Obstructionism Isn’t a Governing Style

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On Saturday night, I was preparing to go to a basketball game when the news came down. It was reported out of Texas that Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more conservative Justices in the history of the Supreme Court of the United States, had passed away in his sleep at a hunting lodge in Texas. Justice Scalia reportedly was found dead on Saturday morning and the hunting lodge was so remote that news of his passing wasn’t announced until late Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised about this news. I didn’t take any particular glee in the announcement, however, although some did (and, for some of them who were directly affected by Scalia’s stance on several critical Supreme Court decisions such as gay rights and abortion, I can understand that). I decided to wait for a bit before making any sort of pronouncements or addressing any thoughts on the issue – 12 hours seemed about right in my opinion. If only some others would have taken the time to employ the same tactic.

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Virtually as soon as the word came from that ranch in Texas where Justice Scalia had been hunting, the Republican Party began to obstruct the thought of President Barack Obama putting someone in Scalia’s seat. The Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, literally said an hour after Scalia’s passing, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” when other people – including ideological opponents of Scalia’s including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and current Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – were offering condolences to the family. Another Senator, Utah’s Mike Lee (another Republican), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, didn’t even have the guts to respond, instead sending a lackey, spokesman Conn Carroll, to say that the chances of President Obama putting someone in Justice Scalia’s seat was “less than zero.”

The odious remains of the clown car known as the GOP Presidential nominees (more on this later this week) sounded like a bunch of harp seals in responding about the subject on the Sunday morning talkers. On Twitter, Texas Senator Ted Cruz remarked that “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him and the nation for the Senate to ensure that the next President name his replacement.” There is plenty of evidence that negates Cruz’s statements as Presidents have, since the creation of our nation, nominated Justices up until they left office.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was especially ripped by the Sunday hosts for his incredibly stupid statements that he made on the subject. Apparently someone in the Rubio camp informed Super Mario that, when a sitting President is down to the final year of his Presidency, he just quits being President and lets shit fall where it may. On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd directly said to Rubio, “Do presidential terms end after three years?” when Rubio said, “In the last year of a president’s term…there should not be Supreme Court nominees put into lifetime positions.”

Even on home turf with Fox News, host Chris Wallace drilled Rubio when he asked if any President should be able to make second term Supreme Court appointments. “I’m not saying it’s illegal,” Rubio said. “I think we should wait until after November before we move forward on confirming any justice to the Supreme Court.” Wallace then administered the smack down to Rubio – the last time that such a situation occurred was under President Ronald Reagan when he nominated – and the Senate confirmed – Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1988. “It doesn’t really matter what Reagan did back in ’87,” Rubio snottily – and incorrectly – said.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the obstructionism of the Republican Party in this particular circumstance.

Unfortunately, since the Republican “neocon” insurrection that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment over a blowjob at the tail end of the 1990s, the politics of obstructionism is all the people of the U. S. have received. Whether it is the Democrats in control of the Congress and a Republican in the White House or vice versa, it seems that no one wants to actually govern this country anymore. The politics of – well, actually being political – have been pushed aside for partisanship, “point scoring” and bullshit “line in the sand” positions rather than actually trying to lead the nation. As a result, not a damn thing is getting done.

We like to think of our nation as a great example of something that should be the target for other people and other nations to be. Instead, we’ve become a fucking joke in that we cannot even meet in a room to hear about a budget plan for the upcoming year, sit through a President’s State of the Union speech without yelling out bullshit or even give that President the common decency of allowing him his Constitutional right to nominate a person to the highest Court in the land.

President Barack Obama: Inauguration Day 2009

If you don’t like the President, that’s your prerogative. You can allow him to nominate his candidate for the Supreme Court without being derogatory towards the man and the office. Then you can demonstrate your obstructionism (and your disrespect to doing your job) to the citizens of the United States, either by not meeting with the candidate or not holding hearings for said candidate. Then it is on YOU to explain to the citizens of the country why someone who was OK as a judge when they were reviewed and approved a few years previously (because trust me, the Obama Administration isn’t going to pick someone that hasn’t already been approved by the Senate previously and probably by close to a unanimous vote) is suddenly not good enough to be a Supreme Court Justice.

This is the point where the obstructionism may fall apart. The GOP is staking their hill on this Supreme Court seat and it could very well lead to their downfall. With a third of the seats in the Senate up for grabs in November – including some in battleground states that the Republicans need to maintain their grasp on to hold the majority in the Senate – it is possible that a divisive issue could swing the vote one way or the other. Such a subject as naming a Supreme Court Justice – or the resulting blocking of said Justice – could motivate a sizeable bloc of voters to come out against a particular party (in this case, the GOP) and end their Senate majority.

The other question is why would the GOP try to stake this hill? If they are successful in delaying the selection of the Supreme Court Justice until after the November elections, they have to win said election to be able to put in someone they prefer; those odds do not look good at this time (odds makers have pretty much every combination of Democrat versus Republican with the Democrat winning). The next Democratic President could nominate Obama, which would be anathema to any Republican, worse than any nominee that Obama could come up with. There is also the chance that, should a Republican win, Obama could put through a Supreme Court replacement once the new Congress is seated and before the new President takes over (tricky, but extremely possible).

Now conservatives are going to cry that “Reid was obstructionist to Republicans when he was in charge,” and they’d be right. But what was he going to put forward from a Republican House…one of the 50-odd passages repealing the Affordable Care Act? Bills that stripped away through the riders on the side other rights that President Obama had fought to earn for women, gays and other groups that Republicans love to oppress? Repeals of Planned Parenthood funding? Tell you what…when both sides start passing bills straight up, without any riders that bastardize the original purpose of a bill, then you can talk about not having them considered by the other body in the legislative branch.

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Both sides need to realize that obstructionism is not a governing style. It is time that people actually look at who they are voting for and put people in the Congress (and get rid of these Tea Party nutbags who pretend to be “small government” but are basically religious zealots masquerading as small government practitioners) that will work together – rather than against each other – and put someone in the White House who will actually come down to Capitol Hill and sit in the office of the leader of the opposing party and find common ground to lead the nation. Furthermore, the Congress itself needs to get off its ass and move – and do its job rather than hiding behind “listening to the American people” as a reason to not do anything. It could start with doing something as simple as putting someone in the seat of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Break the Law

Two things we’ll establish from the start here. A long time ago (and I mean a LOOOONG time ago), I attended Butler University with the ambition of going to law school following completion of my undergraduate work. I enjoyed the pursuit of the truth, figuring out the “right” answer to an investigation (a court case) and, perhaps most of all, the debate that came along with the profession. Secondly, I’ve never had a particularly close relationship with religion; I’ve personally always believed that the separation of Church and State isn’t a flimsy one and, quite honestly, that religion doesn’t take science into its canon to be able to answer the myriad questions of life (“you have to have faith” isn’t an answer, unfortunately). Thus, the recent hubbub in the state of Kentucky has particularly intrigued me.

In June, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry in the United States. After heartfelt and legally well-thought oral arguments from both sides, the Court decided by the slimmest of margins (5-4) that states could not deny those that sought to marry someone of the same sex that ability, basically asserting that marriage, under the “pursuit of Happiness” clause in the U. S. Constitution, was a right. As expected, the Court broke along philosophical lines, with the four conservative justices dissenting, the four liberal justices concurring and Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, famous for being the “swing” vote in many decisions in front of the Court, joining the liberal justices and even writing the majority opinion in the decision.

This set about a shitstorm that only reached its apex last month. The state of Texas initially decried the ruling and, for a period, refused to issue licenses for same sex couples. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, decided that the ruling by a court superior to his own wouldn’t apply to his jurisdiction. Both of these states decided, after further review and a look at the costs of pursuing a lengthy legal battle, that the issue was settled and apparently have reluctantly begun to issue the licenses. Then, last month, an elected official decided to take the fight the ultimate distance.

In August, a woman elected to the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk of Courts office began refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, citing that it conflicted with her “religious beliefs” in “God’s authority” (as if issuing a piece of paper would sentence her to fiery pits of Hell). The woman, Kim Davis, did take the right approach in that she didn’t issue ANY marriage licenses in the county, even to those of the opposite sex, but that wasn’t going to hold up for long (in fact, when a lawsuit was brought against her by the American Civil Liberties Union, it was filed by two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples). Davis went to the U. S. District Court, which shot her arguments down and ruled she had to issue the licenses.

Give Davis her due, she does have a true commitment to her beliefs. She continued to appeal the decisions up the ladder to the Appellate Courts for the Sixth District and, eventually, to the desk of Chief Justice Elena Kagan, the overseer of the Sixth District and one of the nine Supreme Court Justices who made the ruling back in June. Kagan filed Davis’ request for a stay on Monday morning; the full Court declined to issue a stay without any comment early on Tuesday, with the previous decision by the District Court standing and ordering Davis to start issuing same-sex couples licenses or face ramifications.

The ramifications are potentially significant, especially for Davis. Should she continue to defy the “law of the land,” Davis could be forced from the position that the people of Rowan County elected her to hold at the minimum and, at the maximum, could be jailed for her refusal to issue a piece of paper. As it stands at this time, the offices of the Clerk of Court of Rowan County are darkened as Davis considers her next step.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion over “religious freedom,” the right to exercise your religious beliefs in society, and Davis’ fight is only the most recent example of the discussion. I personally have never thought this was a problem – Can you worship openly? Can you wear a religious medallion or trinket without having your head hacked off? Can you openly have holidays that are religiously based? If the answer to these questions are “Yes,” then you’re not being subjugated and you have “religious freedom.” – and it really isn’t a problem now except for the fact that the laws of the U. S. aren’t in relation with the beliefs of some of those religious factions. When it comes to operating the government – be it local, state or national – religious beliefs have to be left at the door.

Many like to state that the “Founding Fathers” brought the concept of democracy and the United States as a God-ordained and religiously ruled governmental philosophy. Truth be told, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. You need some examples?

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” George Washington, 1792

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”Thomas Jefferson, 1814

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”James Madison, 1819

This is just scratching the surface. I could go on, but you get the point.

The oath that military members take upon enlistment says you will follow the orders of the Commander in Chief (the President of the United States) and defend the U. S. and the Constitution against all enemies “foreign and domestic” (maybe we’ll get into that one of these days). When you’re in the military, you don’t get to decide which orders you want to follow. You have to follow ALL orders (unless it can be proven that the order is an “illegal” one, a bar that is set very high and for good reason). Although Davis’ situation may not be as extreme as that of being in the military, as an elected official you also take an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and defend the Constitution.

Once an elected official takes that oath, they no longer have the right of refusing an action, order or law because of their religious beliefs because if you choose to serve in a public forum as an elected official, then you have to abide by the public law. . If the position is an appointed one, then there might be a different answer to the question, but that isn’t what has come up in any previous situation in Texas, Alabama or Davis’ situation in Kentucky. If we allowed for the “picking and choosing” of which laws people wanted to follow, the U. S. would descend into a chaos that would be unimaginable.

So what should be Davis’ potential punishment and the outcome of the case? I personally believe that jailing Davis would be the worst move possible in that it would only give certain groups a “martyr” to hang the hat of their cause on. A fine isn’t going to do any good either as those same groups would just head over to GoFundMe to start an ever-refilling account. There are only two actions that can be a just outcome for this case:  Davis can come out, state that she still holds her religious objections to same-sex marriage but will abide by the law and issue the licenses, or that Davis resigns her elected position in the Rowan County government immediately and a new person is elected.

There are some areas where the “religious freedom” argument can still be discussed. I am still personally debating the usage of the argument for individual businesses and, as of yet, have been unable to come up with a concrete answer for that situation. When it comes to Church and State, however, the concrete is quite firm in that never shall the twain meet. If we undermine that situation, then we move closer to a theocracy, something that U. S. citizens continually rail about with the government of Iran.