Thursday, March 17, 2016

Judge Merrick Garland

President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, is described as brilliant and eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court by both Republicans and Democrats.  In making his announcement, President Obama described Garland as, "someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence."   But, unfortunately Garland's superb qualifications will not matter. 

Garland is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court.  He is a native Chicagoan, and was the valedictorian of his high school class.  In 1974, he was valedictorian of his Harvard class, where he graduated with an A.B. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in social studies.  He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1977 with a J.D. magna cum laude.  He was also a member of the Harvard Law Review.   He was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, and took a job as a federal prosecutor during President George H. W. Bush's administration.  

 In 1993, Garland joined the Clinton administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Subsequently, he did an outstanding job supervising the Oklahoma City bombing prosecutions, the UNABOM prosecution, and the Atlanta Olympics bombing investigation.  President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the D.C. Circuit Court in 1997, and the Senate confirmed him by a 76-23 vote.  The 23 no votes were cast by Republicans who were opposed to an eleventh seat on the D.C. Circuit.   They included Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who at the time said,  "I have nothing against the nominee.  Mr. Garland seems well qualified, and would probably make a good judge--in some other court." 

Judge Garland is generally viewed as "essentially the model, neutral judge" in his time on the D.C. Circuit.  He has twice been a finalist for open Supreme Court seats, earning praise from Republicans and Democrats.  The law has been a lifelong commitment for Garland, who emotionally described his nomination as "the greatest honor in my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago." 

In selecting Judge Garland, the president fulfilled his constitutional duty: "he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... judges of the Supreme Court." The Constitution does not say a president cannot nominate a justice if he has less than a year left in his or her presidency.  Nor does it say that the Senate must consider the president's nominee.  However, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 63 percent of Americans believe that the Senate should hold hearings on the president's nominee. 

Shortly following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly declared, "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”  In an unprecedented move, McConnell said the Senate would not consider a nominee.  In a letter published in USA Today Wednesday, McConnell wrote,  "As Vice President Biden said when he was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, 'Once the political season is under way, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.'” 

Then Senator Joe Biden's remarks were delivered on the Senate floor in June of 1992, after several fierce Supreme Court fights.  Biden also said he would support a future President George Bush nominee.  Last month, Biden released a statement that read, “Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year...This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject.

Nonetheless, the president, a constitutional lawyer, spent one month reviewing candidates prior to his announcement Wednesday.   "At a time when our politics are so polarized," the president said Wednesday, "this is precisely the time we should play it straight."  Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who has been a supporter of Garland, may have been pleasantly surprised with the president's announcement.  Last week Hatch told Newsmax, "(Obama) could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man."  He then added"He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants."   Hatch is among a handful of Republican Senators who say they will extend Garland the courtesy of a meeting.  

Because Scalia was such a powerful conservative voice in this nation, Republicans are determined to block Obama from filling the position.  Of course, since Obama's first day in office in 2009, Senator McConnell and Congressional Republicans have done all they can to block the president's agenda.  They have exacerbated the divisions within this country, and regularly played on people's worst fears instead of their hopes and dreams.  They have demonized and often disrespected President ObamaThey have consistently put their political party ahead of their country.   Their tactics have led to the emergence of Donald Trump. In fact, if Garland is not confirmed, the appointment could be filled by President Trump or President Hillary Clinton.

In accepting the president's nomination, a grateful Judge Garland said, "A life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those who he is serving."  He concluded, "there can be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court."  That may be true, but he may never have a chance to do so.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Trump vs. Clinton

Republican Donald Trump was the big winner in presidential contests Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii.   But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan because she underperformed with working-class white male voters, a group Trump does well with.   This portends a serious problem for Clinton should she face Trump in the November presidential election.

Trump's victories came at a time when many political pundits predicted that he was peaking in the polls.  Trump endured a massive advertising campaign financed by political action committees trying to knock him out.  He withstood attacks from leaders of the Republican establishment.  He even overcame perceived gaffes, including comparisons to Adolph Hitler.   Nothing could dissuade loyal Trump supporters from voting for him.
Anger is the fuel of Trump-mania.  Many Republican voters are totally fed up with the gridlock in Washington.  Many dislike President Barack Obama, but many feel betrayed by Republicans in Congress who have not fulfilled their promises.  And no group is more angry than working-class voters who feel left behind.   From 1973 to 2013, the hourly wages of middle-wage workers were stagnant, rising just 6 percent, or less than .02 percent per year.   Meanwhile, the annual wages for the top 1 percent have grown 138 percent since 1979.  

Jobs are also an important issue for voters this election.  While Michigan employment has been increasing over the past four years, it has only recovered 40 percent of the industrial jobs lost during the recession.   The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which was signed by President Bill Clinton, has resulted in nearly a quarter-million lost manufacturing jobs in Michigan. Senator Sanders and Trump both have been harshly critical of NAFTA and the recent proposal Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton only recently announced her opposition to.

Trump has appealed to millions of disheartened Americans without having to provide much in the way of specifics on issues.  He is a brash outsider who many voters think "tells it like it is."   They are fed up with U.S. immigration policy.  Despite a lack of details, they believe Trump will deport eleven million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, and they believe he will build a wall along the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it.   Voters have overlooked the growing scandal surrounding Trump University, his petulant name calling and personal insults, and even his flip flops on key issues.  

Trump will need to get 60 percent of the remaining delegates in the upcoming presidential contests in order to reach the 1237 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination.  Given his surprising performance Tuesday, and the fact that he has won so many southern states, where Texas Senator Ted Cruz was favored, and he is doing well among evangelicals and conservatives, it will be hard to stop him from achieving his goal.   In fact, Trump has already begun the task of mending fences with the GOP establishment.  

On the other hand, given her huge lead in the delegate count, it is very likely that Hillary Clinton will get her party's nomination.  Her closely contested race with Sanders is but a tepid warmup for her likely clash with Donald Trump.   Trump will relentlessly attack Clinton on foreign policy, like Libya and Benghazi, on women's issues, on President Bill Clinton's affairs, on the Clinton foundation, on emails, on Goldman Sachs speaking fees, and more.  
Trump has had a major impact on the large Republican primary turn out so far, and on mobilizing working-class voters, as well as independents and Democrats.  These are the voters Clinton will need to be elected president in November, especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.  While recent polls indicate that Clinton beats Trump in a head to head match up, it would be wise not to bet against Donald Trump.

On the other hand, in his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote, "You can't con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole."  He concluded, "But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."   Can Donald Trump deliver the goods?