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“Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Eight Is Not Enough”: An Equal Division Is Essentially The Same As A Denial Of Review

Last month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), feeling pressure over his role in an unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, wrote an op-ed in which he insisted the whole mess is unimportant. The “sky won’t fall” if the Supreme Court remains deadlocked for a year and a half – eight justices is plenty – so the Republicans’ unprecedented scheme isn’t worth all the fuss.

Actual justices on the high court appear to feel differently. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged publicly yesterday that the institution she serves is, in fact, being hurt by having eight justices instead of nine. The Washington Post reported:

The Supreme Court has deadlocked 4 to 4 in several cases since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Ginsburg told judges at a conference in New York that the situation is unfortunate because it essentially means important issues are being denied Supreme Court review, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.

“That means no opinions and no precedential value; an equal division is essentially the same as a denial of review,” Ginsburg said.

She added, “Eight, as you know, is not a good number for a multi-member court.”

Ginsburg is hardly the only one who’s noticed. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick noted last week that the Supreme Court can pretend that “it can manage just fine with eight justices,” but the fact remains that the institution is struggling to do its job.

Nobody on the court can say: “Please give us a ninth justice so we can get back to work.” That sounds like a plea for a Justice Merrick Garland. That is why it’s left to former Justice John Paul Stevens to say it for them. Even if all eight justices were to agree that between being unable to take any cases for next term, and being unable to decide major cases this term, things are not getting done at the court.

The same week, the editorial board of the New York Times added, “Every day that passes without a ninth justice undermines the Supreme Court’s ability to function, and leaves millions of Americans waiting for justice or clarity as major legal questions are unresolved…. Despite what Senate Republicans may say about the lack of harm in the delay in filling the vacancy, the court cannot do its job without a full bench.”

By all appearances, the Senate’s Republican majority doesn’t care – according to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), it’s somehow fair to treat Merrick Garland unfairly – but they should.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 27, 2016

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Government Stumps Trump”: Donald’s Lack Of Understanding Of The Government’s Basic Functions Is Distressing

It is democratic, not elitist, to believe that all citizens should understand the two bedrock principles – separation of powers and federalism – upon which the American government rests. The framers enshrined these precepts in our Constitution to protect our individual liberty. For when power is distributed – either across the governing branches or between the states and the national government – tyrants are frustrated.

Yet, during Tuesday’s town hall interview on CNN, Donald Trump – no mere citizen but the leading presidential candidate in the Republican Party – revealed once again his knowledge deficit about our political system.

For those who skipped that middle hour of nonsensical rhetoric, an Army veteran and current Marquette University student asked an important, albeit simple question, “What are the top three functions of the United States government?”

Trump was stumped. With the exception of national security, he couldn’t seem to think of what other key duties were within the federal government’s purview. What about promoting justice (equality under the law), encouraging interstate commerce and managing our international relations? What about, in language more common among the framers, ensuring “domestic tranquility“?

Simply put, he seemed to not understand that when our government was established, it had only three cabinet departments – Defense (War), State and Treasury – because these are the feds’ main jobs: conducting war, promoting peace and encouraging prosperity.

Further, the other two functions that Trump named – health care and education – are not only not central to the national government’s mission, but they are generally understood, by an overwhelming majority of conservatives, to be activities that fall within the states’ police power. In other words, Trump’s answers showed that his political ideology is much closer to Democratic presidential hopeful and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders than to former President Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps, it shouldn’t be surprising. Throughout his campaign and without much consequence, Trump has been dismissive of separation of powers, civil liberties and civil rights. In fact, the only time he has really been pressed on constitutional issues was when he was forced to walk back his bluster earlier this month, after he had wrongly assumed that a president could order the military to torture prisoners of war.

Still, as a political scientist who agrees with former President Harry Truman’s observation that “it takes a lifetime of experience to understand how much the Constitution means to our national life,” Trump’s willful ignorance of our system is both shocking and distressing.

The only good news is that if Trump were to become president (by some strange twist of fate), he would quickly learn that he is no match for our governing system. His ignorance would be our nation’s saving grace. The framers were extraordinarily wise men.

 

By: Lara Brown, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, March 31, 2016

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Federal Government, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Cop Used Whiteness As His Weapon To Rape Black Women”: He Thought His Badge And His Race Would Protect Him

“Is this the first time you sucked a white cock?” Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw asked as he bent over his victim. “You’re gonna have to give me head or ass or go to jail.”

Holtzclaw was found guilty Thursday night on 18 of 36 counts, including first-degree sexual assault. He now faces up to 263 years in prison.

What’s more remarkable than a police officer being convicted of crimes on duty is that Holtzclaw is “white” and all but one of his 13 known victims were black, including a 17-year-old runaway and a fiftysomething grandmother.

Technically, Holtzclaw is biracial: born to a white veteran police officer and a Japanese mother—but, make no mistake, Holtzclaw claimed to be white.

Don’t take my word for it. Holtzclaw is the most reliable witness to his own life.

He used that “whiteness” as a weapon to ridicule and demean his black victims (“Bet you never ducked white dick,” he told one). He wanted them to know that he was white. He wanted them to know that they were black and therefore powerless. He wanted them to know that nobody—not police, not investigators, not the media, not a jury—would believe them. He wanted them to know that his badge and his “whiteness” placed him among a privileged class to which they did not and could not belong; that it meant he could subjugate them with all manner of defilements with impunity.

The fact that this jury was able to sort through the physical evidence and direct witness testimony to return guilty verdicts on 18 counts is an indication of measurable progress. Historically, all-white juries have almost always meant that there would be no justice for a black defendant or victim. Together, this jury panel spent 45 hours weighing, questioning, and deciding. As the hours stretched on, many began to believe that Holtzclaw might walk away a free man.

It almost never got this far, though. Despite other accusers who previously stepped from the shadows, it wasn’t until a grandmother went to police the night she was assaulted that the wheels of justice began to turn. She testified that she was on her way home from a game of dominoes with friends, when Holtzclaw pulled her over and forced her to perform oral sex. She thought he was going to kill her, she told the courtroom.

Ultimately, the jury believed her and seven other victims. The message from the prosecution team to the victims was clear: Black women’s lives matter.

“We’re going to ask the judge to make sure that this defendant never sees the light of day,” District Attorney David Prater told CNN. “And we’re going to ask him to run consecutive, every count.”

However, five of his victims left the courtroom without justice. We do not know if they were the same women who were forced to come to court in jailhouse shackles. We do not know if they were among those allegedly engaged in prostitution or drug possession. But what we do know is the jury did not believe them—at least not beyond a reasonable doubt.

All too often, how much justice one receives depends largely on the social strictures of wealth, race, and gender. In that regard, even a predator like Holtzclaw probably thought he was walking into a county courthouse holding a pocket full of aces. In his estimation, he was everything they were not: middle class, white, and male.

Based on his own words, Holtzclaw embraced some of the most unfortunate aspects of that privilege. Despite his mixed racial heritage, he bought into and used that sense of supremacy to sexually violate his victims and the oath he swore to serve and protect them. In the end, likely based in part on that, he believed he would get away with it. He was counting on this jury to see his victims the same way he saw them—black, poor, and without value.

He wagered the house on that. The jury called him on the bet.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, December 11, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Black Women, Daniel Holtzclaw, Police Abuse, Violence Against Women | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Justice For Sale”: Soliciting Campaign Cash Threatens The Integrity Of The Courts

Thirty-nine states use elections to select judges, and all of them have rules governing how judicial candidates can conduct their campaigns. This term, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case, Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, which could substantially limit states’ ability to use such rules to protect the integrity of our courts – and lead to the greater politicization of judicial elections.

At issue in Williams-Yulee is a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally requesting campaign contributions. Instead, a separate campaign committee must solicit and collect funds. Thirty states ban at least some forms of personal solicitation by judicial candidates, and 22 states, including Florida, have broad prohibitions.

There is good reason that most states restrict personal fundraising by judges. Lawyers and potential litigants are the most common donors to judicial campaigns. A personal request for contributions by the very judge or judicial candidate who may be deciding your case is not only coercive but raises concerns that justice could be for sale.

This is not an abstract worry. According to four former chief justices from Texas and Alabama — two states that permit personal solicitation — “our experience confirms there is a real risk that solicitation can morph into a demand.” In an amicus brief, the retired justices cited an incident in which a judge sent a personal email to a local lawyer soon after being elected, stating, “I trust that you will see your way clear to contribute to my campaign account in an amount reflective of the $2000 contribution you made towards my defeat.” The email further noted that “in very few realms does tardiness not incur an up-charge.”

In another incident, a judge emailed a small group of partners at a prominent law firm, detailing contributions made by other firms and noting that “all the Top 10 firms are committed to maxing out as a firm: $30,000 total.” The judge requested this firm “do the same,” explaining that “[a]t most of the firms, they are designating a senior partner … to bundle dozens of relatively small-$ contributions … until they reach the target,” and promising, “Bottomless thanks!”

These kinds of interactions threaten the public’s confidence in the basic fairness of our courts. The threat is particularly severe now, as judicial campaign spending has skyrocketed in recent years. Between 2000 and 2009, contributions in state supreme court races more than doubled as compared to the previous decade. Indeed, according to one recent poll, 95 percent of Americans believe that campaign contributions impact judicial decisions.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules – but particularly if it strikes down Florida’s direct solicitation ban – states must take steps to insulate judges from the growing flood of money in judicial elections. States should adopt strict recusal rules that bar judges from hearing cases when lawyers and litigants spend substantial sums to get them elected. Public financing of judicial elections is another vital reform, enabling judges to run competitive campaigns without the burdens of fundraising.  These commonsense measures would help ensure public confidence in the integrity of our courts.

 

By: Alicia Bannon, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program; Moyers and Company, February 22, 2015

February 23, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Judicial Elections, Judicial System | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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