In a new piece for the Huffington Post, People For’s Michael B. Keegan argues that the confirmation process for Elena Kagan provides progressives with the perfect opportunity to take back a debate that the Right has dominated for far too long:
As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has pointed out, the Republican message machine has managed to convince America at large that only two kinds of Justices exist: rigorous conservatives who scrupulously apply the original intent of the Constitution, and carefree liberals who flaunt the law to rule for whichever party their big, soft hearts prefer. It's a myth, but it didn't spring up from nowhere. It's the direct result of a concerted effort pushed by conservative ideologues like Ed Meese and supported by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and eventually the entire GOP machine.
For decades, this campaign has paid enormous dividends to the Right, with ultra conservative judges frustrating progressive goals and allowing elected conservatives to trample our Constitution. But over the last few years, a series of decisions by the Roberts Court have exposed its flaws and given progressives an opening to take back the conversation.
Take a look at the full piece on HuffPo.
And also don’t miss the debunking of conservative myths about judging that Former Justice David Souter offered up in last week’s Harvard commencement address.
Legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite, who passed away earlier this month, publicly came out as a liberal at PFAW’s Spirit of Liberty dinner held just days after the 1988 election. As the New York Times reported, “Walter Cronkite had always been more comfortable delivering the news than making it. But something was gnawing at him, and when the opportunity arose one evening not long after George Bush was elected President, Mr. Cronkite made a speech in defense of liberal values that surprised people more than he could have imagined.” Cronkite’s critique of Democratic politicians and call for liberals to forcefully advocate for their values are just as relevant now as then:
For some people in Guantanamo Bay who are found not guilty in a court of law for whatever they are eventually put on trial for, the Obama Administration is floating the idea of keeping them in "indefinite detention" anyway. According to the Washington Post:
Guantanamo Bay detainees who are acquitted by civil or military courts may still be imprisoned indefinitely if the government determines that they pose a national security threat, the Defense Department's chief lawyer said yesterday. "The question of what happens if there's an acquittal is an interesting question -- we talk about that often within the administration," Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said at a Senate hearing. "If, for some reason, he's not convicted for a lengthy prison sentence, then, as a matter of legal authority, I think it's our view that we would have the ability to detain that person," he said.
Reading this sends a chill down my spine. We are a country governed by law, and we cherish our liberty. The United States Constitution establishes a number of safeguards to limit the government's ability to use its awesome power to simply lock people away. That's why we have trials. That's why we have juries. That's why we prevent the police from beating confessions out of people. That's why we give defendants the right to cross-examine those testifying against them. And when the government loses at trial and a person is found not guilty, our liberty is further protected by the Constitution's prohibition of double jeopardy.
Our nation's founders knew that the system wouldn't be perfect, but they recognized that protecting the rights of all people - even bad people - is what liberty is all about.
An LA Times editorial put it simply two years ago, when President Bush proposed the same idea as the one currently being discussed: "[A]n acquittal must mean more than a return trip to a prison cell."
Just because it would be Barack Obama and not George Bush holding the prison door key does not make this any less of a threat to America's constitutional principles.
Today in the Supreme Court, a case was argued that makes a pretty compelling case for a fair and independent judiciary. Robert Barnes at the Washington Post did a good overview yesterday.
Caperton and his little coal company sued a huge coal company on claims that it unlawfully drove him out of business, and a jury agreed, awarding him $50 million.
That company's chief executive vowed an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court -- but first, he spent an unprecedented $3 million to persuade voters to get rid of a justice he didn't like and elect one he did.
Today during arguments the Court was (no surprise) divided. But the real principle may be bigger than simply campaign donations.
The Constitution sets up the judiciary as the branch of government dedicated to ensuring that the rule of law applies equally to all people. When it's broken – or perceived to be broken, -- there's scant reason for citizens to put their full faith in the government. And yet over the last years, President Bush has systematically flooded the courts with jurists who put political ideology over our most basic constitutional principles.
No longer fearing the worst when it comes to judicial appointments is, well, a big sigh of relief, but this case makes very clear how crucial it is that we repair the damage eight years of George Bush has done.
With George Bush and Dick Cheney finally out of power, our country is returning to its ideals so quickly and in so many ways that it’s dizzying.
Recognizing the rule of law? Check. Following the Constitution? Check. Keeping politics out of law enforcement? Check. Recognizing our right to know what our own government is doing? Check.
What about LGBT equality? George Bush worked to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans into the United States Constitution, supported laws that put gay and lesbian couples in prison for the crime of having sex in their own home, and fought to continue to allow workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.
And President Obama? The White House website spells out President Obama’s agenda for LGBT equality, and it’s pretty terrific. He:
But it’s not just the substance of the agenda that’s important: Where it’s placed on the website tells us a lot.
Rather than cravenly avoiding LGBT rights altogether or putting them in a category like “social issues” or “cultural issues,” as a number of others do, the White House places them exactly where they belong: as part of our nation’s civil rights agenda. The Obama Administration is framing LGBT issues in a way that helps progressives set the terms of the conversation.
The Radical Right dishonestly paints their anti-equality positions as pro-family, pro-values, and pro-religion, a dangerously deceptive framing that the mainstream media tends to blindly accept. Thus, the Right has long set the terms of the national conversation.
No more. Using the bully pulpit of the White House, President Obama can make it clear that LGBT equality is nothing less than a civil rights issue.
And that framing allows us to more effectively pin the Radical Right down by asking the threshold question: What specific legal rights that you have should be denied to people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender?
Mark Felt - better known as the anonymous source Deep Throat - died yesterday at the age of 95. The deputy director of the FBI in the early 1970s, Felt secretly led Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to the information that eventually toppled the lawless presidency of Richard Nixon.
Felt was hardly a liberal: He had supported several violations of civil liberties perpetrated by the FBI during the 1960s-1970s. Nevertheless, Nixon’s full-scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law during Watergate compelled Felt to put his country first and talk to the press about what he knew, albeit anonymously.
Today, we are nearing the end of another presidency that has engaged in a full scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law. But unlike a generation ago, the current president’s allies in Congress put partisanship above patriotism and prevented genuine investigations of the administration.
Mark Felt’s death reminds me of another key difference between the era of Watergate and today: Back then, because someone talked, those in power were held accountable. Today, we are still waiting for people to talk – to tell us what they know and to provide us with the documents shedding light on illegal domestic spying, the outsourcing of torture, the illegal sabotage of Democratic GOTV efforts in 2002, the suppression of voting rights, the politicization of the Department of Justice, Bush’s unlawful signing statements, the arrests of peaceful anti-administration protesters … the list goes on.
The outrages committed by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others did not happen in a vacuum. Their illegal policies were carried out by public employees scattered across the government, from the highest levels on down. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who know where the bodies are buried.
For the sake of our country, it is time for them to talk.
Today, People For the American Way Foundation* put out a report titled The Human Toll: How Individual Americans Have Fared at the Hands of Bush Judges. It’s essentially a review of the stories of individual Americans who have found themselves in front of judges put on the bench by George W. Bush. In many cases, the result isn’t pretty.
With that in mind, let me point out an important fact: John McCain has supported every single one of George Bush’s judicial nominees.
So, for that matter, have most of the incumbent GOP Senators up for reelection this year. John Sununu (NH), Elizabeth Dole (NC), Ted Stevens (AK), Gordon Smith (OR), Norm Coleman (MN), James Inhofe (OK), and John Cornyn (TX) are probably the ones in the closest races.
You might want to keep that in mind while you read the report. It’s a pretty interesting read, if I do say so myself.
* - (Which is affiliated with People For the American Way in ways too complicated to get into here.)