A number of issues of national interest have come up recently. With vehement arguments pro and con, and emotions running high, a large segment of the populationhas no clear understanding of what is really involved. It’s time they are put in proper perspective. So, in no particular order, let’s tackle some of these topics.
Increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court
There is nothing in the constitution specifying the complement of the court. Originally it was six justices. The number fluctuated from five to nine until the Judiciary Act of 1869 firmly established the court as it currently stands with nine.
The court repeatedly ruled against Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Depression era programs in the 1930’s. In response he attempted to “pack” the court by increasing the number of justices to fifteen, with candidates more philosophically in line with his goals. Congress wiselydeclined to expand the court.
The current effort to increase the number of justices has the same intent. This runs counter to the mandate of the court: to provide rational, unbiased interpretation of individual cases and laws in accordance with the Constitution.
Appointees to the court are frequently asked about their judicial philosophy. This has always concerned me because it implies that a candidate would have a personal predisposition in their rulings. Clarence Thomas encapsulated what is, to me, the only acceptable answerto the question: “I don’t have one. I follow the law.”
The Founders designed the Supreme Court to be apolitical, above the whims of the populace or elected officials. Attempts to “pack the court” undermine the court’s independence and violate the mandate of the court to be non-partisan and unbiased. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who freely expressed her personal opinions outside the court, felt that increasing the number of justices served no legitimate purpose.
Statehood for the District of Columbia
The Founding Fathers were concerned that the Federal Government, that the Sovereign States created, could not be claimed by any one state and declare itself the seat of the national government. To that end they established the District of Columbia. Originally it was 100 square miles in a diamond shape with territory assumed from, and nestled between, Virginia and Maryland. In 1846 Alexandria County was ceded back to Virginia resulting in the map of the District we see today.
Statehood would give The District parity with the existing fifty states and result in two new members of the Senate representing a population of less than 700,000 people and an area of 68.34 square miles, a tiny fraction of the size of Rhode Island, which is by far the smallest state.
The concept of a distinct and separate location for the Federal government is such a worthy idea it has been adopted in other countries, notably Mexico and Brazil.
Statehood for the District flies in the face of the Founders intent. Even if the idea had merit an amendment to the Constitution would be required to allow The District of Columbia to apply for statehood. Adoption of a Constitutional amendment is a protracted process and this one would not be likely to succeed as it requires a two thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and ratification by three quarters of the states. Additionally, there is a time limit for the states to ratify the amendment. Since there is no incentive for the individual states to support such a move the likelihood of a successful effort to gain statehood is negligible.
Statehood for Puerto Rico
This has been a controversial topic for decades. There are pros and cons to the status quo. It has been put up for a vote several times and the people of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have voted it down every time. Until a petition for statehood is submitted the question is moot. The same would apply to Guam and the Virgin Islands.
The Dobbs Decision
Abortion is a controversial issue with emotions running high on both sides of the debate. For that reason it is essential to examine this decision from a strictly legal perspective. Despite efforts to spread disinformation it is imperative that everyone understand that the ruling DID NOT make abortion illegal.
Any number of legal experts, including left leaning former members of the court, have expressed the opinion that Roe vs Wade was based on questionable legal reasoning. In the Dobbs decision the court took the position that abortion was, constitutionally, not a matter within the purview of the Federal Government. In effect they went back to the 10th amendment, the last amendment in the Bill of Rights, which reads:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Rather than dictate from the federal bench the terms, conditions and legality of abortion the court affirmed that those decisions belong to the electorate of the individual states. Some states have very liberal laws, some even cross the line into infanticide. Other states have strict bans on abortion and many others have varying, but manageable, restrictions. In any event any woman who feels the need to have an abortion can find the necessary services within a reasonable distance. Crossing state lines is not an issue. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood provide information regarding these opportunities. Many large corporations have offered to cover the travel expenses of their employees if necessary. So with a little effort no one need be denied this procedure.
Pollution is a concern for everyone. No one wants dirty air or dirty water. How that concern is addressed is another matter. Electric vehicles are a logical part of the mix. Despite the hype they are far from being a panacea.
Reduction of pollutants from mobile sources
Reduced vehicle maintenance
Significant reduction of fueling mishaps
Environmentally safe operation in confined spaces
Efficiency, idling does not consume fuel
Battery related fires
Limited range and recharging options
Extended recharging times
Vulnerability to water damage
Replacement battery expense
Battery recycling difficulties
Increased load on the electrical grid
Not suitable for ocean shipping
Not suitable for commercial aircraft
It’s true that mobile sources of pollution are harder to deal with than stationary ones. But with extensive use of electric vehicles the load shifts heavily from mobile to stationary sources and requires a massive increase in electricity generation. As it stands the country’s electrical grid is inadequate to support a transition to battery powered vehicles. Recently California asked electric vehicle owners to limit the hours when they charged their vehicles to conserve the limited electrical supply. Switzerland has severely restricted charging electric vehicles over the Winter. And all this is with a relatively small number of electric vehicles in use.
Green energy (wind, solar, tidal) has not reached a stage where it can carry a major portion of the demand for electricity as it stands. As a result there would be an increased need for power generation using fossil fuels. Nuclear power could take up a significant portion of the demand but there are problems there, too. Nuclear fusion for electrical generation could solve all of this, if we ever perfect the technology.
The materials necessary for electric vehicles, most notably cobalt and lithium, are mined in largely unsafe and contaminated conditions. For instance cobalt comes mainly from African countries using exploitative child labor. Additionally, many of the source countries have questionable political stability, thus threatening supply chains.
The bottom line: electric vehicles have distinct advantages in some areas but are not suitable for all forms of transportation. And as far as pollution is concerned a complete shift to electric cars would probably not result in measurable improvement.
ABOLITION OF THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Again this goes back to the founding of the country. The Federal Government was created by the individual Sovereign States to serve their common interests. As such the states, not individual citizens, elect the president, at least not directly. To protect the interests of the smaller states the Electoral College system was established. Each state gets as many votes as the total of their representatives elected to the houses of congress.
We already have enough controversy over voter ID and voter suppression concerns. Imagine trying to accurately verify and count each individual vote from an electorate of over 200 million US citizens.
With no electoral college, presidential candidates would be foolish to waste time and resources in the sparsely populated states, especially those on the geographic margins of the country. Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and others would effectively be left out of the decision making process. Voters in those states would be substantially disenfranchised in presidential elections.
There’s one other stumbling block for the “Eliminate the Electoral College” crowd. It is defined and established in the Constitution. It would require a new constitutionalamendment to remove and replace it. As we discussed earlier this is a slow and laborious process. And why would the “smaller” states vote to make themselves irrelevant?
STUDENT LOAN DEBT FORGIVENESS
The only person who can forgive a debt is the lender or the guarantor. What has been proposed is not forgiveness, it’s a reassignment of the debt. The Federal Government would be liable for the loans. Since the Federal Government only has the money it collects in taxes, it is the tax payers who are paying.
There are a few things wrong with this. 1) what about people who took out student loans and paid them back? 2) what about tax payers who didn’t go to college but are now expected to pay for those who did? 3) the bulk of those who would be eligible for relief from their student loans did so for graduate school, many doctors, lawyers and other high earners would benefit. 4) those who took out the loans did not do so under duress, they signed contracts with the full knowledge of their obligations. 5) the biggest beneficiaries of the program would be the institutions of higher learning. Since tuition has generally vastly outpaced the general inflation rate they could afford to take some responsibility if loan forgiveness is warranted. The Ivy League schools, for instance, have endowment funds in the billions. 6) and finally, the President does not have the authority to dismiss this kind of debt. Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, controls the purse strings.
Was it just a virtue signaling gesture to garner votes? Good question.
THE SENATE FILLIBUSTER
The Senate sets its own rules of order, including the fillibuster. It is a useful tool to slow the passage of legislation and facilitate debate on controversial issues. A fillibuster forces the News Cycle and brings the issue to public notice. Once again it is a tool useful to protect minority interests. Philosophically it is in line with the Founding Fathers’ disdain for pure democracy. As Jefferson said: “Great innovation should not be forced on slender majorities.” The rights of the minority must be protected.
But it is up to the Senate to set rules like this, there is nothing in the Constitution in this regard. With the party voicing opposition to the fillibuster, notwithstanding the fact that they have used it multiple times themselves, it is entirely possible it will be eliminated.