Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Sobering Stat Shows WI Is Faring Far Worse than the Rest of the U.S. on COVID

TWENTY-SEVEN WISCONSINITES DIED FROM coronavirus in a single 24-hour period, according to numbers released by the state Department of Health Services website on Wednesday.

It's the highest number of deaths the state has seen from the disease since the pandemic reached our borders. But for some, 27 might be a small number. 

Let's put it into perspective. Wisconsin has approximately 5.8 million residents. If you extrapolated the number of deaths reported in the state on Wednesday to a population equivalent to the country's (328 million), there would be approximately 1,470 people who had died.

According to the New York Times, as of yesterday the U.S. was seeing a 7-day average of 733 deaths per day.

In other words, Wisconsin's death rate from coronavirus, as of Wednesday, is more than double what the nation is seeing at this time.

We need to do better. Unfortunately, too many Republican leaders in the state legislature don't agree, do not believe that any action is necessary to combat the effects of this disease — and now, a conservative legal organization is suing to end Gov. Tony Evers's mask mandate.

If they're successful, then undoubtedly, more lives will be lost in the state as a result. And the GOP will just sit on their hands, allowing it to go on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

3 Reforms To SCOTUS That Could Save Our Democracy — Tenure Limits, Appointment Limits, And A National Referendum

THE PASSING OF Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the subsequent battle that is being set up as a result, is a consequence of a failed system that demonstrates how, in recent years, we've made an institution that shouldn't be political into just that.

With Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) announcement on Tuesday that he will support the nomination process for a new justice ahead of the presidential election — bucking the precedent that was set by Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in 2016 when former President Barack Obama had sought to name Judge Merrick Garland to the High Court — there's a high possibility that a "lame duck" appointment by current President Donald Trump will be named to the Supreme Court, likely after he has lost the presidential race itself in November.

If that happens, many Democrats will make pleas to "pack the court" after Joe Biden gets sworn in, assuming he does indeed win the election; and, given the highly-partisan nature of how things have been over the past decade or so, it's likely the movement to do so will gain traction.

My big fear over this move is that it could lead, generations from now, to a Supreme Court with 20 or 30 justices sitting on it, after each new president decides they don't like what the previous president has done, and chooses to add more seats to the bench rather than abide by the rules our nation has previously gone with.

If Biden does indeed agree with calls to add two more justices to the court, he should do so with a solemn promise: that he won't appoint more justices as vacancies happen. In other words, if he adds two to the court (for 11 justices total), he will allow that number to go back to nine, without adding new justices as vacancies occur.

But that action only addresses one problem: the fact that Trump was able to steal two Supreme Court nominations during his tenure — the first being what was supposed to be Obama's nominee in 2016 (rolling over into 2017 when Trump was inaugurated), the second being whatever this impending appointment will be, which thwarted the precedent set before (Brett Kavanaugh's appointment, while I strongly opposed it, was, at the very least, a "legitimate" action to fill a seat on the Supreme Court by this current president).

A series of other reforms need to be enacted beyond whatever action Biden takes immediately after taking office. The High Court, simply put, needs rules to ensure that, if we're going to treat it as a political institution as we are now, it cannot abuse its power, just as other political institutions are limited from doing.

Here are three quick reforms I can think of:

  • Tenure limits of 14 (or 18) years for each justice. The exact number of years isn't the point here, so much as the idea that justices shouldn't serve lifetime appointments. This shouldn't necessarily restrict justices from serving longer periods of time, but would require presidents to re-nominate them if they want to keep them on the court. Tenure limits would ensure that the Supreme Court adjusts to societal changes in a more timely fashion, while also creating a schedule for voters to know when a presidential election will have an effect on a "known" vacancy that is set to occur.

  • An appointment limit for presidents. Under this reform, presidents would only be allowed to fill two vacancies per presidential term. Exceptions could be allowed if less than five justices are on the bench as a result of a new vacancy, or if two-thirds of the Senate votes to affirm a president's request to add another justice to the bench, for example.

  • A national referendum on "close" picks. This reform might be the trickiest one to sell, but it would give the court a lot more legitimacy, especially for those appointments that cause social media to explode with outrage. Supreme Court justices who are confirmed by a margin of less than 55 votes in the Senate are, by their very slim nature of being approved, inherently partisan picks. So, when less than 11 in 20 Senators vote to confirm a president's pick, a "yes-or-no" vote across the nation should be triggered, to allow the people to approve or deny a contested justice pick in an up-or-down vote. This should only happen in certain circumstances, however — perhaps when such a situation occurs, it could require a vote in the House of Representatives first, or a majority of state governors have to support it, etc. before a national referendum happens.

It's not likely that any of these reforms could come easily. But some of them might not require a constitutional amendment — Article III of the Constitution does not limit any of these reforms from being possible. Congress has the power to regulate aspects of the High Court, which it has done in the past

If we want the Supreme Court to work — and, what's more, if we want to ensure our entire system doesn't fall apart due to the death or retirement of a single justice — these reforms are a good place to start, or at least begin a conversation, over how we can prevent such outcomes. 

The present situation in Washington D.C. is exposing fissures in our system of governance, and if we do not address them, they could create real crises for our country in the years ahead.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Ibram X. Kendi Describes Push To Replace RBG As A Fascist Power Grab — And It's Hard To Disagree

 WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN allowed time to grieve and reflect upon the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; but alas, we live in abnormal times where, mere hours after her death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would push to vote on replacing her swiftly, as soon as President Donald Trump put forth a nominee to do so.

Trump, less than one day after Ginsburg's departure, announced he would do so sometime within the next week.

So we have little time to grieve and must react to this newest development. 

McConnell's actions are, as many have pointed out, hypocritical: he had blocked a judicial appointment for Barack Obama in 2016 because it was nine months out from an election, arguing that the next president should have a say in who gets to sit on the High Court. 

Presently, we are less than 6 weeks away from Election Day 2020. Some have already cast their ballots for president in early-voting states (with the understanding that the next president was to likely pick Ginsburg's successor). Yet, McConnell and other Republicans have switched course on that rule, arguing that, it doesn't matter if the Senate and the White House are controlled by the same political party.

That, of course, is hogwash. And the American people know it.

A quick poll that was conducted after Ginsburg's death revealed that most Americans don't want a rush to name her successor. Neither does Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who, in a statement on the subject, said that the next president — whether that be Trump or Democrat Joe Biden — should be the one to determine who the next justice on the Supreme Court should be.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined Collins on Sunday in saying that "the same standard must apply" with regard to what Republicans did in the recent past. Two other Republicans (and every single Democrat) must join Collins and Murkowski in order to block McConnell's and Trump's plans.

All of this has happened within the course of two days. It's a lot to take in, and devastating to those who held the late justice in such high regard. Ginsburg was, after all, a formidable force on the Supreme Court, one whose opinions and dissent read like poetry, and often moved those who took the time to take them in to action. In rushing to name her successor, we risk putting someone on the court who won't live up to our wanted expectations.

Criticisms of these moves from Republicans and Trump have been numerous, but one that stuck out to me came from author Ibram X. Kendi, who described them in terms I had not yet seen from anyone else. Although not addressing this moment directly, it was clear who Kendi was discussing in his Facebook post:

"Fascist power does not care about consistency, rules, fairness, precedents, truth. Fascist power does not respond to appeals to its hypocrisy, its lies, its unfairness, its human destruction. Fascist power only responds to power. Fascist power only cares about power."

Is it fair to describe the actions of Republicans over this past weekend as fascist? It's a word that I truly hate to use without reason — during the presidency of George W. Bush, though I was appalled by what I was seeing, I did not describe him, in any of my writings, as a "fascist" because I knew the word held great meaning. I did not want to lessen its meaning by using it to describe someone I vehemently disagreed with, but who may not be an actual fascist.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is definitely a fascist, or at least wants to be one. The only thing stopping him is the framework of our government — the judiciary and legislative checks and balances that prevent him from assuming absolute control. 

As many Republicans get more and more sucked into Trumpism, it's fair to state that they, too, are drifting toward support of fascist beliefs. They support a president who has, after all, used xenophobia to promote his political ends, stated that he has absolute power in government, and has argued that he is immune from any prosecutorial judgment of any kind (including, hypothetically, murder). 

Use of the word "fascist" tends to upset people, particularly when you're talking about lawmakers within American government. We don't want to describe anyone in the U.S. as fascist because it means we've had a moral failing somewhere.

But how else can you describe these actions? Kendi is absolutely right: inconsistency and power grabs, lies and unfairness in our institutions, are hallmarks of fascism. To pretend otherwise would be turning a blind eye to an immense problem, one that we must nip in the bud not by ignoring it, but by actively standing in opposition to it instead.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court must be chosen by the winner of the 2020 presidential election. It's the only fair action to allow, given how Republicans acted four years ago.