Supreme Court Confirmations – By the Numbers!

In a topsy-turvy two weeks of high political drama, the US Senate is on the brink of voting on the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court. If he does survive the FBI background check currently underway, and he is confirmed, it will be by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps even one vote. If he isn’t confirmed, he will be the first judge not confirmed by a floor vote since Robert Bork in the 1980s.

How does Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation stake up against those currently sitting on the bench. Let’s take a look at the intriguing numbers.

Of the previous nine Supreme Court justices confirmed by the Senate spanning three decades and five presidents, five have been nominated by Republican presidents and four by Democratic presidents. Two additional nominations during that time span were never voted upon. Harriet Miers, a George W. Bush nominee, withdrew from the process. Merrick Garland appointed by President Obama in 2016 never had hearings or a vote. With these two out of the picture, there are some voting patterns which are interesting to look at.

Let’s start with the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan.  Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 314 ‘yes’ votes and 80 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of 80%. This clearly shows some broad non-partisan support from the Republic party towards Democratic nominees.

What about Republican nominees? The five appointed by Republican presidents were: Souter, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, & Gorsuch. Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 332 ‘yes’ votes and 166 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of only 67%. However, if Souter, the only one of our list no longer on the Supreme Court, is dropped off this list, the numbers change to 242 ‘yes’ votes and ‘157’ which is only a 60% affirmative rate. Souter also is a bit of an anomaly because, though appointed by a Republican, he was widely viewed as a staunch liberal justice.

So, of the current Supreme Court members, Democratic appointed candidates fly through confirmation at an average of 80% affirmative votes but Republican candidates squeak by at only 60%, and this number will assuredly go down later this week when the Senate votes on Kavanaugh. Even if confirmed, it will likely be by a mere 1 or 2 votes. As a side note, a Democratic appointee hasn’t been rejected since the Grover Cleveland presidency. Yeah, it’s been a while.

What’s the reason for such a voting discrepancy?

Let’s pose a few ideas.

Option 1: Do conservatives have a more literal view of the constitution? As such, their role as “advice and consent” hinges more on whether a candidate is worthy of such a nomination regardless of whether they agree with his or her political persuasion? Ginsburg might be a good study here. She was clearly a judge with a very liberal voting record. She was even a member of the board of directors of the ACLU. Clearly liberal. Yet, qualified—even Republicans agreed by joining the Democrats in approving her appointment with an astonishing 96-3 vote. While something like that won’t happen today, you’ll still notice that Kagan and Sotomayor’s confirmations were much easier than all Republican-appointed justices since Roberts.

Option 2: Are liberals more aggressive in seeking their progressive agenda through the court systems? As such, they purposefully seek to confirm justices who they deem to be progressive and are more contentious with those candidates whom they deem will be a hinderance to progressivism? I think this is doubly true with the Kavanaugh nomination because of its significance related to Roe v. Wade.

Option 3. It’s all random?

Option 4: You make the call!

Here is a list of the last nine justices confirmed to the Supreme Court. What will be Kavanaugh’s numbers – if he makes it?

Gorsuch 54-45 (Trump)

Kagan 63-37 (Obama)

Sotomayor 68-31 (Obama)

Alito 58-42 (G. W. Bush)

John Roberts 78-22 (G. W. Bush)

Ginsburg 96-3 (Clinton)

Steven Breyer 87-9 (Clinton)

Thomas 52-48 (G. H. W. Bush)

David Souter 90-9 (G. H. W. Bush)

Whatever these numbers ultimately mean, Trump is going to have to fight and scrape for any of his nominations to get through, and if he did have to appoint a successor to Ginsburg, don’t hold your breath for 96 voting to confirm. Those days are long gone.

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Will They or Won’t They: The Trump-Un Dance

I’ve been following the on-again, off-again US-North Korean summit news with much interest, like, I suppose, is much of the world.  For me, it’s more than just the issues of global peace that interest me, though those are, without doubt, the most important part about this possible diplomatic break-through. My interest is more than just as a casual observer of the daily news.

We’ve had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of wonderful South Koreans throughout the years, so I’ve heard firsthand many times over what it would mean for the Korean peninsula to be unified. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we’d all settle for peaceful with a lack of war mongering.) South Korean students are some of the most respectful and hardworking students I’ve ever taught, and I taught hundreds of them when I was living in Malaysia. In addition, we were served as house parents for several South Korean international students at a private boarding school in Virginia for two years. Those were terrific years. I never played so much ping-pong in my life. My affinity for South Korea runs deep, and even more so when my daughter married her high school sweetheart who happened to be South Korean. And now, my first grandson is half South Korean. So I feel I can claim a tiny personal stake to the political posturing which is going on.

So the question is, will they? Do the political dance, that is.

My gut tells me it will happen. Maybe not on June 12, but there was too much show from North Korea to completely back out of it now. What I mean by show is that they have shockingly showed their hand (and it hasn’t proven to be a scam yet) that they are interested in peace. But this is also why I wasn’t surprised this week when the North Korean minister started bashing Mike Pence and seemingly contradicting the weeks of goodwill which had preceded.

This is a classic posturing of saving-face, and building themselves up, the same way they have been tossing hot rhetoric for years. If the DPRK hierarchy completely fell over on themselves and paved a perfect path for Trump to play the hero, that would have been surprising.  I think it was the change in perception, both in country and out of country, was moving too quickly, and they had to remind the world that they still have a huge army and a heavy payload.  So this backtrack didn’t surprise me at all.

How should Trump have reacted? That’s obviously debatable. If I had been advising him, I wouldn’t have pulled the plug on the meeting so quickly, and would have allowed the DPRK one more round of tough rhetoric as long as the other steps towards the meeting were being followed. Trump decided differently and pulled out right away. Was it the right move? Impossible to know because there are no right moves here. Now word is that the meeting still could be on, so who knows.

This whole situation has the Democrats not really knowing what to do and how to respond. It’s that awkward, “Darn-it, I’m not in power” look which makes every minority party seem a little pathetic. Of course, they criticized him for agreeing to meet with Un. And then when Trump pulled out, they criticized him for that.

Regardless of political stripes or citizenship, I’m hoping we collectively can hope for a lasting peaceful solution to the conundrum on the Korean peninsula.  Who cares who gets the credit. I’d shake anyone’s hand who had a role in bringing something like this about.

I’m rooting for this because of all of my South Korean friends. May you know lasting peace in your lifetime.

Hopefully, it will start soon.

One View on the Paris Accord Pullout

Well, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords and the anti-Trump pundits are in a full tizzy about him doing exactly what he said he was going to do during his campaign.  You can debate the merits of the Paris Accords all you like, and you’ll find people on both sides of the issue, hotly touting their view as the one which will “save the world from a climate cataclysm” or will “finally put America first, dislodging it from being the world’s lapdog for punishing the neo-colonial forces of the world.”

I’d like to stay away from those arguments to look at this issue in a couple of different ways. Trump’s pulling out of the accord is President Obama’s fault. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not using the Obama administration tactic of blaming the previous president for everything. Obama set the stage for a withdrawal by circumventing the way U.S. treaties are supposed to work. The U.S. constitutional lays out very clearly that treaties with foreign entities must receive Congressional approval. The Obama administration didn’t even attempt to pass the accord through Congress because he knew, as written, it would have never passed. So he signed it as an accord, approved only by the executive branch, which allows the next chief executive to rescind it at will. If it had passed through Congress, President Trump would not have been able to pull out of it without, again, Congressional approval. Perhaps the Obama administration thought that his legacy would remain due to a favorable election outcome in 2016. Well, we all know how that went. The Dems walked away with egg on their face. And now they have a non-binding Paris agreement which falls by the wayside because they didn’t involve Congress.

It’s easy to see why Obama didn’t involve Congress. He knew that the Republican controlled House and Senate wouldn’t have ratified it. But this was his greatest mistake. Ours is a republic, a pluralistic one, a two-party one, which requires compromise, give and take, back and forth wrangling in order to get anything done. Can that be frustrating at times? Of course, but that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. Obama would have been wise to use this tactic in Paris. “Look guys, I’m with you on this. I really am. But you have to understand how my government works. If you want a lasting treaty on climate which is going to mean anything moving forward, we have to negotiate with our elected Congress. No, you’re not going to get everything you want. But if we don’t come together and find an agreement palatable for both parties, this accord could unravel very quickly with a different president who doesn’t hold my views.”

President Obama could have approached the Paris Accords like this. But he didn’t and so the U.S. pulled out. Just like that.

President Trump said in his pull-out speech that he would be willing to renegotiate the Paris Accords in order to find terms more acceptable for the United States. Here’s a response written in one of the articles about the pullout:

“While Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favorable terms, the three European leaders said the agreement cannot be renegotiated, ‘since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics.'”

And this brings me to my second point of contention about this whole issue. According to these world leaders, “it” (it being the Paris Accords) is a “vital instrument” for our planet … blah, blah, blah. It. Only it. This whole explanation reeks of elitism which I hate more than anything else. Only the accord as they have negotiated it, as they have proposed it, as they have signed, IT and only IT can be “a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economics.”

A re-negotiated deal could never do that?  Really?

It’s the same old “our way is the only way.” Now their way will unravel because they are unwilling to ponder different possibilities.

Moral of the story: this is politics. If you live in a democracy, you have to work with others. If not, you just have a series of short jaunts in various directions depending on who is in office.

Trump’s Order on Immigration: Constitutional or Not?

Trump’s executive order on immigration has set the Internet afire in a dizzying array of memes and vitriolic rants about the president’s bold actions. Those who are dishonest will call it a “Muslim ban” predicated on religion. Of course, that’s absurd for those who actually read the executive order. On the other side,  Trump’s supporters defend all his actions in the name of national security. Well, I’m hoping I can cut through the emotion in this order and take a closer look to see if this executive action will pass the constitutional muster.

The order does several things, mainly suspending the refugee immigration program for 120 days and banning immigration from seven countries for 90 days until procedures and protocols for extreme vetting can be verified to the administration’s satisfaction. These are not unprecedented actions as other presidents have temporarily suspended immigration from certain  countries over the years. The New York Times has called the order unconstitutional on the grounds of a 1965 law which prohibits immigration discrimination from specific countries. But the NYT has not been known to look at nuances in regards to issues it doesn’t agree with, so take their view with a grain of salt.

Where this issue becomes interesting and problematic for Trump is in regards to the widely reported detention of certain immigrants or travelers, if you will, from the stated seven countries who had previously been granted visas. A federal judge in New York has ruled that their rights have possibly been violated. The judge may have a point, even a constitutional one. There’s one constitutional clause which prohibits Congress from enacting any law retroactively. That is, if it passes a new tax law today, they can’t say it’s effective starting January of 2016. That would be unconstitutional. Likewise, a logical argument could be made that executive orders are bound by the same principle, and therefore, by extension, anyone granted a visa prior to the issuing of the order would not be affected by the order.

However, this too is problematic, because the executive branch has been given a lot of leeway in regards to  national security.  It can terminate the visa of anyone at any moment if they feel that person poses a threat to security. So what’s not clear, and what the courts may have to sort out is at what point is a blanket order like this valid in regards to those previously given the green light into the country?

On Saturday night, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security stated that green card holders from those seven countries were not being stopped by immigration. If that is indeed the case, that would be a smart move by the Trump administration. I do not know what rules the DHS were given in carrying out this order, but it does seem to be a little haphazard at this time, which is never a good thing in the age of Twitter. And when that happens, unfortunately, innocent people get caught in the middle.

I think it’s clear that Trump has the authority to block entry into the US based upon national security interests, even if it targets certain countries. It is also clear that the courts have leeway to curtail and adapt that order based upon legal precedent and constitutional law.

Of course, people have to make up their own mind whether or not they agree with the president’s actions. I think, however, we can all agree that Trump’s presidency is not lacking in the controversy category.

A Boy from Pennsylvania Weighs In

Pennsylvania did it. It ruthlessly defied the odds and pushed Donald Trump into the White House. Everyone is still in shock. Both Republicans and Democrats. Something was afoot, and everyone (or nearly everyone) missed it.

I grew up in Butler County, western Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. It has a series of small towns, rolling lush countryside and a lot of good people. Friendly, helpful, giving. They sit on front porches in the summer. They talk to their neighbors. They invite people in for dinner. They keep their lawns cut beautifully, drive an assortment of pick-up trucks, and have impeccable vegetable gardens out back. They go to church on Sunday, and tend, in many ways, to actually heed the precepts they hear. They are good people. I know. I grew up with them.

These are the people, hard-working folks from Butler County to central Ohio to western Wisconsin who won this election for Trump. The elite media may want to call them backward, uneducated, and dare I say it, slightly bigoted? But they are none of those.  And that’s what the media and Belt-Way pundits don’t get. These are not deplorables. They are hard-working, honest people.

And they have a voice. And they have spoken.

In a dramatic, historic way.

I hate to say it, but Obama was not the president of these people. They have felt marginalized by a series of decisions which eschewed their traditional ways, had eaten away at their way of living, and have watched their voices being drowned out by glib Hollywood actors and stuffy corporate Wall Streeters who have lobbied Washington for all kinds of perks and desires. Using Obama’s  own words, he wanted to “fundamentally change America” but he did so in a way that cast aside a large swath of voters.

But no more. We have an election for the record books, for the history books. We’ll be studying about this election for the next one hundred years and beyond.

What we learn from it remains unclear. But my hope is that President Trump (that still sounds strange saying that) will not cast aside a whole segment of the population as he begins to govern.

 

 

 

 

Everyone is as Smart as the Polls. And That’s Pretty Dumb.

I get a kick out of so-called experts calling the U.S. presidential election while we are still in August, nearly a month away from the first debate, with an already unprecedented, topsy-turvy primary season behind us.

I heard someone say basically this yesterday: “Oh, look at the polls! Clinton is going to win. It’s over.”

I suppose that same person would also predict a Cubs World Series victory if they looked at the current MLB standings. But people who understand that nothing is taken for granted when talking about the Cubs will also understand that we have no idea who will win the presidential election. At least not yet.

It was just a month ago that Trump’s campaign was riding high in the polls with a post-convention bounce which vaulted him ahead of the Democratic challenger. Clinton got her bounce, then Trump’s mouth seemed to self-implode again, causing leaks in his shoddy-planned campaign wall.

But does anyone really think they know what’s going to happen next? Really, in this year? You can’t predict this stuff. Not any year, and especially not this year. The odds-makers still have to settle on a number, and they currently give Clinton nearly a 4-1 chance to be president, but my goodness, let’s wait and see. Here’s a few things which need to be settled first.

  1. In my mind, the debates will be begin to tell the tale and start to settle the field a little. It’s one thing hearing daily sound bites from the campaign trail, but it’s a completely different beast when you see the candidates stand next to each other, go at each other, and see who can punch out a little momentum. I’ll start checking the polls after this. I think it will mean much more.
  2. Will Trump’s “softer” approach make a difference to voters? He’s been consciously reaching out to black voters. I read an interesting article yesterday written by a Latino as to why Latinos should vote for Trump. This might all be too little too late to overcome the bombastic mistakes he’s made because of his inability to censor himself. But we shall see.
  3. Clinton is not having an easy go of it. She is continually dogged with questions about her past, most recently about the Clinton foundation and whether influence was being peddled.  The Republicans really must be kicking themselves because Clinton feels like the most inept Democratic presidential candidate in decades. She seems very beatable if there wasn’t a Republican challenger beating himself.
  4. Wikileaks. More threats from Jullian Assange regarding Clinton-related documents to be released before the election. Who knows what’s in the documents and if he will actually do what he says. But he no doubt is causing a lot of consternation inside the Democratic campaign machine.
  5. The economy. It continues to struggle – the most recent quarter at an anemic 1% GDP growth.
  6. People are not happy. I can’t think of anyone on either side of the political spectrum who is happy right now. And there may be a ground-swell of “sweep out the existing regime” which might yet catch Clinton in its crossfire.
  7. A major event. I certainly hope this one doesn’t happen, but a major terrorist attack, whether in the US or one of the US allies, could affect perceptions of voters before the election.
  8. Trump himself. He remains predictably unpredictable. He was a clear underdog in the Republican primary and it still remains unclear how he will finish this thing out. He’s proved before that he shouldn’t be underestimated.

There are 8 reasons why I think it’s much too early to be calling the election for Clinton. There is so much time which remains and way to many things can happen. It will be, I believe, one of the most entertaining and gripping presidential campaigns in history. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

A Bump for Trump

The post-convention bump has lofted Trump into his first lead over Hillary Clinton for the race to the presidency according to Real Clear Politics poll averages compiled July 25.

Here’s the chart:

bumpfortrump

It must be a little jarring for the Clinton camp to see these numbers. I’m sure they’ll put a good spin on them, especially with the Democratic Convention this week. Will Clinton see her own bump in the polls come next Monday? With all the turmoil going on with the DNC chair resigning over the Wikileaks email release, it will be interesting to see how the Democrats stay on message and the attack mode. I’m sure Trump is bracing for it.

In the meantime, I don’t put much stock in July polls of a presidential election year. I believe you’ll start to see some stable and possibly more reliable numbers after the first debate in September. That’s when the American people will see them side-by-side and will be able to judge whether they are sure about their decisions.

But I do think that the above chart gives us some interesting insight. A year ago, nobody gave him a chance to emerge as a primary contender. Now he’s leading in the poll averages in the general election! Quite the accomplishment that NO ONE saw coming.

Secondly, Trumps numbers are trending upward. Many pundits showed how trump had trouble getting over the 40% range in the polls. Only one of the eight polls has him under forty percent. Four have him at 45% or higher and the Gravis poll was the high water mark of 51%.

It is beginning to seem that a Trump presidency is certainly likely. Of course, at this point, anything can happen, both good and bad for either candidate. But Trump has shown time and time again that he can put his foot in his mouth and it doesn’t affect his polling, except for possibly an upward trend. It’s remarkable, actually.

If you watched his acceptance speech, it was classic trump, but presented in a much more presidential way. He phased out the insults (which I’m sure will return shortly) and focused on what he intends to do as president. Of course, his speech was a broad road map which couldn’t ever be all accomplished. But it was the first time, to my knowledge, that the nation began to see how he would govern. So far, it seems like the American public has responded positively to his message. How will Clinton fair this week?

This is going to be an up and down election cycle, but Trump is certainly enjoying his early bump.