Tag Archives: Founding Fathers

First Amendment: Why protect the ‘free press’?

Jonathan Capehart writes a column for the Washington Post, which means he’s a dedicated journalist. He also makes a compelling point: It is that the U.S. Constitution protects only one profession from government oppression, intimidation or coercion. It’s a “free press,” Capehart noted today.

Why is that?

Well, it’s because the founders knew something that has been lost on one of their political descendants, the 45th president of the United States. They knew that a free press was an essential element of ensuring that those who run a democratic republic must be held accountable for their actions.

Yet the current president refers to the press as purveyors of “fake news,” and calls them the “enemy of the people.”

How utterly and categorically disgraceful. Donald J. Trump’s abject ignorance of government and the role that a “free press” plays in ensuring that government does the right thing is breathtaking in its scope.

Yet he continues his rampage. He continues to spread lies about the media. He bellows his demagogic rhetoric to the cheers, hoots and hollering in front of crowds that comprise those who make up his political base.

The president needs to understand — even though I know that he won’t — that the founders had it right when they guaranteed a “free press” in the very First Amendment to our Constitution.

Yes, the amendment also covers the right to worship as we please and to protest government policies, to assemble peaceably and to speak freely without fear of retribution.

I need to re-state it once again: the media are the only private industry covered in any of the 27 amendments to the Constitution. Why do you suppose that’s the case? Because the founders knew at the very beginning that the press must remain free of government interference or intimidation.

Listen up, Mr. President.

Politics is part of the judiciary

It’s important to disabuse ourselves of a myth regarding the selection of federal judges.

That myth suggests that the federal judiciary — at every level — is somehow insulated from politics. It isn’t. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that politics has played a huge role in the selecting of these men and women.

The nation is about to witness the nomination and pending confirmation fight over the next justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement after 30 years on the nation’s highest court.

The fight already has begun. Democratic senators are pledging to wage all-out political war against a Republican president who’ll nominate Kennedy’s successor.

Let us not be coy, either, about the benchmarks that Donald John Trump is going to lay out in front of the person he nominates. That individual will have to oppose a woman’s right to choose an abortion; he or she will have to stand with the president on many other issues, such as immigration and civil rights, campaign finance and environmental protection.

Will the president ask this individual in so many words how he or she would decide an issue that comes before the court? I would hope not, although given Trump’s ignorance of government and decorum, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that he would pose the question.

These nominations are driven by politics seemingly as much as they are driven by judicial philosophy, credentials and legal standing.

The founders created a system that grants lifetime appointments for federal judges with the notion that they would immune from political pressure. They were only partly correct. The immunity kicks in after they are confirmed. The confirmation battles become all about the politics of the moment, of the individuals being considered and of the president who nominates them.

So, the fight begins. It’s a political battle of the first order. Just as it’s always been.

Mr. POTUS, we must ‘have judges’

Donald J. Trump wants to change U.S. immigration policy by diminishing the role of — get a load of this — the federal judiciary.

Trump wants to toss all illegal immigrants out of the country without the benefit of having their cases heard by judges.

The president of the United States today yet again took dead aim at our immigration policy. He called it the worst policy “in the history of the world.” He then said something quite remarkable in a brief give-and-take with reporters gathered at the White House.

Trump noted that when immigrants cross our border, “they have judges.” Yes, judges. These are the men and women who take an oath to administer the law in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, to ensure that federal law doesn’t violate the Constitution.

Federal immigration law — indeed, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — grants “any person” the right to “due process” and “equal protection” under the law. It doesn’t limit those guarantees to U.S. citizens, let alone to those who come here legally from another nation.

The president’s desire to toss out the Constitution, to ignore existing federal statutes crosses the line into a desire to create an autocracy. He wants to throw into the crapper a fundamental tenet that the nation’s founders insisted on when they created this government. That tenet established a judicial system that is ostensibly free of political pressure and coercion.

Yes, we need more federal judges — not fewer of them — to deal specifically with this issue of immigration. Yet the president now disparages the role these judges play? He disrespects their vital contribution to the administering of justice?

Reprehensible.

No doubt about it: U.S. is ‘secular nation’

An interesting argument has surfaced over the discussion about the use of Scripture to justify the separating of children from their parents as they enter the United States illegally.

It comes from the newspaper where I used to work, the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News.

Here’s the editorial with the title, “The Spiritual Double Standard.” 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently cited Romans 13 to justify the policy of yanking kids from their parents along our southern border and housing them separately. It also seems to suggest that the United States might not be a “secular nation.”

Actually, the United States most certainly is a secular nation. Of that there can be no serious debate.

The founders intended to craft a governing document that is free of religious requirements. Their ancestors came to this world fleeing religious persecution. Right? Yes!

The editorial seems also to suggest that critics of the AG are targeting Christians. Hmm. I don’t believe that’s the case. The founders didn’t even mention Christianity in crafting the U.S. Constitution. The Amarillo Globe-News opined: This is becoming a common tactic of many of those who support open borders – attempting to shame Christians by pointing out how federal immigration laws are not in line with Christian teachings about how to treat your neighbors, immigrants, etc.

The secular nature of our government is not aimed at Christians. It excludes any religious litmus test for government. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … you name it.

The G-N also suggests that secularists shouldn’t use Scripture to debunk the AG’s citing of the New Testament to justify the policy.

Fine, except that if the attorney general is going to bring it up first, then it is totally fair for critics to use the Bible to rebut what they believe is his misdirected justification.

The G-N notes, “As the saying goes, you can’t have it both ways.”

Actually, in this instance, I believe you can.

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.