My US Supreme Court plan

In a comment to this post on my refraining from watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings, I promised my thoughts on the future of the United States Supreme Court, so here is my attempt to weigh in on a very fraught civics topic. Please note: This is my personal opinion as a citizen. I am not a lawyer or someone with a degree in public policy. This is my brainstorming on the basis of common sense, fairness, and trying to codify what had previously been expected to accord with good governance and ethics.

In the design of the Constitution, the judicial branch is co-equal with the legislative branch (Congress) and the executive branch (president and executive agencies). Its function is to interpret the Constitution and laws. In recent years, the courts have been politicized. The impartiality of their judgements is called into question by the machinations of the politics around their appointment by the president and confirmations by the Senate.

The process as written in the Constitution is that the president nominates individuals for open seats on the various federal courts with the Senate’s advice and consent. Since Mitch McConnell has been Republican majority leader of the Senate, he has failed in his Constitutional duty to give Senate hearings and votes to nominees made by Democratic president Barack Obama, most (in)famously in the case of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland but of dozens of nominees to lower federal courts, as well. During the Trump presidency, McConnell has busily filled those seats with Trump’s very conservative nominees, even when those people have been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.

This is an unfair practice but not technically illegal because there are not specific statutes on how the Senate gives advice and consent. My plan begins with codifying what had previously been expected, timely consideration of a president’s court nominees. I propose that all nominees to the federal bench have their Senate hearings begun within sixty days of their nomination and a confirmation vote by the full Senate for those who are advanced by the Judiciary Committee taken within ninety days. The exception would be for a vacancy to the Supreme Court in a presidential election year. A vacancy that occurs on July first or later would be held open for the winner of the presidential election that November.

My sense of fairness also calls for some remedy to the McConnell machinations that have skewed the federal courts to having more Republican appointees than there should have been. If Biden is elected, I think he should be able to make two immediate nominations to the Supreme Court, one for the seat that should have been considered for Merrick Garland because Antonin Scalia’s death was prior to July first in 2016 and one for the seat that will presumably be filled by Trump after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. This basically applies the principle that would be codified in the new law. I envision these two seats as temporary. Going forward, Supreme Court openings would be filled by Democratic (or independent) presidents as usual; Republican (or another conservative party that might arise out of the current maelstrom) presidents would forfeit the next two openings that occur during their presidencies, gradually reducing the Supreme Court back to nine justices.

A similar remedy might be able to be applied to the other federal courts, looking at seats that McConnell blocked from being filled by President Obama as a basis.

This is not a perfect solution, as it will not restore the balance and integrity that the courts would have had without these abuses of power, but it would at least give a legal structure to prevent a repeat in the future and some measure of accountability to the parties that acted unfairly.

Another court reform that is being discussed is to put a term length on what are now lifetime appointments. I have mixed feelings about this. I like the concept of lifetime appointments because it removes any thoughts of a justice deciding in a certain way in order to influence their re-appointment for an additional term. On the other hand, it bothers me that there are justices who were rated as “not qualified” or who have been credibly accused of sexual harassment or lying under oath who will serve for a lifetime on the federal bench. If a term of service is imposed, it should be long, on the order of eighteen or twenty years. I would leave the option available for the president to re-nominate a justice for Senate confirmation. As much as I might like to apply a time limit retroactively, I don’t think this is a good idea. For better in some cases and worse in others, those approved as lifetime appointments should be able to remain in those positions.

For the record, there has been much talk about the Democrats, if they control Congress and the presidency, “packing the Court” meaning adding seats permanently to the Supreme Court. This term is meant pejoratively. I think the Democrats will definitely pursue court reform which is needed to prevent what Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has termed “court-stacking” – the Republican gamesmanship that has resulted in the current skewing of the courts toward justices nominated by Republican presidents.

The idea of temporarily adding seats and exacting a penalty against future Republican/conservative presidents is something that I dreamed up on my own, not something that I have seen proposed elsewhere, proving once again that you can never tell what might be top of JC’s Mind.

By the way, in tangentially related Senate procedure, I propose that the filibuster return to its traditional role as a tool to convince other senators to support one’s position. If a senator wishes to filibuster a nomination or piece of legislation, they may take the floor to talk about the issue as long as they wish. When they finish, debate ends and the measure is brought to the floor for a vote. In a body that already gives outsized influence to states with small populations, forty-one of one hundred senators should not have the ability to permanently block what the majority of senators wants to enact.

signs of hope

As I was posting about yesterday, things are pretty distressing in the United States these days.

I am, though, finding support and reasons to hope.

Although I wish it hadn’t taken such a dire convergence of events to do, I find hope in the millions of people around the world who are drawing the fights against injustice, inequity, climate change, oppression, inequality, poverty, violence, and lack of education, opportunity, health care, affordable housing, etc. into a new vision for the common good, for care of each person and community, and for the planet. The massive disruption that we are experiencing from the pandemic and the resulting social and economic impacts gives us the opportunity to re-build in a positive, sustainable way. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has just released a major “Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.” This is the kind of thinking envisioned by many long-time social justice advocates and by Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. While there will be obstacles to enacting such large-scale change, there finally seems to be momentum toward adopting and implementing meaningful reforms, which gives me hope.

There are personal signs of hope, as well.

Sometime this summer, a new grandchild will arrive, a sibling for ABC. While we have no idea when it will be either allowed or advisable to travel to London, both ABC and the new little one are signs of hope for the future, as well as powerful motivation to makes things better for them.

Earlier this week, a lovely surprise appeared in my mailbox, a card with a beautiful photograph of a mother wood duck swimming with two ducklings. It was from two Smith college friends who are twin sisters, vacationing together on a lake in New Hampshire. They were thinking about me awaiting our new far-away grandchild “across the pond” and sharing their own family stories, filling my heart with love and joy.

They both mentioned my writing, which I appreciated. I’ve also recently received a couple of emails from a poet-friend in reaction to my posts here at Top of JC’s Mind. I enjoy reading and responding to comments here, on the TJCM Facebook page, and on my personal page, too. Sometimes, it seems as though I write and publish posts – and have no idea if they are actually reaching anyone. I don’t often look at my blog stats, but, even when I do, a visit doesn’t necessarily equal a read. My visit stats also don’t reflect people who receive posts via email. I sometimes find myself surprised that friends know certain stories or viewpoints from me when I know we haven’t discussed it, forgetting that I had posted about it. (Conversely, I sometimes think that everyone knows a certain thing because I’ve written about it, forgetting that many friends and family members don’t read my blog.)

Perhaps, hope is not the proper word, but I do so appreciate the sense of connection that comes through sharing our words and thoughts and emotions with each other. When I do have the privilege of interaction, it reminds me that I am not just scrawling words into cyberspace without purpose.

There is always the hope that someone is reading, mulling, and reacting.

Thank you, Readers. ❤

June birthdays

Already this month, my younger daughter T turned 30 and my granddaughter ABC turned 3.

This is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying.

I am very concerned for their future, the future of all young people, and the planet.

When I was thirty, I was at a home that we owned with two young daughters and a spouse whose job supported us all comfortably and enabled us to save for the future. T and her Millennial friends do not have anything approaching that kind of economic security. Even if they are well-educated and skilled workers, most available jobs don’t pay enough to live on, even as a single person, much less a family. The pandemic and ensuing economic collapse have made matters worse and it is unlikely that recovery will be rapid. The best case I can hope for is that this economic and health catastrophe will re-set priorities and policies so that economies and governments serve the common good and recognize human dignity.

The pandemic taught us an important lesson. Those who were hit hardest – people of color, low-income communities, the elderly, and those with complicating medical issues – were also those who were already being ignored or discriminated against. The death of George Floyd, the killing of yet another unarmed black man by police, underscored the racism still in evidence in the United States, a message that has resonated around the world, as white people have been examining their behavior toward people of other races in their countries, too.

Women who are my age (almost 60) shake our heads in disbelief that so much discrimination and harassment and belittling of women and girls still exists. I am sad that our fight for equal rights is not yet won and now falls onto the younger generations as well.

Over all of this, lies an atmosphere so polluted with excess carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that the levels are higher than they have been at any time in human history. The consequences of that are far reaching and serious, the efforts thus far to address it wholly inadequate.

While I have been in stay-at-home mode because of the pandemic, I have been deluged with opportunities for webinars, a number of which are looking at a path forward from the current massive disruption of “business as usual.” It is heartening that so many are looking to #BuildBackBetter, looking at structural change that addresses climate change, pollution, racism, income inequality, sexism, all manner of discrimination, and the call to honor human dignity. I have become accustomed to linking human welfare with planetary welfare, articulated so well five years ago in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. This follows the tenets of Catholic social justice doctrine and has been my basis for activism, looking for systemic ways to address problems and injustice holistically, rather than trying to rectify a problem narrowly, which could inadvertently cause adverse effects. (There are specific instances that can be addressed with a narrow solution, but systemic change can solve many smaller problems more completely and rapidly.)

If this truly is a pivot point in human history, perhaps we can work together and construct a new way of living which respects all life and the planet, as well. That would give me hope for T’s generation, for ABC’s generation, and for the generations to come. The work will be difficult, but it is what is called for at this critical moment in history.

ACA anniversary

On today’s ninth anniversary, we are remembering all those who died or were injured in the shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton NY.

Although we have made some progress at the state level, I am saddened that there has been so little at the federal level, both on gun and immigration reform.

I so appreciate the Parkland students and their student and adult allies who are bringing gun violence issues to the forefront of the national conversation and motivating lawmakers to take steps to protect students and the public.

In light of the president declaring DACA dead, I hope that Congress will finally return to bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, those under TPS, and other long-time residents.  If they pass such legislation with a veto-proof margin, we will confirm and honor our national identity as a diverse nation where everyone person’s human dignity is recognized and cherished.

US immigration

The current United States government offers so many perplexities and outrages that it is difficult to react or reach out to policymakers about all of them. Or most of them. Even closely following a handful of issues can be daunting as legislation and DT’s mind often change markedly over the course of a few hours.

One of the most critical issues at the moment is immigration. DT has insisted since his campaign began that he would build a wall across our southern border and deport undocumented people. He also wanted to restrict Muslims from entering the country, even though that clearly violates the US Constitution and laws.

As president, he has succeeded in restricting visas from some majority Muslim nations and has been deporting some undocumented people who had been allowed previously to stay. In recent months, problems have intensified for people who were brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers. Then-President Barack Obama had signed an executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, protecting some of the Dreamers until Congress could pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The Senate did so in 2013, but the House of Representatives failed to consider it, so DACA stayed in place until DT rescinded it in September 2017, calling on Congress to put a law in place to deal with the issue within six months. At the moment, there is the threat of a government shutdown because the budget still hasn’t passed and a replacement for DACA has been drawn into the negotiations.

It’s actually even more complicated than that, but I’ll spare you any more details.

The general upshot is that the current US immigration system is broken and has been for a long time. Some of the same people who rail against immigrants are exploiting immigrant labor, either undocumented people or those brought in as guest workers. For example, DT’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida has for years used H-2B visas to bring in foreign workers, even though there are Floridians available to take those jobs.

Immigration issues are sometimes used as cover for discrimination, prejudice, and racist attitudes. The most blatant recent example is DT’s disparaging Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries while asking why we don’t have more immigrants from Norway, a country with less than 10% people of color.

The vast majority of United States citizens are either immigrants themselves or have forebears who were immigrants. Many of those people came here to escape poverty or oppression in their home countries, the same reasons many current immigrants come here. Others came here to join family members.

It is hypocritical for people in government to disparage current immigrants when people in their families followed the same pattern in settling here.

It is true that our immigration procedures are desperately in need of updating. Processing times are also very slow, partly due to outdated procedures and quotas.

As some readers may recall, my daughter E’s spouse is British. They met in grad school and married and now have a daughter. At the moment, E and the baby are living in the US with us; L had to return to the UK after his student visa expired. They hope that E will be able to get a spousal visa in the UK later this year. Despite the uncertainties caused by Brexit, it is much easier, faster, and cheaper for E to get a UK visa than for L to get a US green card. I’m sad to say that there are some in the US who might use L’s immigration status, even though it would be legal, as a covert means of racial discrimination.

It has been heartbreaking to see families being broken apart as parents are deported away from their citizen children or children leave the only country they know to go to a parent’s country of origin where they may not even speak or write the language.

Congress and the President have the power to show compassion, justice, and welcome to immigrants by instituting a new system with an earned path to citizenship, similar to the path their ancestors followed in setting here.

Enough of the name-calling and threatening and divisiveness.

It’s time to protect the Dreamers, those under temporary protected status, and all immigrants, regardless of current documentation status. As Emma Lazarus wrote in “The New Colossus” which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/18/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-18th-2018/

 

Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.