Tag Archives: U.S. Senate

Best Quotes of the Week – October 17, 2020

“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.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in her opening statement at the start of the confirm hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett

“Politicians should never decide what medical procedures a patient can and cannot receive.”

Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights, reacting to a court ruling that blocked a 2017 anti-abortion law passed by the Texas State Legislature

“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.”

Savannah Guthrie, during a live “town hall” meeting with Donald Trump, questioning his retweet of a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory

No to be outdone, Trump made a trite insult at Guthrie during a campaign stop the next day.

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Barrett Block

“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.

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Worst Quote of the Week – January 17, 2020

“You’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to you.”

– Senator Martha McSally, Arizona Republican, to CNN reporter Manu Raju who asked if the Senate should consider new evidence as part of its impeachment trial.

McSally later tweeted a cell phone video of the terse exchange, apparently recorded by one of her aides, and is now trying to raise money over the incident.

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Worst Quote of the Week – December 27, 2019

“We’ll be working through this process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), blatantly declaring that he will work with Trump’s defense during the latter’s upcoming impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

McConnell’s position is tantamount to a jury foreperson working closely with a criminal defendant to ensure that person is found not guilty.

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Best Quote of the Week – December 27, 2019

“If it means that I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me, rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president, I’m totally good with that.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), expressing the possibility she will vote for the impeachment of faux-President Donald Trump.

Additionally, Murkowski noted that she was disturbed by the support of U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that he is already cooperating with the White House for Trump’s pending trial.  She also believes the Democrat Party rushed the impeachment measures.  However, as a moderate Republican who apparently isn’t intimidated by Trump, she could become a key figure in the President’s Senate trial.

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Worst Quote of the Week – December 20, 2019

“I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”

– Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on his pending role in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate

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Sexual Dealings

“The hearings ripped open the subject of sexual harassment like some long-festering sore.”

Nina Totenberg

 

The U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have gone from the mundane (replete with the standard and predictable inquiries into the candidate’s judiciary paper trail) to the hyper-dramatic.  Not since Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation has an otherwise routine and constitutionally required procedure descended into the chaos normally reserved for daytime melodramas.

The Thomas fiasco was a ready-made soap opera.  Gossip columnists and entertainment industry executives all felt they’d died and gone to ‘Trash TV Heaven.’  In general, only the nerdiest of academic scholars viewed SCOTUS hearings with rapt attention.  But the Thomas proceedings quickly devolved into a media event when the Senate discovered – among the slew of Thomas documents – a complaint by one of his former colleagues, Anita Hill, accusing the judge of sexual harassment on the job.  Hill had worked for Thomas in the early 1980s, when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.  The hearings had technically concluded, and a vote was about to take place.  Then Nina Totenberg, a correspondent with National Public Radio (NPR), received a copy of an affidavit Hill had completed several weeks earlier in response to a Senate request for any and all information regarding her dealings with Thomas.  Such requests are standard for Supreme Court nominations, as well as other high-level government positions.  The vote on Thomas most likely would have taken place without further discussion had the Hill affidavit not appeared.  (The source of the leak to Totenberg has never been revealed.)

The vote was delayed, and the soap opera commenced.  Hill described in graphic detail how Thomas asked her out repeatedly during their time working together.  She made it clear, however, that he never touched her and never threatened her.  But his behavior made her uncomfortable, and she was concerned for her job.  Apparently, he got the message and stopped.  Hill wasn’t the only woman to file a formal complaint against Thomas, but she had been the first.  And she was the only one called to testify before the Senate during Thomas’ hearing.  Despite her testimony, Thomas was confirmed 52-48, in one of the narrowest Supreme Court votes in history.

The controversy – especially the sight of an all-male Senate committee questioning Hill – prompted a feminist backlash.  Months later, 1992 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman”.  It also happened to be an election year, which subsequently saw large numbers of women elected to public office across the nation.  It also put Bill Clinton into the White House.  As anyone of a certain age might recall, Clinton became the focus of his own sexual indiscretions.  Ironically, many of the same people who demonized Clarence Thomas championed Bill Clinton and proclaimed accusations of his flirtatious peccadillos were simply good old-fashioned sludge politics.  Or what Hilary Clinton deemed a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Apparently, the New Feminist Order didn’t include the likes of Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones.  I recall plenty of women scoffing at the news that – in 1990 – Jones visited then-Governor Bill Clinton in his hotel room late at night on the promise of a job offer.

“What a dumb broad!” my mother told me one day.  She, as well as some of my female friends and colleagues, laughed at the idea that Jones believed Clinton would invite her to his hotel room at 11:00 p.m. wanting to conduct a job interview.  Right-wing sycophants portrayed Jones as a naïve 20-something who didn’t know any better.  James Carville, Clinton’s campaign manager, remarked, “Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there’s no telling what you will find.”

When Clinton’s sexual tryst with Monica Lewinsky came to light, self-righteous conservatives actually tried to impeach him for lying about it under oath.  But again, no word came from the feminist camp.  In fact, they were suspiciously silent throughout the entire ordeal.  Clinton supported abortion, so I guess that’s all some women’s rights activists cared about.

Personally, I always liked Bill Clinton (Hilary not so much) and didn’t appreciate the news media focused so much attention on his hormonally-driven conquests.  Yes, he likes women.  He’s also one of the smartest and most verbally eloquent men ever to serve as Chief Executive.  What a stark contrast to his immediate successor or the buffoon currently in the White House!  But, if character counts – as so many social and religious conservatives proclaim – why are sexual indiscretions more important than, say, financial irregularities?  Conservatives were quick to defend Thomas and just as quick to defend Trump.  But they championed the ousting of Clinton because he got a blow-job from some unknown overweight intern.  Conversely, liberals were quick to defend Clinton, but had no problems dragging Thomas through the mud.  Character may be important for public officials, but politics keeps interfering.

All of that came back – like another “Rocky” sequel – recently with the Kavanaugh ordeal.  This situation is different, however, but much more disturbing.  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward about her traumatizing encounter with Kavanaugh in the summer of 1982, when both were high school students.  Whereas Clarence Thomas allegedly asked Anita Hill out on dates repeatedly and made one too many off-color jokes, Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh and another teenage boy ambushed her at a house, dragged her into a bedroom and tried to rape her.  If true, Blasey Ford is recounting an incident that goes far beyond mere uncouth behavior.  It’s a harrowing tale of a felonious assault; one where she literally felt she could die at the age of 15.

I know first-hand what both sexual harassment and general bullying-type harassment on the job can do to a person’s sense of self-worth.  I know it happens.  I’ve experienced it from men AND women.  In the fall of 1985, I was a naïve 21-year-old working at a country club when my openly gay male supervisor admitted to me one night that he’d “really like to suck your dick off.”  It startled me more than it offended, but I didn’t know what to do.  Working at a retail store just a few years later, I got into a verbal altercation with my immediate supervisor who threatened to “bounce me right out of here.”  We eventually made amends, realizing it was just a bad misunderstanding.

While working at a large bank in downtown Dallas a few years after that, a woman came up behind me as I stood at a copier and literally jabbed a well-manicured fingernail into my back.  We’d had an ongoing dispute about some otherwise small business matter.

“Oh please tell me you didn’t just poke me in the back like that!” I said to her.

She promptly jabbed me in the chest with that same finger and said something like, “I’ll stick it up your ass…”

Whereupon I literally shoved her back and told her never to touch me again.  She marched out of the room and had someone call security on me.  When I relayed what all had happened, attention turned back to her; she had merely said I’d “physically accosted” her in the copier room for “no good reason.”  I informed management that, if I lost my job because of that, she’d “better come out with me” or the bank will buy me a new vehicle and give me an early retirement.

In 2006, while laboring as a contractor at a government agency elsewhere in downtown Dallas, a woman with the security division deliberately ran into me, as I and a male colleague started to enter through a secure doorway.  I didn’t see her approach; she’d moved in on me that quick.  She then grabbed my upper left arm and demanded to see my badge.  When I told her (shouted at her) never to touch me again, she threatened to walk me out of the building.  My immediate supervisor was more upset with me for talking back to her than the fact she’d literally attacked me.  Again, I threatened legal action.

“I can be a real asshole about this,” I told him, “and tell everyone she hit me and tried punch and scratch me.”

My constituent vouched for the veracity of what happened.  I suppose if he hadn’t been with me, I might have lost that job.  But I had no fear of that.  I would have ensured the same happened to her.  But the matter quietly (amazingly) went away.  Still, my supervisor and a few others seemed to be more upset that I’d actually had the nerve to talk back to a woman and not that she grabbed my arm.

I’m aware that, in this politically correct society, gender politics has taken an ugly turn.  And it seems, whenever men are accused of sexual abuse and harassment of females, they are presumed guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof lies with them.  In other words, the standard protocol of due process is undermined.  But only in those cases where a female – especially an adult White female – is victimized.  Or claims to be have been victimized.

It was with all of that in mind that I viewed the life story scuffles between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.  I compelled myself to view it all with an open mind and hear both sides of each tale.  I noted that Anita Hill had been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, but that Dr. Blasey Ford had written to her local congresswoman about a one-time incident with Kavanaugh five presidents ago.  And, when the Senate asked Blasey Ford to testify under oath, she agreed (via her attorneys), but only after a long list of conditions were met.

Who is she, I asked myself.  Why is JUST NOW coming forward with this?  And how pertinent is it to Kavanugh’s confirmation?  His judicial record opposing abortion and gay rights, while recklessly supporting large corporations is more critical.

Even after listening to Blasey Ford’s statement and all the vitriolic after-effects, I wondered where this would lead.  Then I witnessed with some degree of amusement Kavanaugh literally lose it, as he tried to defend himself and rebut Blasey Ford’s claims.  The once-stoic, almost bland, jurist melted into near hysteria.  His loudly defensive behavior was telling.  I’ve been around long enough to know that people who grow hostile in such a manner are most likely guilty of the accusations laid before them.

But then, I realized something even more important; something about Blasey Ford.  She had stated repeatedly that, while her involuntary interaction with a teenage Kavanaugh was a “sexual assault,” it didn’t culminate (apparently) in an actual rape.  Neither Kavanaugh nor his friend managed to penetrate any part of her body with some part of theirs.  She credits much of that to the fact she fought so hard – terrified for her life – and that she had on a one-piece bathing suit, which would be more difficult to tear off.

Yet, if she had fabricated this entire story, or at least had embellished it, there would be no such ending.  If the story was born from the mind of a bitter middle-age female, both boys would have penetrated her somehow or another.  In fact, there probably would have been more assailants.  She would have ended up bruised and bloodied; stumbling out of the house naked and screaming.  But that’s not what she says happened.  That’s what made me realize she can’t be lying about this.

It’s not that I doubted her altogether.  I didn’t have an opinion either way about the alleged incident.  I’ve become accustomed to seeing male public figures – politicians and sports stars alike – be targeted by supposedly scorned women.  Almost every man who has entered public life (at least here in the U.S.) has fallen victim to a plethora of accusations from a gallery of victims.  And, once again, understand that men accused of sexual violence in this country aren’t always accorded due process.

But now, I realize Blasey Ford can’t be lying.  It’s still odd that she wrote to her local congresswoman about Kavanaugh just this past summer.  Yet, I’m certainly glad she did.  Now other stories about Kavanaugh are coming to light; stories of his alleged drunken binges in high school and college; of verbal slurs and physical attacks.  The accusers are both women and men.  It’s not that the men are more believable – at least not to me.

Kavanaugh had portrayed himself as a studious, virginal, choir boy-type puppy dog in his youth; a kid who volunteered to help old women cross the street and attended church as he was headed for the priesthood.  He proclaimed as much before the Judiciary Committee.  Under oath.  In public.  With his wife and daughters seated behind him.  Now all of that’s in question.

If character really does count – and we know it does sometimes – then people like Kavanaugh don’t stand a chance.  And it’s fair game to dredge up their past indiscretions the way archaeologists dredge up ancient coins.

Sadly, this fiasco is not quite over.  It will continue into this coming week.  Sometimes, true-life soap operas are just too overbearing.  Stay tuned.

 

Supreme Court Historical Society

Image: Rob Rogers

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