Author Archives: jon

More on abortion

We're in Day Five of the Rehnquist resignation watch, ever since rumors of a Rehnquist resignation started to swirl Friday, while Chief Justice Rehnquist kept on refusing to validate them by actually resigning. As Josh Marshall has suggested, it's in the Democrats' interest for Rehnquist to resign now. If Bush gets one nomination now, he'll likely pick a hard-liner (because that's who he'll want). The Democrats will filibuster, the Republicans will invoke the nuclear option, and Bush will get his appointment. If Bush gets one nomination now and one a year from now, same story (twice). If Bush has to fill two seats now, it's less clear that he'll be able to get away with appointing two hard-liners — he'll face some peel-away in his own party.

Indeed, Jack Balkin makes the good point that the Republican Party shouldn't want too many Justices who'll vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. For Justice Mike McConnell, say, to be sitting in O'Connor's seat, next to Justice Emelio Garza in Rehnquist's and Justice Janice Rogers Brown in that of a suddenly incapacitated John Paul Stevens, would be a Really Bad Thing for the G.O.P. It would mean, among other things, a ruling next Term that Roe had been wrongly decided, likely followed by swift passage through the House of Representatives of the Abortion Ban Act of 2006 — barring the performance of abortions, nationwide, by any medical practitioner wearing an article of clothing that had moved in interstate commerce, or breathing molecules of air that had at some point moved across state lines. It's hard to think of anything better calculated to convince your typical independent voter that the Republican Party aren't her kind of people after all. Much better, from the party's standpoint, to appoint somebody who will pay lip service to Roe, while letting it die the death of a thousand cuts.

Stay tuned …

Posted in Law: The Supremes | 5 Comments

Cutting the cord

It's official: according to the FCC, people in this country now have more wireless telephone subscriptions (cell phones) than land-line subscriptions. As of December 2004, we had 181.1 million wireless subscriptions (up from 167.3 million six months before); we had a mere 177.9 million old-fashioned plug-into-the-wall lines (down from 180.1 million six months before).

The number of land lines, in fact, has been dropping steadily since its peak of 192.5 million in December 2000, while the number of wireless lines has been growing by 10-15% every year. Today, the two graph curves finally crossed.

It's a new world a-comin'. My eleven-year-old doesn't really grok the fact that you used to have to plug your computer into the wall to get Internet access. How twentieth-century was that?

Posted in Communications | 1 Comment

Appeals court strikes down “partial-birth” abortion law — for now

The first appellate court decision concerning a federal law called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 came down on Friday. In it, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Here's the story: Five years ago, in a case called Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court invalidated a Nebraska law banning all so-called “partial birth” abortions. In a situation where a woman has the constitutional right to seek an abortion, the Supreme Court majority reasoned, a state may not regulate the method of her abortion in a way that endangers her health. Specifically, “where a significant body of medical opinion believes [an abortion] procedure may bring with it greater safety for some patients,” the state may not ban that procedure unless the ban incorporates an exception to cover those cases in which, medically, the banned procedure is the best approach. The Court canvassed the views of medical groups. It didn't find a consensus among doctors that, as plaintiffs argued, the banned procedures would be the safest for some patients. It didn't find a consensus the other way either, though: There was no consensus that the banned procedures couldn't sometimes be the safest approach for a pregnant woman. Bottom line: doctors disagreed. That risk that the state might be banning a sometimes-medically-necessary procedure, said the Court, was enough to require the state to write a exception into the law — and it hadn't, so the law was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas dissented.

Congress responded by enacting a new, nationwide ban. It explained in the statute that there was a “moral, medical, and ethical consensus” that the covered procedures were not only “gruesome and inhumane,” but indeed “never medically necessary.” The Stenberg v. Carhart decision, Congressional leaders explained, was irrelevant: The Court had announced legal consequences following from its medical uncertainty, but in fact there was no uncertainty. The Court's understanding about the possible medical desirability of the procedure had been superseded by Congress' declaration that the procedure was never medically in the interests of any patient.

The Eighth Circuit, on Friday, disagreed. The Supreme Court's earlier decision, it said, had dispositively established that there was a dispute among doctors over whether the procedure was sometimes medically desirable. Congress couldn't change that simply by announcing a consensus.

There's a bunch going on here that's interesting. The Court in Stenberg v. Carhart had responded to uncertainty by insisting that Indiana could not take the risk of banning a treatment that might (it didn't know) in some cases prove to be the safest choice. Congress responded that it didn't see the matter as at all uncertain, and that its own sureness should govern. For now, though, the most important thing to say about the Eighth Circuit's decision is that it's probably really short-lived. Only four of the Justices who voted with the Stenberg v. Carhart majority are still there. Justice O'Connor, of course, was the fifth.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | 6 Comments

Hong Kong and junk fax

Hong Kong has “simplified” its Code of Practice on the Procedures for Handling Complaints Against Senders of Unsolicited Fax Advertisements, according to Xinhua. Under the new rules, the consequence of two substantiated complaints for sending unsolicited faxes is disconnection of the sender's telephone lines (all of them). Now, I know that a telephone operator's asserting the right summarily to disconnect people from the network is a dangerous thing — and that's all the more true when the operator is state-run. The basic genius of the first amendment is that avenues of communication should be removed as far as possible from state control, and it's not hard to imagine this used as a weapon against political dissidents who see a fax or two go astray. But still — the death penalty for junk faxers! A guy can dream, can't he?

Posted in Law: Free Speech | 1 Comment

“The cutest puppy pianist on the planet”

The recent bombings presumably will only strengthen the British government's current effort to mandate national ID cards. The good people at eclectech, though, have now brought us the ultimate musical (and flash) commentary on the UK's national ID card effort:The Very Model of a Modern Labour Minister. Go there now.

Posted in ID Cards and Identification | Comments Off on “The cutest puppy pianist on the planet”


The BBC reports thirty-seven deaths confirmed so far in today's London bombings.

Here's a piece of Glyn Maxwell's story, towards the beginning of The Sugar Mile, of the bombs falling on London sixty-odd years ago (and no, I'm not planning on making a habit of poetry in this blog):

Everyone's come to look at where we were.
There's nothing to see, though, is there, Julie. There,
there. I say it to you but you're not crying
    I'm the one.

You're the one not doing a single thing
but looking at your fingers, I'm the one.
Everyone's come to look at our old home
    when it's too late

for visits. Should have been there yesterday.
Given you lemonade we did have plenty.
Didn't think I'd cry, it's not as if I'm
    at the pictures,

it's just that I loved that house it's never sunk in.
It never has. Mrs. Piper, she was digging
yesterday and she said for Victory
    poor old Jule.

Look, there's Joey Stone. I knew he'd come.
Nothing's happened to him. I had this dream.
There's the silver balloons, are they just there
    to say hello?

Halloo, silver balloons. Can you lift us up
and put us down in a bluebell field of sheep
high in the mountains? We want to hitch a ride,
    me and my sis,

if that's your destination. What did you say?
What did you say there, Jule? The Crystal County?
You heard her. The Crystal County, silver balloons,
    at the double!

Posted in 9/11 & Aftermath | 1 Comment