“We’ll go to the floor on Friday the 23rd and stay on it until we finished. We have the votes.”
– Sen. Mitch McConnell, on the Senate voting to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court
“We’ll go to the floor on Friday the 23rd and stay on it until we finished. We have the votes.”
– Sen. Mitch McConnell, on the Senate voting to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court
“The courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life.”
“I think this hearing is a sham. I think it shows real messed up priorities from the Republican Party. But I am here to do my job, to tell the truth.”
“Politicians should never decide what medical procedures a patient can and cannot receive.”
“I don’t like to be associated with anything political or with any political campaign.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Good Morning America, 10/15/20
“I don’t get that. You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.”
No to be outdone, Trump made a trite insult at Guthrie during a campaign stop the next day.
“It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”
– Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), February 14, 2016, “Meet the Press”
“The court — we are one vote away from losing our fundamental constitutional liberties, and I believe that the president should next week nominate a successor to the court, and I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day,” Cruz said. “This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected. This confirmation is why the voters voted for a Republican majority in the Senate.”
– Cruz, September 18, 2020, hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
If hypocrisy was a virtue, many politicians would be among the most honorable of citizens. Sadly, political environments seem to have no room for such people. Hypocrisy reigns, as U.S. Senate Republicans rammed through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett this week, in order to fill the seat left by the death Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month. Ginsburg’s failing health and ultimate death had been the subject for years among Supreme Court watchers. Liberals and even moderates feared her death would come at such a pivotal moment in U.S. history as we’re in now.
Allegations of a double standard aside, my biggest concern with Barrett is her unwillingness to answer questions regarding one particular issue, the most sacred element of democracy: voting. I’ve always found it odd that conservatives will move mountains to protect gun rights, but unleash similar amounts of energy to thwart voting rights. It’s obvious this matter is critical because we are on the cusp of a presidential election. Yet, the right to cast a ballot has come under threat since Barack Obama fairly and legitimately won his first election in 2008. (Understand there’s never been any question of the validity of Obama’s elections.) States with predominantly Republican legislatures suddenly became concerned with voter fraud and began implementing measures to combat it. Similar reactions erupted after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971.
My home state of Texas, for example, was among the first to tighten voter identification. College ids and utility bills were nearly eliminated as proof of one’s existence or residency, but they retain their positions as supplemental forms of identification. Other measures, such as fingerprints and retina scans were proposed – all in a futile attempt to combat the mystical voter fraud; much the same way Ted Cruz managed to fight off myriad communist sympathizers on the manicured grounds of Princeton University.
In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of standing in crowded places to cast a ballot made many people shudder. Generally, senior citizens and the disabled were among the few granted the privilege of mail-in voting. But, as the novel coronavirus remains highly contagious, mail-in voting became more palatable. Then, as if on cue, President Donald Trump and other right-wing sycophants raised the ugly specter of voter fraud. And, of course, mail-in voting – just like the overall right granted by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – was in jeopardy.
When voting rights advocates tried to compromise by pushing for drop-off ballot boxes, conservatives again balked. On October 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott mandated that only one drop-off box would be acceptable per county. That works great for tiny Loving County (pop. 169), but not for massive Harris County (pop. 4.7 million). U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman overruled Abbott; denouncing the governor’s proclamation as “myopically” focused. But the governor persisted, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.
Earlier this week, however, Judge Barrett couldn’t seem to bring herself to declare the importance and value of voting rights. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barrett about the freedom of the formerly incarcerated to regain their voting rights. She highlighted one of Barrett’s 2019 dissent in Kanter v. Barr that voting should be granted only to “virtuous citizens.” In the Kanter case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled it reasonable that the litigant, Rickey Kanter, lose his right to own firearms after a felony conviction for mail fraud. Barrett was the only member of the 3-judge panel to resist and brought up the “virtuous citizens” remark, which subsequently invoked discussions of what constitutes virtuous. As with any moral declaration, the concept of virtue can be purely subjective. Yet Barrett didn’t stop there. In her dissent, she went on to write that the application of virtue should limit the right of citizens to vote and serve on juries.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard conservative political figures announce their support for ex-convicts to regain their right to bear arms, if they’ve served their full sentences. None, however, have expressed similarly ardent advocacy for the same ex-convicts to earn back their right to vote. I suspect this is because they all realize the significance of the power of voting and the power it gives even to the poor and disenfranchised. Hence, measures in the past with poll taxes and “grandfather clauses”.
Barrett still wouldn’t clarify what she meant by “virtuous”. In response to Klobuchar, she said, “Okay. Well, senator, I want to be clear that that is not in the opinion designed to denigrate the right to vote, which is fundamental … The virtuous citizenry idea is a historical and jurisprudential one. It certainly does not mean that I think that anybody gets a measure of virtue and whether they’re good or not, and whether they’re allowed to vote. That’s not what I said.”
Klobuchar persisted. In citing Justice Ginsburg’s writing in the landmark voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder, she asked, “Do you agree with Justice Ginsburg’s conclusion that the Constitution clearly empowers Congress to protect the right to vote?”
Shelby County v. Holder was crucial in the contemporary assault on voting rights. It addressed Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. The seminal 1965 act was not-so-subtly aimed at southern states. When the case arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, where a 5-4 ruling declared Section 4(b) unconstitutional because it was based on data over 40 years old. The high court didn’t strike down Section 5. Previous research had showed that both sections had led to increases in minority voting since the 1960s. Contemporary voting advocates, however, claimed that recent efforts – especially after Obama’s 2008 victory and mainly in the South – made it easier for election officials to impose greater restrictions on voting.
Again, Barrett just couldn’t (more likely wouldn’t) bring herself to state her position clearly. “Well, Senator, that would be eliciting an opinion from me on whether the dissent or the majority was right in Shelby County,” she told Klobuchar, “and I can’t express a view on that, as I’ve said, because it would be inconsistent with the judicial role.”
Klobuchar then brought up alarming news that Atlas Aegis, a Tennessee-based company, was trying to recruit former members of the U.S. military to show up at various polling places while armed; all in a supposed effort to ensure the security of voting. The image of such activity has become plausible as even President Trump advocates for armed poll-watchers to prevent voter fraud. Whether these people should be armed with bazookas or cell phones hasn’t been made clear, but the threat is obvious.
“Judge Barrett,” asked Klobuchar, “under federal law, is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls?”
“Sen. Klobuchar, I can’t characterize the facts in a hypothetical situation and I can’t apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts,” Barrett said.
Well, that’s a nice, safe response. And I have to concede it’s only proper in such a setting. A fair jurist can’t logically state a position without knowing the facts. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s self-admitted idol, once declared, “I want to hear your argument.” But that should apply only to specific cases. There should be no doubt about the concept of voting.
Barrett was also evasive in answers to other questions, such as abortion – the perennially key issue among conservatives – and the Affordable Care Act. Trump had made it clear from the start of his presidential campaign that he wanted to overturn both the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and the ACA. While he and social and religious conservatives offer no concessions for Roe, the president often mentioned a replacement for ACA, which has yet to materialize and – as far as I’m concerned – doesn’t exist. Roe will always remain a thorn in the fragile ribs of conservatives, but the idea of eliminating health care coverage for all citizens – particularly while we remain mired in this pandemic and flu season already underway – is infuriating. Not-so-ironically the high court is set to review the validity of the ACA next month. As with the upcoming election, Trump wants to ensure a conservative majority on the court before both events.
Trump has already stated – as he did in 2016 – that he will only accept the results of the election if he wins. Whatever fool is surprised, please raise your hand now, so we full-brain folks can laugh at you! Loudly. Yet it’s clear: Trump realizes this election could end up like 2000, when the Supreme Court ordered the state of Florida to stop its ballot recount and thereby hand the presidency to George W. Bush. That Bush’s younger brother, Jeb, was governor of Florida in 2000 wasn’t lost on most. The “good-old-boy” network was alive and well at the turn of the century!
And it thrives in the anti-First Amendment actions of Republican governors across the nation. I feel that Barrett is basically their puppet; their tool in resolutions to ensure a conservative majority in the Supreme Court. As with any justice, Barrett’s place on the court could impact generations of people. As a writer, I’m a strong free speech advocate, which equals the right to vote. They’re intertwined. And I feel that many conservatives view the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as available to only a handful – people like them. People who share their narrow view of the world and what is appropriate in order to function within it.
Thus, the U.S. Senate’s kangaroo confirmation hearings for Barrett are ominous.
“Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was a Catholic!”
My father looked at the old man with the hottest level of anger he could muster in a split second. All of 30 with a newborn son, my father blurted back at his coworker, “He was our president, you son-of-a-bitch! No one deserves to get shot!”
It was November 22, 1963, and the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination had just spread around the print shop in downtown Dallas where my father worked. Emotions were already raw, and my father didn’t care that he – a young Hispanic man – was yelling and cursing at a much older White male; in Texas; in 1963.
The antagonism towards Kennedy and the Democratic Party in Dallas and Texas – and throughout much of the Southeastern U.S., for that matter – couldn’t be more palpable on that tragic day. Even decades later I’ve heard some conservatives say November 22, 1963 was one of the best days in modern American history. One was a former friend – an openly-gay Jewish man – in 2003. The rest of us seated with him at a restaurant table after a Toastmasters meeting were stunned.
“Yeah,” I casually responded. “Just like the day Hitler escorted the first rabbi into a gas oven.”
No one in their right mind celebrates the death or illness of a national leader. Even as much as I dislike Donald Trump, I’m not happy to know that he’s come down with the dreaded COVID-19 virus. Late on Thursday night, October 1, news broke here in the U.S. that Trump and his wife have tested positive with the virus. Earlier this evening, Friday, the 2nd, Trump was escorted to the hospital. While I’m sure some leftist extremists are thrilled with this development, I see it for the national implication it has. This poses a serious threat to our national security.
In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson was concerned with the “Great War” (now known as World War I), which was consuming Europe and now involved the U.S., when a mysterious influenza began rampaging across the globe. Now known simply as the “Spanish flu”, the scourge afflicted some 500 million people and killed an estimated 50 million. Understand this occurred long before the jet age. According to historians, Wilson ignored the severity of the health crisis, even as it began taking lives here in the U.S., and vigorously pursued the end of the war. In April of 1919, he arrived in Paris for peace talks – and left sick with the very flu he never publicly acknowledged.
Once back home, Wilson was quickly sequestered, and White House press reports simply indicated that overworking had caused the president to come down with a cold and a fever. The Associated Press emphasized Wilson was “not stricken with influenza.” In the aftermath of the greatest conflict the world had known, the mere thought of the president contracting the dreaded flu surely would have sent the nation into a panic. So the true nature of his illness was stifled.
Six months later matters worsened for Wilson when he suffered a debilitating stroke. It’s plausible the flu exacerbated the onset of the stroke. Wilson never really recovered and would die in 1924. During the 18 months he had left in his presidential tenure, Vice-President Thomas Marshall should have taken his place. But, at the time, the vice-president was little more than a figurehead. In fact, throughout Wilson’s presidency, Marshall later claimed he performed “nameless, unremembered jobs” that had been created solely to prevent him from doing any harm to the nation as a whole. But, as history eventually revealed, First Lady Edith Wilson served as de facto Commander-in-Chief. She literally presided over cabinet meetings and other presidential duties; all while hiding her husband’s grave condition.
Just less than four years after Wilson endured his stroke, President Warren Harding suffered a similar event – but with fatal consequences. Harding and his wife, Florence, had just arrived in San Francisco after touring the Alaskan territory when he experienced a heart attack. Vice-President Calvin Coolidge was at his father’s home in Vermont; a dwelling without electricity or a telephone – not uncommon in rural abodes even by the 1920s. When word reached Washington of Harding’s death, two Secret Service agents got in a car and drove all night to Vermont to rouse Coolidge.
It’s difficult to imagine that now: a house with no phone and Secret Service agents having to drive to scoop up a sleeping vice-president. It’s equally unimaginable what allegedly happened in the days following Harding’s demise. First Lady Florence Harding charged into the Oval Office upon returning to the White House and cleaned out her husband’s desk; apparently removing a number of documents along with personal effects.
Secrecy has always been a part of any presidential administration. It has to be. And sometimes it’s mixed with basic respect for an individual’s privacy. Not until after Franklin D. Roosevelt died, for example, did many Americans learn he had been stricken with polio in the 1920s and was all but bound to a wheelchair. At the 1940 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt fell as walked to the podium. Film footage of the event wasn’t released until a few years ago, and most convention-goers remained quiet about the incident. Footage of Roosevelt being wheeled onto the deck of a military vessel almost remained hidden for decades.
Most Americans weren’t aware of the severity of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s heart attack in the fall of 1955; the White House press initially disguised it as a cardiac event. As with Roosevelt, the American public bestowed respect for medical privacy upon the president. But when Eisenhower experienced a mild stroke two years later, some questioned his fitness for office. By the time he left the White House, he truly looked like the 70-year-old man he was.
Therefore, most Americans were thrilled when John F. Kennedy – the first president born in the 20th century – arrived. He wasn’t just handsome and charming; he was vibrant and energetic. Yet not until long after his death did the public learn that Kennedy had become addicted to a variety of pain pills to help him cope with both a back injury he’d suffered in World War II and the effects of Addison’s disease.
Kennedy’s assassination was the first since William McKinley in 1901 and his death the first in nearly 20 years. It had been a given that the vice-president would succeed the president, if something detrimental happened to the latter. But, what if something happens to the vice-president? McKinley’s first vice-president, Garret Hobart, died of heart disease in November 1899. McKinley didn’t replace him, even though he selected Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate during his 1900 reelection campaign.
The question of succession became urgently relevant on November 22, 1963. Many people forget that Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was in the same motorcade as Kennedy; a few cars away. When shots rang out, a Secret Service agent shoved Johnson to the floorboard where the vice-president began complaining of chest pains. That was kept secret from the public, as a horrified nation needed no further bad news.
Thus, the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was created. It established a definite line of succession to the office of the president, beyond just the vice-president. And it received its first real test on March 30, 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was shot just outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. Vice-President George H.W. Bush was aboard Air Force Two, returning to the nation’s capital, when a Secret Service agent informed him of the shooting. Back in Washington chaos rocked the White House, as the country felt the nightmarish echoes of Kennedy’s death.
A junior in high school at the time, I vividly remember the confusion. While most of my classmates seemed oblivious to the fact the president of the United States had just been shot, I was worried. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan more than a year earlier and were poised to invade Poland to squelch a labor uprising. As with rumors about the Kennedy assassination, was this a Soviet plot? I knew Bush was vice-president, but I didn’t know he’d been in Texas.
I remember Secretary of State Alexander Haig stepping into the White House Press room and announcing, “I’m in control here.” Haig was criticized later for inserting himself as the interim authoritarian. But, in a morass of hysteria, someone had to take command!
I also recall my mother sitting before the TV upon returning home from work that evening – and tearing up as news of the shooting spilled out. It took her back to that tragic autumn day in 1963, as she sat down to watch “As the World Turns” while nursing me, and Walter Cronkite suddenly interrupted to tell of Kennedy’s shooting.
The magnitude of the Reagan shooting didn’t come into full view immediately as news figures couldn’t determine if Reagan had, indeed, been shot. (It turned out a fragment of a bullet that had hit a car had struck Reagan.) The White House later concealed the seriousness of Reagan’s health in the aftermath. Days after the incident, Reagan posed for a photograph; clad in his robe and smiling. No one knew at the time he was running a high fever and almost collapsed once the picture was taken.
Reports of Donald Trump’s condition continue to flood our news feeds. We’re now learning that several people within the President’s inner circle have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and that the outdoor ceremony on Saturday, September 26, announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, may have been the “super spreader” event.
Trump is now in isolation and being treated for the ailment. I don’t bemoan that he’s being treated with the most potent medicines available and has a complete medical staff around him. Whether anyone likes it or not, he IS president of the United States, and his health is extremely important. I don’t care much for Donald Trump, but I don’t want to see him get sick and die. I only wish the best for him in this crisis.