Time for a correction, AP?

The AP should run a correction to this story that appeared in today’s morning newspaper and in countless other papers around the country. The assertion that Hemings gave birth to children fathered by Thomas Jefferson is almost certainly bogus. Fathered by “a” Jefferson? Perhaps.

According to an authoritative 2012 Wall Street Journal column by Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia and editor of “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission,” 1998 DNA tests did not use genetic material from Thomas Jefferson, but rather suggest that one of more than two dozen Jefferson males may have fathered Hemings’ youngest son, Eston. Turner wrote that there may have been at least seven Jefferson men, including Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello when Eston was conceived in 1807.

“Allegations that the ‘oral history’ of Sally’s descendants identified the president as the father of all of Sally’s children are also incorrect,” Turner wrote. “Eston’s descendants repeatedly acknowledged — before and after the DNA tests — that as children they were told they were not descendants of Thomas Jefferson but rather of an ‘uncle.'”

The most likely candidate, according to Turner, is Jefferson’s younger brother, known at Monticello as “Uncle Randolph.” Randolph, who it was said would “come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night,” was invited to visit Monticello just weeks before Eston’s likely conception.

Turner points out that the first allegations of President Jefferson fathering a child with Hemings’ was published in the Richmond Recorder in September 1802, noting that Hemings’ eldest child was named “Tom.” After Jefferson’s death, a former slave named Thomas Woodson claimed he was that “Tom,” but DNA tests of descendants of Woodson’s disproved this.

That Richmond newspaper story was written by the notorious slanderer James Callender, who was imprisoned under the Sedition Act during John Adams’ term as second president. He admitted writing lies about Adams to get Jefferson elected. In fact he shouted as much in front of the White House when he demanded that Jefferson grant him the job of postmaster of Richmond, Va. The newspaper story apparently was his revenge.

Thomas Jefferson, third president of U.S. (WSJ pix via Getty Images)

 

Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks and picnics.

But there is another day worthy of a passing mention. That is July 6, the day the declaration was first reprinted on the front page of The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In the following weeks, by order of Congress, at least 30 newspapers reprinted the Declaration of Independence, spreading its simple words and its audacious act of treason against the crown. It was a document for the people, carried to the people by the press.

At the time, the colonies were under virtual blockade and the American Army was vastly outnumbered and often in retreat.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

Librarian Robin Shields recounts that when the Boston Gazette published the declaration it carried next to it an advertisement: “Cash given for clean Cotton and Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office in Watertown.” Most paper was imported from England, and the printer was seeking rags with which to make paper.

In a letter to Congress on July 9, Gen. George Washington reported how his troops were to mark the news of the Declaration of Independence: “The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six O’Clock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.”

In a letter the next day he reported that British deserters were telling him a fleet with massive reinforcements was expected to arrive in New York any day. The situation was dire.

It was in this setting of uncertainty and imminent danger that our founding document was penned. How it fell to 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson to pen the first draft is a matter of some dispute, but I prefer the recollection of chief independence protagonist John Adams.

Years later, Adams recalled that he insisted Jefferson should write it, and Jefferson replied, “Why?”

“Reasons enough,” answered Adams.

“What can be your reasons?”

So Adams bluntly stated, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Most of which, of course, was nonsense.

Jefferson borrowed liberally from the great minds of the day, unabashedly paraphrasing George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Jefferson edited it to the more succinct “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1825, in a letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Jefferson looked back on those days and his role in writing the founding document. He recalled his motivation and purpose:

“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … (but) to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind …”

Today 52 percent of Americans, a majority, receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Even when the voters revolt and elect people they think are fiscal conservatives, the elected officials raise taxes and do nothing to rein in runaway spending on government programs and employee pay and benefits.

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

I wonder whether we have lost that American mind-set that Jefferson cherished. How many of us are still willing for the sake of true liberty to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”?

Even the meaning of the word liberty has changed from an inalienable right to something granted by the all-powerful government.

“Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on ‘due process’ to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the ‘liberty’ protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the gay marriage ruling several years ago.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

This first appeared in 2015.

Celebrating Independence in an age of dependence

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks and picnics.

But there is another day worthy of a passing mention. That is July 6, the day the declaration was first reprinted on the front page of The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In the following weeks, by order of Congress, at least 30 newspapers reprinted the Declaration of Independence, spreading its simple words and its audacious act of treason against the crown. It was a document for the people, carried to the people by the press.

At the time, the colonies were under virtual blockade and the American Army was vastly outnumbered and often in retreat.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

Librarian Robin Shields recounts that when the Boston Gazette published the declaration it carried next to it an advertisement: “Cash given for clean Cotton and Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office in Watertown.” Most paper was imported from England, and the printer was seeking rags with which to make paper.

In a letter to Congress on July 9, Gen. George Washington reported how his troops were to mark the news of the Declaration of Independence: “The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.”

In a letter the next day he reported that British deserters were telling him a fleet with massive reinforcements was expected to arrive in New York any day. The situation was dire.

It was in this setting of uncertainty and imminent danger that our founding document was penned. How it fell to 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson to pen the first draft is a matter of some dispute, but I prefer the recollection of chief independence protagonist John Adams.

Years later, Adams recalled that he insisted Jefferson should write it, and Jefferson replied, “Why?”

“Reasons enough,” answered Adams.

“What can be your reasons?”

So Adams bluntly stated, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Most of which, of course, was nonsense.

Jefferson borrowed liberally from the great minds of the day, unabashedly paraphrasing George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Jefferson edited it to the more succinct “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1825, in a letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Jefferson looked back on those days and his role in writing the founding document. He recalled his motivation and purpose:

“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … (but) to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind …”

Today 52 percent of Americans, a majority, receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Even when the voters revolt and elect people they think are fiscal conservatives, the elected officials raise taxes and do nothing to rein in runaway spending on government programs and employee pay and benefits.

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

I wonder whether we have lost that American mind-set that Jefferson cherished. How many of us are still willing for the sake of true liberty to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”?

Even the meaning of the word liberty has changed from an inalienable right to something granted by the all-powerful government.

“Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on ‘due process’ to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the ‘liberty’ protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the gay marriage ruling two years ago.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

A version of this first appeared in 2015.

Newspaper column: Why separation of powers must be enforced in Nevada

Assembly Bill 121 is Exhibit A in the case for finally enforcing the state constitutional mandate for separation of powers, such that each branch of government may provide checks and balances to prevent the abuse that results when power is concentrated in too few hands.

The bill — introduced in Carson City by Democratic Las Vegas Assemblyman Steve Yeager — would wipe out much of the progress made in 2015 in public employee collective bargaining reforms.

Yeager, who also happens to be a Clark County public employee, would erase a provision in the law that prohibits paying union officials from public coffers for time spent doing union business. It also negates a provision blocking pay increases after a union contract has expired and before a new one is inked. It further requires any new contract to be retroactive to the expiration date of the previous contract — greatly reducing incentives for union members to accept a lower offer.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert sits in the Legislature. (R-J pix)

State Sen. Heidi Gansert sits in the Legislature. (R-J pix)

The bill is redistributionism. Taking from the taxpayers to line the pockets of public employee union members.

Yeager is employed by the Clark County Public Defenders Office, whose union contract expires in June.

The state of Nevada operates under the Dillon Rule, which limits the power of local governments to those expressly granted by the Legislature, meaning local governments are basically subsidiaries of the state and employees of those local governments, such as Yeager, essentially are serving in the executive branch of state government.

Which brings us to Article 3 of the Nevada Constitution, which states: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments, — the Legislative, — the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

Therefore, Yeager, while currently serving in the Legislature, is also a member of the executive branch and, since he works in the court system, he is an employee of the judicial branch — a triple threat!

Such ignoring of explicit requirements of the state Constitution has been ongoing for decades and currently there are several lawmakers whose day jobs are with a local government.

In 2011, the libertarian-leaning Nevada Policy Research Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, filed suit against state Sen. Mo Denis because he also was an employee of the state Public Utilities Commission, and had been for 17 years.

Denis immediately resigned from his $56,000-a-year state job in order to maintain his part-time $10,000-every-other-year state senator post, and a judge declared the lawsuit moot.

A week ago CJCL filed a similar suit against state Sen. Heidi Gansert, who holds a $210,000-a-year in pay and benefits public relations job with the University of Nevada, Reno.

 “Gansert’s continued employment in the state’s executive branch, as Executive Director of External Relations for the University of Nevada, Reno, puts her in direct violation of Nevada’s Separation of Powers clause, now that she is also serving in the state senate,” CJCL Director Joseph Becker said in a press release reporting on the litigation. “As a senator, she can simply not continue her employment in the executive branch without violating this clearly worded constitutional provision.”

In a statement Gansert called the suit meritless and said, “Nevada has an unambiguous precedent of legislators taking time off from their jobs in higher education to serve the people of the state.”

Of the unambiguous Separation of Powers clause, Becker said it was designed to preserve the independence and integrity of each branch, and having a legislator make decisions that might directly benefit employees of another branch creates a clear conflict of interest.

As witness AB121.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1784: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. … An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

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.

Happy in dependence day

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. …

Why, King George III. Who did you think we were talking about?

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

Today 52 percent of Americans receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Excess regulations make entrepreneurial efforts almost impossible. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences other than re-election. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Happy in dependence day, celebrate our dependence.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Editorial: Let the political parties choose their candidates without the state’s interference

A change in election law in the 2015 Legislature has some claiming they are being disenfranchised.

Previously, when the state-run Democratic and Republican primaries resulted in only one of the two major parties having contested primaries, the top two vote earners in the contested primary would advance to the November General Election or, if only two candidates sought a seat, there would be no primary and both would be on the November ballot.

But Senate Bill 499 changed the law to now read: “If a major political party has two or more candidates for a particular office, the person who receives the highest number of votes at the primary election must be declared the nominee of that major political party for the office.”

Thus, for example, if there are only Republicans seeking an office, one of them is the party nominee and appears on the ballot in November, leaving Democrats and independents and those of the minor parties in the district little choice save the one Republican Party members handed them.

The bill also moved back the deadline for independent and minor party candidates to qualify for the General Election from June to July, so a Democrat could still file as an independent but not as a nominee of the party.

In one state Senate race and three Assembly races there are candidates on the June 14 primary for only one of the two major political parties, according to press accounts.

The change in law creates some different dynamics.

Take for example Assembly District 19, which includes Mesquite. Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards is being challenged in the primary by Republican Connie Foust. Only 39 percent of the district is Republican.

Edwards has the distinction of voting for most of the $1.4 billion in tax hikes in 2015 before voting against them.

Conceivably Edwards would have a better chance of re-election if he faced Foust in a General Election with Democrats and others also voting rather than in a GOP-only primary.

Foust is thumping on the tax issue in her campaign against Edwards. “The current incumbent broke his promise when he said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes’, and then proceeded to vote for tax increases in 26 out of 32 tax bills!” Foust’s campaign website declares.

Similar dynamics could be a factor in other races and alter the outcome of the election.

As originally introduced SB499 was a weird form of open primary. All candidates of all parties would have appeared on a single primary ballot and the top two vote recipients would advance to the general, unless they both were of the same party.

As signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval the gutted bill now just changes minor party and independent candidate filing deadlines and allows only one Democrat or one Republican to advance to November.

This is why some are saying they are being disenfranchised by having limited choices.

Frankly, lawmakers are the last people who should be telling the parties how to choose their candidates. The parties are private entities that should choose their candidates in any way they see fit — privately funded caucuses, primaries, smoke-filled backrooms or “American Idol”-style voting via text message or arm-wrestling competition.

The state doesn’t conduct primaries for the Libertarian, American Independent, Green or Communist parties, why do it for just two?

Not only is the U.S. Constitution silent on political parties, our Founders were actually disdainful of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” John Adams wrote in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Let the parties choose their candidates without lawmakers dabbling in the process.

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

Nevada primary voting in 2014 (R-J photo)

This is the way democracy will end, not with a bang …

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholsome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. this is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Thomas Jefferson

We had better get started, because it is a steep hill to climb.

A report out this month called “A Crisis in Education” reveals an appalling lack of knowledge of civics by Americans in general and even college graduates.

A multiple-choice survey found Americans don’t know much about history or civics. Merely should have resulted in at least 25 percent correct answers since only four choices were given, but ignorance beats the odds

For example, only 20.6 percent could identify James Madison as the primary author of the Constitution, while 60.5 percent answered Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, who was serving as ambassador to France when the Constitution was written. Only 28.4 percent of college grads correctly named Madison, while 59.2 percent named Jefferson.

 

The survey found that a college education was less of a factor in civic knowledge than age. Older college grads answered more questions correctly than younger ones.

The study authors offer this explanation for the state of ignorance:

Given all the interest expressed in civic education, how has this happened? The simple answer: a proliferation of programs that do not address the problem. Too many colleges and universities confuse community service and student activism with civic education. Service learning and political engagement form a wholesome part of the development of character and, when judiciously chosen, lead to civic virtue. But without coursework in American history and government, such activities achieve little of substance. Too often, proposals for civic renewal have been overly broad and vague. While they have called for more civic education, they have generally failed to define civic knowledge or require objective assessment. Contemporary discussions of civic education also suffer from what might be called the “universalist fallacy,” which dismisses special concentration on the U.S. Constitution and the founding principles of the nation because such an emphasis makes a “normative” judgment about the priority of certain issues over others in the education of young Americans.

Survey Q1

Survey Q2

 

How can people ignorant of the lessons of history and the how their own government works make informed decisions at the polls?

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

     — H.L. Mencken

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

    — Isaac Asimov

Celebrating independence in an age of dependence

This Saturday we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks and picnics.

But there is another day worthy of a passing mention. That is July 6, the day the declaration was first reprinted on the front page of The Pennsylvania Evening Post. In the following weeks, by order of Congress, at least 30 newspapers reprinted the Declaration of Independence, spreading its simple words and its audacious act of treason against the crown. It was a document for the people, carried to the people by the press.

At the time, the colonies were under virtual blockade and the American Army was vastly outnumbered and often in retreat.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson

Librarian Robin Shields recounts that when the Boston Gazette published the declaration it carried next to it an advertisement: “Cash given for clean Cotton and Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office in Watertown.” Most paper was imported from England, and the printer was seeking rags with which to make paper.

In a letter to Congress on July 9, Gen. George Washington reported how his troops were to mark the news of the Declaration of Independence: “The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.”

In a letter the next day he reported that British deserters were telling him a fleet with massive reinforcements was expected to arrive in New York any day. The situation was dire.

It was in this setting of uncertainty and imminent danger that our founding document was penned. How it fell to 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson to pen the first draft is a matter of some dispute, but I prefer the recollection of chief independence protagonist John Adams.

Years later, Adams recalled that he insisted Jefferson should write it, and Jefferson replied, “Why?”

“Reasons enough,” answered Adams.

“What can be your reasons?”

So Adams bluntly stated, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Most of which, of course, was nonsense.

Jefferson borrowed liberally from the great minds of the day, unabashedly paraphrasing George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Jefferson edited it to the more succinct “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1825, in a letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Jefferson looked back on those days and his role in writing the founding document. He recalled his motivation and purpose:

“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of … (but) to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind …”

Today 52 percent of Americans, a majority, receive some kind of government check. Federal regulations cost $2 trillion a year. Entitlement programs are going broke. Debt is ballooning. Foreign powers neither trust us or fear us. Morality and ethics are situational. The government enforces only those laws it wishes to enforce. Politicians lie, cheat and steal without fear of facing any consequences. The media are largely toothless and growing weaker.

Even when the voters revolt and elect people they think are fiscal conservatives, the elected officials raise taxes and do nothing to rein in runaway spending on government programs and employee pay and benefits.

At the time of the Revolution, it is estimated the typical tax burden — with or without representation — was 20 cents per capita per year at a time when annual earnings were somewhere between $60 and $100. Today the total tax burden is more than 40 percent.

I wonder whether we have lost that American mind-set that Jefferson cherished. How many of us are still willing for the sake of true liberty to pledge “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”?

Even the meaning of the word liberty has changed from an inalienable right to something granted by the all-powerful government.

“Our Constitution — like the Declaration of Independence before it — was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State. Today’s decision casts that truth aside. In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on ‘due process’ to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the ‘liberty’ protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded. Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the gay marriage ruling this past week.

We’ve strayed far since 1776.

Court ruling gagging judicial candidates really a ploy to stop electing judges

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820

No doubt about it, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows Florida to bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funding is not just a blow to free speech, but is another volley in the ongoing campaign to have judges appointed by elite committees of lawyers and judges and not voted into office by ignorant citizens who don’t know a judicial canon from a howitzer.

The court ruled 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s liberal faction, against Lanell Williams-Yulee, a 2009 county court judge candidate in Tampa. The Florida’s Supreme Court reprimanded her for a mailer asking for donations.

The offending flier

Though the Florida Bar code does not allow candidates to solicit funds, they may set up committees to seek funding, and the candidate may send personal thank you notes to donors, which seems to obviate the whole concept of separating judicial candidates from the squalor of being beholding to donors. It is all a ruse.

The dissent in the case by Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, makes clear the court’s ulterior motives.

Scalia wrote that the Florida code “scope suggests that it has nothing to do with the appearances created by judges’ asking for money, and everything to do with hostility toward judicial campaigning. How else to explain the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to ban all personal appeals for campaign funds (even when the solicitee could never appear before the candidate), but to tolerate appeals for other kinds of funds (even when the solicitee will surely appear before the candidate)? It should come as no surprise that the ABA (American Bar Association),whose model rules the Florida Supreme Court followed when framing Canon 7C(1), opposes judicial elections — preferring instead a system in which (surprise!) a committee of lawyers proposes candidates from among whom the Governor must make his selection.”

Thirty-nine states elect judges, including Nevada. An effort in 2010 to have Nevada judges appointed failed by a 58-42 margin, despite a vigorous campaign on its behalf.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Bill Maupin and former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor appeared at a Las Vegas newspaper editorial board seeking support for the ballot measure. The newspaper editorially opposed it, and I wrote a column against the idea.

“I think Americans want and expect to have one safe place in government, and that’s the court,” Justice O’Connor testified before the assembled journalists, “where somebody with a legal dispute can go and have somebody deciding the issue, based on the law, who is fair, independent and qualified. And I think your best chance of getting that is with this kind of a system. And it doesn’t take away people’s right to vote, it postpones it for whatever time is set in the legislation, one or two years. And then the voter can receive the information about the judge, the performance record, and cast a more intelligent ballot. Do you want to keep the person on the bench? Yes or no.”

She was dismissive of my argument that it is harder to bribe a million voters than one governor, even though I personally knew a governor who went to prison for that.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out at the time, “States using this so-called merit selection method have had their judicial selections manipulated by lawyers and bar associations that nominate guild favorites. In most cases this has pushed courts to the activist left.”

Yes, there is a problem with voters not being well enough informed about judicial candidates, but that is partly the fault of the legal community, which sets itself up as some bastion of virtuous objectivity, prohibited from sullying its robes in the mud wrestle that is electioneering.

The current ruling in Florida case runs counter to a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, in which the court said judicial canons limiting judges’ ability to address legal and political issues violates the First Amendment. Asking for money is also a free speech right.

If selection panels are needed to help a governor appoint and evaluation panels are needed to give voters information about whether or not to retain a judge, why not create them informally and present the information directly to the voters? I asked at the time.

Scalia also noted that the Florida ruling “banning candidates from asking for money personally ‘favors some candidates over others — incumbent judges (who benefit from their current status) over non-judicial candidates, the well-to-do (who may not need to raise any money at all) over lower-income candidates, and the well-connected (who have an army of potential fundraisers) over outsiders.’ … This danger of legislated (or judicially imposed) favoritism is the very reason the First Amendment exists.”

The court majority danced around so many precedents in law — using speculative phrases like “possible temptation,” “might lead” and “even unknowingly” — that Scalia at one point exclaimed: “This is not strict scrutiny; it is sleight of hand.”

This 2010 commercial supported appointing judges:

Newspaper column: Author of book on presidential power grabs should have enough material for a sequel or two

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

     — James Madison, Federalist Papers

It is doubtful that when Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano began writing his newly published book, “Suicide Pact: The Radical Expansion of Presidential Powers and the Lethal Threat to American Liberty,” he suspected President Obama would be providing him enough material for several sequels.

Napolitano discussed the purpose and content of his book during a recent conference call with associates of Watchdog Wire, an online citizen journalism site.

He joked that Obama is helping him sell his book, which was written before the president decided to rewrite the laws on immigration. “The president has exempted so many people from the laws of immigration that no one … can claim he is enforcing them. In fact he is changing them and rewriting them. Those are profound violations of the Constitution,” he said.

As a Fox commentator, Napolitano explains that part of his job is to “monitor the government as it interferes with personal liberty, seizes private property and prevents economic opportunity.”

His job and the book start with the basic principles. “Under our constitutional form of government, the Congress writes the laws. The president enforces the laws. The courts interpret the laws,” the judge offered. “Madison, when he crafted the Constitution, intentionally built tension between and among the three branches of government. So that no one branch could seize power from either of the other two.”

The book is written in two parts. The first half of the book is a history of presidential law breaking and presidential law making. The second half looks at the powers claimed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama after and as a result of 9/11.

It goes from John Adams imprisoning his critics under the Alien and Sedition acts of 1798 to Abraham Lincoln — “the greatest violator of civil liberties in the history of the United States of America” — suspending the writ of habeas corpus and locking up 3,000 newspaper reporters, publishers and editors because he disagreed with their editorials to Woodrow Wilson having people arrested for reciting the Declaration of Independence outside of draft offices to Franklin Roosevelt stealing gold and Lyndon Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin.

Then he gets to Bush allowing spying on Americans without a warrant and allowing torturing of terrorism suspects and Obama ordering Americans to be killed without any semblance of any Fifth Amendment guarantee against depriving “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Napolitano asked rhetorically: “Why should you care?”

He answered his own question by warning, “You should care, because if presidents become a law unto themselves, one of them one day is going say, ‘You know what? That limit that says my term is only four years and I can’t have more than a second term, I don’t think that’s good law any more and I’m not leaving.’”

During questioning, Napolitano said one way to restrain the power of the presidency would be to elect someone who truly believes in shrinking government, someone like Rand Paul, who wrote the foreword for his book, though the judge quickly added that was not an endorsement. But he did opine that all the other current potential candidates would tend to aggrandize power.

“Only when someone who really believes that the Constitution means what it says, who believes as (Thomas) Jefferson argued that the government should be chained down by the Constitution, only when a person like that is in the White House,” Napolitano said, “and there is substantial support in the Congress for that view, will we see constitutional government. Otherwise, things are going to get worse and worse and worse.”

Currently, he argued, both parties agree our rights come from government, not from our humanity, and both parties are in favor of perpetual war and perpetual debt.

“Until there is a president in the White House who breaks that mold,” Napolitano continued in an on-screen-worthy rant, “who recognizes our rights come from our humanity and cannot be taken away by a majority vote, that perpetual war is destructive and perpetual debt is destructive … Unless and until there is a president in the White House who’ll embrace these views, it can only get worse.”

Shortly after the interview, the national debt hit $18 trillion, having risen 70 percent under Obama, and the administration issued 3,415 new regulations – including 189 rules that cost more than $100 million apiece.

Enough material for a sequel, Mr. Napolitano?

A version of this column is available online at the Mesquite Local News, the Elko Daily Free Press and The Ely Times.