Justice Thomas Dissents, but I Fixed It for You

Because I read speculative fiction, I spent the weekend wondering how Justice Thomas’ dissent would read if the petitioners were Christians seeking to have their “religious ceremony” legally recognized as a binding contract before an honestly secular government.

[My fixes edits are bolded.]

…Whether we define “liberty” as locomotion or freedom from governmental action more broadly, petitioners have in no way been deprived of it. Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in religious ceremonies. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace. They have been able to hold religious ceremonies in States that recognize religious ceremonies and limited liability partnerships in all States. They have been able to travel freely around the country, making their homes where they please. Far from being incarcerated or physically restrained, petitioners have been left alone to order their lives as they see fit.

Nor, under the broader definition, can they claim that the States have restricted their ability to go about their daily lives as they would be able to absent governmental restrictions. Petitioners do not ask this Court to order the States to stop restricting their ability to participate in religious ceremonies, to engage in intimate behavior, to make vows to their partners in public ceremonies, to engage in limited liability partnerships, to hold themselves out as LLC partners, or to raise children. The States have imposed no such restrictions. Nor have the States prevented petitioners from approximating a number of incidents of limited liability partnerships through private legal means, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

Instead, the States have refused to grant them governmental entitlements. Petitioners claim that as a matter of “liberty,” they are entitled to access privileges and benefits that exist solely because of the government. They want, for example, to receive the State’s imprimatur on their religious ceremonies —on state recognized contracts, death certificates, or other official forms.

And they want to receive various monetary benefits, including reduced inheritance taxes upon the death of a limited liability partner, compensation if a limited liability partner dies as a result of a work-related injury, or loss of consortium damages in tort suits. But receiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of “liberty” that the Framers would have recognized.

To the extent that the Framers would have recognized a natural right to religious ceremonies that fell within the broader definition of liberty, it would not have included a right to governmental recognition and benefits. Instead, it would have included a right to engage in the very same activities that petitioners have been left free to engage in—entering contracts, participating in limited liability partnerships, raising children, and otherwise enjoying the society of one’s partner—without governmental interference. At the founding, such conduct was understood to predate government, not to flow from it. As Locke had explained many years earlier, “The first society was between man and wife, which gave beginning to that between parents and children.” Locke §77, at 39; see also J. Wilson, Lectures on Law, in 2 Collected Works of James Wilson 1068 (K. Hall and M. Hall eds. 2007) (concluding “that to the institution of marriage the true origin of society must be traced”). Petitioners misunderstand religious ceremonies when they say that it would “mean little” absent governmental recognition. Brief for Petitioners in No. 14– 556, p. 33.

Petitioners’ misconception of liberty carries over into their discussion of our precedents identifying a right to religious ceremonies, not one of which has expanded the concept of “liberty” beyond the concept of negative liberty. Those precedents all involved absolute prohibitions on private actions associated with religious ceremonies.

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1 (1967), for example, involved a couple who was criminally prosecuted for participating in religious ceremonies in the District of Columbia and cohabiting in Virginia, id.,at 2–3.  They were each sentenced to a year of imprisonment, suspended for a term of 25 years on the condition that they not reenter the Commonwealth together during that time. Id., at 3.

In a similar vein, Zablocki v. Redhail , 434 U. S. 374 (1978), involved a man who was prohibited, on pain of criminal penalty, from “participating in religious ceremonies in Wisconsin or elsewhere” because of his outstanding child-support obligations, id., at 387; see id., at 377–378. And Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78 (1987), involved state inmates who were prohibited from participating in religious ceremonies without the permission of the superintendent of the prison, permission that could not be granted absent compelling reasons, id., at 82. In none of those cases were individuals denied solely governmental recognition and benefits associated with limited liability partnerships.

In a concession to petitioners’ misconception of liberty, the majority characterizes petitioners’ suit as a quest to “find . . . liberty by religious ceremonies and having their religious ceremonies deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as limited liability partnerships between persons.” Ante, at 2.

But “liberty” is not lost, nor can it be found in the way petitioners seek. As a philosophical matter, liberty is only freedom from governmental action, not an entitlement to governmental benefits. And as a constitutional matter, it is likely even narrower than that, encompassing only freedom from physical restraint and imprisonment. The majority’s “better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define . . .liberty,” ante, at 19,—better informed, we must assume, than that of the people who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment—runs headlong into the reality that our Constitution is a “collection of ‘Thou shalt nots,’” Reid v. Covert, 354 U. S. 1, 9 (1957) (plurality opinion), not “Thou shalt provides.”


The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture,have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.

Courts must exercise reasoned judgment in identifying interests of the person so fundamental that the State must accord them its respect. History and tradition guide and discipline the inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.
Applying these tenets, the Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution. For example,
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12, invalidated bans on interracial unions, and Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95, held that prisoners could not be denied the right to marry.
A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.
A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. This point was central to Griswold v. Connecticut, which held the Constitution protects the right of married couples to use contraception.
A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education…Under the laws of the several States, some of marriage’s protections for children and families are material. But marriage also confers more profound benefits. By giving recognition and legal structure to their parents’ relationship, marriage allows children “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”
Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this truth
on his travels through the United States almost two centuries ago: “There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America.”

But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.
Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification
and definition of the right.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its
fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the
eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Flex-144dpiLast Friday, I took a hiatus from SFF to read cozy mysteries. I was feeling burned out. None of the books on my Kindle app tempted me. Every book I started seemed dull, or trite, or just somehow wrong. Reading for the Hugo awards ground me down, this year, when usually it’s a delight, full of surprising treats.

So I inhaled the first five Donna Andrews Meg Langslow stories in the same number of days, took a deep breath, and looked at my Kindle TBR screen. And a tiny miracle happened. All the books looked interesting, again. Funny how that happens.

So, then, what’s got a polecat, magic drugs, a bureaucrat, and bitchin’ boss fights? C’mon, guess! Okay, so the picture is a dead giveaway, but one must try.

Also, I cheated a bit, because Ferrett Steinmetz’s name has two T’s, so he’s not technically named after a domesticated North American weasel. But his debut novel, Flex kicks ass and takes names.

I delight in unconventional heroes. One of my favorite books of last year (barely edged out by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice) was Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood, a space opera-mystery featuring an accountant. I wasn’t even planning to read Neptune’s Brood, because I’ve bounced off of every other Stross novel ever, but not only did I keep reading, I barely ate and didn’t sleep until I’d finished it.

Flex is another that kept me awake way past my “I have to be at work in how many hours?” bedtime. The hero, Paul Tsabo, is a one-legged insurance agent. He’s divorced–not very amicably–and hiding a very dangerous secret. Of course he has a dangerous secret, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story, but Paul’s actions to protect and exploit that secret, the consequences of those actions, and the awesome boss battles that explode across the page, make Steinmetz the Crash Bandicoot of… what exactly? Is Flex science fiction? Is it fantasy? I think “science fantasy” might apply in this case, but who cares?

There are black hats and white hats and grey hats, and the hats switch, or the definitions do. There’s even a pork-pie hat, I kid you not. Speaking of which, while there is a child (Paul Tsabo’s daughter) in the novel, this is not YA. Not by a long shot. Flex is graphically violent; there are extremely adult themes, including questionably consensual sex. The language depends on the characters–Steinmetz is excellent at creating distinctive character voices–but some of those characters have very foul mouths. (Sniff.)

Flex is fun, but it’s also challenging, and unrelenting. I suggest that you make sure your safety device is securely fastened and that you keep your head, hands, arms, legs, and feet inside the ride at all times. Do not stand up or exit the ride while it is in motion.


And Now For Something Completely Different

aronJim Shepard is what is known as a “writer’s writer.” That is, he’s not well known by the larger reading public, and you won’t find his books in supermarkets. That will probably change with The Book of Aron (Knopf, May 2015), his latest novel.

Aron is a young Polish boy whose family is driven from their country home by the Nazi invasion. They end up in Warsaw, where Aron joins other children in trying to both survive and help their families. I expect this novel to break my heart.

“Shepard succeeds because he never wavers from his novel’s moral focus. This is a book about annihilation, and the human spirit that somehow lives on, in slivers and cracks. This is the truth that Shepard siphons away from a history otherwise filled with the chill of encroaching brutality, the truth that renders a work of extraordinary fiction. —Nicholas Miriello, Los Angeles Review of Books

mt charProbably less devastating will be Scott Hawkins’ debut novel, The Library at Mount Char (Crown, June 2015). I have no idea what it’s about, even after reading multiple reviews and blurbs. All I know is that there’s a library containing the secrets of the universe and that the consensus seems to be the novel is “bizarre.” That’s enough for me to put it on my wish list.

geekLast but not least, is Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology (PublicAffairs, May 2015) by Kentaro Toyama. Mr Toyama is an award-winning computer scientist who has spent more than a decade trying to address global poverty, education, and health issues via technology. His conclusion: there is no pure, technological solution to human problems.

In his book, Mr Toyama presents his thesis of social change through social, people-oriented solutions. By telling the stories of people who’ve followed this path, Mr Toyama presents a vivid and refreshing alternative to hopelessness, culture war rhetoric, and information overload. Is there an answer to income inequality and poverty, and is it within each of our grasp?

What If?

Science Fiction and Fantasy is all about “What if?” What if aliens landed on the White House lawn, tomorrow? Or, what if they landed in a small, mid-Western town, and blended in perfectly? What if the Colonial armies had lost their bid for independence? What if Countess Lovelace had built Babbage’s Difference Engine?

lovelaceThat last is the premise of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sidney Padua (Pantheon Books, April 2015). For a certain sort of geek, this was the most anticipated story of the year and, according to all reports, it doesn’t disappoint, even among those of us who are not huge fans of graphic novels. I am generally distracted by pictures, but I’m still looking forward to getting this one.

Also, bonus! Lovelace and Babbage is apparently rife with foot-notes and end-notes. I love foot-notes. Whee!

GuildIn the same vein is Shya Scanlon’s The Guild of Saint Cooper (Dzanc Books, May 2015), about an obscure author tasked with rewriting history. The project grows into an actual alternate history featuring Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks fame. (Scanlon has a whole Twin Peaks thing. I’ve never understood the appeal of the show, myself.)

The novel is set in Seattle, which is a big part of my interest. I love picking apart media set in Seattle, whether it’s a movie, TV show, or novel. I do not then send the author or creators scolding emails, because that’s insane, but I do take a sort of perverse pleasure in the Pike or Pine issue, which is a perennial local hobgoblin. (Seriously, watch the clip.)

Bird is the Word

Over the past two weeks or so, several people have mentioned Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series of mystery novels. As I’m a bit burnt out from the Hugo reading, and I quite like mysteries, I checked out the first two from my local library on Saturday. Maybe Friday? No, it had to be Saturday, because I slept Friday night. Saturday night, I finished Murder with Peacocks (#1) and segued right into Murder with Puffins (#2), reading until I could barely make out the words. Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingoes (#3) is not available (I put a hold on it), so I’ve skipped to Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon (#4).peacock150

So deliciously tasty! Not what one would call deep and meaningful, but fun, jaunty mysteries of the cozy variety. Very little violence, no gore, plenty of wit and a bit of romance. What is not to love?

Book One of the series, Murder with Peacocks, introduces the reader to Meg Langslow and her extremely extended family through the device of three consecutive weddings. In any other setting than weddings, especially weddings in the summer in the southeast US, the series of unlikely events which constitute the plot, and the infinite number of wacky relatives making up the majority of the cast, would be ludicrous far beyond the average person’s suspension of disbelief. Having some experience of both Southerners and weddings, as well as my own fair share of ludicrous relatives, I had little trouble buying in. Peacocks exaggerates, but only slightly, and it’s rollicking good fun.

puffin150More sedate is Murder with Puffins, in which the cast actually increases, but most of the characters are walk-ons and not actually related to Meg. The plot is still deeply silly, but not quite as busy as Peacocks, and the slower pace means that the major characters are more developed. This novel was great fun, but it dragged a bit at either end.

I’m just over halfway done with Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon: in this installment the cast is even more pared down and the plot gets bonus points for being somewhat prosaic. Even the love interest is out of town, so we get to spend more time in Meg’s head, considering the clues and trying to solve the mystery. Since I’ve not read Flamingoes, yet, I don’t know how Ms Andrews handled some of the transitions (location, for example), but I’m looking forward to finding out.

The Meg Langslow series is the perfect antidote to too much seriousness. If you’re sad, mad, bored, depressed, or just tired of all the fussing and fighting; if you don’t feel like being terrified or repulsed; if you want a good, fast, funny story with likable characters and a satisfyingly happy ending, I highly recommend these books. They are a romp in the park with cotton candy and dogs that don’t fight and children that don’t cry. Frankly, the worst thing about these books is the covers. Yech.

Otherwise, enjoy!


(Hat Tip to Simon Bisson for the rec, among others. Thanks, Simon!)

Tor Friday – Buy a Book! Two at the very most…

Did someone suggest that I buy a book, today? I think they did. Is there a bad excuse–I mean, reason–a bad reason to buy a book? No, I don’t think there is.

Heinlein1First up, Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: Learning Curve 1907-1948 by William H Patterson Jr (Tor Books, August 2010). And, wow, is that title long enough? The second volume should have been on the Hugo nomination short list this year, so this is yet another book that is going to cause significant scrutiny of the long list, when that list is released.

I am a huge Heinlein fan. I grew up on his stories. When I look at my bookshelves, the two writers most represented are Robert A Heinlein and William Shakespeare. I have everything extant by both, in multiple editions. I remember when For Us, The Living was finally released, back in 2003–I rushed out to buy it and read it twice. Not his greatest novel, but it was his first, and I’d read several essays by Heinlein discussing his awful (in his own words) first novel.

Heinlein never ceased sprinkling his own brand of messaging throughout his books and stories; as a young woman, I found those messages empowering. I admired Friday Jones and Podkayne of Mars; I found solace in the raucous affection of the Stone family when my own family seemed to be falling apart.

Robert Heinlein was a huge influence on several generations of readers. WHeinlein2hile not all of his stories have aged well–personally, I think The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land hold up best–I suspect that they will remain important for several more generations, simply because they influenced so many contemporary writers. One place where “trickle down” works as a theory is in literature: Heinlein’s ideas and tropes continue to “trickle down” through SFF and will for my foreseeable future.

And, as long as I was there, I also purchased the second volume, because why not? Today is pay day! Volume 2 is The Man Who Learned Better 1948-1988 (Tor Books, June 2014). Personally, if Patterson had issued eight volumes, one for each decade, I would be a happy camper, but I guess I can suffer with only two volumes. (RIP, Mr Patterson. You did a great thing and if there is an afterlife, I hope you and Mr Heinlein are hanging out, shootin’ the breeze, and arguing politics.)

Upcoming Releases in SFF Publishing

Summer should be a time for reading. I envy Europeans who get a month off every year for holiday. Given a month paid leave, I would never leave my house. I could garden, cook, and read for 30 days, no problem.

Lacking that, those of us in the US, chained to a desk, must take advantage of our weekends. Fortunately, there are plenty of exciting new books to make the days seem long enough for leisure purposes. Pre-order now so that you’ve got yummy books for those dog days of July and August.

theredLinda Nagata’s The Red: First Light (Saga Press, June  2015) is out this month. A MilSF novel with a twist, the blurb reads, “Lieutenant James Shelley commands a high-tech squad of soldiers in a rural district within the African Sahel. They hunt insurgents each night on a harrowing patrol, guided by three simple goals: protect civilians, kill the enemy, and stay alive–because in a for-profit war manufactured by the defense industry there can be no cause worth dying for. To keep his soldiers safe, Shelley uses every high-tech asset available to him–but his best weapon is a flawless sense of imminent danger…as if God is with him, whispering warnings in his ear. Hazard Notice: contains military grade profanity.”

I’m looking forward to finding out what military grade profanity consists of. My dad was career military, so this could be what throws me out of the novel, or a delightful bit of authenticity.

letterstozellLetters to Zell (47North, July 2015) is the first novel from local author Camille Griep, already known for her lovely short stories. I love fairy tale retellings (Robin McKinley does several gorgeous rewrites of classic fairy tales), and Ms Griep’s book promises more of the same, only funny: “In this hilarious modern interpretation of the fairy-tale stories we all know and love, Letters to Zell explores what happens when women abandon the stories they didn’t write for themselves and go completely off script to follow their dreams.”

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury USA, July 2015) has been receiving rave reviews as both speculative and historical fiction. It’s Natasha Pulley’s debut novel, and that’s a lot of hype to livwatchmakere up to: I hope the novel lives up to the press, although generally Publisher’s Weekly reviews are a pretty good guide and Watchmaker got excellent reviews from both PW and Library Journal.

From Library Journal’s review: ” This delightful first novel is as impressive as a work of historical fiction, with its evocative details of 19th-century England on the cusp of technological and cultural revolutions, as it is a delicate fantasy with enough gadgetry to pull in the steampunk fans, and a mystery to boot. The climax is so well plotted that readers will immediately want to read it again.”

Also, the cover is gorgeous. I hope the book designer and art department got lots and lots of praise from the author, agent, and editor.

The Obligatory Puppy Post

I have now read my Hugo packet, including the bland to execrable Puppy contributions that were slated by Mr Torgersen and cohort. I have no problem putting them uniformly below No Award or leaving them off the ballot entirely. The good news is that some works slated shine next to the works that they were slated with, so that’s something, anyway.

As has been noted, both slates are naked examples of cronyism. Which, you know, happens in the real world, so the Puppies are merely doing what the Old Boy’s Network has done for years, only less honestly. Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed leaders of both packs have done a terrible insult to their nominees by the very nature of their process.

Basically, what Mr Torgersen and Mr Beale have said to not only their chosen nominees, but also to the world, is that the works they nominated are so bad that the only way any of them can possibly have a chance is through gaming a loophole in the Hugo awards nomination process. How must that make the authors feel? To be told, by your supposed friends and allies–even your employer or publisher in the case of Castalia–that you are not good enough to win on your own merits, so here, let us fix the contest for you, so that you can… still probably not win.

That is not a friend or ally. A friend or ally signal boosts great work—reads it, talks about it, loans out their own copy, writes reviews on Amazon or a blog, buys dinner, watches the dog so that the author can attend a reading. Whatever. A friend and ally does not shit in a pie crust and stare at you until you eat it with a pained smile. As the saying goes, with friends like that…

I don’t blame the slated nominees who withdrew their work for whatever their own personal or professional reasons. And I certainly understand why some of them feel insulted and even ridiculed by those who claim to be “helping” under-represented authors get exposure. This is the sort of “exposure” granted by anonymous assholes who post stolen, nude photos of celebrities on Reddit. Mr Torgersen and Mr Beale have pantsed a slate of nominees, encouraged fandom to stare at their underwear, and seem completely oblivious tosmile-kitten-large the fact that maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t a nice thing to do. And, in so doing, the Slaters have shown their own respective asses, and they are not pretty.

So, hey, have a happy kitten to brighten your weekend!