The Democrats’ Best Response to Republican Power Grabs

In Michigan and Wisconsin, lame duck Republican-majority legislatures are enacting laws to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors. Two years ago in North Carolina, the same happened. These moves are particularly striking examples of recent aggressive Republican procedural hardball. Whatever the right rules are for the separation of powers, they should apply to both parties and not be changed opportunistically.

.. Should they go tit-for-tat and escalate procedural shenanigans, rules-stretching and rules-breaking? Or should they strive, leading by good example, to maintain a system of norms that have provided political stability in the hopes that a more moderate, reasonable Republican Party will re-emerge?

.. Retaliating in kind could aggravate already deep polarization and wreck what’s left of our political norms. Restraint, on the other hand, would establish new norms that establish electoral disadvantages for Democrats and embolden Republicans.

.. There is a better option, and it also happens to be the best option. Democrats can use the Republican hardball against them by weaving together the Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina cases into a larger story to take to voters in 2020: the indictment of Republican attacks on democracy accompanied by an aggressive reform agenda for strengthening constitutional norms and democratic procedures.

.. But a very clear narrative or popular revulsion — or both — can change that. Examples are found in the Progressive Era around the turn of the 20th century and again in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, when procedural reform gained traction, for better or for worse, and both term limits and campaign finance reform had moments of widespread popular enthusiasm. There’s good reason to think that the next two years offer the opportunity to create such a corruption narrative and to take advantage of what’s likely to be growing revulsion.

.. President Trump’s administration has made this job easier: The midterm election results showed that its scandals and disgrace have already focused voters’ attention. That’s not the time for retaliation and escalation. It’s the time offer prescriptions for rebuilding the rules that accompany a diagnosis that helps voters make sense of how badly wrong things have gone. Democrats can try to punish Republicans at the ballot box by trying to strengthen rather than weaken democratic norms.

The obvious place to begin is with the White House itself. Proposals to

  • require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns,
  • give teeth to the Emoluments Clause,
  • strengthen anti-nepotism rules that should keep unqualified family members out of sensitive offices,
  • extend conflict-of-interest rules to include the president, and
  • turn blind trust norms into binding rules

won’t be hard to understand under Mr. Trump. They will reinforce voters’ distrust of the president while also offering ways to prevent his abuses from becoming standard practice.

.. Republican procedural abuses at the state level precede the Trump administration, but they can fairly be connected to it. Most important is disenfranchisement. Democrats should emphasize the sustained nationwide Republican effort to limit access to the ballot and offer proposals to

  • restore the Voting Rights Act,
  • end felon disenfranchisement,
  • undo restrictive voter identification rules,
  • ease registration,
  • protect early voting and
  • ensure that voting places are more widely and evenly distributed.

Not only has Mr. Trump been on the wrong side of those issues, encouraging state crackdowns on imagined millions of noncitizen voters; but voting restrictions in narrowly won Midwestern states got him closer to the White House in the first place.

.. Other proposals, from statehood for the District of Columbia to gerrymandering reform, then make sense as part of the same effort to strengthen representation and fair democratic practice.

.. This is also the best approach for Democrats in the short term because they’re not in a strong position to retaliate even if an angry activist base wants them to. Despite some losses last month, Republicans remain in control of more governor’s seats and more state legislatures. More important, making things worse right now really is the wrong thing to do. If Democrats follow a course of unrestrained but legal tactics, we could find ourselves embroiled in even more severe dysfunction and a constitutional crisis. Tit for tat is sometimes necessary to enforce norms, but escalation in an already seriously polarized environment is dangerous.

.. If Democrats can offer a unifying indictment tying Republican attacks on democratic norms to Trump administration abuses, along with a coherent package of serious proposals to restore procedural fairness, voters will have a way of making sense of new examples of Republican sharp dealing.

.. Proposals to shorten lame duck legislative sessions and to constrain their authority, for example, would reinforce the idea that Republicans have been the party of procedural abuses and unfairness while still setting forth a good neutral rule.

.. This is the alternative to doing nothing or making things worse: seek to punish Republicans in 2020 by offering a vision of how to make things better.

This is the fight of our lives. Here’s how we win it.

Senators such as Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin need to argue to those who are ambivalent about abortion, or even against it, that right-wing judges would sanction a plutocratic government with little capacity to defend their interests.

.. “The Supreme Court, in case after case, is freely imposing its own view of sound public policy — not constitutional law, but public policy,” Biden told me at the time. “What is at issue here is a question of power, whether power will be exercised by an insulated judiciary or by the elected representatives of the people.”

..  Biden acknowledged that the phrase “judicial activism” has “often been used by conservatives to criticize liberal judges.” But “the shoe is plainly on the other foot: It is now conservative judges who are supplanting the judgment of the people’s representatives and substituting their own.”

“The existing Court’s assault on voting rights, collective bargaining and religious liberty is awful enough — just imagine how bad working people will have it if another right-wing justice joins the Court.” He warned of the court “taking a vicious, anti-worker, anti-women, anti-LGBT, anti-civil rights turn.”

.. The future of abortion rights is central to the coming battle. But so are civil rights, corporate power and our democratic capacity to correct social injustices. Conservatives should not be allowed to distract attention from the aspects of their agenda that would horrify even many who voted for Donald Trump.

We’re About to Find Out How Bad It Will Get Without Justice Kennedy

Among other things, Justice Kennedy was the bulwark against legal assaults against abortion, perhaps the one issue, more than any other, where the court’s influence and public attention so clearly intersect.

.. With Justice Kennedy on the bench, the thinking among liberals went, how bad could things get? Now that he’s gone, we’re about to find out.

.. After he had appeared to invite a challenge to partisan gerrymandering way back in 2004, a case finally arrived in the just-concluded term, with the social science measures of partisanship he had asked for. But Justice Kennedy ducked without even writing to explain why as the court decided the case on narrow technical grounds. And though his principal left-leaning legacy is his expansion of gay rights, especially marriage equality, he settled for another narrow resolution this month, writing the majority opinion that favored the religious objections of a Colorado baker over a gay couple’s right to be treated like anyone else when they walk into a store and order a wedding cake.

.. To a degree, this step-by-step development of law is Chief Justice John Roberts’s approach, too.

.. Consider, for example, that Justice Neil Gorsuch has already made it clear that he’d like to revisit big and seemingly settled questions. This week, he joined Justice Clarence Thomas in questioning whether the Voting Rights Act applies to electoral redistricting at all. 

..  “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” he wrote, quoting Dostoyevsky.

.. he agreed with his four liberal colleagues in 2016 that Texas couldn’t close down clinics by claiming to protect women’s health, since the facts contradicted that claim. None of the conservatives on the court have given the slightest sign of stepping into those shoes. It’s just a matter of how far and fast they tack in the opposite direction.

 

Canada’s Hidden History, My Mother and Me

More than a century of Indian policy by the Canadian government included forced migration, segregation, limiting education, outlawing culture and separating children from their parents. As recently as the 1980s, indigenous women would lose their Indian status and rights if they married a non-indigenous person. We were not allowed full voting rights until 1960.

.. Residential schools were government-funded, church-run institutions found across Canada and the United States that put seven generations of indigenous children through their doors. Children were not allowed to speak their language or practice their culture; as young as 6 years old, they faced electric chairs for punishment, and siblings were separated. Many, including my relatives, faced physical, sexual and mental abuse. One report estimated at least 6,000 children perished of malnutrition and disease, or while attempting to escape.

.. Nor did we learn that MacDonald justified the schools this way: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training, mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write.” In residential schools, he added, “they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

.. In order to expand Canada westward, the government displaced and confined my people — a stark contrast from the Canada so praised these days for welcoming refugees from Syria and other nations.

.. Learning about our past won’t change it, but mandating indigenous history in our school systems is a good start. Without an honest dialogue and recognition of this history, we will hide behind a comfortable ignorance. My hope is that on July 1, Canadians who raise their flag high in celebration will also take a minute to reflect on the loss many have faced along the way.

What African Americans lost by aligning with the Democratic Party

The personal call and the timely intervention significantly bolstered Kennedy’s standing among black voters. They also strengthened the political alliance between the Democratic Party and African Americans. After his release, King praised Kennedy for exhibiting “moral courage of a high order.”

.. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he cemented a political alliance between African Americans and the Democratic Party that continues to this day. But celebrating these landmark pieces of legislation makes it easy to overlook what black people in the United States lost when civil rights and equality for blacks were hitched to the Democratic Party.

.. As King understood, Democratic politicians acted more boldly on race issues in Alabama and Mississippi than in New York and Massachusetts.

.. “liberalism seems to be related to the distance people are from the problem.”

.. After the 1964 election, where Republican candidate Barry Goldwater described the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional, black voters essentially found themselves in a one-party system for presidential elections.

.. This is a problem for black voters, because the Democratic Party’s vision of racial justice is also extremely limited. Northern liberals pioneered what scholars now call “colorblind racism.” That’s when racially neutral language makes extreme racial inequalities appear to be the natural outcome of innocent private choices or free-market forces rather than intentional public policies like housing covenants, federal mortgage redlining, public housing segregation, and school zoning.

.. “People have to understand that although the civil-rights bill was good and something for which I worked arduously, there was nothing in it that had any effect whatsoever on the three major problems Negroes face in the North: housing, jobs, and integrated schools…the civil-rights bill, because of this failure, has caused an even deeper frustration in the North.”

.. most white politicians and voters assume that the civil-rights revolution not only leveled the playing field, but also tilted it in favor of African Americans.