Stop the ‘Cut-Out Caricature’ Narrative of the Roberts Court, Liberal Law Prof Tells MSNBC

MSNBC and the liberal networks have been constantly fearmongering about the implications and supposed disastrous consequences of the Hobby Lobby ruling. However, seemingly by accident, Joy-Ann Reid brought on a liberal guest who was surprisingly defensive of the Court’s decision.

The Reid Report host welcomed Laurence Tribe, a constitutional lawyer, to the June 30 edition of the program, and he was not willing to concede that the Hobby Lobby ruling was transformative in any way. He lashed out at the left for their caricature of the Roberts Court as one that is just trying to screw the little guy in favor of the big corporations [MP3 audio here; video below]:

And I think, you know, I'm a great watcher of MSNBC. I like preaching to the converted, but I think that when push comes to shove, we'll do a lot better trying to understand what's really going on inside the minds of all these people rather than just doing kind of cardboard cut-out caricatures.

Earlier in the segment, Tribe commented that “the journalistic account of the Roberts Court’s world view is much too simplistic. The world view is very complicated, and it pushes in lots of directions.”

Tribe insisted that the court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not nearly as horrible as the Left is making it out to be:

In today's case, the court was not elevating corporations above actual human beings. It was interpreting an act of Congress where Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself said that corporations, along with people and along with unions, should be able to argue that something needlessly burdens their religion...that’s not as radical a decision as some people think.

The liberal media for years have been trying to simplify the Roberts Court into one that supports big business and corporate rights above all else. While that narrative has mostly continued with today’s reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling, it is nice to hear a voice in the wilderness speaking in more a more balanced tone, especially when no one can deny that voice’s liberal credentials.

The relevant portion of the transcript is below:

MSNBC
The Reid Report
June 30, 2014
2:17 p.m. Eastern

JOY-ANN REID, host: I want to start by giving you an opportunity to react to the Hobby Lobby decision, another 5-4 ruling. Does this decision and the way it was constructed with all of that language about it being narrow, does that fit into sort of the general world view that you've discerned about the Roberts court?

LAURENCE TRIBE, constitutional lawyer: Well, actually, I think the journalistic account of the Roberts court's world view is much too simplistic. The world view is very complicated, and it pushes in lots of directions. One reason that I wrote this book with my wonderful former research assistant Joshua Matts is to clear things up a little bit. Like in today's case, the court was not elevating corporations above actual human beings. It was interpreting an act of Congress where Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act itself said that corporations, along with people and along with unions, should be able to argue that something needlessly burdens their religion. Employees could make exactly the same argument and have in many successful cases. And what the court said was that as long as the government can provide the contraception at public expense, there is no need to burden the religious beliefs of closely held corporations whose owners basically operate the business. That's not as radical a decision as some people think. The court–

REID: Well, let me ask you this, because I think a lot of people would look at the Roberts court and see they seem to come down on the side of corporations a lot, right. When it comes to what corporations can do with regard to elections, when it comes to what corporations can do with regard to contraception. Knowing that women individually have a burden, too, in terms of buying contraception, but it seemed they sided with easing the corporate burden over the individual burden. There does seem to be a theme that I think a lot of people who watch the court would see it's a corporate-friendly court. Is that accurate?

TRIBE: Well, it's partially accurate. In the last chapter of my book called "Making rights real: Access to Justice," I do criticize the court for making class actions harder, for making litigation harder, for siding very often with arbitration rather than litigation. But it's a lot too simple to say it's just corporations. In the Citizens United decision, for example, the court was citing with unions as well as corporations, and it was saying that regardless of who or what the speaker is, we don't trust the government to regulate the amount of speech. And if you focus only on the fact that lots of corporations win in this court and that the Chamber of Commerce does really well, then you're going to miss a lot of what's really going on in many of these cases. And I think, you know, I'm a great watcher of MSNBC, I like preaching to the converted, but I think that when push comes to shove, we'll do a lot better trying to understand what's really going on inside the minds of all these people rather than just doing kind of cardboard cut-out caricatures.

REID: Well let me ask you about one of the characterizations that you do have in the book. You essentially write the five conservative justices who rule in the majority often are essentially reasserting an attempt to rein in government regulation, that they did so in terms of the Interstate Commerce Clause in the Affordable Care Act, and it's sort of the signaling a willingness, in your words, or perhaps even an eagerness to resume a judicial role in limiting federal economic regulation. And that’s something–

TRIBE: That I think is true. That's very true, and that's true whether the regulation leans in one direction or another. It's a very anti-regulatory court. And in today's decision in the other case, the very important case involving home health care workers who are only part-time workers for the state government and for local governments, in that case the court took a rather dangerous step toward using free speech principles toward that deregulatory agenda. But it's not only the more supposedly conservative members. The other big case that went in this direction not long ago was a case in which the court with Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Sotomayor as part of the majority struck down a Vermont economic regulation designed to rein in pharmaceutical prices. Justice Breyer, in his dissent, pointed out that that really is a big step backward, making it harder to regulate in the benefit of workers and consumers. That I think is a real trend in this court.

Connor Williams
Connor Williams
Connor Williams is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.