Tag Archives: failed state

The Trump Court

I’ve been on the email list of the Brookings Institution for a number of years. It was–and is– an excellent source of thoughtful, balanced policy analyses, and it provided me with valuable background for my classes when I was teaching Law and Policy.

Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to the language and style of Brookings publications–very consistent with that of academic discourse and a variety of other highly credible, scholarly resources. (Not like the snark you often get here.) So I was bemused–to put it mildly– by the opening paragraphs of a recent essay. 

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected.” With those chilling words an illegitimately obtained Supreme Court majority tore up the lives of Americans & the Constitution in the Dobbs opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito. The votes for this opinion were only available because Merrick Garland was wrongly blockaded at the end of the Obama administration and Amy Coney Barrett hypocritically jammed through at the end of the Trump one.

The Alito opinion comes in the midst of congressional hearings exposing the sickness of Trump’s style of governance—Trumpery, as we term it in a new book. The Dobbs opinion also exemplifies Trumpery, and its features provide a useful framework for understanding just how bad the opinion is. The Court should be known from here on out as the Trump Court.

Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of Trumpery is its disdain for the rule of law. The Alito opinion in the Dobbs case has that in spades. A central tenet of Supreme Court jurisprudence is stare decisis, the idea that once the Supreme Court has ruled on something, it is settled law and is entitled to permanence, even if later courts may disagree with it. That is particularly true where you have a decades long established precedent like Roe.

It is certainly true that past Courts have overruled settled precedents when it has become blindingly obvious that they are unjust and/or inconsistent with contemporary science and mores–Plessy v. Ferguson and Bowers v. Hardwick come to mind. But the thrust of the quoted paragraph is accurate; until the elevation of theocratic jurists intent upon the destruction of jurisprudence equating  liberty with a significant degree of personal autonomy, precedents were accorded a high level of deference.

The essay proceeded to compare the current iteration of the Supreme Court to Trump’s incessant assaults on democratic norms– assaults that the January 6th Committee hearings are meticulously documenting.

As we are being painfully reminded in the Jan. 6 hearings, that assault over time undermined and weakened the executive branch and Americans’ faith in it. Alito and the five justices who joined with him are sending the Supreme Court down that same slippery slope.

The authors make a point that I have made repeatedly in the wake of this deeply dishonest decision–it didn’t just take aim at abortion. It was a point that Justice Thomas acknowledged in his concurrence:

“in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Americans’ right to contraception, to make consensual choices in the bedroom and to same-sex marriage are all up for grabs. How long before states are also free to re-criminalize premarital sex and interracial relationships?

There are other parallels: Trump was shameless, and the authors point out that–like Trump–Alito displays absolutely no embarrassment about the rampant dishonesty of his opinion, dishonesty that was necessary in order to reach a result he personally favored. Nor does this Court care about the social consequences of a predictably divisive opinion. Alito wrote “We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work.”

Of course, concern about public reaction is one reason for the doctrine of stare decisis, which aims to avoid abruptly upsetting long-settled rules and expectations. Intensifying social divisions was also a Trumpian trademark, and as the authors note, “this opinion smacks of a similar approach.”

It’s hard to disagree with the authors’ conclusion that this decision–one of this term’s string of shocking and damaging departures from settled jurisprudence– will decimate  what is left of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

Although it was news to Alabama’s current Senator, the U.S. has three branches of government. Unfortunately, none are currently functional.

We have a gridlocked Congress, immobilized by lawmakers putting fealty  to party over loyalty to country; an Executive whose agenda is obstructed by that Congress; and now, a rogue Court disdained and distrusted by a majority of citizens.

That’s a description of a failed state.

No wonder the language employed by Brookings these days is less restrained.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

One of the unfortunate effects of our corrupt and paralyzed political structure is the “drowning out” effect, sometimes described as Washington “sucking the oxygen out of the room.” While our attention is fixated on the more dramatic consequences of our national government’s “brokenness,” we fail to notice the harms being done by the multitude of problems that government is simply not fixing.

One of those is the way creditworthiness is measured.

There’s no doubt that credit card companies charge excessive rates of interest. But as scholars at the Brookings Institution point out, simply legislating a cap would actually compound the problem.

When does the interest rate a lender charges cross the line from economically justified to immoral? Societies have struggled with this question since biblical times. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took a crack at this puzzle, proposing to cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent. They’re concerned that the U.S. credit system traps working families with unsustainable debt. We share their concern, but their proposal uses a blunt instrument to attack a nuanced problem.

The Loan Shark Prevention Act, as the new legislation is called, is likely to hurt the people it’s designed to help, driving the market away from consumers with low credit scores. Some people may have their interest rates reduced, but many would no longer have access to credit at any price. Banks have been clever in figuring out how to hide credit in fees, as anyone who has paid $35 for an overdraft knows.

Instead, the authors propose making affordable credit accessible to a much larger group, by fixing what they identify as “the flawed scoring system that allocates credit.”

Our current system decides who gets credit and at what price using algorithms that analyze a person’s credit history and calculate a credit score. FICO, the most common credit score, employs a range between 300 and 850. There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a prime or subprime credit score but, generally, people with scores above about 680 are rewarded with cheap credit and high borrowing limits. Those classified as either near-prime or subprime, whose scores largely fall below 680, have a tougher time accessing and paying for credit.

The apparent objectivity of the algorithm masks a whole host of issues. A peek behind the credit-scoring curtain reveals that, as in “The Wizard of Oz,” there are humans feeding imperfect information into the machine. You could be the most creditworthy person on the planet, but if you lack a credit history, are a young adult or a recent immigrant, or had financial hardship in the past five years, your score will be low. Credit reports are rife with errors: One out of 5 Americans has a material error on their score.

I recently encountered this precise circumstance with my granddaughter-in-law: she is young and had virtually no credit history. It wasn’t bad credit, it was no credit, because she had been prudent and avoided debt. No credit became a real problem when she and my grandson applied for a mortgage. (Even more maddening, one of the three reporting agencies kept telling the bank her credit was “frozen”–whatever that means–but continued to insist to her, during her multiple calls to correct the issue, that it wasn’t.)

The Brookings scholars write that “Congress should start examining this system and aggressively pushing for its improvement.”

Lawmakers should push for credit-scoring formulas that take a wider range of data into consideration. Paying a mortgage on time improves your credit score, but paying your rent on time does not, because mortgages are tracked and rents generally are not. That’s just not fair…

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that 45 million Americans lack the data that credit bureaus use to create a credit score. If you don’t have a score, it can be very hard to get a loan, rent an apartment or persuade an employer to hire you. Credit scores have become an essential component of what Princeton sociologist Frederick Wherry calls “financial citizenship” — the ingredients necessary to participate fully in the economy and civil society.

If we had a functioning Congress, this is one of the multiple tasks to which they should attend. But of course, we don’t. Right now, Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) is preventing the Senate from even considering one hundred bills that have been passed by the House.

We have a legislature that is incapable of doing anything, and an Administration trying its best to undo what was accomplished in the past. We aren’t even a banana republic: we’re a failed state.