Abbreviated pundit round-up: Redacting democracy; ginning up a war; acting above the law

Mary Ziegler at The New York Times writes—Abortion Opponents Think They’re Winning. Have They Set Themselves Up to Fail? Alabama, Georgia and the fetal personhood trap:

Abortion foes in state legislatures seem awfully sure of themselves lately. By passing bills that would severely restrict abortion, lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia have in effect asked the Supreme Court not only to overturn Roe v. Wade immediately, but also to recognize the personhood of the fetus. The history of the abortion debate suggests, though, that by going as far as these measures do, anti-abortion legislators may have overplayed their hand.

Start with the idea of fetal personhood. Both the Alabama and Georgia measures rely on the concept of “natural law”— unchanging moral principles that have supposedly existed since before the Constitution— to support the idea that a fetus is a person. But these kinds of arguments don’t have a record of judicial success. […]

One thing is clear: A conservative majority now sits on the Supreme Court, and many expect the justices to overturn Roe for a reason. But as abortion foes learned to their chagrin in 1992, how and when they ask the court to do so matters. Chief Justice John Roberts consistently expresses concern about maintaining the court’s reputation as a nonpartisan institution and just joined the liberal justices in blocking enforcement of a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. Justice Brett Kavanaugh spent much of his confirmation hearing detailing his respect for precedent, especially “super-precedents” like Roe.

None of that changes the fact that Roe is likely to be reversed. But asking the court for too much too soon has backfired before, and it could well again.

Shannon Dingle at USA Today writes—I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama’s abortion ban bill would punish girls like me:

I was that 11-year-old pregnant by rape in Ohio, except I had just turned 12 and lived in Florida. There will be more children like us, including in Alabama when its near-total abortion ban, which doesn’t include exceptions to rape victims, goes into effect. […]

I never chose to have sex at such a young age, but abusers in my family chose to rape me. I had lost count of the number of times by then. With a dad high ranking in the county sheriff’s office, I didn’t trust going to the police. I had tried to tell teachers and church volunteers, but that never went anywhere, either. […]

I need you to know that any child’s pregnancy is the result of rape, because no child can consent to sex. I need you to know that any child’s pregnancy is traumatic, no matter the outcome, because little girls aren’t supposed to have full wombs. I need you to know that I didn’t know I had options, because I knew girls who got pregnant were called sluts and girls who had abortions were called murderers.

And I need you to know that if I had lived under the Ohio law recently passed, I would have been too late to consider abortion by the time I realized I was pregnant. And if I had lived under the Alabama bill likely to be signed into law, being a repeated rape victim wouldn’t given me any options.

Jessie Hill at The Guardian writes—Could abortion become illegal in America? All signs point to yes:

The laws were designed to be a vehicle for states to challenge Roe v Wade and eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. In my home state, Governor Mike DeWine recognized that Ohio’s heartbeat bill was unconstitutional, explaining that the state was seeking “modification or reversal of existing legal precedents” – namely, Roe.

Nonetheless, these laws put pro-choice advocates in a dilemma. They have no choice but to sue if they want to protect abortion access, even early in abortion. And they are likely to win, at least initially. But anti-abortion lawyers will continue to press their cases on appeal and hope to end up before a US supreme court friendly to their cause, with the result that Roe v Wade is overruled.

Is this a realistic possibility? All signs point to “yes.” […]

Indeed, it wouldn’t even take a “heartbeat” case for Roe v Wade to be overturned. Several cases are now in the courts of appeals that could present an opportunity to overrule Roe.

Matt Ford at The New Republic writes—This Is Not a “Constitutional Crisis”:

This is a largely academic question. Trump’s fate won’t be determined by whether his actions amount to a “constitutional crisis” or not. If anything, the persistent use of the phrase says more about how Trump’s opponents understand him. It’s not just that the president is testing the Constitution’s limits. It’s also that, in some cases, the constitutional system itself is enabling his worst tendencies. […]

Trump’s blanket refusal to comply with legitimate congressional subpoenas is petty and disingenuous, of course. But it doesn’t rise to the level of a constitutional crisis. Presidents regularly scuffle with Congress over the scope of its oversight powers, and the courts occasionally step in to resolve things when the other two branches fail to. If Trump eventually refuses to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that forces him to turn over his tax returns, then we’re firmly beyond the red line. Until then, the damage to America’s constitutional order is more speculative than substantive.

What exactly are we living through right now, then? In The Atlantic last year, Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes argued that the Trump era is better understood as “constitutional rot” rather than a crisis per se. “Constitutional rot is what happens … when faith in the key commitments of the Constitution gradually erode, even when the legal structures remain in place,” they wrote. “Constitutional rot is what happens when decision-makers abide by the empty text of the Constitution without fidelity to its underlying principles. It’s also what happens when all this takes place and the public either doesn’t realize—or doesn’t care.”

Stacy Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor in 2018 is the founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight Action. At The New York Times, she writes—Why I Am Determined to End Voter Suppression. As more people of color claim political power, efforts to block them will accelerate — unless we act:

True voter access means that every person has the right to register, cast a ballot and have that ballot counted — without undue hardship. Unfortunately, the forces my parents battled 50 years ago continue to stifle democracy.

My home state, Georgia, for example, suffered a vicious blend of electoral malfeasance, misfeasance and mismanagement during my race for governor last fall. But Georgia is not alone.

Local and state officials across the country, emboldened by the Supreme Court effectively neutering the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, are shamelessly weakening voter registration, ballot access and ballot-counting procedures. […]

This is our ethos: Use the ballot box to create the change our communities need and deserve. In Georgia and across our country, voters deserve the right to pick their leaders and set the direction of our nation. And we shall not rest until this democracy is fully realized.

John Nichols at The Nation writes—Congress Must Deny Trump a Blank Check for War With Iran:

Here’s an unsettling prospect: British officials warn that a conflict between the United States and Iran could break out “by accident.” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt explained this week that, “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict.” Hunt argues that “a period of calm” is required to avoid war.

The United States Congress has the power to create such a peri0d. As Senator Bernie Sanders says, The United States Congress must do everything it can to prevent the Trump Administration’s attempts to put us on the brink of a catastrophic and unconstitutional war with Iran.” Specifically, argues Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, “Congress should demand that President Trump seek approval from the House and Senate before taking offensive action against Iran.”

That’s a simple demand and it should be made immediately. While the president says that he isn’t planning to start a war with Iran, his administration is sending ominous signals. The headlines tell the story: “US sends Patriot missile system to Middle East amid Iran tensions,” reports the BBC; “US B-52 bombers reach Middle East in message to Iran,” announces Reuters; and The National Interest speculates: “The US-Iran Naval War of 2019: What It Could Look Like.” […]

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post writes—The White House takes another step toward putting Trump beyond accountability:

The letter from the White House counsel to Nadler is right here. One thing that’s revealing is how cavalierly it reaches the conclusion that the Judiciary Committee’s investigations don’t have a legitimate purpose. […]

The first accusation here is that it’s not legitimate for Congress to “duplicate” matters covered by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe. In pursuance of this, the letter demands that the Judiciary Committee drop its investigation entirely into whether Trump obstructed justice, engaged in public corruption and abused his powers.

But this is absurd. As a Congressional Research Service report explains, one of the core functions of congressional oversight in the separation-of-powers scheme is to scrutinize the executive branch’s implementation of executive power as delegated by Congress. That’s exactly what the Judiciary Committee is doing

Jonathan Chait at New York magazine writes—How the Republicans Built a Presidency Above the Law for Donald Trump:

Yesterday, attorneys for President Trump made an astonishing argument in federal court. Congress had no right to look at Trump’s tax returns, they argued, because it had no right to investigate or even expose matters relating to law enforcement of the White House. The judge asked whether this meant episodes like the Watergate hearings were an unconstitutional exercise of power by Congress, and Trump’s lawyer conceded they might have been.

Trump’s official position is that Congress has no business looking into whether the president has broken the law. When you combine this position with the long-standing Department of Justice policy that it cannot indict a sitting president, and Attorney General William Barr’s position that the president is entitled to shut down any investigation he considers unfair, you have built a wall of legal impunity for the president.

There is an abstract argument for decriminalizing disputes between Congress and the president, and funneling these issues into the political sphere. Rather than charge the president with crimes, the argument goes, his critics can expose them to the public and Congress can choose to hold impeachment hearings — or, failing that, allow voters to render the verdict.

But Trump is notably attempting to shut off Congress’s power to expose corruption and wrongdoing, too.

Sonali Kolhatkar at TruthDig writes—Neocons Won’t Stop Until They Get Their War With Iran:

Bolton has made it his mission to spark a war against Iran, and he was part of the apparatus of building the false case for the disastrous 2003 U.S. war against Iraq. So hawkish is Bolton that in an interview with Foreign Policy in 2007 he said, “Once upon a time, we knew how to do clandestine regime change. We need to reacquire that capability.” As the Times pointed out, Bolton’s new review of military plans to attack Iran is reminiscent of preparations made ahead of the 2003 Iraq war. Clearly Bolton is chomping at the bit a little over a year since he accepted his position at the White House. […]

Although Bolton has been angling for regime change in Iran for decades,  there is little appetite elsewhere for war. A poll conducted last July found strong public opposition within the U.S. for a war on Iran. America’s once-trusty allies in Europe are no longer pledging blind allegiance to the United States. Negotiators working tirelessly for years to craft the Iran nuclear deal alongside U.S. representatives are now desperately trying to salvage what’s left of it after Trump withdrew. Ahead of an Iran-centered meeting this week in Brussels, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned, “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided at the last minute to attend the meeting uninvited but failed to convince Europe that Iran was deserving of war.

Nancy LeTourneau at The Washington Monthly writes—Trump Is Making Good on His Promise to Investigate His Enemies:

In retrospect, the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on October 9, 2016 brought us one of the most important moments of the presidential campaign.

Trump announced that if he was elected president, he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. That statement rang alarm bells for anyone with a glimmer of understanding about how our justice system is supposed to work. The idea that a president could instruct his attorney general to investigate a political opponent is anathema to those who value our democratic norms.

In a testament to how the current president has normalized the destruction of those norms, we aren’t hearing the kind of public outcry one would expect when he follows through on that promise. It’s true that there hasn’t been a special prosecutor appointed to investigate Clinton, but there can be no doubt that Trump is seeking revenge against anyone involved in the Trump-Russia investigation by firing them, enlisting the help of right wing media to smear their reputations, and sometimes even opening criminal investigations against them.

Before William Barr became Trump’s attorney general, he signaled that he would be willing to go along with Trump’s threat to use our justice system to go after the president’s opponents. 

E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post writes—The NRA is imploding. We have fancy clothes to thank for that:

The most revelatory detail in the latest of these stories, a helpfully extensive investigation this week by Danny Hakim in the New York Times, concerns the fashion habits of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s longtime chief executive. Hakim reports that LaPierre billed the organization that claims to speak for the heartland $275,000 “for purchases at the Zegna luxury men’s wear boutique in Beverly Hills.” […]

Unlike LaPierre, I’m just an unsophisticated real American because I have never even heard of the Zegna luxury menswear boutique. Must be nice to have your lifestyle financed by the people you spend your time scaring to death. […]

As often happens with racketeers, the NRA gang has had a falling-out. That’s why we are getting so much new information as one bunch leaks against another. Quite a crew they have over there! And we will be learning more about the organization’s sketchy internal workings because New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

Kate Aronoff at The Guardian writes—Joe Biden would be a disaster for climate change:

In a video announcing his White House bid, Biden painted Donald Trump’s presidency as an aberration. His promise? Get the country back to business as usual. Presumably, that also means the business of digging up and and burning as many fossil fuels as humanly possible. Last November, Obama bragged to a crowd in Houston about the explosion of oil and gas drilling during his time in office. “Suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas – that was me, people,” he said, fishing for an applause.

The upshot here isn’t complicated: Biden does not have a plan to keep warming below 1.5 or even 2C. If every country fully lived up to its pledges in the Paris agreement, for instance – including the Clean Power Plan the Obama administration crafted to satisfy its contribution – we’d be on track for a little over 3C of warming, displacing tens of millions of people from the world’s coastal cities, submerging low-lying island states and gravely threatening the world’s food supply. As atmosphere scientists Andrew Dessler told HuffPost’s Alexander Kaufman, Biden’s plans would “be more in line with stabilizing at 3-4C of warming, rather than staying below 2C”.

“Middle Class Joe” may well believe that the climate crisis poses an existential threat, which is more than can be said of the current administration. If his climate plan is to get us back to 2016, he’s not any more in touch with reality than they are.

Jill Richardson at Yes! magazine writes—Reminder: Climate Change Was No Accident. As far back as 1982, fossil fuel executives knew they were trading a few decades of profits for the entire future of the planet:

Years ago, tobacco companies discovered the link between their products and lung cancer. Did they warn their customers? No—they denied the link entirely, misleading the public for decades while killing their customers.

Similarly, ExxonMobil scientists made startlingly accurate predictions about climate change as early as 1982—and then spent millions of dollars on a misinformation campaign to sow public doubt about climate change.

They didn’t need to convince the public that the climate crisis wasn’t happening. They just had to muddy the waters enough to prevent us from doing anything.

They provoked uncertainty: Maybe the climate crisis isn’t happening. And even if it is, maybe it’s not caused by humans burning fossil fuels. (Of course, it is happening and it is caused by humans.)

The result was inaction.

Bob Moser at The New Republic writes—Joe Biden Is Going Back to the Clinton Playbook. The Democratic frontrunner’s campaign is pitched to white folks who have fled the party. Sound familiar?

When Joe Biden made his first bid for president, he was forced to drop out after plagiarizing British Labour leader Neil Kinnock in a Democratic debate. Now, in his third run for the White House, Biden is plagiarizing himself. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to restore America’s soul,” he bellowed at the Iowa Democratic Steak Fry in May 1987. Thirty-two years later, almost to the day, miraculously sporting more hair cover than his balding dome had back then, Biden kicked off his 2020 campaign in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by proclaiming, “We’re in a battle for America’s soul—I really believe it—and we have to restore it.”

Politicians can’t help but repeat themselves on the campaign trail, of course; like bands on tour, they tend to fall back on the tried-and-true. The trouble with Biden isn’t that his rhetoric hasn’t changed in three decades. It’s that his politics haven’t, either.

Back then, Biden was a central figure in transforming the party of New Deal and Great Society liberalism into a welfare-reforming, tax-cutting, crime-fighting, corporate-friendly cousin of the GOP. “The arc of Biden’s long career,” as Esquire columnist Charles Pierce wrote earlier this year, “follows in close harmony the endless attempts by the Democratic Party to backtrack on its most profound principles in order to bring back people who have been taught to hate it.”

The rationale for all that backtracking, in the ’80s and 90s, was that Democrats had lost five out of six presidential elections. Meanwhile, their hundred-year hegemony in the “Solid South” was fast eroding as Republicans took advantage of the white backlash to civil rights and feminism. “Moderate” Democrats like Biden and Bill Clinton joined mainstream pundits and big donors in spreading the idea that the party would never recapture the White House without recapturing the souls of white folk in Dixie. […]

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