Using Roe and Federalism to Divide America

We are getting closer and closer to becoming a loose collection of individual states with a federal government that supposedly deals only with defense and international trade. The pandemic gave us glimpses of what this version of America will be like with every state having to compete for PPE’s in a pandemic, with states afraid to rile up citizens or an irrational president by requiring a simple precaution like wearing a mask. These are decisions that would have solved simple logistical problems that could have shortened the pandemic. 

In a States Rights scenario, states will be up for grabs and Democrats and Republicans will have to compete to win the most states in order to win the Presidency. Which party holds the Presidency would become increasingly beside the point, except that there is a simultaneous push to make the Executive omni-powerful, which we saw under a Trump administration that turned the Justice Department into a puppet offering unconditional support to the president. It should strike others besides me that giving state governors and legislatures power and making the federal chief executive all powerful are two goals that are at odds with each other, unless there is only one political party.

Democrats have not wooed state governments. They have followed old traditions and backed a strong federal government with three branches and checks and balances. They claim to be following our US Constitution. The problem is that Republicans also claim to be following a different section of the US Constitution that lists the rights of the federal government and the rights of the states. They say they are ‘originalists’ and want the powers of these two entities sorted out as the founders intended. 

However, even the founders could not agree about whether to make the federal government stronger and have the United States of America as the dominant face to present to the world, or whether to have a more decentralized government and give states powers to make decisions on their own and have identities of their own. This state’s rights model would turn states into entities similar to nations in Europe and our Federal government would be something like the Council of the EU. 

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton favored a strong central government. Thomas Jefferson and other southerners favored state’s rights as more important. This was all argued out in the Federalist papers. The modern Federalist Society pushes the state’s rights interpretation as more true to the constitution, thus ignoring 245 years of subsequent laws and traditions. 

There were only thirteen states when our new nation fought these battles about how to govern America. There were only about 2.5 million citizens. Of course we now have 50 states and 350 million citizens. Wouldn’t going forward in an America that is a loose collection of so many states and such a large population bring chaos? Isn’t that a greater dilemma to consider than channeling the hearts of our founders, which, as we know, were no less flawed than any human hearts?

From a Google Image Search – Gallup poll

Despite reservations, we are seeing a change in the relationship between the federal government and the states. Republicans went into states, perhaps using the issues of abortion and worker’s grievances to tip the scales in states where Christian churches had a firmer hold. They stoked anger on radio talk shows and from church pulpits. They formed power groups with corporatists, especially in fossil fuel industries and with Evangelicals. They used ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council to tailor laws to support Republican talking points. They rigged the vote with savvy use of computer data and gerrymandering. They got the pre-clearance section of the Voter Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court. They continue to pass voting laws in states that make it more difficult for Democrats to ever win an election. They basically control the executive and legislative branches in thirty states. Democrats have control in only 18 states.

Is sneaking around behind the scenes to engineer voting and policy something that we condone in American politics? While we might admire the strategic cohesion of Republican machinations we recognize that such shifty politics is undemocratic because it relies on propaganda and even trades in threats to people’s immortal souls to achieve an end that is divisive and undemocratic. One party has planned and executed its plan to steal power and destroy the other, to turn America into a nation ruled by a single party. Can democracy last in a single party system? Not if the Republicans are that party.

So watch carefully as the Supreme Court makes its decisions this summer. If they make a decision about abortion that clearly overturns Roe v Wade will that tear our nation apart? If Congress falls back into Republican hands in 2022 will that tear our nation apart? If it happens that abortion can be decided by the states will that open the door to allowing states to have their own rules on other issues like guns? 

Will states set up borders like the ones between Canada and America and Mexico and America to enforce their own laws? Will people need passports to travel from state to state? What will happen to interstate trade? Will there be inspections at state borders? Will trucks be turned away and have to find a different route? Will citizens naturalized in one state still be illegal in another? 

How far will we take the small government lie as the presidency gains more and more power? What will happen to us if the world sees us fighting among our own states? Will we fight a second Civil War over women’s right to control their own bodies, over voting rights, over masks, over the power of the presidency, over fossil fuels and sustainability-all issues that separate states but also residents within states. Will we just live without abortion rights until we learn all over again that they are a necessary albeit sad reality of modern life.

You might like to check out this article by Ronald Brownstein from The Atlantic on the subject. My heart is breaking over our divided nation, our nation flirting with authoritarianism. Unless President Biden can pass voting rights legislation and kill the filibuster, many writers say, we are in for continued strife and possibly worse. Did the Democrats wait too long to act? Are they being too conciliatory or too meek?

2020 Citizenship Question: Wrong Time, Wrong Administration

From a Google Image Search – KOMO

2020 Census Citizenship Question: Wrong time, Wrong Administration

As it turns out questions about citizenship have apparently been included on many census questionnaires throughout the decades, but it is not a mandated question, and sometimes it does not appear on a particular census. Deep in the first term of the Trump administration, and as we head toward a Presidential election, however, seems like a particularly suspicious time for the President to be so intent on including a citizenship question that he would be willing to defy a ruling by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in June 2019, upon learning that information found on hard drivesof a late Republican consultant named Thomas Hofeller, had shown the Republicans the way to use a citizenship question to their advantage decided against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The information specifically revealed to the Court the Republican plan to use the citizenship question to “rig” the vote by creating paranoia among immigrants “both legal and illegal” which would result in, it is estimated, at least 6.5 million Americans avoiding the census altogether. 

The hard drives also revealed why Republicans thought this plan would achieve two cherished goals on their list of strategies for winning elections. 1) Including a citizenship question would result in an undercount of Democratic voters, which would allow for redistricting, and change the number of votes in the electoral college in states with large numbers of immigrants (and Democrats) – New York, Florida, and California for starters. 2) It would affect federal budget appropriations to the states because appropriations-math involves population figures, which would then be distorted by low participation of minorities in the 2020 Census (affecting the same states and, hopefully, other blue states). 

Because the hard drives clearly laid out an underhanded partisan political strategy to “rig” votes in an election the Supreme Court turned down the citizenship question until a better rationale could be provided. 

But, we should be aware that there could be far more disturbing reasons to ask a citizenship questions in a year when the President wants to deport a million undocumented people. Usually the names on individual census forms are not revealed, although census records do keep track of where census completers live. If you have worked on your family tree you may have benefited from the fact that a census saves such information. Lots of other data is mined from the census without naming the respondents individually. 

Trump once asked every state to turn over to him their voter rolls (Jan., 2017).He said he wanted to prove that there are people voting more than once, or that “illegal” immigrants vote. Since Trump cheats constantly he sees cheating all around him and he seems to have always believed that there are thousands of illegal votes cast in American elections, although studies suggest this is not so. Voter rolls would have given Trump names and addresses of every voter in America. Who knows what kind of “witch hunt” he might have gone on if so many states had not declined. However, the census gives him another source for the information he seeks.

It is also not impossible to conclude that a census that includes a citizenship question strikes 45 as something that may help him ferret out and arrest immigrants who may be too fearful not to obey a government decree and will fill out the census to their detriment. Then it becomes a matter of “I know where you live”.

Given the attempts to end legal asylum practices, the separation of children and parents, the appalling conditions in the detention centers and the fact that time constraints in the law are being ignored – given the all-consuming nature of the President’s passion to evict immigrants – to allow only highly-skilled Christian, Europeans (or Norwegians) to come to America, it hardly seems far-fetched to fear that Census information about whether someone is a citizen or not could be abused for either taking away voting rights or in a “witch hunt”. A lawless President does not, by definition regard or follow our nation’s laws, as we have seen so often. Will Trump defy the Supreme Court or will the Supreme Court cave? Will Trump’s chaos strategy inspire enough fear to keep many Americans, who are already paranoid about government, from filling out the Census?

If you need more proof try this article from the NYT:

Gerrymandering Wins: Why the Supreme Court Decision Has Dangers for America

Most Gerrymandered Districts in America – From a Google Image Search – Washington Post

Gerrymandering Wins: Why This Decision Has Dangers for America

Today, 6/27/19 the Supreme Court passed on making a ruling on gerrymandering which has been practiced in a hyper-partisan extreme way by the GOP in recent years. Two especially egregious test cases had been brought before the court, North Carolina and Maryland. 

Today’s Washington Post gives us pertinent sections of  John Roberts’ argument in basically siding with the Conservatives by deciding not to make a decision about gerrymandering. WaPo says, “The Supreme Court’s conservatives decided Thursday that federal courts do not have a role to play in deciding whether partisan gerrymandering goes too far.” Roberts says, “ We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between two major political parties…” 

This is a big setback for Democrats who were hoping that someone could decide how much gerrymandering is too much. Gerrymandering is drawing voting districts that favor one party over another in an election. Extreme gerrymandering can guarantee that a minority party will always win. Both parties have used gerrymandering, which is done at the state level, and there have been times when gerrymandered districts were tortuously contorted, almost on a house-by-house basis. However gerrymandering is not considered part of fair governance and it does not honor everyone’s voting rights. For example, since the GOP sees minority voters as Democrats, they can engineer the boundaries of a district to exclude all minority voters. They may claim that this is strictly partisan, but since it robs minorities of voting power it is also racist.

There is a plan among Conservatives to use Article V of the Constitution to trigger a Constitutional Convention to amend the US Constitution so that it will more nearly conform with Conservative views. Two-thirds of the states must apply for such a convention. Through gerrymandering and the actions of the Conservative group ALEC that has actually dictated bills to state legislatures and then lobbied to get these bills voted into law, the Conservatives already have collected applications for a Constitutional Convention from 28 states. They only need 6 more states to make up the required number of 34. There are 6 more GOP states who have not applied for a Constitutional Convention so far. The two strategies, extreme gerrymandering and collecting states so that Conservatives can call a US Constitutional Convention, show a sophisticated kind of long range planning which could almost amount to a bloodless coup in which one party, the GOP gets to take over the US government and move it as far to the right as they wish. 

Since the court will not help overturn the gerrymandering that is most extreme it becomes even more important for the Democrats to win in 2020. If they win in a census year they may have some control over gerrymandering. However, since gerrymandering happens at the state level, and since Conservatives have won over so many states it may be too late to prevent a Constitutional Convention. A Constitutional Convention called by Conservative states could be a disaster for Democrats and for we the people given the partisan divide right now in America. 

Fortunately, the court also decided on this same day to deny the right to put a citizenship question on the census. A citizenship question, as evidence recently discovered proves, is another way the GOP is attempting to discourage minorities from voting. Since minorities often vote for Democrats and since minorities may be leery about answering a citizenship question, this could again suppress Democratic Party votes. President Trump, unhappy with the court’s decision about the citizenship question has asked if the census could be delayed until the court can be provided with better information. Has this ever happened before? Maybe. But the Supreme Court was never intended to do the bidding of a president.   

Citizenship Question on 2020 Census – Supremes Decide

Right now the Supreme Court is considering whether to allow a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, so it may be a bit late to express my deep concerns about the use of such a question during the tenure of this particular administration. Citizenship questions have appeared in the Census before, but not since 1960. Given the rabid attitudes about immigration expressed by Trump and backed up by his people (including the Republican Party) this is an especially fraught time to allow this question on this decade’s census. Undocumented people are basically being hunted down for deportation.

Accurate Count

In a climate like this how can we expect an accurate count of the people living in America right now. Census information becomes part of our nation’s permanent record offering up useful data to citizens simply seeking to know about their ancestors. Often people want to know their family’s history so they can improve their understanding of potential health challenges. Bad records offer bad data. If citizens have family members living with them who are undocumented, which is quite a common thing, they may avoid the census to protect relatives and friends from deportation.

Implications for Voting Rights

Trump has long sought lists of all US voters. I do not think he has the purest of reasons for wanting this information. He believes that suppressing voters who might lean left is a perfectly viable election strategy and he can’t even process the loud cries of “foul”. For any Fox News viewers who might stumble into this article by accident, suppressing votes is not OK for any reason in our democracy/republic.

However, ever since the Voter Rights Act turned 50 and the Supreme Court allowed the preclearance section of the law to be vacated, the Republicans and Trump have weaponized election tools to suppress Dem votes. Trump was not around when districts were so drastically gerrymandered that there are whole districts which will always vote Republican. The new Census can be used to readjust boundaries of voting districts once again. Trump plans to still be in power to help the GOP plunder the vote even more effectively than they did after the last census. Democrats, including Obama, are fighting some boundaries where there was clearly almost house-by-house gerrymandering but it is a long slog through the courts.

In districts that leaned to the left Republicans could play with things like cutting back on voting days, taking away polling places, trying to stop churches from taking people on buses directly to polling places to vote, choosing polling places that were not on stops of public transportation leaving voters off with some distance to walk to get to their polling place. Republicans could conduct purges of voter rolls, removing people who had not voted in a while. Obviously sometimes it is necessary to purge people from voter rolls who have moved or are deceased, but you don’t usually lose your voting rights because you decide not to vote. In North Carolina one Republican candidate had his people go house-to-house collecting absentee ballots and offering to fill them in for the voter. His illegal ‘strategy’ was uncovered and he lost his election bid, but the things that Republicans try to suppress the vote are not just shenanigans, they are serious breaches of the laws of the US, and winking while people attempt to get away with them is damaging to the validity of our elections, already under attack by Russia and China.

So it’s easy to imagine that one reason Republicans favor a citizenship question on the census goes something like this, “most immigrants tend to vote for Democrats, by discouraging an accurate count of immigrants we can hurt the Democrat votes, all is fair in love and elections (except that is not true) and if we do this we the GOP can win in 2020.”

More Nefarious Purposes?

There is another problem with putting a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and the problem is that it is possibly motivated by fascism, not any democratic impulse. That list that Trump wanted of all voters was not forthcoming because it is un-American and invades our freedom. Now he is salivating at the thought of a list of all of the undocumented immigrants in America and not because they are voters. The GOP and Trump like to keep whispering (loudly) in our ears that undocumented people are voting illegally and I suppose a few who have fraudulent ID’s could go vote, but I doubt if the numbers are large as such people tend to hide, to not call attention to themselves by signing public registers, which voters are required to do. He also does this in case he needs to “prove” that an election is rigged, something he seems to worry about a lot, because he needs to win.

But the other reason Trump is gleefully anticipating a positive ruling by the Supremes is because then he would have a sort of ‘gestapo’ list of names and addresses of undocumented people living in America. I’m not sure why he thinks that people in hiding from an aggressive I.C.E. will answer the census accurately, but he wants to try, even at the risk of getting inaccurate census data that will misguide many national decisions over the next ten years. I hope the Supreme Court has not moved this far to the right and will give us a sensible ruling appropriate to these times when white supremacy is being used to whip up divisions in America.

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – Democracy Now!