Gerrymandering Wins: Why This Decision has Dangers for America

 

Gerrymandering Wins: Why This Decision Has Dangers for America

Today, 6/27/19 the Supreme Court passed on making a ruling on gerrymandering which has been practiced in a hyper-partisan extreme way by the GOP in recent years. Two especially egregious test cases had been brought before the court, North Carolina and Maryland.

Today’s Washington Post gives us pertinent sections of  John Roberts’ argument in basically siding with the Conservatives by deciding not to make a decision about gerrymandering. WaPo says, “The Supreme Court’s conservatives decided Thursday that federal courts do not have a role to play in deciding whether partisan gerrymandering goes too far.” Roberts says, “ We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between two major political parties…”

This is a big setback for Democrats who were hoping that someone could decide how much gerrymandering is too much. Gerrymandering is drawing voting districts that favor one party over another in an election. Extreme gerrymandering can guarantee that a minority party will always win. Both parties have used gerrymandering, which is done at the state level, and there have been times when gerrymandered districts were tortuously contorted, almost on a house-by-house basis. However gerrymandering is not considered part of fair governance and it does not honor everyone’s voting rights. For example, since the GOP sees minority voters as Democrats, they can engineer the boundaries of a district to exclude all minority voters. They may claim that this is strictly partisan, but since it robs minorities of voting power it is also racist.

There is a plan among Conservatives to use Article V of the Constitution to trigger a Constitutional Convention to amend the US Constitution so that it will more nearly conform with Conservative views. Two-thirds of the states must apply for such a convention. Through gerrymandering and the actions of the Conservative group ALEC, that has actually dictated bills to state legislatures and then lobbied to get these bills voted into law, the Conservatives already have collected applications for a Constitutional Convention from 28 states. They only need 6 more states to make up the required number of 34. There are 6 more GOP states who have not applied for a Constitutional Convention so far. The two strategies, extreme gerrymandering and collecting states so that Conservatives can call a US Constitutional Convention show a sophisticated kind of long range planning which could almost amount to a bloodless coup in which one party, the GOP gets to take over the US government and move it as far to the right as they wish.

Since the court will not help overturn the gerrymandering that is most extreme, it becomes even more important for the Democrats to win in 2020. If they win in a census year they may have some control over gerrymandering. However, since gerrymandering happens at the state level, and since Conservatives have won over so many states it may be too late to prevent a Constitutional Convention. A Constitutional Convention called by Conservative states could be a disaster for Democrats and for we the people given the partisan divide right now in America.

Fortunately, the court also decided on this same day to deny the right to put a citizenship question on the census. A citizenship question, as evidence recently discovered proves, is another way the GOP is attempting to discourage minorities from voting. Since minorities often vote for Democrats and since minorities may be leery about answering a citizenship question, this could again suppress Democratic Party votes. President Trump, unhappy with the court’s decision about the citizenship question has asked if the census could be delayed until the court can be provided with better information. Has this ever happened before? Maybe. But the Supreme Court was never intended to do the bidding of a president.

Photo from a Google Image Search: Washington Post

Citizenship Question on 2020 Census – Supremes Decide

Right now the Supreme Court is considering whether to allow a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, so it may be a bit late to express my deep concerns about the use of such a question during the tenure of this particular administration. Citizenship questions have appeared in the Census before, but not since 1960. Given the rabid attitudes about immigration expressed by Trump and backed up by his people (including the Republican Party) this is an especially fraught time to allow this question on this decade’s census. Undocumented people are basically being hunted down for deportation.

Accurate Count

In a climate like this how can we expect an accurate count of the people living in America right now. Census information becomes part of our nation’s permanent record offering up useful data to citizens simply seeking to know about their ancestors. Often people want to know their family’s history so they can improve their understanding of potential health challenges. Bad records offer bad data. If citizens have family members living with them who are undocumented, which is quite a common thing, they may avoid the census to protect relatives and friends from deportation.

Implications for Voting Rights

Trump has long sought lists of all US voters. I do not think he has the purest of reasons for wanting this information. He believes that suppressing voters who might lean left is a perfectly viable election strategy and he can’t even process the loud cries of “foul”. For any Fox News viewers who might stumble into this article by accident, suppressing votes is not OK for any reason in our democracy/republic.

However, ever since the Voter Rights Act turned 50 and the Supreme Court allowed the preclearance section of the law to be vacated, the Republicans and Trump have weaponized election tools to suppress Dem votes. Trump was not around when districts were so drastically gerrymandered that there are whole districts which will always vote Republican. The new Census can be used to readjust boundaries of voting districts once again. Trump plans to still be in power to help the GOP plunder the vote even more effectively than they did after the last census. Democrats, including Obama, are fighting some boundaries where there was clearly almost house-by-house gerrymandering but it is a long slog through the courts.

In districts that leaned to the left Republicans could play with things like cutting back on voting days, taking away polling places, trying to stop churches from taking people on buses directly to polling places to vote, choosing polling places that were not on stops of public transportation leaving voters off with some distance to walk to get to their polling place. Republicans could conduct purges of voter rolls, removing people who had not voted in a while. Obviously sometimes it is necessary to purge people from voter rolls who have moved or are deceased, but you don’t usually lose your voting rights because you decide not to vote. In North Carolina one Republican candidate had his people go house-to-house collecting absentee ballots and offering to fill them in for the voter. His illegal ‘strategy’ was uncovered and he lost his election bid, but the things that Republicans try to suppress the vote are not just shenanigans, they are serious breaches of the laws of the US, and winking while people attempt to get away with them is damaging to the validity of our elections, already under attack by Russia and China.

So it’s easy to imagine that one reason Republicans favor a citizenship question on the census goes something like this, “most immigrants tend to vote for Democrats, by discouraging an accurate count of immigrants we can hurt the Democrat votes, all is fair in love and elections (except that is not true) and if we do this we the GOP can win in 2020.”

More Nefarious Purposes?

There is another problem with putting a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and the problem is that it is possibly motivated by fascism, not any democratic impulse. That list that Trump wanted of all voters was not forthcoming because it is un-American and invades our freedom. Now he is salivating at the thought of a list of all of the undocumented immigrants in America and not because they are voters. The GOP and Trump like to keep whispering (loudly) in our ears that undocumented people are voting illegally and I suppose a few who have fraudulent ID’s could go vote, but I doubt if the numbers are large as such people tend to hide, to not call attention to themselves by signing public registers, which voters are required to do. He also does this in case he needs to “prove” that an election is rigged, something he seems to worry about a lot, because he needs to win.

But the other reason Trump is gleefully anticipating a positive ruling by the Supremes is because then he would have a sort of ‘gestapo’ list of names and addresses of undocumented people living in America. I’m not sure why he thinks that people in hiding from an aggressive I.C.E. will answer the census accurately, but he wants to try, even at the risk of getting inaccurate census data that will misguide many national decisions over the next ten years. I hope the Supreme Court has not moved this far to the right and will give us a sensible ruling appropriate to these times when white supremacy is being used to whip up divisions in America.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Democracy Now!

 

 

The Supreme Court Horror Flick

The day’s events have made many of us disconsolate and distraught all the way back to when Trump won the 2016 election, but for some reason the retirement of Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court tipped the scales towards grief, and a resignation to the reality of these destructive events. Until that point it seemed as if the damage could be easily undone if political attitudes shifted to the center, left, or even further left. Having a court that leans hard right for decades means that right wing extremists will continue to have a decisive edge far into the future. It means that we the people have a lot to lose.

Roe v Wade

Everyone talks as if losing Roe v Wade, losing the right for women to control their own bodies is the only thing we stand to lose. And it is a big loss. Many have no memory of pre-Roe truths in women’s lives. Younger people have always had contraception. Abortion has always been an option. Without control of their own reproductive rights women’s lives will either cycle backwards into more archaic patterns or women may choose to rebel and practice sexual abstinence, at least in situations where pregnancy might result. This would all be life-changing for women and for men too.

Health Care

However Roe v Wade is not the only staple of modern American life that could be curtailed or overturned. Health care is being pared away by this administration. They are joyful at the prospect of ending coverage for people with preexisting conditions and replacing lifetime caps for coverage. They can make these changes without the court, but there will be no Supreme Court to rein them in. As state after state offers health care plans that are just grabs for consumer dollars, plans that offer no protection in the event that the insured actually gets sick, cases that go to the Supremes will uphold the insurance companies right to giant profits over the needs of ailing people every time.

Immigration

There will still be Federal district courts and there are still liberals on those courts. They have been very helpful in stopping the most inhumane practices of an administration intent on racial cleansing through closing America off to asylum seekers. We are told that every one of these people seeking refugee status is telling a “fake” story and that they do not deserve our compassion. These people may actually be gang members coming to kill you in your beds, coming to rape your daughters. Fearmongering.

But, taking children away from parents is just a bridge too far. None of us signed on for this. The entire world, except for a few interested dictators, is aghast. Not saving data that would allow these children to be reunited with their parents is unimaginable. We knew mass deportation would feel Nazi-esque, but we were Trumped. He owns the levers of governance. This feels like we may be worse than that Hitler crew because we swore we would never, ever repeat those atrocities and yet we are well on our way. With a Supreme Court that is partisan and loyal to the President rather than the Constitution we could well uphold even worse behavior.

Economics

Some people, Trump’s people don’t seem concerned about these things. They seem to be happy with the idea of “white” America. However, mostly they seem to think that Trump is some kind of economic genius. They love the tax cuts. Why? They believe in the tariffs. Most economists are very worried about a trade war and think the tariffs will work against American business and trade. Trump and the GOP believe that there should be few to no regulations on businesses and corporations so they are throwing out decades of rules that helped end the worst practices of Capitalism. Unfettered Capitalism can be as brutal as it wishes. Trumpers love to see Trump dishing out restraints against China. But studies prove that endeavors that include only “yes” men (and this includes a one-sided Supreme Court) usually fail. Dissent is essential to the health of a business and, even more so, of a government.

Pollution and Climate Change

Donald Trump just made asbestos legal again. Since when did American laws respond to the whims of one, possibly nutty, man. He says that if we had used asbestos in building the World Trade Center those buildings would still be standing. And what he doesn’t say, because he doesn’t care, is that the workers would all be dead or dying of mesothelioma. He loves coal but people’s lungs don’t. He has a picture in his head of times when smoke was pouring into American skies and industry was booming along. All that matters to Trump and his people is money. There is a lot more to a society that functions well for all than just money. If people lose all their safety, their health, and their rights what will be left to make life worthwhile? The whole world of trade will just be one big company store. If the Supreme Court cannot rule against the administration when concerns are placed before it, or when the Court refuses to take cases so it will not have to buck the system, then there is no democracy, there is only the illusion of democracy.

Mueller Investigation

Perhaps we place too much hope in the possibility that Mr. Mueller will eventually reveal how corrupt our President truly is, perhaps even proving that he has dabbled in treason in order to “win”. But our concerns that the Supreme Court could take the sting out of this investigation in any number of ways adds to the difficulty of getting to the bottom of Russian meddling in American politics, of whether that meddling affected the outcome of the election, and whether or not Donald Trump played a role in the Russian behaviors in 2016. We are not really convinced by assurances that this will not happen from the current nominee

Foreign Affairs

For the most part I don’t think the Supreme Court rules on our role on the foreign stage. I don’t think they can insist that we stay in NATO or on the committees in the UN that we have recently resigned from (having to do with human rights) because that is a duty of Congress. But once again the dissent that exists in Congress is powerless right now to place restraints on a leader intent on running roughshod over our friends and allies and cozying up to authoritarians. It was demoralizing and embarrassing to watch our President’s behavior in Europe and in the UK this week. (He liked it better when they called it England – smack your head.)

As I prepare to watch America’s future unfold with this party and this President in control and swollen with the power of it all, I believe I will have to do it the way I watch a horror flick. I will have to place my hands over my eyes and peak out through my fingers every so often.

Lawlessness and the 2016 Election

During the recent Republican debate the candidates paraded their lawlessness for all to see. But they have actually been acting above the law throughout the entire Obama Presidency. They don’t like the 10th Amendment, or they do but they don’t like that is no longer purely adhered to, so they meddle in state politics with their legislative power group ALEC writing actual laws for state legislatures to pass. They have already used new campaign finance rulings to allow big money donors to get Republicans elected to state legislatures in about thirty states so that ALEC finds easy backing for its special interest legislation.  Are we supposed to think that this is the American way?
They have convinced some Americans that Obama hates the 2nd Amendment and wants to take away their guns, while they allow anti-government militias to form and offer a version of vigilante “justice”. We saw the Oath Keepers appearing at the face-off between the Bureau of Land Management and rancher Cliven Bundy who let his cattle graze on Federal land for decades without paying the fees that other ranchers paid. We saw the Oath Keepers again, so intimidating, walking the streets of Ferguson one year after the death of Michael Brown as if they had a right to be there and enforce order when there is a flawed but functional police force already present in Ferguson.
Republicans have never accepted Roe v Wade, and I know they are sincere in their beliefs that they need to defend unborn babies, and not women. But Roe v Wade is the law of the land. Since when do we only have to obey laws we agree with? Republicans seem to feel that when the Supreme Court does not agree with their take on an issue then the court is acting as a political body rather than a judicial body. It has never been entirely possible to appoint justices that are not at all political. But since Americas do not seem to elect the same party term after term, the court’s politics has stayed in a kind of balance. When decisions go with the GOP take on issues as in the case of Citizen’s United, Democrats may want to overturn a law they find un-America, but they accept that ruling as law and they don’t suggest that we overthrow the entire Supreme Court.
Republicans, on the other hand, take every opportunity to challenge laws they don’t like by means that actually skirt the law and sometimes go over the line between what is legal and what is technically not so legal. The days when pro-life activists actually murdered abortion providers may have receded for now but only because tricky local laws like trap laws have proven less problematic and more effective. Trap laws write medical standards for abortion clinics that are deliberately set so high that clinics have to close because they cannot comply. These laws are in no way medically necessary. They do allow local governments to break the Federal law without fear of being labelled as criminals and they have been so effective that in west Texas there are no clinics (or maybe one is left) where poor women can get an abortion without having to travel sometimes impossible distances. The only threat to this practice is the courts, but the local courts are also stuffed with conservatives.
Republicans want to rewrite the 14th Amendment. They want to make it clear that only babies born to “legal” Americans can become citizens. In that way they can end the practice of pregnant foreigners who come to America on purpose to provide their offspring with American citizenship documents and all of the benefits that are available to citizens (the non-PC “anchor babies). (Some say this is not even a huge number of people, sort of like the numbers of illegal votes and voters.)
It became clear with the events surrounding Kim Davis (the clerk who would not allow any marriages because she could not, in all conscience, allow same-sex marriages) and, in fact, with the reactions of Republicans to the very action by the Supreme Court that made same-sex marriage legal in all American states that Republicans, who are often convinced that same-sex relationships are abominations, are incensed by the actions of the Supreme Court. These people, fierce advocates of state’s rights, perhaps because the Federal government is too far ahead of the curve in terms of national policy, feel that they are being persecuted for their evangelical religious beliefs and are claiming that the court is not supposed to pass laws.
However, the court did follow proper procedure. The Supremes did not assign themselves this issue and then rule on it. Some state passed a law which others in that state fought and then they appealed to the highest court to settle which law would stand. The Supreme Court decided to take that case and before the decisions was made everyone held their breath. It was clear that one side would be unhappy with the outcome depending on what it might be. Once the court takes a case it is obligated to make a ruling and that ruling carries the force of Federal law. Since the court’s agreement was not the outcome Republicans wanted they now complain that the court is partisan and needs to be disbanded and replaced by a new system as designed by Republicans.
These things all might seem childish. “If I can’t have my way I will take my toys and go home”. Except that each one of these folks has submitted their application to be our next President. The campaigns and the debates can be considered our screening process, our interviews. Who will we hire?
These Republican candidates who claim to revere our Constitution seem to be unable to accept where it has taken us and now they want to go back to fundamentals and start over with exactly what our forefathers wrote (as interpreted by the GOP) (except the slave parts, I assume). It seems to me impossible for 21st century Americans to get inside the personas of our 18th -19th century forefathers. The entire cultural milieu in which the colonists swam was too different. Anyone who claims s/he is able to channel the founders is either lying or has gone off the deep end.
As far as I am concerned, these folks are in rebellion. They cannot accept the rule of law as it exists. They cannot take the time to go through the proper channels to change the law. They are on the edge of treason and they sound increasingly desperate These GOP rebels have basically stopped governance as we know it for seven years now, not to mention their more formal government shutdowns and shutdown threats. If they don’t get their way now, in this 2016 election, what will they do? If you were the boss of a stable company (country) would you hire anyone who has acted like an insurrectionist? I would be happy if their application would find a permanent home in that old circular file. You may think that treason and insurrectionist are too strong and these words may turn you off but you must admit that these Republicans have certainly been disruptive and that they would like to disrupt even more if they win the Presidency.
By Nancy Brisson

Waiting With Obama

It’s not like The Affordable Care Act was my ideal plan for health care. I wanted health care to be separated from employment. I wanted National Health Care (Medicare for everyone). I realized that in a national system we might have to wait longer for elective care and we might lose some access to services. Yet we seem to be losing access to some services anyway. There is a campaign to convince us that too many tests can have negative outcomes in the form of unnecessary biopsies or procedures, besides being expensive and sometimes exposing us to harmful rays or chemicals. We are told we should have fewer mammograms, fewer colonoscopies, fewer ultrasounds, fewer pap smears, fewer CT scans, fewer PSA’s. C’est la vie. We can’t have less expensive health insurance without losing a few services (although someone recently pointed out that even with fewer services costs are still rising). However, private insurers have no motivation without government regulation to insure people with pre-existing conditions or to insure people who can’t afford health insurance.
Anyway, National insurance was not what we got, except, in a way we did get most of what I wanted. We didn’t get to separate health insurance from employment but we did get insurance for those with pre-existing conditions and for the uninsured and young people got to stay on their parent’s insurance until the age of 26. Obama also found a way to leave plenty of room for private insurers which I felt was a real mistake, but which one would think would be seen as a plus by private insurers.
So now Obama and I are waiting with butterflies in our stomachs to see what the Supreme Court will say about The Affordable Care Act. Of course, Obama doesn’t know me and my butterflies can’t comfort him, but maybe it will help him to know there are some of us out here in America who are with him on this.
I would guess there is no such thing as a perfect health care plan for America (or any large nation), still, we will both survive, Obama and I, regardless of what the court has to say, but the repercussions will probably be much greater for Obama in the short run, and much greater for the rest of us in the long run.

Suspense

What will the Supreme Court decide about The Affordable Health Care Act? This is the week that the court will deliberate, hear evidence, etc about this issue which has been at the center of debates for the past two years. Will they decide that there are no really serious constitutional problems with the health care mandate or will they declare it unconstitutional?
The mandate is only part of the Health Care Act but it is a very key part. Making sure people who were using expensive emergency room treatment because they had no health care provider will be covered by health insurance so their care will not be as huge a burden for taxpayers, was the raison d’etre for the entire plan. Will there be enough value left in the plan without the mandate?
How much does the Conservative agenda inform the Supreme Court? Here is the breakdown

Conservative        John Roberts              G. W. Bush Appt.           Chief Justice
Conservative        Antonin Scalia             Ronald Reagan
Cons/Swing          Anthony Kennedy        Ronald Reagan
Conservative        Clarence Thomas         George HW Bush  
Liberal                   Ruth Bader Ginsburg   Bill Clinton
Liberal                   Stephen Breyer             Bill Clinton
Conservative        Samuel Alito                  George W. Bush
Liberal                    Sonia Sotomayor           Barack Obama
Liberal                   Elena Kagan                    Barack Obama    

There are 6 male justices and 3 female justices; there are 6 Roman Catholics justices and 3 Jewish justices. In light of these demographics it will be interesting to see the results. The Court is not dominated by Conservatives in the way it is dominated by Roman Catholics but as “court followers” try to decide which way each justice will decide there are certain justices who seem to be unpredictable and none are perfectly predictable. Justice Kagan has recused herself from most decisions since she was confirmed because her questioners were worried that she had dealt with some of these cases outside of the Supreme Court or some such conflict-of-interest concern. It sounds like we will remain in suspense until the opinions are handed down in June.
I have butterflies in my stomach; how crazy is that? Whatever decision is made life will go on. Will the Obama presidency go on? I don’t know and it does mean a lot to me to reelect Obama so he can save us from the extreme revisions the GOP wishes to impose on America. I don’t think most of us will fare at all well if the Supreme Court decides against the mandate and therefore against Obama and the dominoes start to fall like those well-planned displays, until America belongs to the wealthy and the rest of us are left to shift for ourselves in the muck at the bottom of the empty pond.