Newspaper column: Trump is reshaping the federal judiciary — for the better

Thanks, Harry, because you exercised the “nuclear option” in 2013, ending the requirement that judges had to be confirmed by at least 60 senators instead of a simple majority, President Donald Trump has secured the appointments of about twice as many federal judges as each of his three predecessors — and most of them have been conservatives sworn to protect the fundamental liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Of the 50 circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, only 17 managed to garner the previously mandated 60 Senate votes. Among those was former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke, who was confirmed by a vote of 51-44 with both of Nevada’s Democratic senators choosing politics over principles and voting “nay.”

In November 2013, then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada exercised the nuclear option, calling for changing the Senate rules by a simple majority vote. It passed, 52-48 with three Democrats voting against changing the rules.

President Barack Obama praised the action saying Republicans were blocking his nominees based on politics alone, not on the merits of the nominee, according to a Politico account at the time.

Then-Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recess the Senate for the day to block the vote. “The solution to this problem is an election,” he said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014.”

Republicans regained the majority in the Senate in 2014. In 2017, now-Majority Leader McConnell further changed the rules to allow confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a simple majority. Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by a 54-45 vote, and Brett Kavanaugh by 50-48.

In addition, the Senate has confirmed 133 of Trump’s federal district court nominees. While most of those garnered more than 60 recorded votes, many were confirmed by a voice vote.

In an editorial praising the caliber of the Trump judicial nominees, The Wall Street Journal noted, “The Trump-McConnell judiciary may be Harry’s finest achievement.”

The editorial noted that when Trump took office, Democratic appointees made up a majority on nine of the 13 circuit courts. Trump’s 2019 appointments flipped the majorities in the 2nd, 3rd and 11th Circuit Courts, meaning seven circuits now have a majority of Republican appointees.

In addition, the longtime uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which VanDyke was appointed, now consists of 16 Democratic appointees and 13 Republican appointees. “Expect fewer headlines featuring nationwide injunctions out of San Francisco,” the editorial opined.

The Journal editorial predicts, “The new wave of conservative judges is more likely to protect such core liberties as religious freedom, political speech and assembly, gun and property rights. Many will also be more alert to violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers, including regulatory abuses. Yet there are varying opinions on criminal law, executive authority, and the scope of judicial restraint, among other issues.”

Reid is nothing if not consistent. In a recent op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune, Reid complained, “Senate Republicans have hijacked our Supreme Court. They stole a seat that should have been filled by President Obama in 2016 and they rushed to confirm Brett Kavanaugh last year despite ample evidence that he lied to Congress. The result is the Supreme Court is now a ticking time bomb, set to blow up any meaningful progressive reforms for decades to come.”

He concedes his own role in the outcome, saying, “Changing the rules to confirm Obama’s highly qualified judges was the right and necessary thing to do. If we had not done it, Donald Trump would have inherited more judicial vacancies than he already did, and then even more of his right-wing ideologues would be on the bench today eviscerating rights Americans have long held dear.”

Like the Second Amendment right to gun ownership? Or the First Amendment rights of free speech and exercise of religion? The rights delineated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments?

A recent Washington Examiner editorial also notes what Reid has unintentionally wrought and concludes, “During his run for the presidency, Trump regularly and energetically promised to make a priority of putting well-credentialed conservatives of excellent character and scholarship on the federal bench. It is a promise he has kept, much to his credit and for the country’s greater good.”

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Reid hypocritical about Supreme Court nomination

Some people are ambidextrous. Harry Reid is ambioratory. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

This past week one of Sen. Reid’s staffers penned an op-ed column that ran under his name in The Washington Post on the topic of replacing the late, great, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died only days earlier.

The Democratic Senate minority leader took umbrage with something the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said shortly after Scalia was found dead at a West Texas hunting resort. McConnell said the American people should have a voice in the replacement process, meaning no new justice should be confirmed until the next president is seated, rather than allow lame-duck Obama to nominate someone like his two liberal rubber stamps on the court — Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

Reid countered that the American people voiced their opinions by twice electing Obama president and handing him the constitutional power to nominate Supreme Court justices.

“That is how our system works and has worked for more than 200 years,” the op-ed proclaims. “Until now, even through all the partisan battles of recent decades, the Senate’s constitutional duty to give a fair and timely hearing and a floor vote to the president’s Supreme Court nominees has remained inviolable. This Republican Senate would be the first in history to abdicate that vital duty.”

A couple of days later Republicans McConnell and Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took to the same pages of the same newspaper to remind the same senator who had lectured them days earlier of what he had said in 2005 on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

According to a transcript of that speech, Reid chided President George W. Bush for rewriting the Constitution and reinventing reality when he said two days earlier that the Senate had a duty to promptly consider each nominee, debate their qualifications and give them an up-or-down vote.

“Referring to the president’s words, duty to whom?” Reid asked rhetorically back then. “The radical right who see within their reach the destruction of America’s mainstream values. Certainly not duty to the tenets of our Constitution or to the American people who are waiting for progress and promise, not partisanship and petty debates.

“The duties of the Senate are set forth in the U.S. Constitution. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential appointees a vote. It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That is very different than saying every nominee receives a vote.”

Reid later lectured, “The Senate is not a rubber stamp for the executive branch. Rather, we are the one institution where the minority has the voice and ability to check the power of the majority.”

Fast forward to this past week’s op-ed in the Post. Reid concluded his thundering accusation against Republicans by saying, “Pursuing their radical strategy in a quixotic quest to deny the basic fact that the American people elected President Obama — twice — would rank among the most rash and reckless actions in the history of the Senate. And the consequences will reverberate for decades.”

We seem to recall that by 2005 Bush had been elected twice, but efforts to circumvent his high court appointees seem not to reverberate a single decade later.

It is just as we have come to expect from Harry Reid and his ilk — politics first, last and always. No argument is so compelling that it can’t be reversed, refuted or abandoned. Reid says Obama will nominate someone in two weeks.

If McConnell’s call to give the American people a voice in Scalia’s successor sounds familiar, perhaps it is because Reid’s Democratic Senate colleague Chuck Schumer said in 2007, two years before the end of Bush’s second term:

“For the rest of this president’s term and if there is another Republican elected with the same selection criteria let me say this: We should reverse the presumption of confirmation. The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another (John) Roberts; or Justice Ginsburg by another (Samuel) Alito. Given the track record of this President and the experience of obfuscation at the hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least: I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances.”

Reid, Schumer, then-Sen. Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden all voted to filibuster Alito and Roberts.

All ambioratory and hypocritical.

A version of this column appears this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Congress back in session: Your liberties at risk

Congress returns to Washington today and one the first things on its agenda is a vote to rip the free speech heart out of the First Amendment.

The vote on S.J. Res. 19 will take place at 3 p.m. PDT. Passage would start the process of amending the Constitution to allow states and Congress limit spending on elections and issues.

The amendment states: “Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”

At noon PDT, a number of Democratic senators and representatives will hold a press conference urging passage of the constitutional amendment, which they call the Democracy For All Amendment. It would overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which said Congress can’t limit how much someone may spend on politics. In reality, it just makes it easier for incumbents to get re-elected.

Proponents claim that as a result of Citizens United that “the wealthy get to shout, but the rest of you may only whisper.” Since when was a shout more persuasive than a whisper?

In a Wall Street Journal column today Theodore Olson explains the real motive behind it: “Democrats claim that the Supreme Court has made politicians and political parties less accountable by encouraging donations involving outside interest groups. Outside of what? Democrat fundraising circles? Their actual fear is that less traditional candidates — including outsiders — will have the funding necessary to challenge incumbents in primaries without the blessing of party elders.”

Of course, party leader Harry Reid is pushing the amendment. Blame it on the Koch brothers.

Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has pointed out that the amendment is unlikely to ever pass, but is being put forward as a political ploy:

“Now, everyone on this Committee knows this proposal will never pass Congress. This is a political exercise.

“The goal here is to stir up one party’s political base so they’ll show up in November by complaining loudly about certain Americans exercising their free speech and associational rights, while being perfectly happy that other Americans — those who agree with the sponsors of this amendment — are doing the same thing.

“But the political nature of this exercise should not obscure how shockingly bad this proposal is.”

In addition to being a senseless and futile gesture, such an amendment would require a huge bureaucracy to enforce, but, of course, we can trust agencies like the IRS to be fair and equitable in that enforcement.

Reid testifies for amendment to gut the First Amendment.

Harry schedules vote to repeal free speech portion of First Amendment

The U.S. Senate slipped out of D.C. on Friday just as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scheduled a vote on a constitutional amendment that would repeal the free speech section of the First Amendment. The vote on S.J. Res. 19 will take place at 6 p.m. EDT on Sept. 8.

The amendment now reads:

Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.

Somewhere along the way someone fixed one of the glaring flaws in the amendment.

Previously, the amendment said: “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” After it was pointed out that the amendment, by omission, appeared to grant the states the power to abridge freedom of the press, Section 3 was written to also bar states from abridging freedom of the press.

Of course, the amendment still would prohibit free speech by corporations or organization — unless they buy a press. How hard would that be?

The amendment is an attempt to undo the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that held the federal government may not restrict unions or corporations from spending money on elections.

“This partisan effort to weaken the First Amendment is the clearest proof yet of how out of touch the Democrat majority has become from the needs and concerns of ordinary Americans and how ill-equipped they are to lead in these challenging times,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was quoted as saying by The Hill after the vote was scheduled. “Washington Democrats have forgotten that the First Amendment is meant to empower the people, not the government.”

But Reid said in May:

“I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment – to rally behind our democracy. I understand what we Senate Democrats are proposing is no small thing – amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.”

Hopefully, the amendment is little more than a political ploy by Reid and his ilk who are trying to suck up to their constituents who hate anyone else spending their own money on their own ideas and politics. The amendment, to become a part of the Constitution, would have to be passed by two-thirds of both the Senate and the House and be ratified by three quarters of the states.

In addition to being a senseless and futile gesture, such an amendment would require a huge bureaucracy to enforce, but, of course, this bureaucracy would be even handed like the IRS and efficient like the VA and responsive like the BLM.

Reid and McConnell take opposite stances on gutting First Amendment

Reid testifies for amendment to gut the First Amendment.

Reid testifies for amendment to gut the First Amendment.

The Senate majority leader and minority leader went head to head this week with testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on a proposed constitutional amendment that would usurp the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Nevada’s Democratic Sen. Harry Reid testified for the amendment and Kentucky’s Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell testified against it.

Here is a little compare-and-contrast from their prepared texts, from which they varied a bit in oral delivery:

Reid: “I am here because the flood of dark money into our nation’s political system poses the greatest threat to our democracy that I have witnessed during my time in public service. The decisions by the Supreme Court have left the American people with a status quo in which one side’s billionaires are pitted against the other side’s billionaires.”

McConnell: “Benjamin Franklin noted that ‘whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.‘ The First Amendment is the constitutional guarantee of that freedom, and it has never been amended.”

Reid: “So we sit here today faced with a simple choice: We can keep the status quo and argue all day about whose billionaires are right – or, we can work together to change the system, to get this shady money out of our democracy and restore the basic principle of one American, one vote.”

McConnell: “It would empower incumbent politicians in Congress and in the states to write the rules on who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And the American people should be concerned — and many are already — that those in power would use this extraordinary authority to suppress speech that is critical of them.”

The amendment says that Congress and the states “shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”

Might that limit very be zero? No dollars? Why not? Or raise the limit drastically if that favored their side? Wouldn’t put it past them. They’d’ve favored a limit on the number of copies of “Common Sense” allowed to be printed and force Thomas Paine to put his name on it, instead of printing it anonymously to avoid being hanged. Such are the origins of the rights of free speech and press.

Reid: “They defend the money pumped into our system by the Koch brothers and others as ‘free speech.’ This constitutional amendment is about restoring freedom of speech to all Americans.”

Well, perhaps not all, as McConnell explains: “Not only would S.J. Res. 19 allow the government to favor certain speakers over others, it would guarantee such preferential treatment. It contains a provision, not found in prior proposals, which expressly provides that Congress cannot ‘abridge the freedom of the press.’ That’s great if you’re in the business of buying ink by the barrel; it’s not so great for everyone else. The media wins and everyone else loses.”

In the First Amendment both speech and press shall not be abridged by Congress. This was applied to the states by the 14th Amendment prohibition against the states taking away fundamental rights. But S.J. 19 says Congress may not abridge the free press but there is no prohibition against the states doing so.

McConnell pointed out that the amendment is unlikely to ever pass, but is being put forward as a political ploy: “Now, everyone on this Committee knows this proposal will never pass Congress. This is a political exercise.

“The goal here is to stir up one party’s political base so they’ll show up in November by complaining loudly about certain Americans exercising their free speech and associational rights, while being perfectly happy that other Americans — those who agree with the sponsors of this amendment — are doing the same thing.

“But the political nature of this exercise should not obscure how shockingly bad this proposal is.”

McConnell opposes amending the Constitution.

McConnell opposes amending the Constitution.

 

 

Nobody’s wild about Harry

With Harry Reid running all over Washington calling people anarchists and accusing Republicans of Thelma and Louise-like behavior, while pressing the pedal to the floor, is it any wonder Nevada’s senior senator is not looked on too kindly by the average American?

A recent Gallup Poll found only 33 percent approved of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Reid’s performance in Washington, while 53 percent disapprove, a gap of -20 points. Yes, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner scored a higher disapproval rate of 54 percent, but his approval rating was higher.

Harry has somehow managed to knock off Nancy Pelosi from her reign as the one with the lowest net popularity in the leadership.

Harry and all four congressional leaders fared better than Congress as a whole, which has an approval rating of 19 percent.

At least Harry has a plurality of popularity in his party — with 47 percent of Dems approving to 40 percent disapproving. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can’t say as much — with 47 percent of GOPers disapproving and only 33 approving.