Scott Lemieux

Scott Lemieux is an assistant professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose. He contributes to the blogs Lawyers, Guns, and Money and Vox Pop.

Recent Articles

Why The California Tenure Decision Is Wrong and Will Hurt Disadvantaged Students

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Earlier this week, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Michael Treu held that California's teacher tenure system violated the state constitution. Treu's June 10 decision in Vergara v. California has been widely praised by education "reformers," up to and including President Barack Obama's worst cabinet appointment, Education Secretary Arne Duncan . But the decision is a disaster, a caricature of "legislation from the bench" by an inept judge. The line of precedents cited by Treu to justify his extraordinary intervention are, in themselves, unexceptionable. The California courts have long held that under both the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution education is a fundamental right that must be provided on equal terms. This doctrine is salutary; indeed, like Justice Thurgood Marshall , I think the Supreme Court erred by not reading the 14th Amendment the same way. The question, however, is whether this doctrine is applicable to these cases. There is one...

The Supreme Court and the Power to Make Treaties

Website of the Supreme Court of the United States
Given the ongoing Republican assault on essential federal powers, It is generally not good news when the Supreme Court narrowly construes a federal statute in deference to state authority. Monday's ruling in Bond v. U.S. , however, is an exception. A majority of the Court refused to accept conservative arguments that would severely limit the power of Congress to enforce treaties signed by the United States. The dissents by Justices Scalia and Thomas, conversely, show that this case could have been a vehicle for a major new limitation on federal power. The facts in Bond , summarized in an excellent story by Newsweek 's Pema Levy, are the stuff of soap opera. Carol Bond, a microbiologist, put highly toxic chemicals on various surfaces at the home of Myrlinda Haynes, her erstwhile best friend and husband's lover. Haynes escaped the dangerous trap set for her with only minor burns. Nonetheless, Bond was prosecuted under Section 229 of the federal Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation...

Supreme Court Decides: What is 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment'?

In the 2002 case Atkins v. Virginia , the Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally impaired violated the Eight Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments." Atkin s, however, did not define what constituted mental impairment, which gave states a potentially easy way of evading the opinion. If left alone to determine their own standards, states that didn't want to comply with the Court's ruling could simply make it enormously difficult or impossible for those sentenced to death to prove that the were mentally impaired. In an important ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to allow the states unlimited discretion to determine whether defendants had the mental capacity to be legally executed, restoring some teeth to Atkins . In his opinion in Hall v. Florida , Justice Kennedy, joined by the Court's four Democratic nominees, began by reaffirming the rationale of the Court in Atkins . First, "[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with...

Michael Boggs, an Unacceptable Judicial Nominee

U.S. District Court nominee Michael Boggs seems like an all-too-depressing example of a typical 21st-century Republican federal judicial appointment. As a state legislator, he voted to keep a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid on the state flag. He opposes reproductive freedom. He supported amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Given his conservative views and apparent neoconfederate sympathies, he has attracted strong opposition from members of Congress like the civil rights icon John Lewis. What's even more depressing is that Boggs was nominated not by George W. Bush but by Barack Obama. How did this happen? And should be done about it? The primary villains here, as is so often the case, reside in the World's Worst Deliberative Body. Senate Democrats took an long time to abolish the filibuster for executive branch and sub-Supreme Court judicial appointments, permitting the Republican minority in the Senate to engage in...

Supreme Court: Tear Down This Wall!

Yesterday's ruling in Greece v. Galloway is an affront to religious equality, but it also reflects the poisoned fruit of a bad precedent.

The town of Greece, New York has been kicking off its town board meetings with an invocation by a religious leader since 1999. These prayers have generally been sectarian Christian ones. Two residents of the town sued, arguing that this practice constituted a state endorsement of religion inconsistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that sectarian prayers are constitutional. The decision is an affront to religious equality, but it reflects the poisoned fruit of a bad precedent. It must be conceded that the Court's holding is based in precedent. W ith Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the Court's other four Republican nominees, t he 5-4 majority in Greece v. Galloway leaned heavily on the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers . In Marsh , the Court upheld the Nebraska legislature's tradition of starting each legislative session with a prayer by a chaplain paid for and approved by the state. Based on Marsh , Kennedy found little...

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