Tag Archives: Founding Fathers

Federal courts aren’t ‘political’? Guess again

The nation’s founders had the right idea when they created a Constitution that called for lifetime appointments of federal judges.

Part of their intent was to take politics out of the judicial system. Sadly, that intent has been lost. It’s gone. The federal bench is, um, highly political.

Case in point: U.S. Senate Republicans today filled a federal judgeship they kept empty for the past six years during the Obama administration. They voted 49-46 — along party lines — to seat Michael Brennan on the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals. President Obama had nominated Victoria Nourse to that bench in 2010, but it was held up by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (pictured above), who exercised a Senate rule that allows a home-state senator to block anyone he or she chooses; Nourse pulled her nomination in 2012.

Indeed, one of the consequences of our federal elections is the federal judiciary and who gets seated. Presidential elections are particularly consequential in that regard. Presidents have the power to set judicial courses for generations through their appointment powers. You’d better believe, too, that politics matters when the Senate considers who to confirm or reject when they exercise their “advise and consent” authority.

Are the federal courts more political than, say, state courts? Hardly. In Texas, we elect judges on partisan ballots. Judicial philosophy or legal credentials take a back seat to which party under which the candidate is running, or so it appears at times in Texas.

The founders sought when they were creating a new nation to deliver a system of justice that would be free of political pressure. I only wish their dream would have come true. More than two centuries later, we hear laypeople/politicians second-guessing judicial rulings — especially when they lack any base of knowledge of the law upon judges make their decision.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way when the nation’s founders were building a nation “of laws, not of men.”

Federal courts: not really politics free

The federal judiciary is supposed to be free of political pressure.

But is it? Really? Oh, I tend to think not.

I find myself looking at federal court rulings a bit differently these days. For instance, the D.C. federal judge who ruled that the Trump administration must keep honoring the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program is an interesting fellow.

Judge John Bates is a President George W. Bush appointee. Thus, I tend to take his decision a bit more seriously than I would if he were appointed by President Barack Obama. Why? Because he upheld an Obama administration decision to create DACA in the first place. DACA, by the way, is the rule that protects U.S. residents who were brought here illegally by their parents; they’re called “Dreamers” because they are pursuing the “American Dream.” Get it?

The founders set up a federal judiciary that was supposed to be free of political pressure. It really isn’t. The judges who get these lifetime appointments are nonetheless examined carefully by people such as me and others who look for political reasons to endorse or condemn whatever ruling they hand down.

That is not to say that they base their decisions according to what others might say about them. Indeed, several Supreme Court justices over the years have veered sharply away from the course the presidents who nominated them hoped they would travel. And they get their share of condemnation from those who want them to adhere to the presidents’ political leanings.

But … they are political appointees. Make no mistake about it.

Revisiting myth of our ‘national Christianity’

Some issues just never go away. They lurk on the edges of our national consciousness, occasionally returning to a spot under the lights.

I have written a number of blogs on this venue about whether we live in a “Christian nation.” I concluded long ago that the founders deliberately left the word “Christian” out of our Constitution.

Here’s a post from 2015:

A ‘Christian nation’? Never have been one

I suspect we’re going to be talking, maybe soon, about this issue once again. After all, the president who’s alleged to have had an affair with a porn queen has been courting the evangelical community since he began running for the office. I fully expect the evangelicals to talk about religion and their “faith” in the president.

Indeed, I saw a tweet this morning that reminds us that Barack Obama and George W. Bush were faithful to their wives, but it took a serial philanderer who’s allegedly involved with a porn star to get evangelical Christians so energized.

And somewhere along the line, someone is going to blurt out some nutty notion that the United States is a “Christian nation,” that it is rediscovering its Christian roots.

I’ll say it again, just as I will say it now.

Baloney!

We aren’t a Christian nation. We are a nation founded by and large by men who adhered to Christian principles; many of them were men of faith who didn’t necessarily follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. Yes, there is a Judeo-Christian ethic written into the Constitution.

However, the founders explicitly excluded any reference to Christianity in the nation’s founding document. Why? Because those men fled religious persecution from tyrants who demanded that they must believe a certain way. They came across the ocean intent on preserving people’s right to worship as they please — or not worship if that is their choice.

I am acutely aware that the founders didn’t craft a perfect document. It didn’t grant full citizenship rights to every living human being in this newly created country. But on the issue of the nation’s religiosity, they got it right.

God bless those brave and wise men.

Protest is so very American, Mr. President

I just cannot let go of this idiocy muttered today by the president of the United States.

Donald J. Trump thought he’d tell an Ohio crowd that congressional Democrats who didn’t cheer the economic good news he delivered at the State of the Union were “un-American.” He took the bait offered by someone in the crowd by declaring them as acting “treasonous.”

I saw the clip and noticed the goofy look the president wears when he’s, um, joking. Maybe he was just kidding when he tossed out “treason” to describe Democrats’ behavior.

But still …

I need to declare that sitting on their hands in the congressional chamber is as American an act as I can think of.

Pardon me for reminding us all that the United States was created in an act of protest against a repressive government. Our nation’s founders created a governing document that codifies protest as an essential part of good government.

So, when members of an opposing party choose not to stand, cheer and clap when the president declares that all is good with the nation’s economy … well, that is their sacred right as American citizens.

My desire to seek to set the record straight on Trump’s latest idiotic declaration is aimed directly at the president’s most fervent supporters who actually believe this crap.

Parsing the founders’ language in the 2nd Amendment

Of all the amendments to the U.S. Constitution — all 27 of them — the one that gives me the most serious case of heartburn is the Second Amendment.

Here is what this amendment says. It’s brief, but it’s so damn confusing in my humble view: A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Americans are talking yet again about this amendment. Events in Las Vegas over the weekend have thrust this issue to the top of our minds once more. We’re talking about gun violence, gun control. We’re even debating whether we should be debating this issue at this time. I believe we should.

But I want to look at the Second Amendment’s sentence construction. I’ve read it thousands of times over my many years on this good Earth. I don’t understand what it’s saying.

The founders were smart men. They did a good job of developing a fairly cogent and concise bill of rights that are contained in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The Second Amendment, though, seems to make two points that are not connected to each other.

Indeed, the first 12 words preceding the comma seem to be lacking an ending. It refers only to a “well-regulated” militia and the necessity to have one to maintain “the security of a free State.” That’s it!

The following clause could stand as a complete sentence in that it contains a subject, some verbs and a predicate.

Those who favor stricter controls on firearms point to the first clause as their rationale. Those who oppose such controls look to the clause after the comma as their rationale.

My sense is that here is where the debate over this amendment seems to break down. Those on opposing sides of this mammoth chasm place their emphases on separate clauses. One means something different from the other one.

I know that courts have ruled countless times that the amendment means that Americans can own firearms, that it’s protected in the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights was ratified Dec. 15, 1791 and thus, the Constitution was established to form a framework for our representative democracy.

The founders got it mostly right when they crafted that framework. They wrote the Bill of Rights almost without exception with sentences that make sense; nine of the 10 amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were constructed in ways that make sense to laypeople such as yours truly.

The Second Amendment, though, gives me heartburn.

‘All men are created equal … ‘

I hope the debate over the nation’s founding documents continues for a good while. We need, as Americans, to remind ourselves of what the founders wrote and try to parse what they meant when they wrote these words.

While steering away from specific mention of the current controversy swirling around the nation, I feel a need to examine briefly this particular passage from the Declaration of Independence.

“All men are created equal.” 

I suppose you can look at that phrase and take it one of several ways. Yes, all “men” were “endowed with … certain unalienable rights.” That, of course, excludes women, who were left out of that formula. They couldn’t vote; indeed, it took the United States of America until the early 20th century to get around to granting women that right.

There’s a discrepancy worth noting here. “All men” didn’t really mean “all.” You see, we had this portion of our population at the time the Declaration of Independence was written that wasn’t even considered fully human. They were the slaves. They were kept in bondage by many of the men responsible for founding the nation.

I will try to insert myself into Thomas Jefferson’s skull for a moment. The principal author of the Declaration perhaps intended for it to mean “all.” Whatever his intent or his idea at the time he put that thought down on paper, it doesn’t negate for one instant its fundamental truth.

All men — and eventually all women — are endowed by the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, it is preposterous in the extreme to accept the presence of those who pretend to be members of a “superior race” of human beings.

We’re in the midst of yet another national discussion about hate groups, about so-called “white supremacists” and those who adhere to a political philosophy against which we entered a world war. 

They will insist that they are the patriots among us. That they know the meaning of our nation’s founding.

They … know … nothing.

The founders didn’t get everything quite right when they penned those cherished words. Those who came along later have sought to amend and improve that high-minded language.

We’re not quite at the point of pure perfection. But we’re a lot closer to it now than we were at our nation’s beginning.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares our intention to “form a more perfect Union.” I read that to mean that we’ll never quite reach the finish line. That does not mean we should stop reaching for it.

Yep, the founders got it (mostly) right

Two hundred forty-one years later, it’s good to look back on what the nation’s founding fathers signed.

They stated in that document of independence declaration that “all men are created equal.” They put their names on the Declaration of Independence, many of them picked up their muskets and then went to war against the British Empire.

The fighting stopped in 1781. Then the founders went to work crafting a governing document we now know as the U.S. Constitution.

Did they get it 100 percent right when they signed off on that framework? Not really. I can think of two egregious errors of omission in that document.

The founders did not grant “all men” equal rights. Black men were enslaved. They were considered to be three-fifths of a human being. All men were created equal? No. The Emancipation Proclamation would set the slaves free in 1863, but it would take the nation two more years to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery once and for all.

Nor did the founders grant women full rights of citizenship, although they likely thought they were doing so at the time. Women couldn’t vote. They were mere spectators. It took the government a good bit longer to correct that error. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting suffrage to women.

Thirty or 40 years ago, I might be inclined to dwell on those negative elements of our nation’s history. Today, I choose to concentrate on what the founders did right.

Their forebears came to this new land to escape religious persecution. Thus, the founders created a secular Constitution. They granted every citizen religious freedom, which also means they were free to not worship if they chose.

The founders separated the government into three co-equal branches, granting equal power to each of them. The president proposes laws; Congress disposes of them; the courts ensure their constitutionality.

The great Winston Churchill famously declared that representative democracy is the worst form of government ever created, but is superior to anything else. The founders, of course, didn’t anticipate such wisdom coming from the British Bulldog.

I also am quite certain they would agree with him.

Therefore, I choose to salute the founders’ success today. Their government is being tested yet again. I remain confident it will continue to function as those great men intended.

‘I, alone … ‘ should have been given us a clue

Donald J. Trump’s time as president has lasted all of about 122 days — give or take — yet it seems like forever already.

As I look back on this man’s stunning political ascent, I am struck by one moment that I believe in hindsight should have given us a clue on what we might expect.

He stood before the Republican National Convention this past summer in Cleveland and declared that “I, alone” can repair all the things he said are ailing the country.

Setting aside for a moment or two the myriad problems that are bedeviling this man and his administration — and which might cost him his office — that particular statement suggested to me at that moment that this fellow really doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t understand one of the principal tenets of governing, which is that he is participating in a team sport. It’s so critical to understand that notion at the federal level, where the founders established a triple-layered governmental system where one branch holds no more power than the other two.

The presidency is but one branch; it must work in tandem with the Congress. Waiting in the wings to ensure that the executive and legislative branches don’t violate the Constitution are the federal courts, comprising actual judges, not the “so-called” types who render decisions that might go against whatever the president wants to do.

Donald Trump ignores political decorum, custom and practice. As some have noted, he does so either out of ignorance or does so willfully. I’ll take Trump at his word that he is a “smart person,” which means he is invoking a willful disregard for how the federal government is supposed to work.

The concept of governing by oneself does not work. It cannot work. The president is getting a real-time civics lesson in how the nation’s founders established this government of ours. He has vowed to run the country like his business. Yeah, good luck with that.

A business mogul can fire people at will. He can order underlings around, make them do this or that task. He can threaten, bully and coerce others.

When he takes the reins of the executive branch of the federal government, all of that prior experience gets thrown out the window.

How does the president tell Congress — comprising 535 individuals with constituencies and power bases of their own — to do his bidding? And how does the president actually defy the federal judiciary, which the founders established to be an independent check on every single thing the president and Congress enact?

Yes, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee gave it all away when he stood there in Cleveland and bellowed “I, alone” can fix it.

No, Mr. President. You cannot. Nor should you have ever tried.

Moreover, I believe his repeated efforts to trample over Congress and the federal courts are going to bite him hard in the backside as he seeks to defend himself against the other troubles that are threatening him.

Break up the 9th U.S. Circuit? C’mon, get real

Donald J. Trump keeps ratcheting up his open combat with the federal judicial system.

The president wants to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because — doggone it, anyway! — the judges keep issuing rulings with which he disagrees.

Poor guy. That’s how it goes sometimes, Mr. President.

The 9th Circuit has ruled against the president’s ban on refugees seeking entry into this country from majority-Muslim countries. That just won’t stand in Trump’s world. So his solution is to dismember the court, which is based in San Francisco and is considered to be arguably the most liberal appellate court in the federal judicial network.

He said lawyers shop for friendly judicial venues and the president believes the 9th Circuit is a favorite forum to hear cases pitting the federal government against anyone else.

Give me a break.

Conservative courts have ruled against liberal presidents. Indeed, liberal courts have ruled against conservative presidents as well. Have presidents of either stripe been so thin-skinned that they’ve sought to break up an appellate court? Not until this one took office.

Leave the court alone, Mr. President.

A better option for the president would be to craft laws that can withstand judicial challenge. Federal judges in Hawaii, Washington state and Maryland all have found sufficient fault with the Trump administration’s effort to ban refugees to rule against them. Appellate judges have upheld the lower court rulings.

In a strange way this kind of reminds me of when President Franklin Roosevelt sought to tinker with the federal judiciary by “packing” the U.S. Supreme Court with justices more to his liking; he sought to expand the number of justices on the nation’s highest court. He didn’t succeed — thank goodness.

To be sure, Trump isn’t the only recent president to bully the federal judiciary. Barack Obama called out the Supreme Court while delivering a State of the Union speech in 2010 over its Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited political contributions by corporations. The president was wrong to do so — in that venue — with the justices sitting directly in front of him.

The nation’s founders sought to establish an independent federal judiciary that ostensibly should be immune from political pressure. The president is seeking to bully the court system through a number of methods: He calls out judges individually and criticizes the courts’ decisions openly and with extreme harshness.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needs to remain intact and the president needs to live with the consequences of how it interprets the U.S. Constitution.

What has the president learned in 100 days?

Let’s turn away for a moment from what Donald Trump might have accomplished during his first 100 days as president to what he might have learned during that time.

The president’s list of accomplishments is pretty damn skimpy.

His learning curve, though, has been steep. I hope it’s beginning to flatten out.

What’s the most glaring eye-opener for the president? It’s that you cannot run the federal government the way you run a business.

At virtually every turn along the way since taking office, the president has been forced to swallow that bitter pill. A man who became used to getting his way because he demands it has learned that the federal government is structured — on purpose — to function on an entirely different set of dynamics.

The nation’s founders crafted a brilliant governing document. When you think about it, while the U.S. Constitution grants the president significant executive authority, it does not imbue the office with ultimate governing authority. The founders divvied up power among three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

It’s that darn legislative branch — the U.S. Congress — that has a say in what becomes law. Donald Trump’s business experience doesn’t mean squat to many of the 535 men and women who comprise both chambers of Congress. They, too, have their constituencies to which they must answer. Yes, the president represents the nation, but Congress — as a body — also represents the very same nation.

Can you govern the nation like a business? No. Never. Not a zillion years.

Trump needs to understand that governance is a team sport. He cannot threaten members of Congress if they resist his legislative proposals. He cannot exclude members of the “other” party from key negotiations. He must abandon the “I, alone” mantra — which he bellowed at the Republican National Convention this past summer — that threatens to haunt him for as long as he is president.

And then there’s the judicial branch. The federal judiciary comprises individuals who hold lifetime appointed jobs. Their mission is to ensure that laws do not violate the Constitution. The founders granted them independence from the executive and legislative government branches.

Those judges have the constitutional authority to knock down executive orders, or to put the brakes on laws enacted by Congress. They aren’t “so-called judges” whose status as “unelected” jurists doesn’t diminish their authority.

I hope the president has learned at least some elements of all this during his first 100 days. If he doesn’t, then we’re all going to be in for an extremely rough ride.

However, we’re all just spectators. The president will need to hold on with both hands if he has any chance of getting anything done during his time in office.

We are witnessing the consequence of electing someone with zero public service experience. Mr. President, the federal government bears no resemblance — none! — to the businesses you built.