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“Must Vow To Never, Ever, Betray The Conservative Cause”: GOP Candidates Will Now Have To Promise Supreme Court Litmus Tests

With two dramatic and far-reaching liberal decisions in as many days at the end of last week, the Supreme Court laid Republicans low, dashed their hopes and spat on their dreams, made them beat their breasts and shake their fists at the heavens. And in both cases, it was a conservative justice (or two) who joined with the liberals to do it. So while there will be a lot of discussion among Republicans about where they should go from this point forward on the issues of health care and gay rights, you can be sure that they’re also going to spend a great deal of time talking about how they can make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Conservatives already hated Anthony Kennedy, and now some have decided that John Roberts is a traitor as well. If you’re a Republican presidential candidate, you’d better have a strong argument for why whoever you’ll appoint to the Supreme Court will never, ever, ever betray the conservative cause.

In the first couple of days, the candidates reacted much as you think they might, with varying degrees of displeasure built on time-tested conservative cliches about judicial restraint and judges not legislating from the bench. Which was a little odd, since in one of two decisions (King v. Burwell), what they were hoping for was a little more judicial activism. Nevertheless, they’ve been saying those things for so long that it may be understandable. So when Hugh Hewitt asked Jeb Bush how he would avoid future betrayals like these, he said only, “You focus on people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.” Rick Perry said much the same, that he would “appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.” Marco Rubio reached farther back, arguing that “As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.” Scott Walker issued a statement on his Facebook page about “five unelected judges” but passed on an opportunity to rail about them the next day. If you wanted a real denunciation of the Supreme Court that went beyond an objection to the substance of their decisions, you’d have to go to second-tier candidates like Ted Cruz, who proposed recall elections for Supreme Court justices, or Mike Huckabee, who loaded up his rhetorical musket to march at the Supreme Court redcoats. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” he said. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

But guess what? That’s not going to be good enough for Republican voters anymore. Here’s what’s going to happen: At one town hall meeting after another, a Republican primary voter will stand up to the candidate before them and say, “What are you going to do about the Supreme Court?” Then everyone else will lean in to listen.

As well they should. Given the ages of the justices (four are over 76 years old) and the fact that the next president will probably have the chance to appoint a liberal to replace a conservative or vice versa for the first time since Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall in 1991, there may be no single issue in the 2016 campaign of greater importance than the Supreme Court. If Hillary Clinton replaces a conservative justice, the court would swing to a liberal majority; if a Republican replaces a liberal justice, there would be a solid conservative majority with Anthony Kennedy no longer holding the swing vote.

Right now, conservatives are feeling like they’ve been betrayed. As conservative writer Matt Lewis noted on Thursday, “conservatives thought they had figured it out. The right created an impressive infrastructure and network to identify and promote conservative lawyers, clerks, and would-be judges,” and it was designed to keep these kinds of defections from happening. And Chief Justice Roberts was supposed to be the model for how it would work: a young, accomplished lawyer who did his apprenticeship in the Reagan Justice Department, where, like his colleague Samuel Alito, he imbibed the foundations of conservative legal thinking.

As it happens, the John Roberts whom Republicans are now denouncing as a traitor for his ruling in King v. Burwell is also the justice who engineered the unshackling of billionaires’ money in politics, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the Court’s first declaration of an individual right to own guns — along with dozens of other extremely important and extremely conservative rulings in recent years. If anything, he’s an ideologue but not a partisan, meaning he sometimes does what’s in conservatives’ long-term interests, even if it isn’t what the Republican Party wants at the moment.

But the old Republican cry of “No more Souters!” may now be replaced by “No more Kennedys and Robertses!” Republican candidates are going to have make it very clear to primary voters that they have a whole list of litmus tests, and any lawyer or lower-court judge who fails to satisfy each and every one won’t be getting nominated to the Supreme Court. Vague words about judicial restraint and respecting the Constitution aren’t going to cut it.

I’ve argued before that litmus tests for Supreme Court appointments aren’t a bad thing — instead of having candidates pretend that they’re only interested in finding wise and humble jurists, and having the Court nominees themselves pretend that they have no opinions on any legal questions, we should just get everything out in the open so we can all know what we’re in for. In the past, Democrats have been more willing to discuss the litmus tests they have (particularly on abortion), while Republicans have insisted that they only want judges who will respect the Founders and interpret law, not make law. Of course, that isn’t really what they want — when the circumstances are right, they’re only too happy to have judges make laws (or overturn them) if it produces the outcome they prefer.

So if nothing else, the Republican candidates will have to be a more honest now. But they can’t be too honest. Tell everyone that you will tolerate only Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations and get even more big money into politics, and you coulan, d run into trouble with general election voters. That makes it a tricky balance to strike, which is pretty much the story of the entire 2016 campaign for Republican candidates: Appealing too strongly to primary voters means potentially alienating the broader electorate, on almost every issue that comes up. As dramatic as the past week was, other issues will eventually push the ACA and gay marriage out of the headlines, at least for a while here and there. But in the short run, the candidates are going to face a lot of pointed questions about whom they plan to put on the Supreme Court.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Even NASCAR Won’t Defend The Confederate Flag…”: The Debate, For All Intents And Purposes, Is Over

Those of us who are obsessed with politics often fall prey to paying too much attention to what politicians do, and too little attention to what is happening around us culturally. In terms of the Confederate flag debate, that means paying a lot of attention to what Southern governors like Nikki Haley say and do, and not enough to what more influential icons and institutions do.

On that front, the fact that even NASCAR has condemned the Confederate battle flag is pretty definitive that the debate is for all intents and purposes over:

“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted,’’ the statement read. “NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate flag on Monday.’’

“As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity,’’ the statement read. “While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our event.’’

It’s not just that NASCAR is synonymous with good old boys and Southern cultural machismo. It’s also that NASCAR in many ways is facing the same problem as the Republican Party: it depends on a shrinking, increasingly isolated demographic for its fan base, and desperately needs to broaden its appeal beyond just Southern white men. That includes having more minority drivers and race car owners.

In that context, the statements by former NBA star Brad Dougherty, the only African-American racecar owner in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, are telling:

“I’m a different egg or a different bird, I’m a Southern kid,’’ said Daugherty, who wore No. 43 during his basketball career in honor of his racing hero, Richard Petty. “But to walk into the racetrack and there’s only a few that you walk into and see that Confederate flag — it does make my skin crawl. Even though I do my best to not acknowledge it or to pay any attention to it, it’s there and it bothers me because of what it represents….”

It’s so unfortunate that it took nine lives there at the AME church to really get this debate heated up enough that there’s serious questions about whether the flag should be flown over the state capitol,’’ Daugherty said. “I find that a little bit appalling and even absurd. The old heritage vs. hate thing, in my mind, is ridiculous because that flag to any African-American person does not represent any type of heritage. It 100 percent represents hate.’’

That it does. Nikki Haley knows it. NASCAR knows it. And we’re at a point in this country where it’s not just appalling and unacceptable, but it’s too damaging even to organizations like NASCAR and the Republican Party to tolerate it anymore even though they depend on a large number of bigots for their fan base and support.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 28, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, NASCAR | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court’s Ruling Be Damned”: Ted Cruz Isn’t Taking The Marriage Ruling Well

At an event over the weekend, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was asked about last week’s Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. The right-wing Iowan, not surprisingly, wasn’t pleased, calling the court decisions “the heaviest one-two punch delivered against the Constitution and the American people that we’ve ever seen in the history of this country.”

Of course, Steve King is expected to say things like this. When presidential candidates go over the top in the same way, it’s a little more alarming. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) went so far as to call for a constitutional convention to overturn the court’s decision while campaigning in Iowa, according to CNN. In an interview with Sean Hannity he called the back-to-back rulings on health care and gay marriage “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”

Hannity, incidentally, found Cruz’s rhetoric quite compelling, responding, “I couldn’t say it more eloquently.”

For what it’s worth, it’s not hard to think of some genuinely tragic 24-hour periods in American history. The Lincoln assassination comes to mind. So does the time British troops burned the White House. There were days during the Civil War in which tens of thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. Just in the last century, we witnessed the JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, and a corrupt president resign in disgrace.

For the Republican presidential hopeful, learning that Americans will have health benefits and loving couples will get married belongs on the same list.

To be sure, while much of the country will probably find that odd, it’s equally important to appreciate what Cruz intends to do with his outrage.

On the Affordable Care Act, the Texas senator will, naturally, continue to push a pointless repeal crusade. On marriage rights, Cruz intends to “focus on defending religious liberty by protecting those who act on their conscience and appointing judges who understand the limits placed on them by the Constitution.”

But it’s the Republican’s plans for the high court itself that stand out. The Huffington Post reported:

To challenge that “judicial activism,” Cruz said he is proposing a constitutional amendment to require Supreme Court justices to face retention elections every eight years. […]

Under Cruz’s proposed amendment, justices would have to be approved by a majority of American voters as well as by the majority of voters in least half of the states. If they failed to reach the required approval rating, they would be removed from office and barred from serving on the Supreme Court in the future.

Soon after, the senator said he “absolutely” believes county clerks in Texas should freely refuse marriage licenses to couples who wish to marry, the Supreme Court’s ruling be damned.

As ridiculous as Cruz’s posturing seems, it’s important to remember the broader context: national GOP candidates have a built-in incentive to be as hysterical as possible right now, in the hopes of currying favor with the party’s base. Mild, reasoned disappointment with the court doesn’t impress far-right activists; unrestrained, hair-on-fire apoplexy does.

Ted Cruz appears to understand this dynamic all too well.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Marriage Equality, SCOTUS, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Enlightenment On Confederate Flag Was Long Overdue”: This American Swastika Is Unfit For Human Consumption

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”

That’s an observation widely credited to Winston Churchill, though it’s one he may or may not have ever made. Whoever said it, the truth of the axiom has seldom been more obvious than now, as we watch the fall of the Confederate battle flag. It is too early to say whether this will prove lasting. But the signs certainly point toward a seismic shift.

In South Carolina, where the Confederacy was born, a motion to allow debate on removing the flag from the grounds of the state Capitol passed by a vote of 103-10. Alabama has already removed its flag. Meantime, a number of major retailers, including Amazon, eBay, and Arkansas-based Walmart, have announced they will no longer carry the flag. Perhaps most amazing, Valley Forge Flag, a 133-year-old flag maker in Pennsylvania, has said it will no longer manufacture it.

We appear to be on the verge of a long-overdue national consensus that this American swastika is unfit for human consumption. And to think: All it took was the blood of nine innocent people.

Ever since 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof shot up Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the ground has been shifting beneath that flag, so beloved of the white, conservative South — especially after images emerged of Roof posing with one. “God help South Carolina if we fail to achieve the goal of removing the flag,” said South Carolina senator and presidential aspirant Lindsey Graham last week. He said this just days after telling CNN the flag was “part of who we are.”

The suddenness of the change in attitude toward that flag is bracing, reminiscent, in an odd way, of when the Berlin Wall fell: Nobody saw it coming — it happened. That said, it is hard to be wholly invested in cheering what is happening here.

Consider: The Confederate battle flag was not somehow made more racist by Roof’s alleged rampage. Notwithstanding claims by Graham and others that it has somehow been misused as a racist symbol by the likes of Roof, the fact is, the thing was used as such from the moment the first thread of the first flag was sewn in support of a treasonous regime that was, to borrow Mississippi’s words, “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

The flag was certainly understood as racist — that was the whole point — by those who resurrected it to signal massive resistance to the civil rights movement. It is still understood that way; why else is it ubiquitous at white supremacist rallies?

So what happened at Emanuel did not change the flag’s meaning; it only made that meaning harder to ignore. And while its fall is significant, you have to wonder if it really marks a fundamental change in the mind of the white, conservative South. Particularly since you can’t turn around in Dixie without running into some road, bridge, statue, or park honoring some individual who took up arms against the U.S. government in the name of perpetuating slavery — or without meeting someone eager to rationalize that, hiding behind abstracts like “honor” and “duty” to avoid admitting what the Confederacy really was.

The tragedy at Emanuel has forced a moment of clarity into this fog of cognitive dissonance. In days to come, we’ll see just how much that’s worth in terms of real change. Because at some point, the people of the white, conservative South must themselves take responsibility for their own racial education, for facing — and growing from — the truth about their beloved Confederacy.

Consider that it took an act of mass murder before they were willing to reckon honestly with their flag and its meaning. Yes, one is pleased to see that finally come to pass.

But the price of enlightenment seems awfully high.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Slavery | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right To Be Free From Guns”: Those Who Want To Live, Shop, Go To School, And Worship In Gun-Free Spaces Also Have Rights

Advocates of a saner approach to guns need a new strategy. We cannot go on like this, wringing our hands in frustration after every tragedy involving firearms. We said “Enough” after Sandy Hook. We thought the moment for action had come. Yet nothing happened. We are saying “Enough” after Charleston. But this time, we don’t even expect anything to happen.

What’s needed is a long-term national effort to change popular attitudes toward handgun ownership. And we need to insist on protecting the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near guns.

None of this should mean letting Congress off the hook or giving up on what might be done now. So kudos to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) for saying on Tuesday that they are looking for ways to bring back their proposal that would require background checks for gun sales. In 2013, it failed to get the needed 60 votes and won support from only three Republicans besides Toomey.

Lest anyone doubt that gun-control measures can work, a study released earlier this month by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license contingent on passing a background check was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides.

But as long as gun control is a cause linked to ideology and party — and as long as the National Rifle Association and its allies claim a monopoly on individual rights arguments — reasonable steps of this sort will be ground to death by the Washington Obstruction Machine.

That’s why the nation needs a public-service offensive on behalf of the health and safety of us all. It could build on the Sandy Hook Promise and other civic endeavors. If you doubt it could succeed, consider how quickly opinion changed on the Confederate flag.

My friend Guy Molyneux, a progressive pollster, laid out how it could happen. “We need to build a social movement devoted to the simple proposition that owning handguns makes us less safe, not more,” he told me. “The evidence is overwhelming that having a gun in your home increases the risks of suicide, domestic violence, and fatal accidents, and yet the number one reason given for gun purchases is ‘personal safety.’ We need a public health campaign on the dangers of gun ownership, similar to the successful efforts against smoking and drunk driving.”

The facts were on the side of those who battled the tobacco companies, and they are just as compelling here. When we talk about guns, we don’t focus enough on the reality, reported in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, that nearly two-thirds of the deaths from firearms violence are suicides. Yes, people can try to kill themselves with pills, but there’s no coming back from a gunshot to the head. Those in the throes of depression who have a gun nearby are more likely to act on their darkest impulses.

Nor do we talk enough about accidental deaths when children get their hands on guns, or what happens when a domestic argument escalates and a firearm is readily available. The message is plain and simple: Households that voluntarily say no to guns are safer.

“The best way to disarm the NRA rhetorically is to make the Second Amendment issue moot,” Molyneux said. “This is not about the government saying you cannot own a handgun. This is about society saying you should not have a gun, especially in a home with children.”

Molyneux says his approach “does not imply giving up on gun control legislation.” On the contrary, the best path to better laws is to foster a revolution in popular attitudes. And this approach would finally put the rights of non-gun owners at the center of the discussion.

“Those of us who want to live, shop, go to school, and worship in gun-free spaces also have rights,” Molyneux says. “In what way is ‘freedom’ advanced by telling the owner of a bar or restaurant they cannot ban handguns in their own place of business, as many states now do? Today, it is the NRA that is the enemy of freedom, by seeking to impose its values on everyone else.”

The nation could ring out with the new slogans of liberty: “Not in my house.” “Not in our school.” “Not in my bar.” “Not in our church.” We’d be defending one of our most sacred rights: The right not to bear arms.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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