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Tied Supreme Court shows Senate GOP’s folly

The expected 4-4 Supreme Court deadlock in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case is a fresh reminder of the folly of Senate Republicans refusing to take up Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination for the high court. We need to have a fully staffed court to resolve important legal questions of the day, not have them trapped in limbo because of a stalemate between four justices who are generally liberal and four justices who are generally conservative.

The Friedrichs case is less problematic because the 4-4 vote upholds existing precedents on public employee unions collecting fees from workers to pay for union activities. But there are important pending cases involving abortion rights and affirmative action in which different appellate courts could well diverge — meaning no nationally accepted standards on two vitally important public policies.

That’s already happened in a more arcane policy field. In the Supreme Court’s first 4-4 decision since Justice Antonin Scalia died, justices failed to resolve Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore, which dealt with whether two women were liable for their husbands’ business loans under federal law. As The Atlantic magazine noted, because of differing rulings in the 6th and 8th U.S. appellate circuits, in some states this means the women’s liability depends on whether they live east or west of the Mississippi River.

How absurd. But unless the Senate does its job, such absurdities may become common. This is already a national embarrassment.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 30

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Obama and Macri set a course for better relations

President Barack Obama’s two-day visit last week to Argentina enabled him to boost new center-right President Mauricio Macri in the economic reforms he has launched and to improve perceptions of the United States in Latin America.

Improved ties with Argentina are part of a trend toward smoother relations with southern countries. Obama’s opening to Cuba in late 2014 and his visit there last week, plus the changes in Venezuela after the death of demagogue Hugo Chavez, the refusal by Bolivians in a referendum to give President Evo Morales a chance to become president-for-life and the smooth succession by Macri after November’s election may lead to welcome policy changes.

Obama and his family played well in Argentina, a nation of 41 million. He was the first U.S. president to hold top-level talks with an Argentine leader in nearly 20 years. He welcomed Macri’s market-oriented changes, while steering clear of the messy scrap between Argentina and Wall Street hedge funds that grew out of the country’s $100 billion debt default in 2001. Obama showed his usual cultural appreciation, dancing the tango and admiring the scenery in Patagonia.

Important to Argentinians still grieving the victims of the 1976-1983 “dirty war” which claimed nearly 30,000 lives, Obama pledged to declassify U.S. military and intelligence documents. The records may shed light not only on the disappearance of so many, but on any involvement the U.S. had with Argentina’s brutal government of the time.

Argentina’s economic problems will not be easy for Macri to solve. Inflation could rise to about 33 percent and the country will continue to struggle to get past its longtime reputation for financial irresponsibility. Obama’s timely visit and his support of Macri’s new approach could help in the months ahead.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 29

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