Archive

June 11th, 2016

Hey, Trump -- Justice Frankfurter was 'ethnic' too

    Donald Trump's claim that a Mexican-American judge would be biased against him has put the topic of judicial ethnicity front and center. So it's worth pausing to consider the most important - and controversial - discussion of the significance of a judge's ethnic or religious background in the history of Supreme Court opinions.

    That would be this declaration by Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1943:

    "As judges, we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Catholic nor agnostic. We owe equal attachment to the Constitution, and are equally bound by our judicial obligations whether we derive our citizenship from the earliest or the latest immigrants to these shores."

    Before you get excited about using Frankfurter's oratory as a rebuttal to Trump, consider this: He prefaced the statement with a profession of his Jewishness that his colleagues tried to suppress. And he did all this in a dissent that argued that Jehovah's Witnesses shouldn't be exempt from pledging allegiance to the flag.

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What Hillary Imagines

    Hillary Clinton. First woman presidential nominee.

    OK, of a major political party. We’re not going into the minor-party exceptions since that would require a lengthy discussion of Victoria Woodhull in 1872. Under normal circumstances, Woodhull would certainly be worth talking about, given the faith healing and the brokerage firm and the obscenity trial. But this is Hillary’s moment.

    “It’s really emotional,” Clinton said in a speech this week. Clinton brings up the first-woman thing a lot, and the idea of showing little girls that they can be “anything you want to be. Even President of the United States.” For many young women, that’s actually old news, since Hillary the potential president has been around most of their lives. Back when she was first elected to the Senate in 2000, the coverage was so omnipresent that my niece Anna, who was around 3, asked my sister whether it was possible for a man to be a senator.

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The Republican Party can get even worse

    Republicans are about to nominate a national leader who is spectacularly ill-suited either to heal the party's divisions or to expand its pinched demographic reach. With slippery reins in hand, Donald Trump -- not Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or anyone named Bush -- is driving the team. No one knows for sure where it's headed.

    In a fascinating interview with Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump revealed that he has at least thought about a destination.

    "Five, 10 years from now -- different party," Trump said. "You're going to have a worker's party. A party of people that haven't had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry."

    Trump obviously knows his people. Does he know his party?

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The liberation of Iraq began 25 years ago, not in 2003

    One of the few foreign-policy priorities on which Republicans and Democrats can agree these days is the importance of aiding Kurds in and around Iraq. The White House is working openly with Syrian Kurds whose political roots go back to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Members of both parties support legislation to directly arm the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Even presidential contender Donald Trump has spared a kind word for them.

    The U.S. relationship with Kurds hasn't always been so warm. In 1975, the CIA cut off covert aid to the Iraqi Kurds at the request of the shah of Iran, leaving them to be slaughtered by Iraqi forces. President Ronald Reagan turned a blind eye in 1988 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kurdish villages with nerve gas. President George H.W. Bush was slow to respond when Saddam attacked the Kurds again in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove invading Iraqis out of Kuwait.

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The questions GOP leaders must answer

    Republican leaders, having fallen in behind Donald Trump, may hope that they can move beyond daily questions about their presumptive nominee. In fact, their endorsements should guarantee that the questions have only begun.

    Speaker Ryan, you have decided to support Trump because you believe he will support your legislative agenda. Do you also agree that anyone with a Hispanic surname should be disqualified from presiding over any cases having to do with the nominee or his businesses?

    Think back eight years to the firestorm ignited by revelations that Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had said in a sermon, "God damn America." Obama, then an Illinois senator running for president, was hounded by reporters to repudiate the comment.

    Today, it is the candidate who is making the incendiary comments. Don't voters in Ohio, Arizona and elsewhere have a right to know whether their leaders agree or disagree with the views of the man they have endorsed?

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The Federal Reserve risks helping Donald Trump

    Given Donald Trump's rather inconsistent and worrying statements about his plans for the Federal Reserve, it would be ironic if the central bank provided the impetus that carries him over the finish line in this November's presidential election. But there is a small chance that might happen.

    The Fed is poised to raise interest rates again, after raising them in December for the first time in more than nine years. Janet Yellen, the Fed chair, said last month that if the economy continues to do reasonably well, the central bank will hike interest rates this summer or fall. Some non-hawkish Fed governors have echoed her statement. Markets seem to believe that the Fed is now serious about this.

    Why might this help Trump's presidential bid? Because rate increases have the capacity to hurt the economy. When Paul Volcker, Fed chairman at the time, raised rates sharply in the early 1980s to wring inflation out of the economy, two sharp recessions followed.

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The dump-Trump Republicans are chattering again

    Washington Republicans, panicky over the prospect of Donald Trump as their nominee, are discussing ways to dump him with Ted Cruz the most likely alternative. They're probably tilting at windmills.

    These discussions haven't involved the highest levels of the party: House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus. And even the most zealous anti-Trump Republicans, who include prominent strategists, lawyers and elected officials, acknowledge that the latest dump-Trump conversation doesn't have a much better chance to prevail than previous efforts that failed.

    Trump has enough committed delegates to win the nomination at the Cleveland convention next month based on the current party rules. But parties have broad discretion to change their rules. Republicans could, for example, allow delegates to vote their consciences, irrespective of how their state or congressional district voted.

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Republicans could still dump Trump

    Donald Trump is having his third consecutive terrible week.

    Over the weekend, Republicans who have endorsed him slammed him for his bigoted comments about Gonzalo Curiel, the judge overseeing the fraud case against Trump University.

    Then Bloomberg Politics reported on a conference call Monday between Trump and his surrogates in which Trump dismissed the criticism of his attack on Curiel and blasted his own campaign for (sensibly) telling them to change the subject away from why "Mexicans" can't be fair judges. Added to all this are more details (via MSNBC) on how Trump barely has a campaign.

    I don't think the Republicans who chose to accept Trump as a done deal in April are at a panic point yet, but it's worth noting: All it would take to dump him in Cleveland would be a vote to free the delegates, followed by having at least half of the convention oppose him on the first ballot.

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Prison inmates deserve more benefit of the doubt

    The Supreme Court o nMonday decided two cases involving prisoner lawsuits. It blocked one but allowed room for a possible second try. It allowed the other suit to go forward on somewhat complicated statutory grounds. The technical details matter less than the bottom line, which is that the court wants it to be very hard for prisoners to sue, but not totally impossible.

    On the surface, this seems sensible: The federal courts can't micromanage the entirety of the prison experience, and judicial intervention should be reserved for extreme cases of rights-violation. On another level, it's disturbing to think that the courts are participating in a project to make our system of incarceration look just, when in fact it's deeply troubled.

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It's time for GOP leaders to choose sides on Donald Trump

    Donald Trump has been the Republican presidential nominee for five weeks as of Tuesday. Those 35 days have been filled with self-inflicted wounds - the latest being Trump's insistence that a judge of Mexican descent is biased against him because he has said he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico if he is elected - and mounting evidence that the real estate mogul has absolutely no plans to change the brash and bullying approach that won him the GOP primary.

    The realization is setting in among GOP leaders that the way Trump has acted as the party's nominee has the potential not only to cost Republicans the White House in 2016 but also to damage the party's brand among key constituencies - Hispanics, most obviously - that could set them back for far longer than a single election cycle.

    "If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it," Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C., said in The New York Times on Tuesday. "There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary."

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