Friday, June 27, 2008

Stare Decisis

Stare Decisis - "to stand by things decided", or in other words. To base decisions on what has come before. Stare Decisis, two words that Chief Justice John Roberts repeated his reverence for over and over during his Senate Confirmation Hearings .

This week, Stare Decisis took a decided turn for the worse with the decision in The District of Columbia v. Heller which declared the handgun ownership restrictions in the District of Columbia unconstitutional and for probably the first time "affirmed" the right of citizens to purchase and possess handguns. The last Supreme Court Case that dealt with this matter up front was a 1939 case , United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. at 178, where the court decided that the Second Amendment's declaration and guarantee that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" relates to the Militia of the States only.

Gun rights advocates achieved an astounding victory with this weeks decision. The vote as is common with this court was split along ideological lines coming up 5-4 with Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy in the Majority.

Gun ownership to me is not a problem. I don't agree with Scalia's majority opinion or the conclusion that we have an inherent right to bear arms, but it's not that big of a deal to me. I do care if someone is careless with them to the point their kids shoot themselves or someone else. But this isn't a post about personal responsibility or the right to bear arms. It's about the Supreme Court and the upcoming presidential election.

The decision makes clear that this court is fairly balanced with respect to how decisions are rendered. Often times, the results of a vote on a case come out 5-4, with Anthony Kennedy being the typical swing vote. In most of the major cases decided by the Roberts Court, 5-4 decisions seem to be the rule and not the exception.

OK, so what's the big deal? Well, if you are a conservative and like conservative judges who are "activist" judges, then not much. Don't believe all the BS about conservative judges being 'strict constructionists". They are only strict constructionists when they want to find against something they disagree with and claim that the constitution doesn't provide a right for whatever it is, whether it's privacy, civil rights, whatever. However, if you don't like "activist judges", and respect the notion of Stare Decisis, then this should bother you. But, we know that like most peoople judges most of the time vote their perspective and not for precedent unless it supports their opinion. Very few judges have the principled approach of respecting precedent if they disagree with the precedent. It's not unusual, it's human nature.

Anyway, if you are a liberal like me, you now know that the Roberts Court is and will be actively engaged for years to come. The Conservative wing of the party, particularly Roberts and Alito, are young and will likely be on the court for many years. John Paul Stevens is 88 years old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her late 70's, David Souter is becoming more disenchanted with the court and has made noises about retiring for some time. So, within this next presidency, there is an opportunity for 3 positions to open up on the court. That concerns me if John McCain is president. His commitment to appoint judges in the mode of Alito, Scalia and Roberts would guarantee a right wing ideology would permeate the court's decisions for many years to come.

If you are conservative then you welcome this. Roe v. Wade would likely be overturned on the first challenge presented to a new court with a 7-2 swing toward the right.

If you are a liberal, then you need to be like me and be very concerned and work very hard to get Barack Obama elected president.

Oh, and by the way, the notion of "Stare Decisis" having influence on the Roberts Court? I think it will only if it suits their purpose. Other wise, it's just a Latin phrase nobody knows much about.

Tell me what you think.



Monday, June 16, 2008

The "Media"

As probably anybody who follows politics knows, last Friday, Tim Russert, long-time host of the Sunday talk program "Meet The Press" died of a massive heart attack. Mr. Russert had been the host of the venerable program since 1991, and by all evidence coming in from friends, competitors and politicians who sat across the table from him on Sunday morning, he was a well regarded and well respected man.

His passing and the subsequent tributes from friend and foe alike got me thinking about our news media today. In my early years (1960's and 1970's), there were very few media people that were well know. The major networks each had their news bureaus. CBS had Cronkite, NBC had Huntley and Brinkley, ABC had Peter Jennings, Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner. Most of the local affiliates had popular anchors, but the point is there were very few. Newspapers provided the majority of opinion related content. Most editorials, either local in nature or syndicated columnists provided a perspective on events that were then "talked" about by family and friends.

Today, with the advent of the Internet and Cable and Satellite television, there is a never ending stream of content available. This is both good and bad in my estimation. It's good because opinion from every point of view is readily available. It's good because at the touch of a button, we can read, see and hear what others in the world think. It's good because it allows one greater opportunity for learning.

It's also a bad thing. The reason I say this is because people rarely talk about issues like they used to. I think the easy access and nature of the media today keeps people tuned in and out of touch with their relatives, neighbors, friends, etc. When I was a kid, our conservative commentator was the guy that lived across the street from us. He listened and read William Buckley and William Safire and then provided color commentary ala Rush Limbaugh. My Uncle was our Chris Matthews in that he liked to be bombastic and talk over every one to make his point. My point is, and perhaps its just nostalgia and the fact that our families are different today, that we don't spend much time with our own Sunday round tables. While Mr. Russert and his compadres on the Sunday morning circuit (My favorite is "This Week") will provide a high degree of quality information and multiple perspectives, it's not the same as arguing about a policy in Viet Nam with my Dad, or discussing a political campaign with my best friend.

Look, the media is a valuable thing depending upon how one uses it. I'm resolving to reboot my own internal "Meet the Press" with my family. So my kids need to look out: Next Sunday, at lunch, I'll honor Mr. Russert's opening line on Meet the Press and say :"Our Issues This Sunday are....."

RIP Mr. Russert



Friday, June 13, 2008

Thank You Justice Kennedy

Ever so often, just when I feel like this country's government has spun completely out of control, something happens that restores my faith in our system. One such event happened yesterday with the Supreme Court ruling on a 5-4 majority that the detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have an inherent constitutional right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.The ruling was 5-4, with the majority votes coming from Justices Souter, Ginsberg, Stevens, Breyer and Kennedy.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority said the following: "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the case known as Boumediene v. Bush. "To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this court, say 'what the law is,' " Kennedy added.
Indeed and well spoken Justice Kennedy. We are by establisment a nation governed by the rule of law. Even in extraordinary circumstances, which I submit we are not in, the rule of law should take precedence over any single individual's opinion, directive or policy.
The Bush administration expectedly indicated their dissapointment with the ruling with the president saying that "He would abide by the ruling even though he disagreed with it." He also stated that he may seek legislative remedy to the court's decision. Fine, so be it. Mr. President, you have seemingly forgot that you are sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution. That is your sworn duty, pledged in front of the American people and to the God you so often invoke. You have for the sake of "security", whittled away at the constitutional checks and balances that men much smarter than you, me and many others carefully constructed to keep tyranny at bay. However, the administration's response is not surprising. This is after all an administration who's leader proclaimed the Constution as "Just a Goddamn piece of Paper".
More dissapointing however is the response, written for posterity one of the dissenting opinions by Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative bulwark of the right-wing component of the Court. Justice Scalia said: "that the Boumedienne ruling "will almost certainly cause more Americans to get killed." Scalia warned, "The nation will live to regret what the court has done today."
Really? Will we regret upholding the rule of law? Even if, for some completely obtuse reasoning I don't understand, restoring the writ of habeus corpus may in some form or fashion wind up causing the death of an American, which seems completely ridiculous to me, do we not have a responsibility to stay true to the law? Do we have carte blanche then to violate or ignore every legal tenet on which we've built the nation? If we decide tomorrow that the President must have the ability to wage war or attack another country because of the fear of a perceived threat that he or she no longer have to get authorization from Congress in order to attack, is this simply OK?
I think not. Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and I think very germane to this discussion is this quote: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither". I believe it sums up the point I am trying to make very well. We were given the gift of a Constitution developed by men who had lived under the heavy yoke of tyranny and lack of self-determination.
The genius of our "National Experiment" as George Washington termed our newly formed government, is that it was constructed to adapt and to sustain itself as long as we stay true to the principles by which it was established. The checks and balances developed by the founders was one of the greatest gifts a people could receive. It will provide us with a wall of security that tyrants and demagouge's will not be able to penetrate. That is if we as the people who consent to be governed are wise enough to keep it.
Tell me what you think,

Best President Since Dennis Was Born Poll Results

Well, the results are in. The poll for determining the Best President since Dennis was born (1959) has determined William Jefferson Clinton was the best. The rankings in order of most to least votes attained are:
1. Bill Clinton with 5 votes
2. (Tie) - George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy each with 4 voes
4. Ronald Reagan with 3 votes
5. Dwight Eisenhower with 1 vote
6. (Tie) - Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush each with 0 votes.
Thanks to all who participated the poll, and keep looking for additional surveys and polls coming soon.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bush's Legacy

For some time now, there has been a claim floating around the blogs, the newspapers, and even the press room in the White House that the Bush administration was planning on establishing "permanent military bases" in Iraq. Some said 4. Some said 6. Some said 14. Regardless of the number, the Bush talking heads, whether it was Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellen, Tony Snow, or now Dana Perino have always tap-danced around the question of whether or not we are planning to stay indefinitely.

Even the president waffles on the subject. He says "we'll stay as long as necessary". What the hell does that mean? Well, now we may have a clue that we are indeed planning on a long-term stay. A story reported in the Independent, one of the United Kingdom's leading news-papers has revealed that the Bush administration is working on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), with the Iraqi government and planning on getting agreement with the Iraqis prior to the expiration of United Nations Mandate that authorizes US presence which ends in July of this year.

What does this agreement do? Well, according to the article, it plans on 50 military bases being established in the Iraqi country and a force strength of between 60 and 130 thousand troops present in the country indefinitely. That's not all. The agreement calls for immunity for US troops and contractors (read: Blackwater, etc) from Iraqi Law. It calls for the free entry and exit of US troops and other personnel from Iraqi territory without having to disclose to the Iraqi government what the US is doing. It also calls for total control of airspace to 29,000 feet to allow for continued combat actions in the "war on terror". It also allows for US troops to arrest any Iraqi at any time without consultation with the Iraqi government.

The Shiite leadership is against such a deal, the Sunnis and Kurds seem to be interested in it as they believe they need US support indefinitely. The Maliki government is caught between needing US support for their legitimacy, and the growing distrust and unrest by the rest of the Shia's especially those aligned with the Muslim cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The US has some leverage on this deal, as it currently holds about $50bn of Iraqi funds in the US Federal reserve bank and will likely use the release of those funds as a carrot to sign the deal. Additionally, a UN sanction dating back to the first Gulf War still defines Iraq as a threat to international security under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The US price for getting this sanction removed: Sign the agreement.

I don't know about you, but this smacks of extortion. It seems to me if the Bush Administration really believed in self-determination and sovereignty of the Iraqi people, he'd agree to this agreement being part of a referendum voted on by the Iraqis themselves. He doesn't. This agreement, if signed by the Iraqis is one of the most blatant acts of imperialism conducted by the United States since the occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American war.

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Boys and Girls, now that the noise level of the presidential primary season has passed, perhaps we can pay attention to what the current occupant of the White House is doing in our name. I'm not in favor of this agreement. Tell me what you think.



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bravo, Mr. Obama

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" - August 28, 1963. Location: Steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Speaker: Dr. Martin Luther King.
I was born in 1959 and raised in Texas. While not the deep South, our attitudes on race, culture and politics were close cousins of Alabama and Mississippi. I grew up in a culture of intolerance and prejudice. I heard not only were blacks less capable than whites, Mexicans, or rather the favored pejorative "wetbacks" weren't worth much consideration either.
Fortunately, and I owe this to my parents, racism and prejudice were not tolerated in my home. As devout Christians, my parents never allowed my brother or I to think less of someone because of their skin color. It was a lesson and principle that I honor them for.
I write this because it has been within my life-time that lynchings have occurred. I write this beause it has been within my life-time that blacks were not allowed to use the same toilets as I or eat in the same restaurants as me and my parents. I write this because last night we have seen a historic turn in the tide and cycle of the American experience and I believe we are moving ever closer to Dr. King's words at the head of this post.
During my life-time, several historic events have occurred. Some, like the Apollo program that landed a man on the moon in 1969 were almost miraculous. I truly believe that if Barack Obama wins the presidency in November of this year, that event will be very close to the top of the list.
The race for the nomination has been clouded by pundits, endless noise and more 24x7 cable shows than we can count and most of them have been focused on the sound-bite, the pastor issues, the "Obama/Osama" issue, the "Is he Muslim or is he Christian?" nonsense.
People, think hard for a minute. Not only has this man effectively captured the nomination of the Democratic Party to be president after only serving in the US Senate for 1 term. Not only has he done so at the tender age of 46 (Only, JFK and Bill Clinton, U.S. Grant were nominated at such young ages). He is black. Well, he is of mixed race, but by and large he is considered the first African American to have gotten to this point. I can't say he has won the nomination, because first of all, Senator Clinton has not conceded and who the hell knows what might happen between now and the nominating convention in August. However, for all intents and purposes, Barack Obama will be the candidate of the Democrats running against Senator John McCain. This is a monumental moment in the short history of the United States. It is a remarkable turn of events for our nation and it truly gives me hope that America will be brought closer together as a result of this (as Lincoln said) "by the better Angels of our nature".
Bravo Senator Obama, Dr. King would be very proud of this moment. I know I am.
Tell me what you think,