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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?

 

Arguments Against Expanded Background Checks

Here’s Mike Lee (R-Utah) speaking last week on the floor of the Senate about the provisions of the expanded background check legislation that was defeated yesterday.  His comments are a useful tool to help understand why the Senate rejected a measure that was supported by such a large majority of the American people.  Your thoughts?

Justice Scalia: Judicial Activist?

The following piece from The Economist is critical of what it describes as Justice Scalia’s inconsistent judicial philosophy.  Is this a fair criticism?  Or is Justice Scalia, in this case, justified in seeking to overturn the actions of the legislative branch?

The Voting Rights Act

Antonin Scalia’s uber-activism

WEDNESDAY’S oral argument at the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought an extraordinary piece of analysis from Justice Antonin Scalia—a comment that drew gasps from the audience. The law’s utility as a shield against voting practices that discriminate based on race, Mr Scalia suggested, had evaporated. He argued that requiring nine Southern states and sections of seven others, all with a history of discrimination, to “pre-clear” changes to voting procedures with the Justice Department is now needless interference with “state sovereignty”.

Analysing the most recent reauthorisation of the act in 2006, Mr Scalia explained away its lopsided support in the Senate (98-0) and House of Representatives (390-33):

And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same….I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

After his comment caused a minor stir in the courtroom, Mr Scalia added:

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless—unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution… [T]his is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress….Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

This is not Mr Scalia’s first impolitic outburst. But for a justice who stakes his jurisprudence on deferring to the democratically elected branches of government, it is a stunning line of reasoning. Consider, by comparison, Mr Scalia’s endorsement of Justice Benjamin Cordozo’s 1933 statement decrying judicial second-guessing of legislative acts:

We do not pause to consider whether a statute differently conceived and framed would yield results more consonant with fairness and reason. We take the statute as we find it.

And recall Mr Scalia’s claim in the 1990 euthanasia case Cruzan v Missouri that it is not for judges to decide when a patient’s life is “worthless”, but “it is up to the citizens of Missouri to decide, through their elected representatives, whether that wish [to end a life] will be honored.”

So why not let the people’s elected representatives handle the matter of racial discrimination and voting? Why, in this case, does Mr Scalia believe he should substitute his views for those of legislators? Members of Congress, after all, considered 12,000 pages worth of testimony in 2006, which showed “pervasive discrimination” in the covered districts. As Justice Elena Kagan said yesterday to Burt Rein, the attorney for the petitioner, “that’s a big, new power that you are giving us…the power now to decide whether racial discrimination has been solved. I did not think that that fell within our bailiwick.”

For a justice who sniffs out closet activism even in his fellow conservative justices—in 2007 he criticised Chief Justice John Roberts for exercising “faux judicial restraint“—Mr Scalia apparently finds the Voting Rights Act to be a uniquely egregious specimen of legislative incompetence. While Mr Scalia has voted to overturn congressional laws from time to time, such as in City of Boerne v Flores (which got a brief mention during Wednesday’s argument), never has he couched his judicial activism in such cynical terms. We cannot trust the Congress to legislate earnestly on questions of race, Mr Scalia implied, because senators and representatives feel bound to uphold “racial entitlements” that their forebears have enacted. Political correctness rules.

Let us posit for the sake of argument that Mr Scalia’s cynicism is on target: American senators voted unanimously to extend the law in 2006 not because they found merit in its provisions but because they feared that a “no” vote would earn them condemnation as racists. What then? Should America trust its Supreme Court to bring a more careful, measured eye to the question? The tenor of the comments from the conservative justices suggests the answer is no. Consider the simplistic suggestion from the chief justice that because “the citizens in the South are [no] more racist than citizens in the North” we can safely ignore evidence that Southern states still systematically discriminate against minorities. Consider the ease with which Mr Scalia equated the guarantee of an equal right to vote with the concept of “racial entitlement”. And consider the failure of any justice to mention efforts in many of the covered states to depress voter turnout among minority voters in 2012. It remains highly questionable whether a majority of the Supreme Court is up to the task of diagnosing America’s racial challenges.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The following two videos give you some background on the Voting Rights Act dispute that was argued in front of the Supreme Court last month, and then give you a taste for the two sides of the argument on whether Section 5 of the Act is unconstitutional.  In your view, should the Court uphold Section 5, or not?

Sequestration

So this is the first of what I expect to be several posts regarding sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that will take effect next Friday unless Congress and the President take action to avert them.  Many say that the budget cuts will hurt the economy, and most agree that some important services will be cut if the sequestration goes through.  Others say that these budget cuts are a necessary to reduce the size of the federal government.  If sequestration goes through, who is to blame?  Or is sequestration a good thing?

Under what circumstances are the killing of US citizens justified?

Here’s a report from the BBC on the “drone wars” carried out by the Bush and Obama administrations and the content of a leaked memo in which the Justice Department provides a legal argument backing drone strikes against Americans.  Is this, in your view, a proper use of presidential power?  Under what circumstances, if any, are such killings justified?  And what, in your opinion, does the word “imminent” mean?

Women in combat

The defense department will announce today that, going forward, women may serve in combat for the US military.  Do you believe that this is a good idea?  Do you believe that women (like men) should be drafted, if in the future a military draft is implemented?

Hurricane Sandy Relief

OK, well this is Jon Stewart at his most caustic.  So try to discount the emotion a bit, and analyze the underlying issues.  Why DID 67 Republicans vote against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill that came up last Friday?  If it wasn’t about an objection to pork barrel spending, what was the reason for their vote?  This may require you to do some research, but it would be worth it for someone to come up with an explanation that clearly Stewart does not have.

Armed guards in schools?

The NRA today announced that they would support congressional legislation to fund armed guards in schools to protect teachers and students from gun violence.  The following is part of their statement.  Do you believe that this proposed measure would be an effective solution to the problem it is meant to address?  If not, what would you suggest?

Is it ever appropriate to break a pledge?

Grover Norquist is back in the news, as some Republicans have indicated that they are prepared to break their pledge never to raise taxes.  Is it ever appropriate to break a pledge?