Point of View Columns

Why Elections Matter

There are reasons why presidential elections seem unimportant. The cascade of clown-like candidates – Donald Trump comes to mind- and demagogues – Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum certainly come to mind – diminishes the ability of some voters to take the entire election process seriously. And that is truly a shame because, as the recent Supreme Court decisions made clear, presidential elections really do matter.

During the last week in June the United States Supreme Court handed down several decisions of epic importance. In the process SCOTUS surprised some observers, confirmed the predictions of others and definitely affected virtually every citizen of this country. With the RobertsScaliaAlitoThomas cabal firmly in its place on the bench of the highest court in the land, it surprised some that marriage would be confirmed as a right that could not be restricted by any state on the basis of gender preference. Given the propensity of that cabal to engage in black robed politics (See Gore v. Bush – 2000); it was also more than a mild surprise that the court would confirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

For good measure SCOTUS also affirmed an Arizona state initiative that will seriously curtail redistricting with obvious partisan motives. And it also ruled that affordable housing development cannot be restricted to lower income neighborhoods and communities – a decision which will have a huge (and positive) impact on urban development in this country.

The Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas Gang of Four surprised no one by affirming the culture of government sponsored murder by ruling that the use of death penalty drugs was constitutional. It also limited the powers of the presidency with respect to restriction of anti-pollution measures and limits on mercury emissions. And for a final act, SCOTUS has agreed to (once again) revisit the issue of race-based affirmative action strategies in higher education – not a good sign for those who support equity in higher education in this country.

Wherever one may be on the political spectrum, there is virtually unanimous agreement that the decisions of the Supreme Court were of great importance with generational, cultural and institutional impact that goes well beyond the actual court cases. Everyone knows that the Supreme Court is an important part of the federal government but occasionally SCOTUS really flexes its judicial muscles.

This is important because of the following facts. There are nine members of the Supreme Court – four of them – Scalia (78), Kennedy (78), Ginsburg (81), and Breyer (76) by the end of the next president term their ages will be 83, 83, 86 and 81. It is highly likely that the next president of the United States will be in a position to appoint between one and four new Supreme Court justices.

Understanding that SCOTUS is virtually split between 5 Reagan-Bush appointees (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas) and 4 – Clinton-Obama appointees (Breyer, Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), it should be crystal clear why elections matter. If the next president were to choose justices in the Reagan-Bush mode the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage decisions could go the other way. If the next president were to choose justices in the Clinton-Obama mode affirmative action and the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage will in all likelihood be preserved.

After SCOTUS stole the election from Al Gore and gave the presidency to George Bush, it should have been clear for all time why presidential elections matter. The last week of June 2015 made that point again and everyone can wonder what kind of Supreme Court Justices Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Donald Trump might select and what kind of justices Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might select.

Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. is 60 (DOB: 27 January, 1955).
Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia is 78 (DOB: 11 March, 1936).
Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy is 78 (DOB: 23 July, 1936).
Justice Clarence Thomas is 66 (DOB: 23 June, 1948).
Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is 81 (DOB: 15 March, 1933).
Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer is 76 (DOB: 14 August 1938).
Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is 64 (DOB: 1 April, 1950).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is 60 (DOB: 25 June, 1954).
Justice Elena Kagan is 54 (DOB: 28 April, 1960).

The numbers tell the story.

That should be enough for everyone to realize why elections really matter.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 12, 2011

One of the (many) definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result while expecting a different result. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas and Lieutenant Governor while serving with Governor George W. Bush, is now going to run for president. Sound familiar? Could this country actually elect George Bush’s lieutenant governor? The G.O.Tea Party had a debate in Iowa yesterday, and the theme song “Send in the Clowns” played in the background. And finally, Mitt Romney has announced that “corporations are people”, confirming his belief in the lousy Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as confirming his permanent confusion regarding the reasons why corporations even exist in the
first place.

Déjà vu?

One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is “…it seems like déjà vu all over again”. The much anticipated entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the G.O.Tea Party presidential race is one more sign that the Republicans are determined to do their very best to re-elect Barack Obama.

Let’s see…..Rick Perry was lieutenant governor when George W. Bush was governor. President George W. Bush presided over multiple disasters – 9/11, Katrina and the collapse of the American economy come to mind. Former Texas Governor Bush led this country into not one, but two misguided and mismanaged wars costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Rick Perry has never breathed a word of dissent regarding the policies of President Bush.

Let’s see, Governor Rick Perry declared that Texas should seriously consider seceding from the United States. The last time that was tried 600,000 Americans died. Clearly secession is not a term that should be bandied about, even for rhetorical effect.

And, it should be noted that Governor Perry has stated on numerous occasions that serving as governor (and presumably as president) is part of a plan to fulfill his Christian mission. While we should respect any person’s religious beliefs we should be wary of anyone seeking to advance their Christian, Jewish or Muslim mission through holding public office.

Barack Obama is certainly losing sleep (and gaining grey hairs) over the many challenges his Administration has been facing. He shouldn’t lose any sleep over facing Rick Perry in a presidential election.

Would You Like a Clown with that Pie?

A veritable gaggle of G.O.Tea Party presidential candidates showed up for a “debate” in Ames, Iowa yesterday. The word “debate” is in quotes because it was really not a contest of ideas, rather it was a competition for who could blame President Obama the most with a sub contest for catchiest sound bite. Mitt Romney muttered something about not eating “Obama’s dog food” – a real head scratcher.

Newt Gingrich railed against “gotcha questions” from the media. Presumably he is growing weary of explaining how he served his former wife with divorce papers as she was waking up from cancer surgery – and how he and his wife managed to get a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany’s and still be part of the middle class – and how his entire senior campaign staff just got up and walked out after working for him for………2 weeks.

Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty had a veritable Twin City Smack Down, but it was very hard to imagine any of the candidates on the Ames stage actually being on the world stage – without a clown suit.

Corporations Are People?

Campaigning in Iowa last week Mitt Romney stated that “corporations are people”. I guess it is now official. In the Citizens United case the United States Supreme Court led by G.O.Tea Party stalwarts Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights including the right to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.

Now the former governor of Massachusetts has gone a step further by stating that entities that only exist by reason of law are actually people. Presumably he means that corporations have rights and are entitled to safeguards that were previously reserved for human beings.

During my first year at Harvard Law School we were taught that corporations are simply a creation of the law. Clearly Mr. Romney, the G.O.Tea Party stalwarts on the Supreme Court and the right wing of the right wing intend to rewrite law to suit their own purposes.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Tears of a Clown

A sad and tragic joke would be telling the sad and tragic epic of the Scottsboro Boys as a Broadway musical. It would be even worse to use the historically demeaning and culturally offensive device of minstrelsy.

Who in their right mind would have to the bad taste to produce such an obscenity. And who would invest millions of dollars in the process?

A bit of history is in order. According to the Archives at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 3, 445 black men and women were lynched between 1882 and 1964. This does not take into account the tens of thousands of black men and women who were illegally imprisoned, beaten or driven from their homes.

The story of the Scottsboro Boys took place in 1931. Nine young black men were falsely accused of rape by two white women and in a rush to judgment they were tried, convicted and sentenced in record time by an Alabama court. Only the intercession of civil rights lawyers saved their lives with countless appeals, ultimately resulting in two Supreme Court decisions.

One decision affirmed the right of all defendants to a lawyer. The other decision declared it unlawful to exclude persons from juries because of their race. (One wonders what ruling might issue from Robertson, Alito, Scalia and Thomas – Four Blocks of Right Wing Granite on today’s Supreme Court)

What is clear is that the Scottsboro “boys” were denied counsel and that they were tried before juries from which black people had been excluded. What is also clear is that but for the intercession of lawyers from outside of Alabama they would have been executed on the basis of false allegations of rape by two white women, joining the legions of other black men who met their demise in a similar fashion.

It is this historical context that makes the Broadway minstrel muscial “Scottsboro Boys” so perplexing and unacceptable. I have seen reviews of the show and read words like “brilliant” and “riveting”. But there are boundaries of taste and sensitivity and historical respect that are worth observing, even in an artistic enterprise.

Using the name “redskins” as the name for a football team is an affront to all Native Americans, even if it is “just for fun”. Portraying Jews dancing the Hora at Auschwitz would be simply awful, no matter the ironic intent of the artist. Disco dancing in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11 is offensive even in its contemplation.

I have no doubt that the directors of “Scottsboro Boys”, had some artistic vision that is being articulated in this show. But minstrelsy – a truly distinct American art form that originated from white men imitating black men who were imitating white men who were imitating black men – is a device best left on the shelf of some art history class.

It is not the best way to introduce the subject of injustice to an audience that is largely ignorant with respect to the subject of lynching and miscarriages of justice that have been perpetrated against black Americans while most of America remained mute.

As noted, it takes millions of dollars to produce a Broadway musical. Most productions are financed the old fashioned way – “angels” (individuals or consortia that make their money by betting on which projects can become box office hits). These are very personal investments and mini-productions are organized for these “angels” who literally sit in judgment.

I wonder if any of these “angels” thought that minstrel musical “Scottsboro Boys” might be in bad taste? Were any of the angels concerned that there might be black men and women in the audience who lost uncles and fathers and aunts and sisters to the tsunami of outright violence against blacks that swept across this land less than a century ago?

I wonder if anyone cared. The fact that “Scottsboro Boys” is now on Broadway is the answer.

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