By now, you know the hub-bub on the street about Hobby Lobby. This has become a major rallying point around women's rights and access to healthcare... the justice or injustice of men deciding for women that no, women cannot.
There are a lot of politics around that fact, and I want to skirt the issue entirely because there is something else that is way more frustrating to me.
So, let's rap.
Can a corporation be a person?
In April, my students briefed this case.
We worked on the essential question in this case. Can a corporation reserve essential rights as an extension of an individual owner?
On first blush, we considered the justiciability of this case: Is this something political, and thus left to the legislative and executive branches, or is this an essential question that needs to be examined by the courts.
I, for one, thought that this issue would go no further than whether or not Hobby Lobby could be considered a "person." It is definitely a justiciable question, but one that seemed to be so comical, that not much would be examined.
I mean, a person, right? We have talked about personhood in the past, and it is the heady talk of US History classes... are women, blacks, Native Americans... are they people? Is voting democratic enough when the very act of who votes is meant to be representative, as it was in the 1790s... Sure, and our history is the tenuous, deadly story of how this all came to be... a "more" democratic nation. Where every man, woman... and corporation has a vote. Oh, hold the phone.
So, Hobby Lobby is a person. Well, I hope Justice Scalia is ready to have the streets packed with people every time we talk about this issue, because he just shot his own reverred dissent in Webster right in the balls of its feet.
Justice Alito called this a "closely held corporation," or one that is controlled by a small number or one individual. Meaning, it is not publicly traded. So, here is Hobby Lobby... and yes, they are closely held. They are owned by the Green family, who are evangelical Christians.
Additionally, Alito goes on to say that individuals who want to by entrepreneurs should not have to give up their religious rights, because this puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Futhermore, the definition of a person, in this case it being counter-intuitive (as 75% of my students pointed out... and I use that anecdotally in that it is not a logical definition of personhood, on its face), is much vaguer than the average person understands it to be.
Here, according to the Hobby Lobby decision, a person under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (states the Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion) and Federal Dictionary Act (1871), is defined broadly to "include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
And once a person's essential rights (i.e., those under the First Amendment) are infringed... in this case the free exercise clause of the First... then the courts have to observe the law to make sure that it passes the strict scrutiny test.
And here, I believe had the Catholic Church and any of their schools or hospitals been forced to offer birth control in their health insurance policies, the government would have failed the strict scrutiny test. Flat out.
But we are not talking about a church, a religious non-profit organization.
We are talking about a business that sells model trains, silk flowers, and candles.
Yes, they pay well above minimum wage. Yes, they give Sundays off. But that is great for single moms who are not Christian. Single moms who may sell trinkets because they need family time, and a livable wage... which let's be real. That is better employment opportunity than Michaels and Total Crafts, let alone McDonalds.
But now we're getting into the politics of the decision, and I don't want to go there. I want to talk about how Supreme Court decisions work.
Precedence has been established
Folks, here is where it gets funky.
The Supreme Court arbitrates cases generally, and almost always to apply to all similar cases. They don't hear cases exclusively, where the decision only effects an individual scenario or petitioner/respondent (with the exception of Bush v Gore, but even that is debatable.)
Even if Alito in the majority opinion narrowly tailored this to apply to birth control... even if Kennedy said it is just this one time... that is not how cases run. This will be cited in some case in the future where corporations (in which often the owners, whether they be publicly or privately held, often are not legally liable as individuals for nefarious actions taken by companies) are looking for more rights. Looking to be able to discriminate like individuals, looking to be choosy in hiring practices, insurance, INFLUENCE ON ELECTIONS, etc.
This is what bothers me.
Look, on its face. A person is a human. Period. I look back at the debates before the Constitutional Convention, where personhood was indeed debated, and George Mason and Governor Morris did not espouse on how down-trodden the corporation was in not being allowed to have essential rights. I did not see evidence of Thaddeus Stevens taking up the mantle of the Sears of the day and say that they should have freedom of speech.
As a matter of fact, turn-of-the-century America saw the exclusion of corporations, unions, etc. from having these essential rights in laws that outlawed corporate influence on elections. We saw limitations from the courts in Heart of Atlanta to curtail business practices that could be defined as freedom of expression.
So, why this sudden concern for keeping corporations at a competitive advantage, when this has not been the historical precedent?
Google. Amazon. Facebook. Apple.
China. Russia. England. Austrailia.
James Bond. Maxwell Smart. Sydney Bristow. Jason Bourne.
You. I. That guy. This one.
We all do it. We all keep one eye on the creepers all around us.
We always have. It's hard to avoid looking out for our own interests when every other person and government is doing the exact same to some degree. And predictability and information is the way to keep the machine functioning appropriately. And, man, are there a lot of these programs out there.
This past year, as we all know, has had some major revelations in the constantly evolving role of FISA and respective courts as well as NSA surveillance. It's amazing. If you want to immerse yourself into two really great resources on this, head over to:
I talked to my students and coworkers about it today. One of the most poignant questions came from a young man, while perched over his laptop, asked me, "What did you expect? Did you think that the government wasn't doing this?"
Hmm. Great question.
I didn't think the government couldn't do this, I just did not expect the lack of deference for the Constitution and the protections there in.
I grew up watching James Bond. I was in love with Jack Ryan from The Hunt for Red October. I knew what spying was, and it was gimmicky, gadget-laden, and reliant upon boots on the ground. There were 'bad guys,' (cringe here... I am so naive) but the bad guys were not you and I, the average ordinary citizens that the Constitution was designed to protect in the preamble. It was relatively concrete.
But, as I walked past a smoldering Pentagon on 9/11 and desperately wished for a government who could do a better job preventing the slaughter of innocents, who knew what the future would hold. It's more 1984 than 1984.
I've come to a point where I look around at all the impacts of the acceleration of technology, or own willful sharing of secrets, the government's sliding respect for rights under free speech, association, privacy, etc... and well, I honestly can't tell you what is better.
Should we discontinue this police state, as many have alleged, and live in less secure environs; dealing with the ramifications of motivated people who wish us ill, and seek to harm our citizens? We'd still have our precious rights, but many more may be dead.
Do we forge ahead and put national security, a compelling government interest (and I think if the Court would have forced the NSA to prove FICA's merit via strict scrutiny... and probably would have argued successfully.) We have our lovely standard of living, our security, but many more maybe dead... and this would be foreign nationals.
And if you have read Clapper v Amnesty International, it appears that the courts don't really think that this would be a conversation had with the public (i.e., the folks being surveilled.) Darn, that stings.
I honestly can't discern what is better, but I know that I do feel violated in the interim. For better or for worse.
Until then, I am thankful that some journalists look the prospect of prior restraint and treason in the eye and allow us to have this very vital and fundamental conversation. Many journalists, including the NYT and WaPo, are self censoring.
How does NSA track?
(I'm going to mention this here at the end, because, well, it's my story and I can't prove this. And I promise you I am not a crazy conspiracy person. There is probably a really rational explanation, like I can't research.
A student showed me this awesome interactive infographic that had code names of various surveillance programs on it. you would click around this picture, which was a cartoonish representation of people in a city using technology in leisure and work. It would pop open a balloon naming the program and explaining in plain English what it did. I shared it on FB on my personal page. I have been scouring the Internet for HOURS looking for this infographic, which was published by a reputable firm. Guess what I can't find. ANYWHERE.
So weird. Right?)
OKAY! I am sufficiently done! I am going to go back to being a boring, pedestrian, middle aged suburban mom and teacher who likes to talk about gardening and government.
Just because all those last-minute parents on vacations are going to have to file for extensions. What a pain.
Anyways, it seems that today is a day of paradoxes: sunburns at sunset; snowshoes at sunrise. Blood moon and cloud cover. You know, no big.
Let me share some little fun items with you on this day of days... especially since we just had a new, improved 'federal holiday' last week... equal pay day.
1. Diane Rehm had a great extended discussion about tax policy, including plans on the Hill to reform right now; see Congressman Camp (R-Mich)
2. Sunlight Foundation offers a different insight; one that accuses industry power houses of pouring money into campaigns to keep the tax code more complex.
3. Have your kids play this revenue game; similar to the app Deficit Hawk on Android
File on time or pay the fine! :)
So, I am kind of horrified by the events in Ukraine.
My kids are, too...
So, it's resources-resources-resources time. Here are some that I have found. I will add as I find more great ones...
In addition, I have been clued into some superb news resources for you to consider...
Facebook's Paper App (for Apple only)
And down below, in case you missed the heckler @ Obama's presser... I love the response.
I've seen rumblings on how think tanks like the Heritage Group has a more active lobbying arm called Heritage Action, that spans the gap between Special Interest and PACs.
But, I was totally transfixed by this Fresh Aire interview of The New York Time's Eric Lipton about the details of policy institutes, as well as the revolving door and how Congress limits (or doesn't really) the reach of former staffers on the Hill.
Fantastic. Worth listening to.
Err. Some shameless self-promotion. But you know, I am trying a "business," or as my husband calls it my "hobby." On good days.
This little site of mine, I'm the only one who's gonna make it shine. It is me on my own.
And I work full time, with five Honors Government classes and a stupid amount of grading, paperwork, self assessment, and collaboration with my peers.... and that is my day job. By night I am a full time mom, scout leader, tutor, reading coach, taxi service, laundress...
Look, I know we are all in the same boat. You, too, do a stupid amount of work. In fact, I have a little blurb taped to my laptop from my HS's PTSA that says, "I teach. What is your superpower?"
Soo silly. But sometimes the right amount of silliness keeps me going. So let me help you keep going! I post three to four articles, blogposts, or other things I find relevant to teaching. Much of it is trying to find examples of processes, relationships, power struggles, that we teach about daily. It goes up on FB/Twitter. You also are notified of my latest literary contribution in the field of teaching and loving government.
So, like or follow me. Let me help you cut some corners, and be a govguru.
Will the Democrats have control of the House after the 2014 mid-term elections?
As we all know, they do not now.
And if they are riding the coattails of the POTUS, they are going to have a tough go at it.
If the Dems can win the House and maintain the Senate, than the Pres can back off of some of the executive orders and agreements that he has been using to get his way in policy. Maybe he can get some more of his SOTU wishlist accomplished... or maybe not.
According to RCP, the President's job approval rating in states where there are Democratic senate seats up for election are in jeopardy... and that spells a sea change for the Dems.
Many political wonks will tell you that the mid-term elections are a referendum for the party in power, and if the POTUS approval ratings continue, he may have a tough row to hoe.
Could this be the reason for his very populist sentiment, his overabundant use of "you," "us," and "we?"
Folks reading the tea leaves will tell you that they feel that this is why the Waxmans of the world are resigning from public office...
So, again... what this brings us back to is the civil war within the GOP. Who's candidate will take the lead, can they keep a minor party candidate from running, and for the Dems: who can answer this call?Hillary? Joe? Elizabeth Warren?
Some observations from the SOTU last night based solely on social media.
1. Some snarky responses from the GOP.
2. Fun was had on Bing Pulse last night.
3. Lots of clapping and cute and/or "cheesy" moments...
4. Lots of responses of note... Like observing that the politics of austerity are over; some of the glaring omissions; how Janet Yellen's appointment may change the way the economy goes; Conservative responses to SOTU, including Mike Lee, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Rand Paul.
5. I had my students respond to the White House's call for questions before and after the SOTU all through out this week. Asking kids what they really think are the pressing issues is both IMPRESSIVE and AWESOME. I am super proud for the wide variety of issues my kids brought up, ranging from dealing with minimum wage, sexual assault legislation, higher education, college loans, Social Security and MyRA, immigration reform, bipartisan efforts, Chinese trade relations, death penalty, healthcare, national debt, gun control, GMOs, income inequality, job creation, the shutdown, clean air and water, executive orders vs. legislation, and NSA wiretapping.
THE FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT...
Tonight is going to be a big one, folks.
Tonight is the night where folks toe the line, given that each party has the ability to step into a very large limelight.
The President gives his annual SOTU address, and gets to give Congress his agenda for the year. Democrats get to stand up and cheer, and hope they can push this agenda through a highly partisan House and Senate. No wonder he has aged so much as of late.
And all the players on the wings get to line up and take their best shot.
Boehner, who has been enjoying some mirthful times despite the harrowing experience at the end of 2013, will be smirking from the Speaker's podium for sure. But he sure has been kicking back and relaxing in the mean time.
And to the three lucky devils who get to respond to the POTUS tonight... According to Politico, they all are engaging in risky business. Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers may suffer the same awkward fate that befellMarco Rubio last year in the "sip heard round the world."
While these three duke it out for who said it best, we can pay our respects to McCain, who is being censured by the Republican Party of Arizona for being, "too liberal." Apparently, compromising with the enemy is the last straw in the new GOP paradigm. (Captain Obvious Alert here.)
And finally, if you want to jump in and give your own two cents about the SOTU itself, you can head on over to Bing and take part in the Bing Pulse SOTU Nation-wide opinion poll. That's a mouthfull.
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan