WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that states may not impose excessive fines, extending a bedrock constitutional protection but potentially jeopardizing asset-forfeiture programs that help fund police operations with property seized from criminal suspects.
“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court. “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies,” she continued, citing examples from English history tracing to the Magna Carta.
More recently, the proliferation of fines has caught the attention of criminal-justice advocates, who contend they fall disproportionately on the poor and distort police priorities.
The opinion leaves open several questions regarding its ultimate impact, issues likely to percolate through lower courts as defendants challenge fines.
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment protection from excessive fines applied only to the federal government not the states. That initially was so after the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, but the U.S. Supreme Court long has held that the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to prevent states from infringing on individual rights, extended nearly all its protections to all levels of government.
Wednesday’s decision confirmed that the Eighth Amendment contained no exceptions. “The historical and logical case for concluding that the 14th incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.
Now Paul Ryan is announcing that he’s retiring — after saying “I ain’t going anywhere” in December — and the outlook for Republicans is grim, both in the 2018 midterms and beyond.
.. “Ryan has never loved the job; he oozes aggravation when discussing intraparty debates over ‘micro-tactics,’ and friends say he feels like he’s running a daycare center.”
.. By July, the House of Representatives had passed a slew of big bills, only to watch them slowly die in the Senate. He’s also trying to work with a president who flips from priority to priority (
- North Korea!
- ) and a constantly-changing White House staff. It’s hard to generate any sustained momentum for key legislation.
.. At least some of this year’s mass GOP retirements stem from a sense that little can really get done in Trump’s Washington, so you might as well do something else more lucrative... The guy who liberals depicted throwing granny off the cliff . . . was also the kind of man goes into drug treatment centers, touches the scars from the “track marks” of heroin addicts, and prays with and for them. He was portrayed as some sort of heartless Ayn Rand acolyte when he emphasized how conservatives needed to find solutions for poverty. He was civil, well-informed, polite, and firm, the opposite of a table-pounding, demagogic extremist, and that probably just aggravated his critics on the left even more
The Right needs an unsentimental, realistic view of this presidency.
But the book’s most damning and consequential revelation lies in its depiction of a president who barely understands the office he occupies and isn’t interested in learning: “He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s.”
.. If Trump is an ignorant, egomaniacal buffoon, he’s not enough of one to stop good policy from passing or the country’s condition from improving.
.. The riot and death in Charlottesville demonstrated that Trump can take the easiest layup in American politics — denounce those marching under the Nazi banner! — and botch it completely.
.. Perhaps the stakes of the Trump presidency require conservatives to confront the coming months and years with an unsentimental cost-benefit analysis. Applaud President Trump when he’s right, criticize him when he’s wrong, and ride the horse as far as he can take you — and the moment he can carry you no further, leave him behind. If Trump proves incapable of resisting temptation and irreparably sabotages his own presidency, conservatives shouldn’t strain any muscles to defend him.
.. Don’t buy into the ex post facto justifications that his angry tweets are some irreplaceable communications tool, that his mercurial nature is strategic unpredictability, that his ignorance is feigned, and that he’s playing some secret seven-level chess, with plans within plans, all building up to some ultimate victory that’s just around the corner.
.. There is no secret master plan, no elaborate grand scheme with pieces slowly falling into place.
.. It’s not like what Trump has to do is a mystery. He has to calm down and stop worrying about what’s said about him on television. He has to pay attention in his briefings. He needs to tweet less — a lot less. He needs to think deeply about what his top legislative priority before the midterm elections ought to be, and once he’s decided on that, he needs to work tirelessly to build a majority of votes to pass it. One of Trump’s most popular moments of 2017 was his address to Congress, where he sounded downright normal for a Republican president. Perhaps what Americans want is just to wake up each morning and not have to worry, “What is the federal government going to try to do to me today?”
If Trump can just calm down, focus on governing, and stop acting like he’s hosting a twist-filled reality show, he will be a successful two-term president. But if he keeps indulging his worst impulses and living down to the frightening portrait presented in Wolff’s book, conservatives don’t need to stick with him.
She repeated: “Again, if they can’t, then they should get out of the way and let somebody else take their job that can actually get something done.”
.. This is a remarkable tone for the White House to be setting on the eve of a number of critical fights and pieces of legislation. We knew President Trump was willing to unleash his Twitter account on GOP congressional leaders, and during one Q&A, he left open the idea that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might need to be replaced if he can’t deliver. But Sanders’s repeated comments make clear those weren’t just one-offs; this is now the White House’s official strategy and talking point.
.. To recap, the things on Congress’s to-do list are:
- averting a government shutdown,
- passing the first major tax reform since 1986,
- a hurricane relief bill for Harvey (and the possibility of emergency action required for Hurricane Irma in Florida),
- a massive to-be-determined infrastructure bill and now
- comprehensive immigration reform. (Sanders made clear Trump doesn’t want “just a one-piece fix.”) Oh, and don’t forget that Trump wants Congress to
- resurrect health care and get that done, too.
.. Even if this wasn’t a Congress in which failure and gridlock have become the norm, that would be a daunting set of tasks. Trump has now set the bar so high that he’s basically guaranteeing Congress will fail, by his standards.
.. And Sanders so casually adding comprehensive immigration reform to their to-do list Tuesday — and basically giving them six months to complete it before DACA is phased out — was the equivalent of a gut punch to congressional leaders, given years and years of failure on that issue. Having the White House pile that on is almost cruel.
.. The problem, as I noted earlier Tuesday, is that Trump has shown little appetite for providing that leadership. He has demonstrated that he much prefers to leave things to Congress and blame them when they fail. Even more troublingly for GOP leaders, Trump doesn’t just get out of the way; he is forever changing his positions and giving Congress conflicting signals, leaving leaders without the opportunity to apply presidential pressure on members.
.. Trump’s only priority seems to be passing something, but even on that front, his efforts are usually counterproductive. Even in urging large-scale action on immigration, the White House on Tuesday declined to say specifically what it wanted from a bill or whether Trump would sign a straight replacement of just DACA.
.. Tuesday’s example was the latest indication of a looming showdown and irreconcilable, inherent problems between Congress and the White House.
This will get worse before it gets better.