Quick Takes

* Two big stories from the Supreme Court today indicate that the reality of 4/4 decisions is affecting outcomes. First was a decision in the case that many feared could mean the end of public unions.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was unable to resolve a major challenge to organized labor, and the result was a defeat for a group of California teachers who claim their free speech rights are violated when they are forced to pay dues to the state’s teachers union.

The court said it was split 4 to 4 on the issue, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. It was the most important case yet in which the eight-member court was unable to reach a decision…

When the court is evenly split, it affirms the decision of the appeals court that considered it. In this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said it was bound by the Abood [which favored the unions] decision and turned down the challenge.

* Secondly, the Court issued an order to the plaintiffs in the Zubik v. Burwell case. As you might recall, they are objecting to the accommodation established by the White House for businesses who seek a religious exemption from the Obamacare mandate to cover contraceptive care. Tierney Sneed takes it from there:

At last week’s oral arguments, the court, and particularly the male justices in its conservative bloc, struggled when grappling with the question of how female employees of religious nonprofits would receive contraceptive coverage if the accommodation was not allowed to stand.

Now the court has requested the challengers provide briefs outlining other options. The briefs, due April 12, should address “whether and how contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees,” the court said.

As Sneed goes on to point out, a 4/4 decision in this case would offer no national precedent because lower courts split on their rulings. She concludes, “It appears, with Tuesday’s order, the court is searching for a compromise decision that would get at least five votes and avoid that scenario.”

* In an article by Annie Karni summarizing both the Clinton and Sanders campaign plans for the upcoming primary in New York, I found this strategy to be very odd.

Sanders’ allies said the goal for the primary is to eat into Clinton’s delegate take by winning at least 40 percent of the vote — a percentage they cite as a “credibility threshold.”

First of all, a 40/60 split for Sanders in New York won’t “eat into Clinton’s delegate lead.” And any loss there pretty much cripples his chance of winning the most delegates in this race. It is way too late to be shooting for some kind of “credibility threshold.”

* Finally, last night President Obama spoke very forcefully to a group of journalists about the “divisive and often vulgar rhetoric” we’re seeing on the campaign trail.” He noted the media’s role in that and challenged them with this:

And as I go into my last year, I spend a lot of time reflecting on how this system, how this crazy notion of self-government works; how can we make it work. And this is as important to making it work as anything — people getting information that they can trust, and that has substance and evidence and facts and truth behind it. In an era in which attention spans are short, it is going to be hard because you’re going to have to figure out ways to make it more entertaining, and you’re going to have to be more creative, not less. Because if you just do great reporting and nobody reads it, that doesn’t do anybody any good, either.

But 10, 20, 50 years from now, no one seeking to understand our age is going to be searching the Tweets that got the most retweets, or the post that got the most likes. They’ll look for the kind of reporting, the smartest investigative journalism that told our story and lifted up the contradictions in our societies, and asked the hard questions and forced people to see the truth even when it was uncomfortable.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.