My First Secret Obsession: SCOTUS

I’ve noticed there’s a few different ways to share things on the internet.

If you’re a truly multi-faceted human being like myself, you can do what I call “the Brady Haran approach” and create 17(!) YouTube channels, one for each interest (see note 1).

And the thought of running 17 blogs scares the crap out of me (and websites are expensive), so I’ll just run one, and you can use the tags to filter through what you like.

Secret Obsession #1

One of my secret loves is studying politics academically. Here’s what I didn’t say: I love politics.  I will not be one of those people arguing down my family members at holiday dinners. What I’m actually more interested in is asking ourselves questions about our current political conditions beyond “what side are you on?” and asking something more along the lines of “how did we get these sides, and how is this going to play out in the future?”

I think that politics is something that hugely affects our everyday life (and we have many opinions on) but we don’t actually know that much about.

Let’s take a quick little quiz to see how politically savvy you are (this is US-specific):

  1. Name your state’s 2 current US Senators.

  2. Name the Vice President.

  3. Name the 24 Cabinet members.

  4. Name the 9 US Supreme Court current justices.

  5. Name your state’s governor.

Bonus #1: Name any current state official other than your governor.

Bonus #2: Name your city’s mayor.

This isn’t scientific, but if you have more than 4 names on your theoretical answer sheet in total at the end of this quiz, you are smarter than 95% of Americans. Disagree? (You can click on the links in any question & find the answers appropriate to your state; my results are below (Note 2.))

But I choose to care about politics because I know it affects every single day of my life. It affects how much in taxes I pay, how much a gallon of gas costs, if there are potholes on my drive to work. It affects whether businesses can charge me for this or that. Sometimes when you’re playing the game, you forget about the rules, until that one person tries something crazy, and then what the rules say matters IMMENSELY.

That is why politics matter. These people make the rules of the game you’re playing.

I don’t even remember what I was reading, but it was some article about the lead up to the 1860 US Civil War. They hit heavy on the fact the US Senate spent several decades as THE most influential group in politics -- they wielded the biggest stick. And I realized....the real power in Washington shifts between entities. So I started to ask myself-- who wields all the power now?

For my money, the answer to this question is the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). Hence, I am obsessed with them.

Why care about SCOTUS?

Think about it: any legislation passed by any other party in government on the municipal, state, or federal level, can ultimately be decided unlawful by these 9 individuals. You think Trump or Congress have lots of power because they can make laws? SCOTUS can throw out any law based on being unconstitutional. So in effect, they tell Congress, “You can’t do that.” But not just the feds; they hear cases from lower courts when the courts can’t decide how to rule. And the decisions they make set precedent for any judicial rulings in the future.

Brett Kavanaugh’s recent appointment to the Supreme Court turned into nothing less than a vicious circus. Why would any political party spend any time at all on this unless they knew it could get them power? Political parties don’t get out of bed for anything less than absolute power.  Because they knew SCOTUS wields the power. And since justices are appointed for life, they wield power for decades, until they retire or die.

What is SCOTUS, briefly?

Currently there are 9 justices. They will hear cases, and each one gets a vote at the end on the decision. The side that gets the most votes is called the majority, and the side that gets the least votes is called the minority. One justice from each side writes an opinion (called the “majority opinion” & “minority opinion”.  The justices’ votes are recorded and each justice has a voting record that’s labeled somewhere on the “conservative/liberal” scale (ie “very conservative,” “somewhat liberal.”) Currently there are more justices on the conservative scale, so the current SCOTUS can be referred to as a “conservative court.”

These are the most powerful people in America. Discuss.

These are the most powerful people in America. Discuss.

Ok, so you hear my obsession and why. Let’s dip your toe in the obsession of SCOTUS. SCOTUS is doing some REALLY interesting things in the next few months, and I hope to awake some interest deep within you, but if not, that’s totally cool too. We are still friends.

SCOTUS is currently hearing two cases that are really interesting.

Firstly, a case involving a little company known as Apple, Inc. (Click here for a short dynamic video summary on the case.) Apple currently is the de facto middleman between app developers and customers via their required App Store. The question before SCOTUS is WHO can sue Apple under anti-trust law. (Claiming Apple is a monopoly and allowing SCOTUS to force Apple to allow app customers to use programs other than the App Store.) This doesn’t mean Apple is being sued for anti-trust yet, just that they are figuring out who can sue them in a future case.

Secondly, a case involving a man arrested for drugs had his $42k Land Rover seized by the police on the basis it had been used to transport the drugs. The man’s lawyer is arguing that the police keeping this car violates the man’s rights under his Eighth Amendment rights against excessive fines. And even more importantly, it could throw the previously unregulated world of civil forfeiture into some serious regulation. (Civil Forfeiture is the police’s ability to seize citizen property. I HIGHLY recommend you watch this John Oliver video about it, and its EXTREME abuse -- literally the police are just STEALING from citizens.)

Not all their cases are interesting, but usually at least 1 or 2 really catch your eye. I hope you had a little fun today and I hope it’s raised some questions you’re going to go out and look up the answers for yourself.

Do you like this kind of post about my secret obsessions? Let me know in the comments, and tell me how you did on the quiz!


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If you’re interested in listening to some discourse about politics (not political discourse -- no Rush Limbaugh here), here’s some further stuff to check out:

http://www.scotusblog.com/ “SCOTUS Blog” - THE incredible resource to let you know what SCOTUS is up to, basically to the day. Comb through the legal-ese of briefs, decisions, and...it’s just literally everything you could ever want to know. (Is it an official blog? It’s so well done, I can’t tell.)

http://freakonomics.com/podcast/politics-industry/ “America’s Hidden Duopoly” - Freakonomics Radio - a fantastic podcast (and full transcript) pinning the current political parties’ obsessions, namely, how to keep power for as long as possible

https://youtu.be/tsdVmFWLb_c “I know but I’m not nervous” - a wonderful sermon from Steven Furtick about the role of politics in the life of a believer

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Notes:

  1. Oh my gosh. We haven’t even talked about YouTube yet. My YouTube interests could be several blogs long.

  2. I got senators and VP. I can only ever name 8 SCOTUS (I forget Breyer every. single. time.) I can only name 3 cabinet members (Pompeo, Ben Carson, and Nikki Haley, I used to be able to name DOD Secretary but Trump keeps firing them so they never last longer than 6 months.) I can name my governor but only 1 other state official, my comptroller George P. Bush b/c it makes me laugh every election cycle that there’s still a George Bush still on my ballot.  I can name my mayor.