Thank You for Friedrichs, Mr Scalia

Antonin ScaliaAs I write this, I have a great big smile on my face. The Supreme Court handed down a one sentence judgement in the case Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. This was a case where a handful of teachers sued the teachers’ union, claiming that it violated their rights to have to pay the union an agency fee. But maybe I should back up for readers who are not so up on all this union business.

People cannot be forced to join a union just to have a job. This is considered coercive. If only our judicial system were so protective of workers’ rights when it comes to the coercion that employers inflict on them. But the law is the law. However, these workers who think that unions are bad still have to pay what’s called an “agency fee.” This is the money that it costs the union to do the collective bargaining that gets the workers higher compensation packages.

Friedrichs v California Teachers Association was designed to destroy even this requirement that employees pay the agency fee. In the short term, it would mean that the workers would get the service for free. But in the longer term, it would mean that the unions would be destroyed. This latter effect was what the plaintiffs were looking for all along. So the case went before the moderate Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was struck down. This was expected. The whole point was to get this in front of the Supreme Court where the conservative justices would show as they always do that they are are just conservative hacks.

“I don’t care about teachers’ unions — I’m dead!” —Antonin Scalia

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case on 11 January 2016. It was certain that it would overrule the Ninth Circuit Court. But then Justice Antonin Scalia did one of the best things in all his career: he died.

Even though he was there for oral arguments of Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, it doesn’t matter. The rules are that if he isn’t there for the final decision, he isn’t there. It appears that despite all of its problems, at least the Supreme Court follows its own rules. If this had been up to the US Senate, the Republicans would have said, “Scalia would have voted with the conservatives, so it’s a 5-4 decision and the Night Circuit is overruled!” But that didn’t happen.

The Supreme Court released a single sentence opinion (pdf):

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Oh Scalia, Scalia, Scalia! Now that you are dead, we salute you!

Of course, it isn’t all good news. There are a number of other cases where the lower court decided something horrible. This is why we need a moderate to be put on the court. Let’s face it: we aren’t going to get a liberal. But at least we can get someone who isn’t a reflexive partisan. Having two of those on the Supreme Court is two too many.

But it’s nice to think nicely of Scalia for a change. It isn’t that he was always wrong. His dissent in Maryland v King was bold and inspiring. I’m glad he was dead for Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, because he certainly would have ruled in his usual talk radio informed way.

Morning Music: Century Spring

Century SpringIn 2002, Mason Jennings released his third album, Century Spring. It sounds like he arrived in this album. He just sounds so confident. That isn’t to put down the previous albums, which I think are great. But it’s hard not to think that Mason Jennings’ life is going pretty well at this point. It all makes me think that I’m going to have to revisit this guy in much greater detail when I have more time. It’s always nice to follow an artist who grows, and that’s definitely the case of Jennings from his first album through to Century Spring. I’m curious what tomorrow will bring.

Today, we listen to “Living in the Moment.” I assume that it was meant to be the single from the album. It’s so sweet. It seems to reflect the kind of life that I want to have. I want to be the guy who tells everyone, “No! You’ve got it all wrong: this is the perfect life!” Of course, the thought of living in the moment with the friends I love sounds like something too far removed from reality. But it sounds like a lovely dream

But he is completely right that you can’t construct a meaningful life all by yourself. We are all social — even those who consider ourselves misanthropists.

Anniversary Post: Jeopardy!

[And here I was going to write about Jeopardy! and it turns out I did last year. So I’m just going to run it today because I’m literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I keep waiting for life to get easier, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Although getting rid of my publisher’s constant insults is a big step in the right direction. -FM]

Jeopardy!The game show Jeopardy! is 52 years old today. But it hasn’t been on all that time. It started on NBC and ran from 1964 through 1979, with a two year absence from 1976 through 1978. During that period, it was hosted by Art Fleming. Then, after four years off the air, it was brought back in syndication with the new host Alex Trebek. It was created by Merv Griffin, who created pretty much every “normal” game show you can think of. (All right, that’s a vast exaggeration.)

When I was a kid, I loved game shows. But I hated Jeopardy! There are good reasons for that. Now I kind of like it because I’m good at it. But it is just a quiz show. Providing the questions for the answers is very slightly clever. But it is designed this way simply to hide the fact that it is a boring quiz show. Eight year old Frank was no fool.

I’ve written three articles about the show. The first was simply, Jeopardy! In it, I explained why I would never try out for the show. Short answer: the up side is not compensation enough for the potential that I would humiliate myself. The second article was, “Power Players” on Jeopardy! Out of Touch. I was shocked that media figures were so ignorant and I commented on how the questions were easier for these elites than they are for normal contestants. And the last one was my finally getting around to answering a question that has been on my mind for years, Maximum Possible Win on Jeopardy! How much money could you walk away with on a single episode if you got every question right and maximized the “daily doubles”? $566,400. But the most anyone has ever won on a single episode is only $77,000. Only ten people have ever made more than $50,000.

Happy birthday Jeopardy!