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“Forget The Geneva Conventions And The Bill Of Rights”: Cruz And Trump’s ISIS Plans Sound A Lot Like War Crimes

Carpet-bombing with no regard for civilian casualties. Murdering the possibly-innocent families of terrorists just to make a point. The line between official U.S. policy and action movie fantasy was unfortunately blurred during the Republican debate on Tuesday night, when Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the frontrunners for the nomination—Trump with 33 percent in the polls, Cruz with 16—tried to out-macho one another on foreign policy.

The result was both candidates doubling down on strategies that involve war crimes.

Cruz has often said that he wants to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” joking that we’ll find out if “sand can glow in the dark” in the process.

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “Does that mean leveling the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria, where there are hundreds of thousands of civilians?”

Cruz replied, “What it means is using overwhelming airpower to utterly and completely destroy ISIS.”

By way of example, he pointed to the first Gulf War, when “we carpet-bombed them for 37 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half, mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.”

The architects of that Gulf War effort, which featured the first major use of precision-guided bombs, would probably disagree that it was was “saturation” or “carpet” bombing. And according to the International Criminal Court, war crimes include “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.” Cruz said the objective would be to kill members of ISIS, not civilians, but there’s no such thing as a precise, narrowly-targeted carpet-bombing campaign. The tactic, which began in the Spanish Civil War and flowered fully in World War II, is to drop thousands of munitions on a single area—and flatten in. It is the opposite of precise.

Not long after Cruz’s exchange, Trump was asked a question by Josh Jacob, an earnest, yellow sweater vest-wearing student from Georgia Tech. He wanted to know how Trump justified his assertion that the U.S. should kill the families of terrorists, when that “violates the principle of distinction between combatants and family members.”

He asked, “How would intentionally killing innocent civilians set us apart from ISIS?”

Trump puffed up like a blowfish. “We have to be much tougher and stronger than we’ve been,” he said. He pointed to the San Bernardino attack, arguing that people who knew the terrorist husband and wife no doubt were aware that they were up to no good. “They knew exactly what was going on,” he said.

“When you had the World Trade center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “They knew what was going on. They went home and wanted to watch their boyfriends on television.”

To Trump, there is no possibility that the families, friends or loved ones of terrorists could be disconnected from terrorism, and so, “I would be very, very firm with families. And, frankly, that will make people think—because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

Earlier this month, Trump was even bolder. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he said on Fox & Friends. “You have to take out their families.”

Inconveniently enough for Trump, murder is also classified as a war crime.

But that may not matter to the audience at the debate.

Advocating for breaking international humanitarian laws almost looked reasonable next to Trump’s North Korea-influenced proposal to “close” parts of the Internet frequented by terrorists. (As if the U.S. doesn’t gather all sorts of intelligence from those corners of the digital world.)

And applause predictably broke out when Hillary et al. were criticized for failing to decry “Islamic terror.”

Other ideas, like Rand Paul’s meek suggestion that America might perhaps consider the Bill of Rights from time to time, hardly received any notice.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

 

December 17, 2015 Posted by | Carpet Bombing, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Same Monstrous Reasoning That Defended Slavery”: The U.S. ‘Right’ To Own Guns Came With The ‘Right’ To Own Slaves

For most of the last two centuries, Europeans have been puzzling over their American cousins’ totemic obsession with guns and their passion for concealed weapons. And back in the decades before the American Civil War, several British visitors to American shores thought they’d discerned an important connection: people who owned slaves or lived among them wanted to carry guns to keep the blacks intimidated and docile, but often shot each other, too.

In 1842, the novelist Charles Dickens, on a book tour of the United States, saw a link between the sheer savagery of slave ownership and what he called the cowardly practice of carrying pistols or daggers or both. The author of Oliver Twist listened with a mixture of horror and contempt as Americans defended their utterly indefensible “rights” to tote guns and carry Bowie knives, right along with their “right” to own other human beings who could be shackled, whipped, raped, and mutilated at will.

As damning evidence of the way slaves were treated, in his American Notes Dickens published texts from scores of advertisement for the capture of runaways. Often these public notices described the wanted men and women by their scars. One especially memorable example:

“Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M.”

Dickens also compiled a list of several shooting incidents, not all of them in the South: a county councilman blown away in the council chamber of Brown County, Wisconsin; a fatal shootout in the street in St. Louis; the murder of Missouri’s governor; two 13-year-old boys defending their “honor” by dueling with long rifles, and other examples.

What could one expect, he asked, of those who “learn to write with pens of red-hot iron on the human face” but that they carry guns and daggers to use on each other.  “These are the weapons of Freedom,” Dickens wrote with brutal irony.  “With sharp points and edges such as these, Liberty in America hews and hacks her slaves; or, failing that pursuit, her sons devote themselves to a better use, and turn them on each other.”

When Dickens was writing in the 1840s, remember, keeping Negro slaves was defended as a Constitutional right with the same vehemence that we hear today when it comes to keeping and bearing arms, and perhaps with more foundation. The original U.S. Constitution was built on an explicit compromise (Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3) that allowed slave-holding states to count human chattel, described as “other persons,” as three-fifths of a human being for purposes of taxation and state representation in the House, but allowed them no rights as human persons whatsoever.

The Second Amendment, adopted a couple of years later as part of the Bill of Rights (of free white people), was essentially written to protect the interests of Southerners in the states that formed militias—often known as “slave patrols”—to crush any attempt at what was called, in those days, a “servile insurrection.” That’s why the full text of the Second Amendment reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

To keep slaves in slavery, you needed militias and they needed to be armed. Such is the fundamental “right” assured by the Second Amendment.

Dickens, who saw a lot that he disliked about America, but disliked slavery and the irrational and immoral thinking behind it the most, wrote quite correctly that there was a substantial, stubborn class of people “who doggedly deny the horrors of the system, in the teeth of such a mass of evidence as never was brought to bear on any other subject.”

A few years later, after the messianic abolitionist John Brown tried and failed to start a slave uprising by attacking the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, Southern paranoia reached new heights, and so did gun sales.

“I do not exaggerate in designating the present state of affairs in the Southern country as a reign of terror,” wrote British Consul Robert Bunch in Charleston, South Carolina, the epicenter of secession and slavery. “Persons are torn away from their residences and pursuits, sometimes ‘tarred and feathered,’ ‘ridden upon rails,’ or cruelly whipped; letters are opened at the post offices, discussion upon slavery is entirely prohibited under penalty of expulsion, with or without violence, from the country.”

Bunch, the central figure in my recent book Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War Southnoted that “on the part of individuals the sense of danger is evinced by the purchase of fire-arms, especially revolver pistols, of which very large numbers have been sold during the last month.”

In 1861, the great British war correspondent William Howard Russell, traveling through the South in the early days of the Civil War, was as bemused as he was appalled by what passed for “dueling” in Mississippi, which amounted to little more than random, often drunken murders. One resident told him “without the smallest animus, and in the most natural way in the world … tale after tale of blood, and recounted terrible tragedies enacted outside bars of hotels and in the public streets close beside us.”

It is a grim irony, therefore, that the legal precedents set in the antebellum South are still with us today, embedded in recent federal court rulings that make it easier and easier for more people to carry guns,  as Fordham University historian Saul Cornell and New York University law professor Eric M. Ruben pointed out in The Atlantic in September.

As Cornell and Cohen made clear, “gun-rights advocates find themselves venerating a moment at which slavery, honor, violence, and the public carrying of weapons were intertwined.”

Back in the day, what Dickens, Russell and Bunch understood was a basic truth that seems to have escaped our contemporary legislators and jurists, just as it did those of the slave-holding South. As Russell observed in Mississippi, the government seemed unable and unwilling to rein in gun violence, and the consequences would be inevitable.  “The country in which it is tolerated,” he wrote, “will become as barbarous as a jungle inhabited by wild beasts.”

Day after day, week after week, we see in America the toll taken by gun “rights,” whether the shooters wear beards and veils and murder colleagues in California in some bizarre Bonnie-and-Clyde version of jihad, or shoot people at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado, or settle scores in Chicago, or slaughter children at a school in Connecticut.

The guns are still with us, and so are the beasts.

 

By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, December 6, 2015

December 7, 2015 Posted by | Charles Dickens, Gun Violence, Militia's, Slavery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“As Dangerous As Thomas And Scalia”: Meet The Right-Wing Religious Zealot Who’d Rather Follow The Bible Than The Law

Happiness is boring a hole in your Hebrew slave’s ear with an awl, or so might well say Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and Baptist zealot Roy Moore.

Before I get to Moore and his grotesque, faith-lathered absurdities, though, a quick digression. Not a week goes by without our egregiously pious politicians outraging rationalist champions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Mike Huckabee, Republican presidential candidate and onetime Southern Baptist preacher, indicated he would, as head of state, obey the Supreme Being, not the Supreme Court, at least as regards same-sex marriage.

His rival and fellow evolution-naysayer Ben Carson urged his Christian co-religionists to stand up to “progressive bullying,” even though Christians account for seven out of ten Americans, and hardly amount to some beleaguered minority nonbelievers could push around, even if they wanted to.

And the Republican National Committee continues its affiliation with the Christian fundamentalist activist group, American Renewal Project, whose director, David Lane, is now calling for the establishment of Christianity as “the official religion of America.” Lane may have taken cues from that morose stalwart of antipathetic reaction, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Don’t forget, a year ago Thomas, a Roman Catholic, aired the malodorous opinion that the First Amendment (which starts with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) “probably” – italics mine, yes, sic, only “probably” – “prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion,” but should not hinder individual states from doing so.

With justices like Thomas, and if a Republican wins in 2016, the Supreme Court may well end up serving as the Doric-columned ossuary of the remains of our once gloriously godless Republic.

Now we come to Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Speaking last week at the Family Research Council, a hyper-conservative Christian lobbying group in Washington, D.C., Moore defined the pursuit of happiness as a by-product of observing the often malicious edicts and baleful pronouncements pervading cock-and-bull fables originating with pastoral, semi-nomadic primitive tribes two or three millennia ago in a land far, far away; that is, the Bible. Moore declared, in obtusely baroque verbiage, that “It’s laws of God, for He is so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual that the latter cannot be obtained but by observing the former, and if the formerly be punctually abated it cannot help but induce the latter. You can’t help but be happy if you follow God’s law and if you follow God’s law, you can’t help but be happy. We need to learn our law.”

Translation: doing what the Bible says makes you happy.

Some readers might recall Moore from 2003, when he fought a federal injunction ordering him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had arranged to be erected within the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.  Denouncing federal judges who held that the “obedience of a court order [is] superior to all other concerns, even the suppression of belief in the sovereignty of God,” Moore refused to comply, and was sacked from the court. Thousands of his supporters descended on the site. More than a year passed before the authorities managed to truck away the offending chunk of granite, a monstrosity so heavy it threatened to crash through the building’s floor.

A decade later, already a folk hero to the brute masses of his state afflicted with the malady of faith, Moore, as unrepentant as ever, found himself reelected to Alabama’s highest tribunal. Once again, he could not sit still. When the Supreme Court in Washington legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama last January, Roy forbade state employees and probate judges from carrying out such unions. In a contentious interview with CNN, Moore then proclaimed that “Our rights contained in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.” He denied he was defying the Supreme Court; rather, he was protecting marriage, “an institution ordained of God.” His allegiance, as should now be clear, is not to the Constitution he has sworn to uphold, but to gobbledygook myths and a bogus Tyrant in the Sky. In other words, to the Bible and God.

One might be tempted to dismiss Moore as yet another faith-mongering, red-state ignoramus, but his status as chief justice should give us pause. Moreover, for decades now, those of the religious right have been laboring to force their superstitions, by hook or by crook, on the rest of us. In far too many states, for example, they’ve succeeded in legislatively thwarting Roe v. Wade to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Just last year, they won a Supreme Court case legalizing prayer in town meetings. And if non-belief is steadily gaining ground, those who remain Christian are increasingly evangelical — which is to say, politically active and well-funded. We thus find our cherished secularism under credible, and growing, threat.

In view of this, it behooves us to take Moore’s advice and look at what the Bible actually says. But which part are we to review, the ferociously censorious Testament 1.0, or its supposedly more clement 2.0 update?

Both. The Bible, often obscure and contradictory, could not be clearer about this. In Matthew 5:18-19 Christ decrees: “till heaven and earth pass away . . . whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments [in the Bible] and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” In Luke 16:17, He reminds us that, “It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the [Bible’s] law to become invalid.” His cohort Peter informs us (in Peter 2: 20-21) that “there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation.” Disregard, then, those who would have you think that the Old Testament has, in effect, expired, as well as mealy-mouthed apologists who say it’s all a matter of how you read the text.  And remember, 28 percent of Americans take the Good Book as literal truth, talking snakes and jabbering donkeys and all. It’s not much of a jump to go from literal truth to literal application.

The Bible deluges us with a hailstorm of injunctions, far in excess of the Ten Commandments (first presented in Exodus 20:22-28, but also, with inexplicable alterations and sundry additions, in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5). Aside from don’t kill, murder, or covet wives and asses, and so on, just what does the Bible ordain?

For starters, slavery. Much of Exodus 21 is basically a slaveholder’s manual and contains my opening line about boring through your Hebrew slave’s ear with an awl, which is what it says he deserves if he should fail to decamp on schedule. (Servitude is to last six years.) After departure, the slave’s wife and children belong, of course, to you, his master. If you need cash, feel free to sell your daughter as a sex slave. Beat and have sex with your slaves, but whatever you do, don’t “smite” their eyes or their teeth, or you’re obliged to free them. Remember, though, that Christ orders your slaves to obey you with “fear, trembling, and sincerity, as when [they] obey the Messiah” (Ephesians 6:5), so don’t spare the rod unnecessarily. Exodus (21:29) also warns you to keep your livestock in check. Don’t let your ox gore anyone, or you and the beast must be stoned to death. Do redeem the firstling of an ass with a lamb (whatever that means), but if you don’t, break the former’s neck. Otherwise, don’t “oppress” any “sojourners,” “vex” any strangers, or “afflict” any widows or “fatherless children.” Etcetera.

If believers require orders from some “holy” book to keep from doing these things, as those who claim our morality comes from God suppose, they should be kept off the streets, and certainly away from children.

When it comes to His earthly visiting quarters, the Lord legislates with lavish abandon, proffering binding instructions for ark-building, tabernacle-adornment, and altar-construction, on which His subjects are to scant nothing — not gold, not silver, not bronze. U.S. lawmakers chose to lighten the expense burden by providing churches with tax exemptions. Ancient Israelites found recompense in celestially sanctioned regional hegemony over the “Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite” (Exodus 34). Israelites were divinely enjoined to “destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their idol poles . . . .  For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders.” This criminal pronouncement from long ago inspires radical Jewish settlers today and helps maintain the insolubility of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

God then hits red-staters where it hurts, ordaining that “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks” — tattoos — “upon you: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:27). Brothers, no mullets: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). Nevertheless, dress nattily: “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together” (Deuteronomy 22:11). Sisters, betake yourselves to a nunnery — for clothes, if nothing else. “Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire” (l Timothy 2:9).

Before setting out to follow Jesus, remember to violate Commandment 5 and abhor your parents. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Do, however, abhor discreetly, for if you curse Mom and Dad aloud, they have the right to cut you down on the spot (Leviticus 20:9). Don’t talk with any wizards (ibid, 20:6) or get it on with your sister-in-law, or eat fat (ibid 3:17), or attend church for thirty-three days after birthing a boy (you’ll be unclean), or sixty-six days if it’s a girl, you’ll be doubly unclean (Ibid 12:4-5).

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Thomas Jefferson described “the Christian god [as] a being of terrific character — cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust.” In modern parlance, the Lord is psychotic, and stands in need of urgent psychiatric treatment for an out-of-control Type A personality, pathological solipsism and wanton sadism. It should surprise no one that damnable nonsense is His rule book’s warp and woof, with even the supposedly more humane New Testament deserving disdain as a farrago of “forgeries and lies” (to quote Thomas Paine). The Bible, in the end, merits mercilessly swift dispatch into the dustbin of history, or preservation as an anthropological curiosity, nothing more. Anyone considering it our wellspring of joy is not to be trusted.

So how is it that Chief Justice Moore suffers no opprobrium for saying that you “can’t help but be happy if you follow God’s law?”

Because we commit a sort of secular sin of omission and let him, either out of mistaken notions of politesse or the erroneous belief that criticizing religion as ideology equates with insulting someone personally. This has to stop. Every time we encounter faith-deranged individuals spouting supernatural nonsensicalities, we should request explanations and evidence. We might also cite the above-noted biblical passages and ask how they possibly square with modern life in a developed country. If they say those parts don’t apply nowadays, ask them which verses in the Bible permit them to so pick and choose. By steady, patient questioning, you will expose faith for what it is: finely crafted garbage.

We should not suffer evangelical fools gladly or allow them to determine the boundaries of discourse. We should take to heart the key maxim of British philosopher and mathematician William K. Clifford: “It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” We should point out that we have no problem with privately held religious beliefs, but we will protest and object to any attempt to impose such beliefs or restrictions deriving thereof on us or others.

Resist. You have a world of hard-won rights and secular sanity to preserve, and everything to lose.

 

By: Jeffrey Tayler, Contributing Editor at the Atlantic; Salon, May 31, 2015

June 2, 2015 Posted by | Religious Beliefs, Roy Moore, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“An Affirmative Right”: Adding The Right To Vote To The Constitution

The Bill of Rights, as the name implies, lists a wide variety of privileges of citizenship that cannot be taken from Americans without due process. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to bear arms, you have the right to a fair trial, etc. The right to vote, however, isn’t mentioned.

In fact, though the Constitution offers some relatively detailed instructions on voting for president through the Electoral College, the document has far less to say about the right of Americans to cast a ballot in their own democracy. There are amendments extending voting rights to freed slaves, women, and 18-year-olds, and poll taxes are prohibited, but there’s no additional clarity in the text about Americans’ franchise.

Up until fairly recently, that wasn’t considered much of a problem – at least since the Jim Crow era, there was no systemic national campaign underway to undermine voting rights. But in the Obama era, the Republican campaign to suppress the vote has included restrictions without modern precedent, which in turn has started a new conversation about changing the Constitution to guarantee what is arguably the most fundamental of all democratic rights.

Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this yesterday.

When the constitution was enacted it did not include a right to vote for the simple reason that the Founders didn’t think most people should vote. Voting laws, at the time, mostly favored white, male property-holders, and the rules varied sharply from state to state. But over the first half of the nineteenth century, the idea of popular democracy took root across the land. Property qualifications were universally abolished, and the franchise became the key marker of white male political equality. Subsequent activists sought to further expand the franchise, by barring discrimination on the basis of race (the 15th Amendment) and gender (the 19th) — establishing the norm that all citizens should have the right to vote.

But this norm is just a norm. There is no actual constitutional provision stating that all citizens have the right to vote, only that voting rights cannot be dispensed on the basis of race or gender discrimination. A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or dye it blue, or say “pretty please let me vote,” all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement.

The legality of these kinds of laws hinge on whether they violate the Constitution’s protections against race and gender discrimination, not on whether they prevent citizens from voting. As Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier has written, this “leaves one of the fundamental elements of democratic citizenship tethered to the whims of local officials.”

All of which leads to the question about a constitutional amendment, making the affirmative right of an adult American citizen to cast a ballot explicit within our constitutional system.

For some in Congress, this isn’t just an academic exercise. TPM had this report back in May.

A pair of Democratic congressmen is pushing an amendment that would place an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. According to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the amendment would protect voters from what he described as a “systematic” push to “restrict voting access” through voter ID laws, shorter early voting deadlines, and other measures that are being proposed in many states.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The Pocan/Ellison proposal would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”

The proposed amendment did not exactly catch fire on Capitol Hill: after its introduction, the proposal picked up 25 Democratic co-sponsors; en route to being entirely ignored by the political establishment and the House Republican leadership. There’s still no companion bill in the Senate.

I would assume that Pocan and Ellison aren’t surprised by the reception, but as the “war on voting” intensifies, and the Supreme Court’s support for voting rights wanes further, it’s not hard to imagine the demand for their measure growing.

Indeed, a year ago, Norm Ornstein, one of the Beltway’s most respected political scientists, made the case for precisely this kind of constitutional amendment.

We need a modernized voter-registration system, weekend elections, and a host of other practices to make voting easier. But we also need to focus on an even more audacious and broader effort – a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote…. [T]he lack of an explicit right opens the door to the courts’ ratifying the sweeping kinds of voter-restrictions and voter-suppression tactics that are becoming depressingly common.

An explicit constitutional right to vote would give traction to individual Americans who are facing these tactics, and to legal cases challenging restrictive laws. The courts have up to now said that the concern about voter fraud – largely manufactured and exaggerated – provides an opening for severe restrictions on voting by many groups of Americans. That balance would have to shift in the face of an explicit right to vote. Finally, a major national debate on this issue would alert and educate voters to the twin realities: There is no right to vote in the Constitution, and many political actors are trying to take away what should be that right from many millions of Americans.

That shift in balance is of particular interest. As Matt noted in his piece, “A constitutional right to vote would instantly flip the script on anti-fraud efforts. States would retain a strong interest in developing rules and procedures that make it hard for ineligible voters to vote, but those efforts would be bounded by an ironclad constitutional guarantee that legitimate citizens’ votes must be counted. A state that wanted to require possession of a certain ID card to vote, for example, would have to take affirmative steps to ensure that everyone has that ID card, or that there’s a process for an ID-less citizen to cast a ballot and have it counted later upon verification of citizenship.”

I’m generally skeptical of proposed changes to the Constitution, but that skepticism wanes in the face of a sweeping voter-suppression campaign, unlike anything in my lifetime, that shows no signs of abating.

Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, candidates for Congress and the White House are confronted with a simple question: is it time to add the right to vote to the Constitution?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 21, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On His Extremist Island”: Clarence Thomas Would Turn Back The Clock

In yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on official government prayers at town-council meetings, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 decision arguing that such practices are permissible under the First Amendment. There was a separate concurring opinion from Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, but then Justice Clarence Thomas decided to go further than any of his colleagues.

As Dahlia Lithwick noted, Thomas made the case “that in his view the First Amendment religion clauses don’t apply to the states in the first place.”

Wait, really? Yep, that’s what Thomas actually believes.

…Thomas couldn’t get Scalia’s signature for another part of his dissenting opinion, in which Thomas – not for the first time – disputes the notion that the 1st Amendment’s ban on the “establishment” of religion even applies to state and local governments.

Here’s the deal: the first 16 words of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nearly a century ago, under something called the incorporation doctrine, courts ruled that most of the Bill of Rights applies to state and local government, too.

In other words, under the literal text of the Constitution, Congress can’t pass laws interfering in religion, abridging the freedom of speech, or undermining a free press, but once the Bill of Rights was applied more broadly, neither can states or municipalities.

Thomas, however, wants to turn back the clock. If policymakers in your state chose today to establish Christianity as the official state religion, Clarence Thomas believes that would be entirely permissible under the First Amendment. So long as Congress didn’t pass the law, he says, it’s kosher.

Even Scalia, hardly a moderate, seems to think that’s nutty, but Thomas just doesn’t care.

As Michael McGough’s report added, “Thomas has argued, the Establishment Clause ‘is best understood as a federalism provision – it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right.’”

This is clearly quite radical, even by contemporary standards, though Thomas isn’t entirely alone on his extremist island – it was just last year when North Carolina Republicans considered legislation that read, “The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

That bill ultimately failed, as did Thomas’ effort to find justices who would endorse his perspective, but as conservative politics moves sharply to the right, it’ll be worth watching to see just how many Republican officials end up embracing this argument.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 6, 2014

 

May 7, 2014 Posted by | Constitution, Public Prayer, Separation of Church and State | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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