Friday, June 29, 2007

Supremes grab headlines

Supremes dominate headlines and tune changes with Roberts singing lead.

The biggest news is limit on use of race in school integration plans. Some highlights:
- Scalia manages to let Roberts write a constitutional opinion without calling him a wimp;
- Roberts takes quotes from Brown v Board of Ed briefs and turns them upside down with out of context use;
- Kennedy's separate opinion (and his vote was needed to make a majority) gives school systems room to tinker rather than give up on integration or start from scratch. School assignments that distribute disadvantaged students rather than minority students might not be such a bad thing.
- Assignment to preferred school within a public K-12 school system not the same as admission to a public college or a private college that receives public funds, but watch out. If race alone not a permitted admissions factor are other accidents of birth used to justify diversity admissions also vulnerable? I want the job as lead counsel for parents from NY, NJ and CT challenging Ivy admissions - why is that kid from Nebraska with 1300 SATs (now 1950) getting my daughter's spot at Harvard - claim has a lot of problems but what a fee base.

Case barring execution of Texas lunatic a no-brainer. Sure, W has made some serious mistakes, but execution? Way harsh. Real issue here is why does Texas remain part of USA. Texans would be happier on their own, 49 other states would breathe easier. Why didn't we think of this before W ran in 2000? Note aside by J. Thomas in dissent, calling the majority "half-baked". Strong language indeed, Justice T, but Scalia is calling the guys on his own team wimps for not going far enough, you need to work on your act if you want role as majority whip.

A third decision permits vertical price maintenance - a manufacturer and distributor may agree that the distributor will not resell below a minimum price set by the manufacturer. Warning - if you thought earlier post on taxation of working interests was a snooze - do not read the rest of this paragraph. Not clear why a court, rather than a legislature, created this prohibition in the first place, it was never based on a real analysis of the economic impact and it extended the Sherman Act to bar a previously accepted practice. I remember the class clown in my advanced antitrust seminar (moi?) asking why this made sense in a world of Crazy Eddies (a prehistoric Best Buy). Manufacturers claim keeping discounts in line allows the dealers to invest in advertising, repair service etc, activities that build the brand and provide a real service to consumers. Not a big concern for consumers if, and only if, there is vigorous interbrand competition. Sony keeping its laptop prices high - OK, I will buy a Dell. Not clear where J. Breyer's dissenting estimate of consumer impact came from or how it took interbrand competition into account.

Comics everywhere mourn the passing (actually failure to pass) of the immigration bill, killed by an odd coalition of xenophobes who could not accept a whiff of amnesty in exchange for beefed up border security and pro-immigrant purists who could not live with compromise. This bill had serious issues, but made a real effort to deal with real problems. Most oddly, W did a lot right, on substance and on Congressional outreach. If you think intrabrand price maintenance has an impact on consumers, wait until you see what labor shortages at both unskilled and highly skilled end of the market do to the economy.

No comments: