Still Not Scared? How About THIS…?

During a closed meeting on this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland met with 35 state supreme court chief justices to urge their cooperation on limiting evictions. Garland praised the Michigan Supreme Court for giving tenants more time to apply for rental assistance by directing courts to stay eviction proceedings for up to 45 days. The AG also saluted the Texas Supreme Court for helping tenants facing lawsuits by sending them notices with assistance options.

The 35 justices should not have accepted Garland’s invitation (or was it a command?) Those who did accept should have ostentatiously walked out as soon as his purpose became clear. To call the meeting inappropriate is itself inappropriate: this was a straight up violation of the separation of powers, and a breach of professional ethics for everyone involved. Garland works for the President: he’s part of the executive branch. He’s also a litigant or a potential one in the matter he was discussing. The is an ex parte communication, as he well knows.

For the White House’s agents to strong-arm, or attempt to, members of the judiciary to allow the President’s party to pursue an unconstitutional policy is one more step to undo the structure of American democracy. This is a pure IIPTDXTTNMIAFB (“Imagine if President Trump did X that the news media is accepting from Biden.”). Creeping autocracy! Democrats and their puppet media would scream. Defying democratic traditions and weakening institutions! Except, you see, Donald Trump never did anything like this, and if he did, I assume all those good Democrats and progressives among the justices would have used the opportunity to call for impeachment, and the Republican chief justices, having respect for the Constitution, would refuse to attend.

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Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 6/12/21: Cruel World Edition [Corrected]

John-Travolta-Saturday-Night-Fever

1. Cruel reality. You know, I’m starting to feel less and less sorry for Merrick Garland. The man who should have been confirmed as a member of the Supreme Court has revealed himself as an ultra-political and partisan Attorney General. His latest is to darkly hint of scrutinizing “post-election audits to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.” He wrote in part,

“As part of its mission to protect the right to vote, the Justice Department will, of course, do everything in its power to prevent election fraud and, if found, to vigorously prosecute it. But many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this Administration and the previous one, as well as by every court — federal and state — that has considered them.”

That’s simply a lie. The claims have not been “refuted,” nor has the Federal government shown sufficient curiosity about “election fraud” to investige any of the many suspicious events related to mail-in ballots counted in Democratic strongholds in closely contested states.

Republicans take this as a veiled threat to interfere with the limited audits taking place in Arizona and Georgia. Arizona state Senator Wendy Rogers (R) minced no words in her response to the almost-SCOTUS justice, saying in part,

“You will not touch Arizona ballots or machines unless you want to spend time in an Arizona prison….The free state of Arizona will not tolerate this federal meddling. If Attorney General Merrick Garland thinks he has a right to our ballots and machines he should go to court. If he uses force when multiple courts have already authorized this audit he will be in violation of the law.”

Translation: “Bite me.”

I approve.

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Straining To Smear Merrick Garland, The National Review And Conservative Lawyer Ed Whelan Beclown Themselves…

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TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010 – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “The Fantasticks”. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

…because they don’t know what the hell they are talking about.

I, on the other hand, do.

Whelan, who is usually much better than this, writes in “Yes, Merrick Garland Found ‘Hilarious’ a Song About ‘Rapes for Sale’,

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, as a college student, wrote a review of the musical The Fantasticks in which he labeled “hilarious” a song that (in his words) “provides a shopping list of rapes for sale (e.g. ‘the military rape—it’s done with drums and a great brass band.’).” But the Breitbart account turns out to be accurate. (Here is Garland’s article from the Harvard Crimson’s archives.) I have no interest in defending Garland’s observation from his college days nearly fifty years ago,* but I will try to put it in some context. What a theatrical performance can make amusing is often difficult to fathom in the abstract, as Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” involving a musical comedy about Hitler, demonstrates. I will note that “The Fantasticks” (according to this Wikipedia entry) ran, on and off Broadway, for 42 years (from 1960 to 2002), “making it the world’s longest-running musical.” So it would seem that many folks shared Garland’s enjoyment of the song. Not surprisingly, controversy arose at some point over the “rape” lyrics, leading lyricist Tom Jones to revise them—to eliminate the word “rape.”

It is hard for me to tamp down my contempt for Whelan’s piece, but I’ll try.

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A False Narrative Exposed, Part 2: The Times’ Editors Beclown Themselves

Clowns

[This is Part 2 of the Ethics Alarms essay that begins here.]

The first section of “A False Narrative Exposed” concluded,

The extent of the Democrats’ false smearing of Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the blatant fearmongering regarding the consequences of her confirmation are put in sharp perspective when one goes back and re-reads the New York Times editorial of the week before headlines, “The Republican Party’s Supreme Court.”  Indeed, the Times editorial shows us much more: the utter dishonesty of the mainstream media and its willingness to mislead rather than inform the public; it’s deliberate employment of false history to advance its partisan ends, and perhaps  most damming of all, the weak powers of reasoning and analysis the alleges cream of the journalistic crop applies to its craft. Then there are the repeated reminders that the Times is so deeply in bed with the Democrats that it can count its moles.

Let’s look at that editorial…

“What happened in the Senate chamber on Monday evening was, on its face, the playing out of a normal, well-established process of the American constitutional order: the confirmation of a president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. But Senate Republicans, who represent a minority of the American people, are straining the legitimacy of the court by installing a deeply conservative jurist, Amy Coney Barrett, to a lifetime seat just days before an election that polls suggest could deal their party a major defeat.”

Right—those phony polls meant to suppress the GOP vote showing that the Democrats were going to increase their dominance of the House and win control of the Senate. The scandalously misleading and mistaken polls were also part of the novel Democratic argument, endorsed by the Times, that the Senate should reject a legal and historically routine SCOTUS nomination because of clearly biased polls…a corrupting phenomenon the Founders never heard of.

“As with President Trump’s two earlier nominees to the court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the details of Judge Barrett’s jurisprudence were less important than the fact that she had been anointed by the conservative activists at the Federalist Society. Along with hundreds of new lower-court judges installed in vacancies that Republicans refused to fill when Barack Obama was president, these three Supreme Court choices were part of the project to turn the courts from a counter-majoritarian shield that protects the rights of minorities to an anti-democratic sword to wield against popular progressive legislation like the Affordable Care Act.”

The only valid question for the Senate to consider was whether Barrett was qualified. Even the deeply progressive-biased American Bar Association  agreed that she was. I don’t know what the Times is trying to say: the Federalist Society wouldn’t have approved of an unqualified justice. “Anointed’ is just cheap Times rhetoric meaning “conservatives tended to agree with her jurisprudence,” just as progressives approved of the late Justice Ginsberg. Both had to excel during tough questioning in their confirmation hearings. Neither was “anointed.” The editorial board is pandering to its readership’s hysterical biases against conservatives….

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A Futile Call For Fairness And Integrity From Senator McConnell

I know this is a waste of time and words, but here goes nothin’…

Yesterday we got the news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 86 and already being treated for enough maladies to kill a normal human being  half her age, has pancreatic cancer. Treatment is going well, we are told, and Ginsberg isn’t even cutting back on her schedule.

Nonetheless, the proverbial writing is on the wall. Sheer will only can accomplish so much. If I participated in “dead pools,” Justice Ginsberg would be at the top of my list, even ahead of soon to be 103-year-old Kirk Douglas. Though she is apparently determined to hang on to her SCOTUS seat if it means that she will finish her tenure in a box that signals “yes” and “no” like  poor Captain Pike in that “Star Trek” episode, I would be stunned if there isn’t a vacancy on the court in the near future. That will mean that President Trump will have an opportunity to appoint a conservative justice to replace the most liberal voice on the current court, a result that will spark panic from the Left and delirious joy from the Right. If this happens after January, 2020, it will also create an integrity test for Mitch McConnell.

That is, it should.

When Antonin Scalia died on February 16, 2016, President Obama appointed moderate liberal judge Merrick Garland to replace him. McConnell, however, the GOP Senate Majority Leader, announced that the Senate would not consider the nomination, debate it, or vote on it. He concocted a rule that when a Supreme Court vacancy occurs in the last year of a Presidential term, it should not be filled until after the November Presidential election. The supposed justification for this was that SenatorJ oe Biden had once made a similar suggestion. Basing any policy or rationale on what Joe Biden says is like using the spontaneous utterances of Tourettes sufferers as life guidance, but never mind: Mitch was gambling that a SCOTUS vacancy would bring more Republicans to the polls than Democrats, and that the Garland nomination would eventually be moot.

The gambit was legal but unethical, but then, that’s Mitch. It was also stupid: Garland was no Scalia, but he was far more moderate than some of Obama’s other options, and if Hillary Clinton had won, as looked like a sure thing in January, she was likely to nominate a far more extreme progressive judge. But in the manner that has hooked suckers and created gambling addicts for centuries, Mitch’s long-shot bet paid off. Trump won; Neil Gorsuch replaced Scalia, and Merrick Garland joined Samual Tilden in the “What If?” Hall of Fame.

If RBG leaves the Court or this vale of tears in 2020, however, Mitch should find himself hoisted by his own petard. By his own words, that new opening on the Court should not be filled by President Trump’s choice unless Trump  is re-elected in November; the public should have the opportunity to include the composition of the Supreme in their calculations regarding who to vote for. So declareth Mitchi n 2016, as progressives and Democrats screamed and ripped their garments,

Having created a principle and a precedent, Senator McConnell should stick to it. The problem wasn’t that his theory in 2016 was indefensible in theory–it is.  The problem just that it was disingenuous. Mitch wasn’t interested in fairness or democracy, just expedient politics. Thus it comes as no surprise that McConnell has told his party members that if there is a Supreme Court vacancy, he will move to confirm a conservative nominee so fast it will break the sound barrier.

He should not, however. Doing so may be good old fashioned hard-ball politics, but it will also be a lost opportunity to start repairing a broken legislative branch that McConnell played a major part in breaking. Such a cynical reversal of his own stated “principles” will also make the public less trusting than they already are of the motives, honesty and integrity, not just of Mitch, but of the their elected officials and government. Our democracy can’t take much more distrust and cyncism. Democracy breathes trust.

Who knows? Maybe Mitch will hit the jackpot a second time. Maybe the delay will backfire, with more outraged Democrats being attracted to the polls than activated conservatives. Nevertheless, Mitch McConnell has an ethical obligation to treat the next SCOTUS vacancy during the final year of a Presidential term exactly like he did the last one, in the name of integrity, fairness, process, consistency, trust, and the health of our Constitutional system.

A Smoking Flip-Flop: Here Is Why Larry Tribe Cannot Be Regarded As An Objective Legal Authority Any More

…well, other than the fact that his recent tweets indicate that the 77-year-old  prof is no longer playing with a full deck…*

I had a back-and-forth with a smart non-lawyer who is suffering from Trump Derangement, and who cited the opinions of Professor Tribe to counter Alan Dershowitz’s critique of the Mueller Report. He didn’t like my assertion that Tribe has proven himself to be a partisan hack of late, willing to espouse whatever public opinion the Left and “the resistance” will find useful.

Ed Whelan, the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, found this example of a cynical Tribe flip-flop, worthy of the gymnasts above, that shows what I mean:

 Back in early March 2016, a few weeks after Justice Scalia’s death created a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe was perhaps the most prominent of some 350 law professors to sign a letter asserting that the Senate had a “constitutional duty to give President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a prompt and fair hearing and a timely vote.” Declaring that “[t]he Senate’s obligation in this circumstance is clear,” the letter invoked the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

But, as I and others (including liberal law professors Noah Feldman and Vik Amar) pointed out at the time, the position that Tribe took had no support in the text of the Constitution and contradicted perennial Senate practice on nominations. The Appointments Clause states only that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” various executive-branch and judicial-branch officers. In other words, it restricts the president’s power of appointment by conditioning any such appointment on prior receipt of the Senate’s “Advice and Consent” on a nomination. But it says nothing about how the Senate should go about exercising its power to advise and consent-or-withhold-consent, and it thus leaves the Senate entirely free to exercise that power however it sees fit.

Tribe’s position in March 2016 further surprised me because it contradicted Tribe’s own earlier (correct) recognition, in his 1985 book God Save This Honorable Court, that the Senate may block a Supreme Court nomination “by simply refusing to act upon it.”

I’m pleased to discover that Tribe now agrees that the Senate does not have a constitutional duty to take any action on a Supreme Court nominee. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/11/2018: Baseball! Football! Idiots!

Good Morning!

1. Important stuff first: All-Star Game ethics. The final slot for the two All-Star teams is being determined today, and everyone should want to remedy the egregious injustice of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Jesus Aguilar being left off the National League squad so far. You can vote for him here, and as many times as you want: the polling will be closed at 4 pm EST.

Aguilar is the victim of parochial fan voting and the rule that requires at least one player from every one of the 30 teams. Still, his omission would be a travesty.  As of today, he leads the National League in home runs, slugging, and OPS (on-base pct. plus slugging) and is a leading candidate for MVP, especially if the surprising Brewers win the NL Central, where they currently lead with the best record in the league. His 2018 performance so far dwarfs that of, for example, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, voted onto the NL starting line-up by clueless fans.

2. These are your opinion-makers, America! On “The View,” Loudmouth Ignoramus Joy Behar was discussing the Merrick Garland episode with slumming legal expert and Martha’s Vineyard pariah Alan Dershowitz, who will next be appearing on “Family Feud,” I suppose.

“[The Republicans] stole the first member of the Supreme Court,” opined Dershowitz. “Absolute theft. Unconstitutional. I’m a little critical of President Obama, for whom I voted. He should have nominated Merrick Garland and should have sworn him in. The Constitution says advise and consent. It doesn’t say delay and postpone.”

Behar then asked, because she is an idiot, “Well then how come Mitch McConnell is not in jail? That’s what I want to know.”

“You want to put everybody in jail,” Dershowitz responded.

“I want to put him in jail,” Behar said.

Said  Dershowitz, “I’m against putting people in jail unless they’ve actually committed crimes. I know that’s a radical position.”

“The View” is on ABC five days a week, and has been for more than a decade. I wonder how much it has lowered America’s collective civic literacy and IQ? I think I’m afraid of the answer.

3. The NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck update. The NFL players union has filed a grievance over the league’s anti-National Anthem protest policy. (Even in the sympathetic news reports,, exactly what is being protested is left vague, as in Politico’s “racial and other injustice in America, particularly police brutality.” In related developments, former NFL cornerback Brandon Browner has been charged with four felonies, including attempted murder, and in a particularly revolting turn of events, former Portland Trail Blazers star Kermit Washington was sentenced this week to six years in federal prison for spending almost a million dollars in charity donations on vacations, shopping sprees and plastic surgery for his girlfriend.

You see, professional athletes are not paragons, especially good citizens, or valid role models, especially NFL and NBA athletes, among whom are too many drug abusers, felons and dead-beat dads to count. They have no good justification to hijack sporting events to be special platforms for their half-baked social policy nostrums, and they should not be indulged. Let them protest the same way other badly-educated, politically naive and biased citizens do: on their own time. Continue reading

Signature Significance: The Democratic Party’s Irresponsible And Petulant Gorsuch Tantrum [Updated]

Signature significance, in the context of ethics, is when a single example of conduct or a single episode is sufficient to make a definitive judgment about the ethical values of an individual or an organization. It is something so striking and blatant that the usually valid statistical argument that one data point is meaningless doesn’t hold true. Ethics Alarms refers to signature significance frequently.

The Democratic Party’s behavior regarding the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch is signature significance. It won’t work. It will result in permanent harm to the Senate, harm that will initially most affect Democrats. It is hypocritical, irresponsible, and embarrassing, at least if the party is considering citizens who understand what is going on, admittedly a minority. It is unprofessional. It is dishonest. It is unpatriotic. The conduct is so obviously irresponsible that it is difficult to believe that Democratic leaders don’t realize it. Because it is all these things, the strategy is also very close to insane.

I just watched Senator Grassley’s address to the Judiciary Committee, ticking off l the reasons why the inflammatory Democratic rhetoric regarding Judge Gorsuch ranged from untrue to self-contradictory to ludicrous. He wasn’t exaggerating; it wasn’t a partisan speech.  Grassley reminded the committee that Gorsuch had been unanimously confirmed when he was nominated to the 10th Circuit. The Senator correctly explained why the recent mantra that Gorsuch wasn’t “mainstream” was counter-factual, since he has voted with the majority on that court over 90% of the time.

Grassley dismissed as offensive and judicially ignorant (my words, not his; Chuck was appropriately mild in his word choices) the argument that Gorsuch lacked compassion and wouldn’t rule “for the little guy.” Competent and ethical judges—unlike, say, Justice Sotomayor—don’t change their decisions according to which litigant is “big,” “little,” rich, poor, black or white. Their job, duty and role is to clarify what the law is. It is only part of the current progressive delusions, most recently shown in the rulings against the Trump travel halt from terrorist-teeming Muslim nations, that judges should base their analysis on their personal and political biases, when those biases are the “right” ones.

Senator Grassley then moved to the complaint that Gorsuch “refused to answer questions.” “What this means is that the judge wouldn’t say in advance how he would rule on cases that hadn’t come before him yet,” the Senator said. Of course he is exactly right. No judicial nominee has been willing to answer such question since the Democrats politicized the confirmation process forever by voting down Reagan appointee Robert Bork, despite the judge being as qualified and brilliant a jurist as anyone nominated to sit on the Court. No judge should have answered such questions before that, either. Cases are decided on the law and the facts. A justice who has made up his or her mind before even reading the briefs or hearing oral arguments is not judging fairly or competently.

Finally, Grassley pointed out that no Supreme Court nominee has ever faced a filibuster or the threat of one. For Gorsuch to be filibustered by Democrats, despite being assessed by almost every legal expert and commentator as unusually distinguished and qualified (including the left-leaning American Bar Association, which has found conservative judges less than qualified in the past because they were…conservative), is indefensible on the merits. Continue reading

Supreme Court Vacancy Ethics: A Competent Choice, An Unethical Announcement, And An Irresponsible Reaction

gorsuch

You know, if every day is going to set off multiple political ethics controversies, I’m not going to have time to write about lobster hats.

Last night, President Trump selected Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee.

A. The Choice

Except for those who literally are determined to freak out and condemn anything President Trump does, this was a competent, responsible choice. He would be one of the best of the available choices for any Republican President, more qualified than Obama’s snubbed selection, Merrick Garland, to fill the same vacancy, and Garland was certainly qualified. It’s ridiculous that Gorsuch is one more Harvard grad on a Court that is exclusively Harvard and Yale, but that aside, he adds some diversity of outlook by being from the middle of the country rather than the coasts. He writes clearly, unlike, say, Justice Kennedy, and is not a pure political ideologue, like Ginsberg or Alito.

Before the Democrats’ rejection of Robert Bork shattered the tradition of allowing every President the privilege of having his SCOTUS nominations approved absent real questions about their competence or honesty, a nomination like this one would have garnered bipartisan praise. Trump made a responsible, competent, choice. Really. He did.

B. The Announcement Continue reading