Christie’s special election decision

This afternoon, Governor Christie decided to hold two special elections — a primary in August and a general election in October — to fill the Senate seat that is vacant as a result of Senator Frank Lautenberg’s death yesterday.  In the following, Christie explains why he decided that the elections should be held in August and October.  Critics have already suggested that Christie’s decision was politically motivated by his desire not to have the Senate election in November, when he is up for re-election, because of the increased Democratic turnout what will come in the Senate election.  (Christie, of course, wants to be re-elected by a wide margin.)  Other critics have suggested that the special elections are a waste of money (as they will cost about $24 million in total), especially given the budget cuts that Christie has made to services such as health care programs for impoverished women (which he has cut by $6 million annually).

More reaction from both Democrats and Republicans is sure to follow.  But, in the meantime, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.


More on the Establishment Clause

From the recent edition of the Economist, the following piece should be familiar to all of you.  Should religious material be permitted to be placed in government owned facilities?

Atheists complain about free Bibles in the wilderness

YOU’LL find one in almost any hotel room in America, usually in a nightstand drawer: a Bible, donated by the Gideons, an evangelical group that puts free Bibles in hotels, hospitals, prisons and other places where they might “reach the lost”. Ed Buckner found one in his cottage at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, a Georgia state park. Then he found another. And another, and another. The final tally was nine, enough for all but the largest families.

Many Georgians would have appreciated the reading material, but Mr Buckner did not. He is a former president of American Atheists (AA). His complaint about the “constitutionally improper” literature in his cabin reached the officials who oversee Georgia’s state parks, who ordered them removed. Shortly thereafter Nathan Deal, the governor, overruled them. The Bibles were donated, not bought by the state, he noted, adding that “a Bible in a bedside table drawer” does not constitute “a state establishment of religion”.

Besides, said Mr Deal, “any group is free to donate literature.” AA took him at his word. It has offered books by polemical atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, as well as Madalyn Murray O’Hair, AA’s founder, and Ibn Warraq, a critic of Islam, to be placed in Georgia state-park cottages.

Americans have long fought over what the first amendment’s promise, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, means in practice. At least two establishment-clause cases are pending before the Supreme Court. Elmbrook School District v Doe asks whether the first amendment bars a state school from holding public functions in a church building for purely secular reasons. (For example if it is cheap, nearby, roomy and equipped with a wheelchair ramp.) The court has yet to accept or reject that case.

It has agreed to hear Town of Greece v Galloway, which concerns the prayers with which a town board in upstate New York opens its meetings, next autumn. Legislative prayer itself is not unconstitutional: the House and Senate both have Christian chaplains, paid from public funds, and in 1983 the court held that such prayers are “part of the fabric of our society”. But a lower court held that because the prayers in Greece were entirely Christian and received with great enthusiasm by town-board members, they “associated the town with the Christian religion”, in violation of the first amendment.

Establishment-clause jurisprudence is as easy to understand as the Book of Revelation. In 1989 the Supreme Court held that a Nativity scene on public property violated the first amendment but a Christmas tree and menorah did not. In 2005 it ruled that framed copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools in Kentucky were unconstitutional but that a giant granite monument of the Ten Commandments outside the Texas capitol was just fine. Go figure.

In Georgia, meanwhile, atheists await guidance from the governor on how to get their tracts into cabins. Holidaymakers hoping to curl up with a free copy of “The God Delusion” may be disappointed, however. Mr Deal said he would accept such books but quipped to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he “cannot guarantee [their] safety”.

the IRS and Abuse of Power

President Obama spoke today on the growing scandal involving the IRS and their targeting Tea Party organizations for scrutiny and investigation.  Does the President’s statement and actions adequately address the concerns raised by the IRS’s actions?  Is the White House doing a good job, in terms of public relations, communicating their message?  Are criticisms of the White House in conjunction with this scandal fair?


No Early Voting in New Jersey

Governor Christie yesterday vetoed a bill that would have allowed early voting in New Jersey.  After reading the following, comment on whether or not New Jersey should have adopted this measure.  Do the benefits outweigh the costs (both real and potential)?

Christie vetoes early voting bill, angering Democrats

Jenna Portnoy/The Star-Ledger By Jenna Portnoy/The Star-Ledger

on May 09, 2013 at 3:35 PM, updated May 10, 2013 at 7:16 AM

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie today vetoed a bill that would allow early voting at polling places, prompting Democrats to brand it a politically motivated effort to suppress the vote months after Hurricane Sandy exposed vulnerabilities in the state elections system.

The Republican governor called a proposal to let voters cast ballots at designated polling places during a 15-day period before Election Day “hasty, counterproductive and less reliable” than the current system.

“I support responsible and cost-efficient election reform that increases voter participation because democracy works best when the most people vote,” Christie said in the veto message. “But this bill risks the integrity and orderly administration of our elections by introducing a new voting method and process.”

Christie’s veto bucks a national trend. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia had instituted some form of in-person early voting as of September 2012, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That does not include New Jersey, which allows absentee voting without having to provide an excuse.

State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex), a primary sponsor of the bill (S2364), said Christie’s veto shows he is out of step with most states.

“The governor now joins other Republican governors who have sought to stifle the vote and limit access to the polls,” she said. “Once again he is catering to his national base at the expense of New Jersey residents.”

Currently, voters can cast a “mail-in-ballot” by mailing or hand-delivering a competed ballot to their county clerk starting 45 days before the election.

Christie said the expanded early voting system envisioned by the Legislature would create a side-by-side voting process, noting it would cost the state $23 million in the first year and $2 million each year after that. He also questioned the security of transporting paper ballots around the state during the early voting period and the call for a quick setup before July 1.

Christie, who is seeking re-election, raised the ire of unions and the Democratic Governors Association, who are backing his likely opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex).

“The governor’s veto shamefully silences the voices of an untold number of New Jersey families,” New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said. The Democratic Governors Association immediately issued a statement likening Christie to what it called “shameless Republican governors restricting voting rights for partisan political gain,” citing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and others.

“Governor Christie’s veto is yet another example of Republican politicians taking the cynical view that making voting more difficult will win them more elections,” Buono said.

Hurricane Sandy damaged polling places and severely limited residents’ ability to get around the state days before the November presidential election. In response, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno issued a last-minute patchwork of directives intended to help people vote, including letting residents request and return mail-in ballots by fax and e-mail.

Christie said those measures worked well and the election went smoothly, pointing to the nearly 300,000 mail-in ballots cast. Voting rights advocates maintain that many residents were disenfranchised.

About 67 percent of New Jersey voters cast their ballots last year. For at least a century, New Jersey had never gone below 70 percent voter turnout in a presidential election year.


US foreign policy in Syria

In the following Wall Street Journal interview/video editorial, Fouad Ajami is highly critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria.  He asserts, among other thins, that Obama is neither loved nor feared in the Middle East.  If you were president, would you advocate greater US intervention in Syria?  Should we have armed the Syrian rebels?  Should we arm them now that the rebellion has apparently been radicalized?  What if it was confirmed that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons?


Does the government record your telephone calls?

In this piece from last week on CNN, a former FBI counterintelligence officer suggests that all of your telephone calls are recorded… or at least that they could be accessed at a later date by the government if it were investigating you.  Does this concern you, from the perspective of civil liberties and privacy?  Does this violate individuals’ 4th amendment “right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure”?  Or should the government be able to access any conversation you have — on the telephone or online — in conjunction with a terrorism investigation?

Bush v. Gore, according to O’Connor

The following blog post from the NY Times highlights retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s recent comments on the Bush v. Gore decision.  I have deleted the editorial content of the post because I want to hear your opinion.  Was SCOTUS’s  agreement to hear the case a good decision?  And what about the decision itself?  Is O’Connor’s after-the-fact commentary appropriate?  Was the Court’s decision a good one?

O’Connor Regrets Bush v. Gore

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 25, 2012. T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty ImagesFormer

Now she tells us. More than 12 years after the fact, retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said she believes it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to take Bush v. Gore and anoint George W. Bush as president of the United States.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” Justice O’Connor told the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Friday. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”

She continued: “Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision. It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

The result, she allowed, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less than perfect reputation.”

Justice O’Connor’s comments, as fascinating as they are, have to set some kind of record for detachment (she calls the court on which she sat for 25 years “it” — avoiding the more apt “we”) and also for understatement.

Granted, we don’t know for sure whether Justice O’Connor wanted to take Bush v. Gore. Only four justices have to agree to hear a case. But we do know that she sided with the majority on the actual decision, which stopped the recounting in Florida and gave a one-vote majority in the Electoral College to the man who lost the national popular vote.

Integrated Prom

So here’s where the Prom controversy in Georgia ended up last week.  Interesting to consider if pressure from outside of the town caused this change to occur.  How important was the role of the media?  Or did the town just respond to the passion and hard work of the students on this issue?

Media Coverage of Boston

In the following, Jon Stewart is critical of media coverage of the Boston bombings and their aftermath.  (He picks on the New York Post and CNN in this piece, but last night he worked over Fox and its misreading of the Constitution.)  Do you think that this criticism is justified?  Or did the media do the best it could do, under the circumstances, and provide us with responsible, informative coverage?

Should suspected terrorists have Miranda rights?

So there were/are three options for dealing with the suspect who is now in custody in conjunction with the Boston bombings:
(a)  Treat him like any other individual in custody; read him his Miranda rights and then question him.
(b)  Invoke the “public safety exception” and question him.  Then, at some point, read him his rights.
(c)  Treat him like an enemy combatant and keep him him custody until the war on terror ends, as suggested today by Senators McCain and Graham.

Watch the following and share your thoughts.