Category Archives: Politics

States pick judges very differently from US Supreme Court appointments

by Joshua Holzer, Westminster College

The future of the U.S. Supreme Court is politically fraught.

The court’s partisan balance has long been a hot-button issue, and both Democrats and Republicans can correctly claim that the other party bears at least some blame for the politicization of the federal judiciary.

Political pressure is focusing on the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

 

In 2016, appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court became even more overtly political when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died and the U.S. Senate’s Republican majority refused to let President Barack Obama fill the vacancy.

This delay ultimately gave soon-to-be President Donald Trump the chance to seat conservative Neil Gorsuch as Scalia’s replacement. Four years later, though, Republicans rushed to fill the vacancy left by the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than two months before a presidential election.

Now, with Democrats in control of the White House and – barely – the U.S. Senate, some within the party have been calling for President Joe Biden to add more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of reversing Republican efforts to enshrine conservatism within the courts.

In response to those calling for reform, Biden has created the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, whose mission “is to provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform.”

This commission – which includes scholars, lawyers and political advisers – could look at top courts overseas for ideas about how to depoliticize the U.S. Supreme Court. But its members could also learn lessons from the states, many of which have already taken steps to insulate their judicial branches from partisan politics.

State court lessons for depoliticization

Following the model set by the U.S. Constitution, many state constitutions initially called for governors to appoint state judges for life with the advice and consent of the state’s Senate. Over time, many felt that this system empowered governors to award judgeships based upon party loyalty rather than judicial temperament and fair-mindedness.

In the mid-1800s, populism swept the country. This movement toward giving power to the public prompted several states to amend their state constitutions to allow for the popular election of judges.

This did not solve the problem of judicial politicization, as judges were often beholden to the political machines that helped them get elected. As such, the public began to perceive elected judges as both partisan and corrupt, and turned against the courts. For example, between 1918 to 1940 only two Missouri Supreme Court judges were reelected.

In 1940, Missouri became the first state to adopt what is now called the “Missouri Plan” for selecting judges, which involves two elements: “assisted appointments” and nonpartisan “retention elections.”

Typically, for assisted appointments, a nonpartisan commission reviews candidates for state judgeships, creating a list of potential nominees based on merit. The governor fills vacancies on the bench by choosing from this predetermined list. In such a system, the governor’s pick does not usually need to be confirmed by the state legislature because the pick has already been vetted by the nonpartisan commission.

For retention elections, judges face no opponent and are listed on the ballot without political party designation. Voters are simply asked whether an incumbent judge should remain in office, which provides an opportunity to oust judges who regularly make unpopular decisions. Retention elections are often held in states that use assisted appointments. However, in some states that still elect their judges using partisan elections, such as Illinois, nonpartisan retention elections are used when it’s time for reelection.

Today, more than 30 states use some form of assisted appointments. More than 20 states use some variation of retention elections. More than a dozen states use both in some capacity. Notably, both “red” states and “blue” states have adopted one or both of these reforms, as have many “purple” states.

Two men shake hands
President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court sparked a partisan fight. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Showing the way forward?

Advocates of Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan argue that the reforms have been a success. According to Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, “the ‘Show-Me State’ … has shown the nation how we can do a better job of selecting our judges.”

If the federal government adopted assisted appointments, campaign tactics like Trump’s 2016 promise to appoint pro-life, conservative judges would be less relevant, because presidents would be limited in whom they could nominate for a court vacancy.

Additionally, if voters could remove U.S. Supreme Court justices whose opinions differ from that of the majority of Americans, politicians might not feel as pressured to block the appointment of a particular justice for partisan reasons, as the judge would serve on the bench for only as long as they retained public support.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

US museums hold the remains of thousands of Black people

by Delande Justinvil, American University and Chip Colwell, University of Colorado Denver

Among the human remains in Harvard University’s museum collections are those of 15 people who were probably enslaved African American people. Earlier this year, the school announced a new committee that will conduct a comprehensive survey of Harvard’s collections, develop new policies and propose ways to memorialize and repatriate the remains.

“We must begin to confront the reality of a past in which academic curiosity and opportunity overwhelmed humanity,” wrote Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow.

Museums across the U.S., including at Harvard University, collected human remains, which were often displayed to the public. Smith Collection/Gado/Archive Photos via Getty Images

 

This dehumanizing history of collecting African American bodies as scientific specimens is not a problem just at Harvard. Last year, the University of Pennsylvania announced that its anthropology museum will address the legacy of the 1,300 human skulls – including those of 55 enslaved people from Cuba and the U.S. – in its collection, which was historically used to denigrate the intelligence and character of Black people and Native Americans.

Other institutions have far more Black skeletons in their closets. By one estimate, the Smithsonian Institution, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Howard University hold the remains of some 2,000 African Americans among them. The total only increases when considering museums with remains from other populations across the African diaspora. How many more sets of remains lie in museum storerooms across the United States, and whether or not they were collected with consent, is unknown.

As archaeologists, we understand the impulse to gather human remains to tell our human story. Osteobiographies, life histories constructed from skeletal remains, can offer insights into nutritional, migratory, pathological and even political-economic conditions of past populations. However, scholars and activists across the U.S. are now seeking to recognize and redress the deep history of violence against Black bodies. Museums and society are finally confronting how the desires of science have at times eclipsed the demands of human rights.

How did the remains of so many Black people end up in collections, and what can be done about it?

Collecting Black bodies

The abuse and circulation of African American human remains for research dates back at least to 1763, with the dissection of corpses of the enslaved for the first anatomy lecture in the American Colonies.

chest up portrait of Samuel Morton
American physician and naturalist Samuel Morton (1799-1861) collected human remains for pseudoscientific study. Hulton Archive/Archive Photos via Getty Images

The systematic collection of African American remains, as well as those of people from other marginalized communities, began with the work of Samuel George Morton. Considered the founder of American physical anthropology, Morton professionalized the acquisition of human remains in the name of scientific practice and education.

Morton boasted the first collection of human remains, at one point considered to be the largest globally. He used its subjects-turned-specimens to promote racist hierarchies through pseudoscientific interpretations of cranial measurements. His research resulted in his 1839 magnum opus, “Crania Americana,” replete with hundreds of hand-drawn images of skulls and faulty-logic racial categorization.

His collection eventually ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. Only last year did the university officially announce the collection had been removed from a shelved display within an archaeology classroom.

The impact of Morton’s collection and career ricocheted far and wide, laying the foundation for unethical practices built on the theft, transportation and accumulation of human remains – especially of those most marginalized. Collecting surged during the time of the Civil War. From the late 19th century well into the 20th, skeletal collections in museums across the country skyrocketed.

Morton also influenced the ideology of biologist Louis Agassiz, his eventual collaborator. Agassiz founded Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, which originally bore his name. His own collection practices around the photographed bodies of the enslaved have embroiled the university in a public lawsuit.

Institutions long embraced such collections primarily for the pseudoscientific work of justifying racial hierarchies. But they also enhanced their prestige by the number of remains in their collections that could be used for research as well as for exhibitions that fed the public’s morbid curiosity.

Eventually, most collecting institutions shifted away from these original goals but held on to human remains for teaching skeletal biology and testing new scientific methods. A majority of museum collections, however, sit unused, retained in the belief that they may help answer questions at some point in the future.

woman holds historical photo of enslaved Black man
Shonrael Lanier holds a photo of her ancestor, Renty, an enslaved Black man. Her family has sued Harvard University for ownership of his image. Scientists’ photos of him and others were discovered in a museum basement in the 1970s. Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Ultimately, the remains of African American people, freed or enslaved, are in these collections because the captivity of their bodies, both living and deceased, was the very foundation of museums of medicine, anthropology, archaeology, natural history and more. While some academic and cultural institutions have taken the initiative to confront their legacies with slavery – such as decolonization efforts to include more diverse perspectives and values – a national effort has yet to take shape.

Desecrated in life and death

The U.S. Senate passed the African American Burial Grounds Network Act in December 2020. This bill would establish a voluntary network to identify and protect often at-risk African American cemeteries. The program would be administered through the National Park Service, and nothing in the legislation would apply to private property without the consent of landowners. More than 50 prominent national, state and local organizations support the passage of the act into law and are working to have it reintroduced in Congress’ current session.

But even this legislation does not include the remains of Black people in museum collections. Such an addition would be more in line with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a 1990 federal law that addresses Native American human remains in all contexts – both in the ground and in collections. This work is necessary because many of the remains of Black people, like those of Native Americans, were taken without the consent of family, used in ways that contravened spiritual traditions, and treated with less respect than most others in society.

In the absence of such an addition, the work of finding all of the African American remains in museums will be unorganized and inconsistent. Institutions will need to make efforts on their own, which will cost more money and consume more resources. Even more importantly, the absence of a coordinated, national effort will mean the delay of justice for thousands of African American ancestors whose bodies have been, and continue to be, desecrated.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

A white supremacist coup succeeded in 1898 North Carolina

led by lying politicians and racist newspapers that amplified their lies

 

by Kathy Roberts Forde, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Kristin Gustafson, University of Washington, Bothell

While experts debate whether the U.S. Capitol siege was an attempted coup, there is no debate that what happened in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, was a coup – and its consequences were tragic.

These two events, separated by 122 years, share critical features. Each was organized and planned. Each was an effort to steal an election and disfranchise voters. Each was animated by white racist fears.

And each required the help of the media to be successful.

Armed white insurrectionists murdered Black men and burned Black businesses, including this newspaper office, during the Wilmington coup of 1898. Daily Record, North Carolina Archives and History

Those who study Reconstruction and its aftermath know the U.S. has deep experience with political and electoral violence. Reconstruction was the 12-year period following the Civil War when the South returned to the Union and newly freed Black Americans were incorporated into U.S. democracy.

But few understand that the Wilmington coup, when white supremacists overthrew the city’s legitimately elected bi-racial government, could not have happened without the involvement of white news media. The same is true of the Capitol siege on Jan. 6, 2021.

The news media, it turns out, have often been key actors in U.S. electoral violence. This history is explored in a chapter one of us – Gustafson – wrote for a book the other – Forde – co-edited with Sid Bedingfield, “Journalism & Jim Crow: The Making of White Supremacy in the New South,” which comes out later this year.

In 1898, Charles B. Aycock wanted to become governor in North Carolina. A member of the elite class, Aycock was a leading Democrat, which was the party of white supremacy in the South before the mid-20th-century political realignment that produced today’s parties.

A major obstacle lay in his path to the governor’s office. Several years earlier, Black Republicans and white Populists in North Carolina, tired of Democrats enriching themselves off public policies favoring banks, railroads and industry, joined forces.

Known as Fusionists, they rose to power in the executive branch, the legislature and the governments of several eastern towns, but most importantly, the thriving port city of Wilmington, then the largest city in North Carolina.

A racist political cartoon by Norman Jennett showing a boot worn by a Black man smashing a white man underneath.
A political cartoon from the Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 13, 1898. North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Anti-Black disinformation

Wilmington, with its majority Black population and successful Black middle class, was a city that offered hope for Black Southerners. Black men had higher rates of literacy than white men, ran some of the city’s most successful businesses, such as restaurants, tailors, shoemakers, furniture makers and jewelers, and, to the dismay of Democrats, held public office.

Dr. Umar Johnson delivers seething commentary about negative propaganda and it's power against a target population.

Democrats, seething over their loss of power, were determined to get it back in the state election of 1898.

Aycock joined forces with Furnifold Simmons, a former U.S. representative who served as the party’s campaign manager, and Josephus Daniels, the editor Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper. Together they hatched a plan.

Using anti-Black disinformation spread through newspapers and public speeches across the state, they would whip up white racial fears of “Negro domination” and “black beasts” that preyed on the “virtue” of white women. The goal: drive a wedge in the Fusionist coalition and lure white Populists back to the Democratic fold.

The press and political power

The News & Observer, the most influential newspaper in the state, was the Democratic Party’s most potent weapon. Its editor called it “the militant voice of white supremacy.”

For months in advance of the November election, the paper ran articles, editorials, speeches and reader letters telling lies about Black malfeasance, misrule, criminality and sexual predations against white women. White newspapers across the state, from big cities to tiny hamlets, republished the News & Observer’s content.

The Vampire that Hovers Over North Carolina, September 27, 1898

“The prevalence of rape by brutal negroes upon helpless white women has brought about a reign of terror in rural districts,” the paper said. Daniels admitted years later this claim was a lie.

Knowing the power of images, Daniels hired a cartoonist to create viciously racist images for the front page.

Roughly a year after Rebecca Latimer Felton, a prominent white Georgian, gave a speech advocating the lynching of Black men for their supposed assaults on white women, white newspapers across North Carolina reprinted and discussed it for days to gin up racist hostility.

At the same time, the Democrats organized the Red Shirts, a paramilitary arm of the party, to intimidate Black citizens and stop them from participating in politics and, eventually, voting.

Alexander Manly, the editor of the Black newspaper The Daily Record in Wilmington, then the only Black daily in the country, decided to fight back.

To counteract the lies the Democrats and Felton told about Black men as “beasts” and “brutes,” Manly told the truth in a bold editorial: Some white women fell in love with Black men and, if these affairs were discovered, the inevitable outcome was the label “rape” and a brutal lynching. The grandson of a white governor of North Carolina and a Black woman he enslaved, Manly knew white hypocrisy well.

Democrats went wild, reprinting Manly’s editorial in newspapers across the state and attacking him for insulting the “virtue” of white women.

A white fist holding a bat, about to strike a Black man in an 1898 political cartoon.
An anti-Black political cartoon by Norman Jennett in the Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 30, 1898. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The coup

As the election approached and Red Shirts patrolled the state, Democrats laid their final plan.

Because there were few local elections in Wilmington in 1898, and Democrats viewed the city as the center of “Negro domination” in the state, they began organizing in early fall to overthrow Wilmington’s bi-racial government and install all white officials.

After stealing the state election through fraud and violence, the Democrats sent a massive group of Red Shirts into Wilmington.

They murdered an untold number of Black men in the street; burned Black businesses, including Manly’s newspaper office; terrorized the Black community, forcing at least 1,400 people to flee, many never to return; and removed and exiled all Fusionists from office, installing white Democrats in their stead.

Early in the new century, Aycock sat in the governor’s office. Black citizens were disfranchised by constitutional amendment, ushering in white supremacist, one-party, kleptocratic rule that lasted at least through the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Then and now

Across the past four years, the overwhelmingly white right-wing news media spread lies that President Donald Trump and his allies churned out daily. Social media companies helped turn these lies into a contagion of mass delusion that radicalized a significant swath of the GOP base.

Since President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in November, Trump and his political and media allies have relentlessly pushed the massive lie that liberals stole the presidential election.

Like press involvement in the murderous events in Wilmington long ago, today’s media played an essential role in deluding and inciting supporters to violence in the attempt to steal an election.

“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner wrote. “It’s not even past.”The Conversation


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

How to track your mail-in ballot

Court.rchp.com Editorial Note: Missouri is one of only four states that do not provide any state wide mail in ballot tracking, however, in the St. Louis area, tracking is available.

  • St. Louis City:  Go to STLCityBallotTracking.com, Enter the “Ballot Track ID” from your ballot stub. You may also scan the square QR code on the stub and the code will take you right to the results. Once the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners has received your ballot, they’ll let you know by updating your ballot tracking page with a third green checkmark.
  • St. Louis County:  Go to MyBallotTracking.com and enter your “Ballot Track ID”.
  • St. Charles County:  There are a few steps to tracking your ballot in St. Charles County. First, visit sccmo.org/410/Election-Authority and then scroll down just a little to the “Nov. 3, 2020 General Election Information” list. Then click the second option which is “Track your Absentee by Mail ballot.” Then enter your information in their tracking system and you should be able to track your ballot from there.
  • Jefferson County:  There is no tracking website, but if you call the County Clerk’s office and give them your name and address, they’ll look you up and confirm that your ballot has been received. Their phone number is 636-797-5486 and once you get the voice recording press “2” on your phone for the Voter Registration and Elections Department.

by Steven Mulroy, University of Memphis

Many voters who want to participate in the election by mail are concerned about when they’ll receive their ballot – and whether it will get back in time to be counted.

The pandemic has caused interest in mail-in voting to surge to record numbers this presidential election.

At the same time, recent changes at the U.S. Postal Service have caused slowdowns in mail delivery. The Postal Service itself has warned states that ballots mailed by election officials close to Election Day may not reach voters in time. A federal court has issued a nationwide order giving election-related mail priority in Postal Service processing.

Nevertheless, anecdotal reports abound of voters who applied for absentee ballots and are still waiting for them weeks later.

And on Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court accommodated potential mail delays by ruling that Pennsylvania may count ballots that arrive through the end of Friday, Nov. 6 – three days after Election Day.

Different states have different rules about who can cast their ballots by mail; I was involved in a nonpartisan lawsuit that expanded access to voting by mail in Tennessee.

Fortunately, almost everyone who is allowed to vote by mail can stay on top of where those ballots are. In 44 states and the District of Columbia, a unified system allows all voters to see when their request for a ballot by mail was received, when the ballot was mailed to them and when the completed ballot was received back at the local election office.

Two other states provide online tracking for members of the military and civilian citizens who live overseas – groups that have special mail ballot protections under federal law. In the remaining four states without a statewide ballot-tracking system, some counties and municipalities may have their own online versions – or may be able to update voters who contact the office by phone or in person.

The Postal Service, election officials and other experts recommend that people conservatively allow a week for the ballot to arrive at their home from the election office, and a week for it to get back so it can be counted. It may take less time, and in some places you can speed things up by using an official drop box to return your ballot without relying on the mail.

In either case, you can keep an eye on your ballot to make sure it has arrived and been accepted for counting. And if it hasn’t arrived yet, or has been rejected for some reason, you’ll know to contact local election officials to see what to do so your vote can count.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Packing the Court: Amid national crises, Lincoln and his Republicans remade the Supreme Court to fit their agenda

by Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University

As a political battle over the Supreme Court’s direction rages in Washington with President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, history shows that political contests over the ideological slant of the Court are nothing new.

In the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln worked with fellow Republicans to shape the Court to carry out his party’s anti-slavery and pro-Union agenda. It was an age in which the court was unabashedly a “partisan creature,” in historian Rachel Shelden’s words.

Justice John Catron had advised Democrat James K. Polk’s 1844 presidential campaign, and Justice John McLean was a serial presidential contender in a black robe. And in the 1860s, Republican leaders would change the number of justices and the political balance of the Court to ensure their party’s dominance of its direction.

Overhauling the Court

When Lincoln became president in 1861, seven Southern states had already seceded from the Union, yet half of the Supreme Court justices were Southerners, including Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland. One other Southern member had died in 1860, without replacement. All were Democratic appointees.

The Court was “the last stronghold of Southern power,” according to one Northern editor. Five sitting justices were among the court’s 7-2 majority in the racist 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling, in which Taney wrote that Black people were “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

Some Republicans declared it “the duty of the Republican Party to reorganize the Federal Court and reverse that decision, which … disgraces the judicial department of the Federal Government.”

After Lincoln called in April, 1861 for 75,000 volunteers to put down the Southern rebellion, four more states seceded. So did Justice John Archibald Campbell of Georgia, who resigned on April 30.

Chief Justice Taney helped the Confederacy when he tried to restrain the president’s power. In May 1861, he issued a writ of habeas corpus in Ex Parte Merryman declaring that the president couldn’t arbitrarily detain citizens suspected of aiding the Confederacy. Lincoln ignored the ruling.

Chief Justice Roger Taney.
Chief Justice Roger Taney tried to limit Lincoln’s powers in the Civil War. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Remaking the Court

To counter the court’s southern bloc, Republican leaders used judicial appointments to protect the president’s power to fight the Civil War. The Lincoln administration was also looking ahead to Reconstruction and a governing Republican majority.

Nine months into his term, Lincoln declared that “the country generally has outgrown our present judicial system,” which since 1837 had comprised nine federal court jurisdictions, or “circuits.” Supreme Court justices rode the circuit, presiding over those federal courts.

Republicans passed the Judiciary Act of 1862, overhauling the federal court system by collapsing federal circuits in the South from five to three while expanding circuits in the North from four to six. The old ninth circuit, for example, included just Arkansas and Mississippi. The new ninth included Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota instead. Arkansas became part of the sixth, and Mississippi, the fifth.

In 1862, after Campbell’s resignation and McLean’s death, Lincoln filled three open Supreme Court seats with loyal Republicans Noah H. Swayne of Ohio, Samuel Freeman Miller of Iowa and David Davis of Illinois. The high court now had three Republicans and three Southerners.

The 1863 Prize cases tested whether Republicans had managed to secure a friendly court. At issue was whether the Union could seize American ships sailing into blockaded Confederate ports. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court – including all three Lincoln appointees – said yes.

Congressional Republicans spied a way to expand the court while solving what amounted to a geopolitical judicial problem. In 1863, Congress created a new tenth circuit by adding Oregon, which had become a state in 1859, to California’s circuit. The Tenth Circuit Act also added a tenth Supreme Court justice. Lincoln elevated pro-Union Democrat Stephen Field to that seat.

And after Chief Justice Taney died in 1864, Lincoln selected his political rival, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, an architect of national monetary policy, to replace him. With Chase, Lincoln succeeded in creating a pro-administration high court.

Unpacking the Court

After Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who succeeded him, soon began undoing Lincoln’s achievements. He was a Unionist Democrat given the vice presidency as an olive branch to the South. He rewarded that gesture in part by pardoning rank and file Confederates. Johnson also opposed civil rights for newly-freed African Americans.

He also threatened to appoint like-minded judges. But the Republican-dominated Congress blocked Johnson from elevating unreconstructed Rebels to the high court. The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 shrank the number of federal circuits to seven and held that no Supreme Court vacancies would be filled until just seven justices remained.

The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph’s Democratic editor sighed that at least Republicans “cannot pack the Supreme Court at this moment.”

Noah H. Swayne.
Lincoln appointed three Republicans to the Court in 1862, including then-Judge Noah H. Swayne. Library of Congress Brady-Handy Collection

Courting paper money

Republicans refused to consider nominating Johnson in 1868, picking General Ulysses S. Grant instead. He won, and after President Grant’s inauguration, Congress passed the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, raising back to nine the number of Supreme Court justices.

Shortly after, Republicans faced a financial problem of their own making.

Beginning in 1862, Congress had passed three Legal Tender Acts – initially to help finance the war, authorizing debt payments using paper money not backed by gold or silver. Then-Treasury Secretary and current Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase had crafted the legislation.

But in an 1870 case, Hepburn v. Griswold, Chase reversed himself in a 4-3 decision, ruling the Legal Tender Acts unconstitutional. That threatened national monetary policy and Republicans’ cozy relationship with industries reliant on government sponsorship.

President Grant, preparing for Chase’s ruling, was already working on a political solution. On the day of the Hepburn decision, he appointed two pro-paper-money Supreme Court nominees, William Strong of Pennsylvania and Joseph P. Bradley of New York. Comparing the Republican administration to “a brokerage office,” a Democratic newspaper howled that “the attempt to pack the supreme court to secure a desired judicial decision … (has) brought shame and humiliation to an entire people.”

It also brought a Republican majority to the high court for the first time.

Chief Justice Chase opposed revisiting the paper money issue. But the Supreme Court about-faced, ruling 5-4 in the 1871 cases Knox v. Lee and Parker v. Davis that the government could indeed print paper money to pay debts. Chase died in 1873, and his successor Morrison Waite championed the Republican pro-business agenda.

Careful what you wish for

Republican transformation of the federal judiciary in the 1860s and 1870s served the party well in the Civil War and constructed a legal framework for a modernizing industrial economy.

But in the end Lincoln and Grant’s high court appointments ended up being disastrous for civil rights. Justices Bradley, Miller, Strong and Waite tended to constrain civil rights protections like the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of laws. Their rulings in United States v. Cruikshank in 1876 and Civil Rights Cases in 1883 both sounded the retreat on Black civil rights.

In remaking the court in Republicans’ image, the party got what it wanted – but not what was needed to fulfill the promise of “a new birth of freedom.”The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

My Vote Don’t Count

Rap-video that every young person thinking about not voting must see

by Denise Oliver Velez

I jumped for joy when I saw the latest video from Tyheir Kindred, a Dayton, Ohio rapper who goes by the name of YelloPain. It’s called, “My Vote Don't Count.”  Check him out, @YelloPain

I’ve spent years trying to teach young folks about why they should vote, which has often been frustrating, because many of them are getting strong messages that tell them why they shouldn’t be bothered. I’ve even dragged out the old Schoolhouse Rock video, “I’m Just a Bill” trying to explain how a bill becomes a law to young people who don’t seem to get civics in school.

I talked about this a while back in Whatever happened to civics? and Rochaun Meadows Fernandez addressed last year in Voter suppression starts with a lack of civics education.

Kindred switches from rapping in the introduction about why people are discouraged and why they think their votes don’t count, to why they have to vote. He breaks down the difference between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, and makes it clear that elections are not just about the President. 

He has offered non-voters a better education about the power of voting in this short video than most young folks will ever get in school.

In all my years of teaching, I never had a college student who knew the names of their state assembly person or state senator. I rarely had students who could name their DC congressional rep or our two senators. I remember watching long lines of students on my campus, which lasted till the polls closed, voting for Obama in 2008. Two years later, I stood outside the campus polling place, and only about 11 students showed up during the three hours I watched. Midterms were just not important. Congressional elections were not important. YelloPain addresses this in his rap (see full lyrics here)

We gotta focus on the Legislative branch; yeah they the ones that make the Laws
Yeah they the ones that write how much food stamps money you get on the card
But when people that wanted to help us wanted the job
I know they probably lost
Cause we ain’t even know they name, we ain’t know they face, we ain’t know at all
So the Congress or the State House that’s the Legislative, they make Laws
So what we want from the President is what they do, okay y’all?
See they election every two years but we don’t ever even go to those
The Congress they could raise minimum wage                                                              
but we ain’t even really know it though
So you know how back in ’08, when we all voted for Obama
We was all supposed to go back in 2010 and voted for the Congress
Cause they the ones that make child support laws
They the ones choose if your kids at school get to eat steak or corn dogs
The state house makes the courthouse
So if the country fail you can’t say it’s them, it’s your fault
Cause ya ain't know to know to vote for Congress members that was for y’all
And they don’t gotta leave at the four years and we just let ‘em sit
See, they don’t want to tell you this they want you to focus on the President


Republished from DailyKos


Editorial postscript:

by Randall Hill

What I like most about Yellopain's video is the emphasis on the concept that "All politics is local", a common phrase in U.S. politics and how he explained the realities of the executive branch.

My father and I have debated about Trump since he became president. I've always assumed Trump would be re-elected; even during the Mueller era and through the impeachment process. The first time I believed that Trump might not be re-elected was when I saw the first Michael Bloomberg commercial and realized the billionaire class probably doesn't care which billionaire gets elected. Trump and Bloomberg will promote tax and other policy that benefits billionaires. Systems are designed to protect the wealth, power and self-interest of those who create them.

"None Dare Call It Conspiracy" was a book written in 1971 that asserted, modern political and economic systems in most developed nations are the result of a sweeping conspiracy by the power elite. Billionaires control media and contribute the most to candidates and their support determines who can realistically run for high office. The 1939 movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" illustrates that point perfectly.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, I don't have a preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, I don't care who wins the nomination, none of them excites me. Bernie Sanders who would have been my preferred candidate out of those still standing disappointed when he originally expressed that he did not support reparations. Ultimately, I believe Bloomberg will capture the nomination. As mentioned a few years ago in "Billionaire Overthrow of Government": billionaires are no longer content with simply influencing or directing the actions of others, they want the actual authority that comes from holding public office.

Each new Presidential administration, whether it be Republican or Democrat continues the same basic policies of the previous administration which it had so thoroughly denounced during the election campaign. The Democrats and Republicans seem to be engaged in good cop/bad cop, but are actually working towards the same agenda because nothing ever changes. 

As Killer Mike so eloquently expressed, we're arguing about which presidential candidate will make the better slave master.

Can the Constitution stop the government from lying to the public?

 by Helen Norton, University of Colorado Boulder

When regular people lie, sometimes their lies are detected, sometimes they’re not. Legally speaking, sometimes they’re protected by the First Amendment – and sometimes not, like when they commit fraud or perjury.

But what about when government officials lie?

I take up this question in my recent book, “The Government’s Speech and the Constitution.” It’s not that surprising that public servants lie – they are human, after all. But when an agency or official backed by the power and resources of the government tells a lie, it sometimes causes harm that only the government can inflict.

My research found that lies by government officials can violate the Constitution in several different ways, especially when those lies deprive people of their rights.

Clear violations

Consider, for instance, police officers who falsely tell a suspect that they have a search warrant, or falsely say that the government will take the suspect’s child away if the suspect doesn’t waive his or her constitutional rights to a lawyer or against self-incrimination. These lies violate constitutional protections provided in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

If the government jails, taxes or fines people because it disagrees with what they say, it violates the First Amendment. And under some circumstances, the government can silence dissent just as effectively through its lies that encourage employers and other third parties to punish the government’s critics. During the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission spread damaging falsehoods to the employers, friends and neighbors of citizens who spoke out against segregation. As a federal court found decades later, the agency “harassed individuals who assisted organizations promoting desegregation or voter registration. In some instances, the commission would suggest job actions to employers, who would fire the targeted moderate or activist.”

And some lawsuits have accused government officials of misrepresenting how dangerous a person was when putting them on a no-fly list. Some judges have expressed concern about whether the government’s no-fly listing procedures are rigorous enough to justify restricting a person’s freedom to travel.

In 1971, The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, exposing officials’ lies about the war in Vietnam. AP Photo/Jim Wells

Spreading distrust and uncertainty

But in other situations, it can be difficult to find a direct connection between the government’s speech and the loss of an individual right. Think of government officials’ lies about their own misconduct, or their colleagues’, to avoid political and legal accountability – like the many lies about the Vietnam War by Lyndon Johnson’s administration, as revealed by the Pentagon Papers.

Those sorts of lies are part of what I’ve called “the government’s manufacture of doubt.” These include the government’s falsehoods that seek to distract the public from efforts to discover the truth. For instance, in response to growing concerns about his campaign’s connections to Russia, President Donald Trump claimed that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him during the campaign, even though the Department of Justice confirmed that no evidence supported that claim.

Decades earlier, in the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy sought both media attention and political gain through outrageous and often unfounded claims that contributed to a culture of fear in the country.

When public officials speak in these ways, they undermine public trust and frustrate the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for its performance. But they don’t necessarily violate any particular person’s constitutional rights, making lawsuits challenging at best. In other words, just because the government’s lies hurt us does not always mean that they violate the Constitution.

Sen. Joe McCarthy, left, talks with his attorney, Roy Cohn, during Senate hearings in 1954. United Press International/Wikimedia Commons

What else can people do?

There are other important options for protecting the public from the government’s lies. Whistleblowers can help uncover the government’s falsehoods and other misconduct. Recall FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, Watergate’s “Deep Throat” source for The Washington Post’s investigation, and Army Sgt. Joseph Darby, who revealed the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And lawmakers can enact, and lawyers can help enforce, laws that protect whistleblowers who expose government lies.

Legislatures and agencies can exercise their oversight powers to hold other government officials accountable for their lies. For example, Senate hearings led Sen. McCarthy’s colleagues to formally condemn his conduct as “contrary to senatorial traditions and … ethics.”

In addition, the press can seek documents and information to check the government’s claims, and the public can protest and vote against those in power who lie. Public outrage over the government’s lies about the war in Vietnam, for example, contributed to Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 decision not to seek reelection. Similarly, the public’s disapproval of government officials’ lies to cover up the Watergate scandal helped lead to Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation.

It can be hard to prevent government officials from lying, and difficult to hold them accountable when they do. But the tools available for doing just that include not only the Constitution but also persistent pushback from other government officials, the press and the people themselves.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

The made-up crisis behind the state takeover of Houston’s public schools

by Domingo Morel, Rutgers University Newark

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking over the Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

Low threshold for state intervention

Following a 2015 law, HB 1842, the state of Texas was granted authority to take over a school district if a single school in that district fails to meet state education standards for five or more years. The bill was passed by the Republican controlled state legislature with Democratic support. However, Democratic state lawmakers representing Houston argue that the law was a mistake and urged for it to be revised.

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

In order to understand the logic of the planned state takeover of the Houston schools, it pays to understand the important role that schools have played in the social, political and economic development of communities of color. Historically, communities of color have relied on school level politics as an entry point to broader political participation. School level politics may involve issues like ending school segregation, demanding more resources for schools, increasing the numbers of teachers and administrators of color, and participating in school board elections.

The process of gaining political power at the local level – and eventually state level – often begins at the schools, particularly the school board. For instance, before blacks and Latinos elect members of their communities to the city councils, the mayor’s office, and state legislatures, they often elect members to the school board first.

Political representation at stake

In Texas, communities of color are politically underrepresented. Although blacks, Latinos, and Asians represent nearly 60% of the population in Texas, their political power at the state level is not proportional to their population. Whites make up 64% of the state legislature. The Republican Party controls the governorship, state House of Representatives and state Senate, but only 4% of all Republican state legislators are of color. Communities of color in Texas have filed lawsuits arguing that they have been prevented from gaining political representation at the state level by Republicans through racial gerrymandering and voter identification laws that disenfranchise black and Latino voters.

However, despite years of systematic exclusion of people of color, the political landscape is changing in Texas. Texas is increasingly urbanizing as a result of population growth in the state’s cities. Since urban voters are more likely to vote Democratic, the growth in the urban population may potentially alter political dynamics in the state. Also, while African Americans have solidly identified with the Democratic Party in Texas, Latinos have not. But that, too, is changing. Polls show that Latino support for Republican presidential candidates in Texas went from a high of 49% during George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, to 35% for McCain in 2008, 29% for Romney in 2012, to a low of 18% for Trump in 2016.

Houston, as the largest urban center in Texas, is at the forefront of this challenge to the Republican grip of state power in Texas. The Houston schools, in particular, are representative of the state’s demographic and political future. The nine-member Houston school board is reflective of the community it serves. It has four Latinos, three African Americans, one Asian and one white. This, in my view, is what has put the Houston public school system and school board at the forefront of a battle that is really about race and political power.

The Houston public school system is not failing. Rather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Republican state legislature are manufacturing an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from exercising their citizenship rights and seizing political power.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Are conspiracy theories on the rise in the US?

Editorial note by Randall Hill, Court.rchp.com

Unless you believe people in power never commit crimes, you must understand that sometimes they conspire together. A conspiracy is simply a secret plan by two or more people to do something unlawful or harmful. It's basically criminals plotting or committing a crime, that's all a conspiracy is.

The media will often call a conspiracy a scandal, but regardless of the term used, it's still the same thing, Bridgegate was a conspiracy, referred to as a scandal, where lanes of a bridge were closed during rush hour as political punishment for not supporting New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie's reelection.

"None Dare Call It Conspiracy" was a book written in 1971 that asserted, modern political and economic systems in most developed nations are the result of a sweeping conspiracy by the power elite. A quote from chapter two of the book is relevant in the Trump era:

"Everyone knows that Adolph Hitler existed." … "Similarly, we know that a man named Vladimir Ilich Lenin also existed. Like Hitler, Lenin did not spring from a family of social lions." … "Is it not theoretically possible that a billionaire could be sitting, not in a garret, but in a penthouse, in Manhattan, London or Paris and dream the same dream as Lenin and Hitler?"

We have been miseducated and trained to reject anything called a "conspiracy" instinctively, without considering the merits of the information being presented. In most aspects of our lives, we recognize it is in our best interest to ask questions, be skeptical, and base our decisions and actions on as much information as possible. 

Article

By Liberty Vittert, Washington University in St Louis

Have the internet and social media created a climate where Americans believe anything is possible? With headlines citing now as the age of conspiracy, is it really true?

In a word, no.

While it may be true that the internet has allowed people who believe in conspiracies to communicate more, it has not increased the number of Americans who believe in conspiracies, according to the data available.

Conspiracy theories have been popular in the U.S. for decades.

Current beliefs

A “conspiracy theory” is a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators.

For example, take Pizzagate, the theory that Washington elite engaged in child sex trafficking at the basement of a D.C. pizzeria, which 9% of the American population believe to be true.

Over 29% of the American population believe there is a “Deep State” working against President Donald Trump. Nineteen percent believe that the government is using chemicals to control the population.

These conspiracy theories are not simply restricted to a fringe population. At least 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, ranging from the idea that the 9/11 attacks were fake to the belief that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

Historical data

There are no major comprehensive, longitudinal studies on Americans’ attitudes toward conspiracy theories, mostly because it was not rigorously measured until about 10 to 20 years ago.

However, researchers have done a considerate amount of work in recent years in an attempt to understand this apparent phenomenon.

Political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent reviewed over 120 years of letters to the editor, from 1890 to 2010, for both The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

In over 100,000 letters, this review showed absolutely no change in the amount of conspiracy theory belief over time. In fact, the percent of letters about conspiracy theories actually declined from the late 1800s to the 1960s and has remained steady since then.

While these researchers looked at data only up until 2010, current polling has not shown any uptick in conspiracy theory belief since then.

The end is near?

As Uscinski and Parent pointed out, this isn’t the first time Americans may have felt surrounded by conspiracies.

In 2004, the Boston Globe stated that we are in the “golden age of conspiracy theory.”

In 1994, the Washington Post declared it’s the “dawn of a new age of conspiracy theory.”

In 1964, The New York Times said conspiracy theories had “grown weed like in this country.”

The list could go on and on, but the gist is clear.

Whether it is the invention of the printing press, mass publishing, the telegraph, radio, cable, the internet or social media, researchers and the general public have historically proclaimed that this – or this, or this – new advance is the change-maker in political realities.

While the internet has certainly made discussion between conspiracy theorists easier, there is no evidence at this time that belief in these theories has increased.


Republished  with permission under license from The Conversation.

Who’s the Better Slave Master – Democrats or Republicans?

Yesterday, in a post about violence in St. Louis, I mentioned how we must respect different ideas and work more closely together on the things were agree rather than fighting over what we disagree. The REVOLT Summit which included T.I., Killer Mike, Candace Owens as panelists was a perfect example of how people with different views and opinions can come together to come up with solutions.

Killer Mike made one of the most eye-opening comments during the REVOLT Summit when he stated how free people were arguing over who had the best slave master because they were arguing whether the Democratic or Republican party was best. 

1876 election campaign poster from the Democratic Party.

Killer Mike's slave master comments begin at 43:20 in the timeline, however, you may want to watch the entire video below of the REVOLT Summit if you have time.

See our post, "Every Republican is not Your Enemy, Every Democrat is no Your Friend" for some history about both parties.

More interesting related information including an animation that perfectly illustrates the best slave master point can be found on our page, "Slavery Isn't Over They Just Changed What They Called It".