foundation is trying to get Senator Sasse to run for president with the foundation’s blessing.  Article in Politico, August 1, 2017

Senator Lindsey Graham, the one whose cell phone number Trump gave out at one of his rallies back in the fall of 2015, is not entirely anti-Trump, but he has his concerns about the dealings of Trump Junior with the Russians.  Politico article, August 1, 2017