Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2013
Well, you have to give the religious fundamentalists in this country (the United States) one thing: they are indeed persistent. In fact, the situation in Texas public schools goes beyond the blatant teaching of creationism (which is a problem), because it extends to these fundamentalists pushing their narrow religious interpretations in public school “Bible classes”…
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the devotional use of the Bible by public schools, in its ruling on Abington Township v. Schempp.
But many school districts in the Lone Star State still haven’t gotten the message, according to a report released last month by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) entitled “Reading, Writing and Religion.”
Conducted by religious studies professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, the study examines elective Bible courses offered in 57 Texas school districts and 3 charter schools and concludes that “evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread.” (The full report is available at http://www.tfn.org/biblecourses.)
In other words, school officials in many parts of Texas convert public schools into Sunday schools in violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. … [emphasis added]
So there you have it. When these fundamentalists lose in court they just ignore the law and continue with their illegal and unconstitutional proselytizing in public schools. This shows the necessity of vigilance on the part of those of us who value a secular society which fosters good science education and keeps church and state separate. So if your child attends a school with these kind of Bible courses, make sure to check up and see that they’re being taught in a constitutionally sound manner.
Posted in creationism, education, religion | Tagged: Bible, Christianity, church, class, course, court, creationism, devotional, education, First Amendament, fundamentalism, fundamentalist, God, Jesus, law, preach, proselytize, public, religion, schools, SCOTUS, separation, state, Supreme Court, Texas, Texas Freedom Network, TFN, unconstitutional | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2012
So there’s this nutjob… err, I mean law enforcement officer… named Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona who has apparently taken it upon himself to “prove” that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen (a conspiracy theory known as “birtherism“). This has consisted of basically engaging in rampant conspiracy mongering that President Obama’s birth certificate (which you can see here) is a forgery, despite the fact that it has been certified as authentic repeatedly. Well, in their quest to pursue their bigoted… err, I mean intense and serious… investigation of the citizenship of the POTUS, they have hit a new low.
And here it is:
The Globe Magazine… that bastion of journalistic excellence. *Sigh* ‘Nuff said.
Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: Arizona, AZ, barack obama, bigotry, birth certificate, birther, birtherism, citizenship, cold case, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, court, critical thinking, forgery, government, Hawaii, investigation, Joe Arpaio, judiciary, long form, magazine, Manchurian candidate, Obama, politics, posse, president, pseudoscience, sheriff, Supreme Court, The Globe, United States, white house | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on August 29, 2011
It’s not often spoken of, but I think perhaps one of the most critical reasons why it is that we need to have a populace that is well educated in basic critical thinking and reasoning skills can be summed up in how our court system works. In the United States, many trials in court are decided by juries, which are composed of everyday folk like you and me. And, as is sometimes the case, juries that are tasked with making major decisions – such as in murder cases – can all-too-often fall victim to sloppy thinking. And, unfortunately, sometimes this sloppy thinking is actively encouraged by rules set by the courts themselves!
However, recently there as a welcome challenge to the status quo: the New Jersey Supreme Court has issued new guidelines and regulations for how to take into account the validity of eyewitness testimony and the fallibility of human memory regarding identification. Read the following article from The Innocence Project for more information…
Today the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark decision requiring major changes in the way courts are required to evaluate identification evidence at trial and how they should instruct juries. The new changes, designed to reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions by taking into account more than 30 years of scientific research on eyewitness identification and memory, require courts to greatly expand the factors that courts and juries should consider in assessing the risk of misidentification. …
… The court’s decision requires judges to more thoroughly scrutinize the police identification procedures and many other variables that affect an eyewitness identification. The court noted that this more extensive scrutiny will require enhanced jury instructions on factors that increase the risk of misidentification. These factors include:
• Whether the lineup procedure was administered “double blind,” meaning that the officer who administers the lineup is unaware who the suspect is and the witness is told that the officer doesn’t know.
• Whether the witness was told that the suspect may not be in the lineup and that they need not make a choice.
• Whether the police avoided providing the witness with feedback that would cause the witness to believe he or she selected the correct suspect. Similarly, whether the police recorded the witnesses’ level of confidence at the time of the identification.
• Whether the witness had multiple opportunities to view the same person, which would make it more likely for the witness to choose this person as the suspect.
• Whether the witness was under a high level of stress.
• Whether a weapon was used, especially if the crime was of short duration.
• How much time the witness had to observe the event.
• How far the witness was from the perpetrator and what the lighting conditions were.
• Whether the witness possessed characteristics that would make it harder to make an identification, such as age of the witness and influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Whether the perpetrator possessed characteristics that would make it harder to make an identification. Was he or she wearing a disguise? Did the suspect have different facial features at the time of the identification?
• The length of time between the crime and identification.
• Whether the case involved cross-racial identification.
Folks, this is a big deal, because there is a mountain of strongly-supported research which shows just how untrustworthy and malleable memories can be and how this can lead to all manner of mistakes regarding the positive identification of suspects in court cases. For example, take a look at some of the work done by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus on this subject of the misinformation effect and false memories.
Th main point here that I want to emphasize is that the new Jersey Supreme Court took a huge step in the right direction by relying on the most well-tested science to guide its decision. And that is important, because science – more than any other human endeavor – has allowed us to collectively sort out the good ideas from the bad ideas regarding how the world works. And how the world works includes how we, as fallible beings, interact with it and each other.
In closing, I want to emphasize my point about critical thinking in the courts, and specifically in the jury box and deliberation room, by encouraging you to watch one of the best movies ever on the subject: 12 Angry Men. The original was made in 1957, but it was remade in 1997, and I think either version is excellent viewing. If you have never seen either version, take some time to check them out on Youtube or rent them, because I can only hope that every jury in the world is as rational as this one…
Posted in politics | Tagged: 12 Angry Men, court, defense, Elizabeth Loftus, eyewitness, eyewitness testimony, fallibility, fallible, false memory, guilt, ID, identification, innocence, investigation, justice, law, memory, misinformation effect, New Jersey, not guilty, police, procedure, prosecution, punishment, science, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, suspect, The Innocence Project, Twleve Angry Men, United States, witness | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 2, 2011
In a bit of good news, it seems the SCOTUS has produced a pretty strong science & reason-based ruling on the issue of vaccinations and lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. This is also, indirectly yet very importantly, a big blow to the anti-vaccination movement…
The Supreme Court ruled that federal law shields vaccine makers from product-liability lawsuits in state court seeking damages for a child’s injuries or death from a vaccine’s side effects.
The high court on Tuesday ruled for Wyeth, which is now owned by Pfizer Inc, in a lawsuit brought by the parents of Hannah Bruesewitz, who suffered seizures as an infant after her third dose of a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine in 1992.
Pfizer and other vaccine makers had argued that a Supreme Court ruling for the plaintiffs could open the door to a flood of lawsuits — many by families who believe vaccines cause autism — and threaten the supply of childhood vaccines. … [emphasis added]
That last point is a major win for the pro-vaccine team, folks. That’s because if the SCOTUS had ruled differently, you can bet your bottom dollar that Jenny McCarthy, Andrew Wakefield, and their legions of true-believing followers within the anti-vax movement would have been clogging up the courts for years (or decades, even) with frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit lamenting about how “vaccines caused my kid’s autism” or “the jabs took my little Johnny’s soul away” or similar garbage (because, yes, some people actually believe that crap). And since I am on the topic of mentioning frivolous lawsuits, allow me to reference the SCOTUS ruling on that point…
“Vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries; in exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict. Congress enacted this deal to coax manufacturers back into the vaccine market,” [Justice] Scalia said.
In short, if the vaccine manufacturers didn’t have at least some kind of protection against lawsuits, they would get out of the (not-very-profitable) vaccine business altogether, with the resulting loss of widespread vaccination & herd immunity being highly detrimental to society. Of course, one reason why the anti-vaxxers would have liked to have seen this SCOTUS ruling go the other way is because then it would have opened the door to a tsunami of frivolous lawsuits, which then would have led to many vaccine manufacturers giving up the business, which would lead to lower vaccination rates…
… which would kill a lot of people. But hey, the anti-vax goons would feel pretty good about that, wouldn’t they, because then at least those “evil vaccines” weren’t around any more, right?
Of course, the response from the anti-vax loons is all-too-predictable. I’m going to use my “amazing psychic powers” and guess that it’s going to be something along these lines:
Posted in medical woo | Tagged: Age of Autism, Andrew Wakefield, autism, Big Pharma, conspiracy, diptheria, DTaP, DTP, Hannah Bruesewitz, Jenny McCarthy, lawsuits, manufacturers, mercury, pertussis, Pfizer, SCOTUS, squalene, Supreme Court, Tdap, tetanus, thimerisol, United States, vaccine, vaccines, Wyeth | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 19, 2010
Here is some excellent news, folks! In a twist of reality that was almost weirder than fiction, back in 2005 a group called The Association of Christian Schools International filed a lawsuit against the university system of California because they claimed that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. In other words, the Christian school coursework was pushing creationism as science (and not teaching evolution), and the university system said that was inadequate preparation and refused to accept the “science” credits of those students.
Aside: one can easily see the slippery slope here. If creationists were to get away with this kind of malarkey, then how long until New Age gurus demand that their quantum flapdoodle nonsense be accepted as “physics” credits for universities?
Well, it all came to the end of the line recently for the creationists in this case, because a few days ago the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear the case, essentially locking in lower court decisions against the creationists
Read more about it from the National Center for Science Education…
The end of ACSI v. Stearns
On October 12, 2010, the Supreme Court declined (PDF, p. 12) to review Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al., thus bringing the case to a definitive end. The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centered on the University of California system’s policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs — the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school — charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college.
Creationism was prominent in the case. The plaintiffs objected to the university system’s policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use creationist textbooks as “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.” Michael Behe, a proponent of “intelligent design” creationism, served as a scientific expert witness for the plaintiffs, although his defense of the creationist biology textbooks was unavailing. Wendell Bird, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, is a former employee of the Institute for Creation Research; he defended Louisiana’s 1981 “equal time” act all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled to violate the Establishment Clause in the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
Relying in part on the view of defendants’ expert witnesses Donald Kennedy and Francisco J. Ayala (a Supporter of NCSE) that the creationist textbooks were not appropriate for use in a college preparatory biology course, the trial judge in ACSI v. Stearns granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on August 8, 2008. The plaintiffs appealed the decision, but in a January 12, 2010, ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, which is now reaffirmed by the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case. Documents from the case are available on NCSE’s website, in a special section devoted to ACSI v. Stearns.
Expect to hear the creationists moan on and on about “activist judges” and “religious discrimination” and similar goofiness. While I relish this admittedly important victory in the courts, I am not going to fool myself that these folks will simply go away quietly – they’ll be back, with another frivolous lawsuit or some other angle to attempt to tear down good science education. So keep your eyes & ears open…
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: ACSI, activist, Association of Christian Schools International, atheist, California, Christian, court, creationism, discrimination, education, God, ID, intelligent design, judges, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, religion, religious, science, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, United States, university | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 13, 2010
Breaking news just in from CNN – good news for science-based medicine and skeptics, bad news for alt-med, anti-vaccine nutwads like Jenny McCarthy. It’s interesting what happens when these issues are hashed out in a court where evidence & logical reasoning are required for argumentation, as opposed to the usual overly-emotional & irrational nonsense spouted by the anti-vaxxers in public. Of course, just wait until they start moaning about how the vaccine court is part of the Big Pharma / Big Medicine / Big Government conspiracy, and that’s why they lost (and definitely not because they are deluded or driven by ideology – nah, couldn’t be that!)
What is the vaccine court?
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established in 1988. Through the program, known as the “vaccine court,” people who believe they suffered injury as a result of compulsory childhood vaccines may petition the federal government for monetary damages. The claims are decided by the Office of Special Masters, a part of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Here’s the article from CNN…
Vaccine Court Finds No Link to Autism
A federal court ruled Friday that the evidence supporting an alleged causal link between autism and a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines is unpersuasive, and that the families of children diagnosed with autism are not entitled to compensation.
Special masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims released more than 600 pages of findings after reviewing three test cases and finding all the claims wanting.
“Petitioners’ theory of vaccine-related causation is scientifically unsupportable,” wrote Special Master Patricia Campbell-Smith in her conclusion about William P. Mead, whose parents, George and Victoria Mead, had brought one of the suits.
“In the absence of a sound medical theory causally connecting William’s received vaccines to his autistic condition, the undersigned cannot find the proposed sequence of cause and effect to be logical or temporally appropriate. Having failed to satisfy their burden of proof under the articulated legal standard, petitioners cannot prevail on their claim of vaccine-related causation.”
But if you think this is the final word on the subject, think again – also a recent related story from CNN…
Supreme Court accepts appeal over vaccine safety
Parents who say that a range of preventive vaccines given their young children can cause serious health problems will have their appeal heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices Monday agreed to decide whether drug makers can be sued outside a special judicial forum set up by Congress in 1986 to address specific claims about safety. The so-called vaccine court has handled such disputes and was designed to ensure a reliable, steady supply of the drugs by reducing the threat of lawsuits against pharmaceutical firms.
The questions in the latest case are whether such liability claims can proceed, if the vaccine-related injuries could have been avoided by better product design, and if federal officials had approved another, allegedly safer drug. Oral arguments in the dispute will be held in the fall.
Posted in medical woo | Tagged: alt-med, alternative medicine, anti-vaccination, anti-vaccination movement, anti-vaccinationists, anti-vax, anti-vaxxers, autism, AVM, Big Pharma, conspiracy, court, federal court, health, Jenny McCarthy, mecury, medicine, mmr, National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, squalene, Supreme Court, thimerisol, vaccine | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 10, 2009
I’ve written before about the Birther Movement, which is basically a group of right-wing ideologues who are convinced there is a conspiracy to conceal the supposed fact that President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.
I won’t go into detail here about why the Birthers are off their collective rockers (see my earlier blog post – Citizen Obama – for more info). What I wanted to do is just give a brief update about a hilarious development: it seems the Birthers are now conspiring against each other!
The following article in Salon.com elaborates on this latest development in the Birther drama…
Pity the poor members of the Birther movement, those people who believe that President Obama was not born in Hawaii or is otherwise ineligible to be president. They’ve been rejected time and again by a justice system sadly uninterested in their crackpot legal theories, and ignored by a media that’s for some reason unconvinced by the complete lack of evidence for the movement’s claims. And now, some of their leaders, once friends and allies, are very publicly slamming each other.
Politico’s Ben Smith reports that one group of Birthers (the “East Coast faction,” in his words), led by early crusader and 9/11 Truther Philip Berg, has filed suit against the West Coast branch of the movement, as represented by the dentist-slash-lawyer Orly Taitz. Berg and his fellow plaintiffs claim, among other things, that Taitz and her crew have been defaming them. The complaint, if you want to read it, is here — it is, as you might expect if you’ve been following this saga, long, rambling and a bit incoherent.
This sort of development is not unsurprising – when you have a group of people who are committed to a conspiracy-driven worldview like that of the Birther Movement, it is not uncommon to see members of that group eventually fight each other, claiming that they are the “true” believers while others are not. Such is the level of suspicion and paranoia that is often displayed by conspiracy theorists – in fact, the behavior exhibited by the Birthers in this respect is almost cultish.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out. I’m always amused to see the nutters fight against each other
Posted in conspiracy theories | Tagged: barack obama, birther, birther movement, citizenship, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, government, Manchurian candidate, Obama, Orly Taitz, Philip J. Berg, politics, president, Supreme Court, United States, We the People Foundation, white house | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 7, 2009
There are some folks out there who push the conspiracy theory that President Obama isn’t really a United States citizen – these morons are called “birthers”, and I have an extensive post about this called “Citizen Obama.”
In this post I just wanted to give a quick update about the latest smackdown against the lunatic birther crowd. It seems that, despite Obama’s swearing in and acknowledgment by both Congress and the Supreme Court, these folks keep on pushing their woo by filing frivolous lawsuits attempting to get Obama to “prove” his citizenship.
One of the latest is outlined at this link to Politico.com, a non-partisan website which tracks all things political. Ben Smith’s story there states…
As the many lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility make their way through the courts, judges appear to be getting a little fed up, and D.C. District Judge James Robertson penned a particularly harsh memo yesterday dismissing a case called Hollister v. Soetero.
“This case, if it were allowed to proceed, would deserve mention in one of those books that seek to prove that the law is foolish or that America has too many lawyers with not enough to do. Even in its relatively short life the case, has excited the blogosphere and the conspiracy theorists. The right thing to do is to bring it to an early end,” he wrote.
In the entertaining five-page memo, Robertson also describes the lawyers pushing the case as “agents provocateurs” and their local counsel as “a foot soldier in their crusade,” and requires that he prove why he should not pay Obama’s legal fees for filing a complaint “for an improper purpose such as to harass.”
What that last paragraph means, basically, is that if these folks continue to file baseless lawsuits like this, then they should be required to pay all legal fees – including Obama’s. Perhaps that will give them pause before they push their nonsense in the courts.
It is also worth noting that many pseudoscientists misuse our court system in the same manner as birthers, except the pseudoscientists attempt to use the threat of litigation as a way of shutting up skeptics. For instance, “psychic” Uri Geller has filed legal action many times against skeptic & magician James Randi for exposing him publicly as a fraud – if Geller knew going into court that he’d have to pay both his own and Randi’s legal fees if he lost, then perhaps he would have thought twice about it.
One can hope that such a sensible approach would take hold in our courts. One can hope…
Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: barack obama, birther, citizenship, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, court, critical thinking, government, James Randi, judiciary, Manchurian candidate, Obama, politics, president, pseudoscience, Supreme Court, United States, Uri Geller, white house | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 20, 2009
On Tuesday, January 20th, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to ever attain that high office. Whether you voted for Obama or not, I think one thing all can agree on is that will be a historic day, to say the least.
However, true to form, there are woo-meisters out there who insist upon pushing all manner of silliness in regards to President Obama. Specifically, I am referring to various conspiracy theories claiming that Obama is not a United States citizen and therefore not eligible to hold high office. There is a further implication that his presidency is an attempt by a foreign nation to install a real-life Manchurian candidate into the White House in an attempt to gain control over our government.
The primary examples of this stupidity are the claims pushed by Philip J. Berg (who also happens to be a “9/11 Truther”) and Robert L. Schulz, the founder of the We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education (a rabidly anti-tax organization).
Berg filed a lawsuit last August in federal court alleging that Obama was born actually in Mombasa, Kenya and that the “Certification of Live Birth” on Obama’s website is a forgery – the case was dismissed as being “frivolous and not worthy of discussion.” In December, he even petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent the seating of the Electoral College – his request was denied without comment.
For some more loony examples of similar litigation filed in U.S. courts challenging the legitimacy of Obama’s citizenship, click here.
Now let’s talk about Schulz and his claims – many of which are listed on his website. Here are some examples:
Despite the overbroad and erroneous claims of many news sources, Hawaii officials have NOT confirmed that Obama was born in Hawaii. Read the 10/31/08 official Hawaii Dept. of Health press release. Again, at NO time do state officials confirm that Obama was actually born in Hawaii.
Compounding the question surrounding Obama’s citizenship status is a subsequent statement of Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo (see Chicago Tribune, 10-31-08). Citing Hawaii state privacy laws, and guidance from the state attorney general, she said she, “was not permitted to confirm the authenticity of the certificate released by the Obama campaign.”
Among Berg’s arguments is that if Obama was born in Kenya, U.S. Immigration law in effect in 1961 barred Obama from U.S. citizenship at birth because his father was a Kenyan citizen and his mother, although a U.S. citizen, was not a resident of the U.S. for at least FIVE years following her 14th birthday. Obama’s mother was only 18 at the time of Obama’s birth, and thereby barred – by U.S. Immigration law – from passing U.S. citizenship to her child Obama — even though she was a U.S. citizen. See page 6 of the legal brief.
Read the Donofrio Supreme Court appeal: Mr. Donofrio’s arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court. (right-click to download). Donofrio’s primary legal argument is that Obama could never be a constitutional “natural born” citizen simply because his father was a legal citizen of another nation, i.e. a foreign national of Kenya, regardless of place of birth. See page 16 of the brief.
Schulz decided to bypass the courts and take his case directly to the American people. In early December, he took out ads in the Chicago Tribune – called “An Open Letter to Barack Obama” – directly challenging Obama’s citizenship and the legitimacy of his upcoming presidency. Ironically, on Dec. 3rd (the day the second round of the ad was run) the Chicago Tribune ran a story systematically demolishing every single claim made in the ad.
So, apparently, these CTists are claiming that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen because he wasn’t born in Hawaii (he was – see here for evidence of that fact) and even if he was born on U.S. soil he still isn’t a citizen due to their convoluted interpretation of the law. Thus, they are attempting to set up an argument where they win, no matter what – thus preserving their conspiracy-driven worldview.
These CTists have been rebuffed in their lunacy by independent non-partisan groups such as FactCheck.org, the press, the U.S. government, and the courts. Yet still they press on partly due to an extremist political faction and convinced with almost religious zeal that Obama’s ascendancy to the White House is part of a vast conspiracy – no matter what, to them everything is evidence of this conspiracy. As such, CTs such as this are not falsifiable, at least in the minds of the true believers.
Okay, so what? Why should we care about some goofwads running around making these claims? Well, I can give you a damned good reason why we should care – because there are some people out there who really do believe that President Obama is a Manchurian candidate, out to undermine the nation and should therefore be stopped. In fact, just this past weekend, a man was charged with threatening Obama’s life on a website. The man seems to have been a regular on a conspiracy website – Alien-Earth.org – and in his postings there stated that he would kill Obama “for the country’s own good.”
Hmmm… so, what do you think? Should we take these conspiracy theorists and their drivel seriously? Does the promotion of healthy skepticism & critical thinking in our society matter?
Posted in conspiracy theories | Tagged: 9/11, 9/11 truth, barack obama, citizenship, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, government, Manchurian candidate, Obama, Philip J. Berg, politics, president, Robert L. Schulz, Supreme Court, United States, We the People Foundation, white house | 7 Comments »