Will Chief Justice John Roberts Move to The Center of The Supreme Court?

Prologue:  John Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2005 after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died.  During the thirteen years he has served, most of his votes were with the Conservative bloc on the Court: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and  Anthony Kennedy.  When Scalia died, President Barack Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court.  Senator Mitch Mc Connell,  Republican Majority leader refused to allow him to meet with the Judiciary Committee or be voted upon by the full Senate.  The position remained vacant for over a year.  During that time, the Chief Justice did not choose to speak about the impasse in the High Court with four Liberals and four Conservatives, and that McConnell was impeding the proper functioning of the Supreme Court under The Constitution.

During the entire first two years of Donald J. Trump’s administration, John Roberts spoke out only once in 2016 , saying: “ We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans” .  He returned to this theme that the court is not tied to partisan politics when Donald Trump responded to an administration loss in a lower court by criticizing the judge, Jon S. Tigar, calling him “an Obama judge”.  Chief Justice Roberts rebuked the president with a sharp public statement:  “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges,  Bush judges or Clinton judges.  What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those who are appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should be thankful for.”

That was the first time since Trump ran for president that Roberts commented upon his many insults and derogatory remarks about Federal Judges.

During his years as Chief Justice, Roberts has voted usually with the Conservatives.  His views are with them on voting rights, campaign finance, racial discrimination and religion.  Very important five vote majorities included: Heller, 2008 Second Amendment decision that established the individual right to own guns; Citizens United , the 2010  campaign finance decision expanding the role of money in politics; and Shelby County v.  Holder, 2013 voting rights decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.

The only time he cast the decisive vote with the Liberals was on the crucial  issue of saving the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, for the American people.  This was Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement and conservatives never forgave Roberts.  He was denounced as a “traitor”.  Liberals of course, hailed him as a statesman.   During his campaign for president, Trump called Roberts “an absolute disaster.” In June, Roberts did write the majority opinion for Trump’s biggest court victory, limiting travel from predominantly Muslim countries.

Signs that Roberts may move to the Center of the High Court:

During December, Roberts voted with the liberals ,Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to deny review in two cases on efforts to stop payments to Planned Parenthood . This drew sharp criticism from three conservative justices.  On December 23, Roberts joined the four liberal members again to  reject a request from the Trump administration that could overturn years of asylum policy on immigration .  The Trump administration has also sent petitions and applications to bypass the usual procedures in  Census and Climate Change cases.  Roberts built coalitions of justices to deny the requests, often over the dissents of two or three of the conservative members. Brett Kavanaugh since he became a justice has voted consistently with Roberts except for his vote on the asylum case.

Two block buster cases lie ahead; DACA  Appeals Court ruling saying, Trump must continue the program that protects hundreds of thousands of Dreamers against deportation.  And Trump administration plan to bar transgender people from service in the United States Military.  It is not clear at this time whether the Court will deal with these cases.  It takes four votes to add a case to the docket. If it is argued, where will  Roberts be on final voting?

Sara Benesh, a political scientist at The University of Wisconsin, has said, Chief Justice Roberts has favored moving the law in small steps. She wrote, “Moderation, not just in terms of ideological moderation, but also humility, is kind of his thing. He seems to write limited opinions. He doesn’t reach any further than he has to.  He clearly distinguishes between what he is doing as a judge and what he might believe in terms of policy.”

The Chief Justice has spoken about spending quiet nights at the court looking at the portraits of his sixteen predecessors. He told C-Span in 2010, “They’re probably looking down at me with bemusement or amazement. From time to time, I find it a useful reminder of the role of the court and the role of the chief justice.”

……………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson

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Nancy Pelosi: Former and Next Speaker of The United States House of Representives

Prologue: When Barack Obama was elected President of The United States in 2008,  Nancy Pelosi was chosen by  vote to become Speaker of The House.  She was the first woman ever to occupy the position that is second in line to the presidency.  Pelosi played a crucial role in Obama’s first term in office. Their greatest achievement was the successful passage of the Affordable Care Act( ACA) ,known to many as Obamacare.  They worked together as a team to “bring health care to the American people” as she has often said.

Nancy Pelosi, representing the San Francisco, California district, has been the Democratic Minority Leader since the Republicans took over the House in the 2010 Midterms.  She continued in that position when Obama served his second term from 2012 to 2016.  Pelosi has also been a formidable fund raiser for House Democratic members across the country during every election campaign.  She looks younger than her 78 years, trim in her fashionable suits and heels.  She was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine section several weeks ago, wearing a red suit matched by red pumps.  Her energy level is legendary on The Hill.

Raised in a political family, where her father and brother each served as Mayor of Baltimore , Maryland, Pelosi learned about politics and power from an early age. She is a formidable speaker with a quick wit as well as amazing depth of knowledge and experience.  No political opponent fazes her as Donald Trump learned on Tuesday, December 12 at a meeting with her and Senator Chuck Schumer at the White House.

Meeting becomes a public feud:  The purpose of the meeting had been to discuss the president’s long promised border wall and to avoid a year end government shutdown.  The president had invited reporters to be present. Pelosi and Schumer urged him to change to a private session after the initial pleasantries had been exchanged.  Trump insisted they remain.  Donald Trump and Mike Pence sat in chairs facing Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on couches in the Oval Office.

What followed was a fifteen minute televised exchange rather than a negotiating session between an experienced congressional leader and  the  president who is rarely challenged in public — especially by a woman.   At the start, she referred to a possible “Trump shutdown” and he took the bait, saying that Senate Republicans could easily pass funding for the wall.  Then, she said, “Okay.  Then do it, then do it.”  Next, he interrupted her and  she interrupted him with a clear repeat  of “Mr. Presidents”.  He wagged his finger, calling her “Nancy” and suggested  she was “in a situation when it’s not easy for her to talk right now.” Pelosi responded in a calm voice, “Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory.”

Chuck Schumer also took part in the back and forth. His comments  goaded Trump into  declaring, “I would be proud to shut down the government for border security.”  Throughout, Mike Pence never entered the conversation.  He sat silently and did not appear to shift in his position, causing a reporter later to describe him as “a potted plant.”   Pelosi and Schumer repeated their wish for a private talk without the press, but Trump countered with, “It’s not bad. Nancy, it’s called Transparency.”  Pelosi shot right back, “It’s not transparency when we are stipulating to a set of facts, and when we want to have a debate with you about saying we confront some of those facts without saying to the public this isn’t true.”

As the meeting continued, Pelosi appeared to be trying to explain how legislation works.  Leaning forward and waving his hands, Trump  cut her off, “No, We don’t have the votes, Nancy, because in the Senate we need 60 votes.”  She replied, “The fact is that you could bring it up in the House. You set the tone. Legislating is what we do.  You bring it up.  You make your case. But there are no votes in the House, majority votes for a wall,  no matter where you start.”  At that point, Trump appeared exasperated and called an end to the presence of reporters and the television coverage.

Pelosi emerged from the White House looking triumphant in sunglasses and a swingy red coat.  She returned to the Capitol to meet with Democratic colleagues behind closed doors.  One aide in the room said later, “ She called the wall debate a manhood thing for him” . She also compared what happened to “a tinkle contest with a skunk” adding “I was trying to be the mom.”

Cable news showed live excerpts from the meeting through the evening and next day.   Members of Congress were quoted: “ I think she gave as good as she got,” said Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina,  a close ally of the president.   Eric Swalwell, Democratic Representative of California ,  raised the coming vote for speaker, “I think she sealed the deal.”

Sealing the deal:  On Wednesday, the day after her triumphant meeting with Trump in the Oval Office,  Pelosi announced she had reached an agreement with dissident Democrats. She would limit herself to four years as speaker,  “a bridge to the next generation of House Leaders.”   After she released her statement, seven of the leading holdouts released a joint statement, thanking her and saying they would support her for speaker.

Nancy Pelosi had demonstrated once more that she is the most formidable member of Congress.  There are perilous times ahead in the next two years of the Donald Trump administration.  She will use her skills to guide the Congress and the millions of American people to better and safer days ahead.

……………………………………………………………………………..   Joyce S. Anderson

Will Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker Fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

Leading news stories on Cable TV today focused on Robert Mueller releasing documents revealing former security adviser Michael Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia investigation.  The documents were heavily redacted (blacked out), but they did note Flynn’s “substantial help” in several parts of the continuing investigation.  Prosecutors on Mueller’s team cited Flynn’s assistance as a basis for leniency when he is sentenced by a judge on December 18.

Prologue:  The FBI original Trump-Russia investigation began in summer 2016 during the presidential campaign with very little reporting to the public.  In May 2017, President Trump fired Director James Comey and said a day later that the Russia investigation was on his mind.  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was in charge of the  investigation because Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions had recused himself when it became known that he had met with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign.

Rod  Rosenstein then named Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel on May 17, 2017.   That day, Mueller issued the only public statement he’s issued since he took the position.  “I accept the responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”   Rosenstein said at the time,  “The public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree independence from the normal chain of command.”

Results of the Investigation to date:  Mueller enlisted a team of sixteen:  FBI agents, former prosecutors and other lawyers to investigate Russia’s 2016 election interference and whether any Trump associates conspired.  Each of the prosecutors has a specialty, like political corruption, hacking or money laundering.  The team has secured   indictments against 32 people and three Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald J. Trump. This includes four Trump campaign officials: Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn.  All have reached plea deals.  Manafort was the campaign chair at one time while Flynn had been a key participant during the entire campaign, sparking the “Lock her Up” chant at rallies. He pleaded guilty to   lying to the FBI about his talks with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak during the transition.

President Trump has labeled the Mueller Investigation from the beginning as a “witch hunt” with no validity.  He has insisted in tweets, interviews on cable TV and at midterm rallies , “I have had nothing to do with Russia!”  “ No business deals in Russia.”  “No interests or connections of any kind in Russia!”  For some months he refrained from attacking Robert Mueller, a Republican, personally.  More recently, his attacks include Mueller by name for conducting the “witch hunt.”  Trump has always attacked the media as “the enemy of the people” who write and broadcast “fake news”.

Department of Justice change at the White House: Donald Trump also continued to denigrate Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.  He had been head of the  D.O.J. Department of Justice. Trump said many times he never would have appointed him if he had known he would recuse himself.   On November 7, 2018 , Jeffrey Sessions submitted his resignation to the  president. Then, Trump announced the same day that he was appointing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States.  Whitaker had been Sessions’ chief of staff since September and  practically unknown in Washington.  He was a Republican who had said that the Mueller Investigation was a  “witch hunt” .  Trump bypassed Rod Rosenstein the deputy attorney general with the appointment.  Matt Whitaker would now be responsible for the Mueller Investigation and the entire Department of Justice.

Reactions to Matt Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general:

On November 8, The New York Times printed an Op Ed by Neil Katyal former U.S. Solicitor General and George T. Conway III , lawyer and husband of Kellyanne Conway, White House adviser.    Headline: “Trump’s Appointment of the Acting Attorney General Is Unconstitutional “  “ The president is evading his responsibility to seek the Senate’s advice and consent for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and the person who will oversee the Mueller Investigation.”

Their central argument was that a principal office such as acting attorney general must be confirmed by the Senate. “Evading such a procedure defies one of the explicit checks and balances set out in the Constitution,  a provision designed to protect us against the centralization of government power.”

On November 9, The New York Times printed a second Op Ed by Neil Katyal and George T. Conway III. “Whitaker’s Appointment Is Illegal” From the text: “Mr. Whitaker … has now been vested with the law enforcement authority of the entire United States government, including the power to supervise senate confirmed officials like the deputy attorney general, the solicitor general and all United States attorneys.”  They concluded their piece , “Constitutionally Mathew Whitaker is a nobody.  For the president to install Mr. Whitaker as our chief law enforcement officer is to betray the entire structure of our charter document.”

On November 19, three Democratic Senators went before a federal judge to issue an injunction barring Mathew Whitaker from exercising the powers of the Justice Department.  They argued that his installation violated The Constitution.  Senators Richard Blumenthal  of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sit on the Judiciary Committee.

One week after Trump appointed Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, four hundred and three members of the Department of Justice from across the United States signed a letter strongly opposed to his appointment. They had learned as any interested reader of The New York Times that “Mr. Whitaker is an avowed antagonist of Robert Mueller and has called the investigation “a witch hunt”.  He has said, “Mr. Mueller’s team should not investigate Trump’s finances and has suggested an attorney general could slash the special counsel’s budget.”

It became even clearer to millions of citizens who follow the political news that Whitaker was unfit for the position.  It was revealed on cable news that “ Whitaker is skeptical about Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case by the first Chief justice of the United States that established judicial review by the Supreme Court of the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Whitaker would also support confirmation of federal judges who hold a “biblical view of justice” and he may have prosecuted a political opponent for improper reasons when he was a federal prosecutor.”  Finally,  Whitaker’s business involvement with a company accused of scamming customers is being investigated at this time.

Latest political news:  December 7: Robert Mueller will release documents concerning Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen related to their cooperation with the Russia Investigation.  Donald Trump will be riveted to  every word to see if he or family members may be closer to becoming targets of the overall investigation.

At the same time, there is a bill in the Senate to stop Trump from firing Robert Mueller.  Majority leader, Mitch McConnell is holding up the bill.  But Jeff Flake, Republican, who is retiring in January is threatening to stop sixteen appellate judges from being confirmed by the Senate.  Flake is the key swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  If he votes No on the judges, they will not move to the full Senate.

We all watch as another scene unfolds in this chaotic Donald Trump White House.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Joyce S. Anderson