I shouldn’t be dreading Election Day the way I am. Or at least not for the reasons for which I’m dreading it. I have dreaded Election Days before, but I dreaded them because I dreaded the outcome—the traditional American reason for dreading Election Days. And for the most part, the Election Days I dreaded for that reason were elections worth dreading: Nixon (twice), Reagan (twice), George W. (once, the second term; I didn’t know enough about him in 2000). And Lord knows both 2016 and 2020 filled my brain with snakes and dragons.
But as we approach this Election Day, I’m dreading it for an entirely new reason. A reason I thought we’d left behind with Tammany Hall in the North and with the Klan in the South. I’m dreading the actual act of voting, all over the country.
This week, Reuters ran a long piece of reporting about the network of election deniers and trained ratf*ckers:
As the United States enters the final stretch to November’s midterm elections, Reuters documented multiple incidents of intimidation involving an expanding army of election observers, many of them recruited by prominent Republican Party figures and activists echoing Trump's false theories about election fraud. The widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election as alleged by Trump and his supporters was never proven.
I admire the writer’s discretion here, but the reason that the alleged voter fraud was “never proven” was because it “never happened.”
Interviews with more than two dozen election officials as well as representatives of groups driven by false theories about election fraud, and an examination of poll-watching training materials, revealed an intensifying grassroots effort to recruit activists. This has heightened alarm that disturbances in this year's primary contests could foreshadow problems in November's local, state and national races.
One thing we all should’ve learned from the public hearings of the January 6 select committee is that almost nothing is spontaneous anymore. Dig deep enough, and you’ll find someone organizing these “spontaneous” events (as well as someone bankrolling them). In any case, Reuters found examples of this occasionally criminal behavior all over the country. Most of the incidents ran on the same rails.
Election officials in three other states -- North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada -- reported similar incidents. In 16 North Carolina counties alone, officials noted unusually aggressive observers during May's primary elections, according to a state election board survey. Some attempted to take photographs of sensitive voting equipment or intimidated voters at polling places, in violation of North Carolina's election laws. During early voting in Arizona's Pima County, an election observer was told to put away binoculars; another was caught looking at private voter data, and another was asked to stop making comments about “fraudulent elections,” according to a September report by the county recorder's office reviewed by Reuters[…]In Nevada's Washoe County, people with night vision goggles stood outside the registrar's building and aimed their cameras at election workers counting votes on primary night in June, two Washoe County officials told Reuters.
Night vision goggles?
Groups that question the legitimacy of the 2020 vote have helped recruit thousands of observers who support dramatic changes to how Americans vote, including doing away with voting machines and returning to hand-counted paper ballots. Officials say they are concerned observers intent on rooting out so-called voter fraud could cause unnecessary disruptions and long lines at polling places on Election Day. "It's a real concern," said Al Schmidt, a former Philadelphia city commissioner who received death threats after the 2020 election for refuting false claims of voter fraud. "If these people show up to the polls with the intention of disrupting voting from taking place, then I can't imagine a worse threat to democracy than that.”
I can, but not many. I’m buying into the pious banalities of the organizers about as far as I can throw a Dominion voting machine.
Sandy Kiesel, who heads the Election Integrity Force in Michigan, said her poll "challengers" will be trained to be "polite, respectful and to obey the law. We're not about trying to hassle poll workers," Kiesel told Reuters. "It's about transparency. If we can all see what's going on, maybe we wouldn't have these arguments whether elections are free and fair.”
Kiesel seems to be the front person for the organized ratf*ckery that is the Election Integrity Force. In August, Politico published the tapes of a Zoom meeting of the EIF in which operatives were told that, if they saw anything they thought untoward, they should call 911, which certainly would endear them to dispatchers in various small town police departments.
Sadly, this is nothing new for the modern Republican Party. The Republican National Committee was under a consent decree from 1982 through 2018 prohibiting it from “engaging in activities that suppress the vote, particularly when it comes to minority voters.” The decree was the result of naked voter intimidation in the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election, in which minority precincts were “patrolled” by something called the National Ballot Security Task Force, a group of armed off-duty police officers and sheriff’s deputies. These goons challenged voters and actually blocked some of them. The Democratic National Committee sued and that lawsuit resulted in the consent decree.
The 2018 court decision that lifted this consent decree opened the door to a distressful past.
In 1964, the Republican National Committee—hamstrung with an extremist presidential candidate in Barry Goldwater and facing Lyndon Johnson, who was running as the political heir to a popular president whose murder the country was still collectively grieving—devised something called Operation Eagle Eye. The program called for an organized effort to challenge Hispanic voters all over Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. One of the volunteers was an ambitious young lawyer named William Rehnquist, who later would be the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court for nearly 20 years.
Chicanery—even violent chicanery—at polling places has a long history in American politics. For a long time, it was often fueled by alcohol provided to citizens on their way in to vote. In fact, as author Daniel Okrent reports in his fine history of Prohibition, it goes back to elections held even before the United States was the United States.
“When twenty-four-year-old George Washington first ran for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he attributed his defeat to his failure to provide enough alcohol for the voters. When he tried again two years later, Washington floated into office partly on the 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer his election agent handed out—roughly half a gallon for every vote he received.”
In 1777, James Madison, future president and principal author of the Constitution, lost an election because he refused to ply voters with booze. According to historian Robert Dinkin, this was called “swilling the planters with gumbo.” In New York, bars doubled as polling places, which must have been delightful. The famous Hatfield-McCoy feud in Kentucky was exacerbated by the murder of a Hatfield by a McCoy in a drunken Election Day brawl.
But what is different from those rough and rowdy days is the cold calculation behind efforts like the ones that Reuters describes. Offenses against the franchise became much less funny once the dearly departed Voting Rights Act and voter suppression broke down along racial lines. The relentless attack on minority voting rights has animated the entire legal career of the present chief justice, John Roberts, and he and the carefully engineered conservative majority on the Supreme Court finally eviscerated it in 2010 with Shelby County v. Holder. A half-century later, Operation Eagle Eye at last found that it had a friend in court. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, dissenting in Shelby County, delivered an elegy for the VRA that also opened up the door to a new and uncertain time for us all:
Beyond question, the VRA is no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment. For a half century, a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.
It’s a message from another world.
Notice of Suspension As of October 14, 2022 Santiago Sosa (ATL) - Suspended: Offensive/Insulting/Abusive Language - Frist two games of 2023 regular season
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Moe Vela on the Unicorn Hunters set
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Don’t expect to hear about his time at the White House when Moe Vela speaks at the Queer History South: Archives for All, Y’all conference in Dallas this weekend. And he won’t be focusing on his Amazon Prime TV show Unicorn Hunters, which is in production for another season.
Instead, Vela said, he’ll tell the story behind the story — how he grew up in the Rio Grande Valley without having the safety and security of a neighborhood like Oak Lawn.
“We usually view someone’s successes, accolades and accomplishments to define a person,” Vela said.
But to learn from history, we need to know more than what was accomplished. We need to learn the details, the challenges, the obstacles and the pain and struggles behind the successes to truly learn from our past, he said.
That’s what he’ll focus on when he’s in Dallas for the 13-state LGBTQ history conference at Dallas College/El Centro from Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
To get a full and fair understanding of LGBTQ history, Vela said he likes to focus on more than history’s highlights. Most people think of Stonewall and then a series of court decisions when they think of the steps to LGBTQ equality. But, he said, it was the individual stories behind each of these milestones that made them happen.
Vela holds a place in LGBTQ history himself as the first LGBTQ American and the first Hispanic American to serve in a senior executive role in the White House in two administrations — first working for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration and then working for Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration.
He was appointed to his first senior White House role when he was in his 30s. How did he get there so young? “Everything is about relationships,” he said.
Having been born into a family with a legacy of service, Vela got a job with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
“I was out drinking at a microbrewery with a number of other political appointees,” he said. “The director of White House operations said, ‘My Aunt Patsy’s office said they’re looking for a lawyer-type.’”
Vela said he happened to have had a few drinks at the time, and so he piped up, commenting that he was himself a lawyer-type. So she said, “Send me your resume.” He heard back promptly, was interviewed and got the job working for Gore.
And Vela did a great job of hiring staff. His chief of staff was Ron Klain, who now serves as chief of staff to President Biden.
From the onset, Vela said, both Gore and Biden were on the side of equality. Obviously, both had LGBTQ friends and understood the issues. But he explained how he made himself a valuable advisor on LGBTQ issues and used marriage equality as an example.
“The Bidens were passionate about marriage equality,” he said. “They were there ethically, spiritually, mentally.”
In fact, Vela said, they were ahead of the Obamas on the issue. “Personally, I wanted to tell them, ‘Oh, just say it.’” he said.
But Vela put his own self-interest aside and counseled respect and deference to the president and First Lady. He also understood that we were winning one marriage equality lawsuit after another, and each judge’s ruling added another interesting argument. In the long run, it was politically helpful to let these cases play out.
So understanding their role in the office of the vice president and thinking in context of history and progress, he advised the Bidens against making a statement earlier and getting out in front of the Obamas. Biden accepted the advice until, in response to a question, he came out in favor of marriage equality, prompting Obama to make his own pro-marriage equality statement within days.
As an advisor on Hispanic issues, Vela gave the example of immigration as another sensitive issue.
“Immigration is a very divisive issue,” he said, “a confluence of morality, legality, policy and politics.”
He said Democrats make a mistake by not acknowledging it’s illegal to enter the country without documentation.
“It’s about messaging,” he said. “We have to be supportive from a humanitarian perspective, but we can’t ignore the law. [Support seeking] asylum through the proper channels and system put in place.”
If that system isn’t working, he added, then let’s fix it.
Vela said that while the GOP likes to accuse Democrats of supporting open borders, “more people have been turned away and deported this year under Biden than ever. We’re not soft on the issue.”
The trick is to find a balance. “Treat [undocumented immigrants] with kindness and respect,” he said.
“Tell them, ‘Let’s show you how to apply for asylum.’ Treat them the way we’d want to be treated.”
And even if it’s determined the person can’t stay in this country, he added, they should be “deported with dignity. … Let’s get to the root of the problem.”
Vela listed several reasons people leave their homes to come to the U.S. One of the main reasons is lack of available jobs. So one of the first things the U.S. should be doing is helping to create jobs in their home countries. “Help [those countries] empower their people so they don’t need to leave,” he said.
The second main driver of immigration is people being tormented in their home countries by the drug cartels. Noting that the U.S. is the number one buyer of drugs, Vela said, “If we cut off the demand, the supply would no longer be needed. We’re part of the problem.”
He said the U.S. must also address the climate change that’s fueling some immigration. He suggested teaching these countries to “enter the clean energy world,” by helping them create wind and solar power.
On trans issues, Vela declared, “Gay men have no idea what it means to be trans.” He said as a gay man, he can be supportive from an equality standpoint, comparing it to the issue of domestic violence.
“You don’t have to experience it to be supportive,” he said. “I wasn’t able to be who I was for the first 18 or 19 years of my life. Authenticity and living truth is very important to me.”
Vela talked briefly about his current career as a creator and panelist, along with Steve Wozniak and Lance Bass, of Unicorn Hunters, a show he describes as Shark Tank on steroids that allows the audience to participate in the investments. But then he pivoted back to the conference in Dallas and its focus on LGBTQ history, describing himself part of the AIDS generation. That generation, he said, includes more perspectives than just that of ACT UP founder Larry Kramer.
Vela promised to share with conference attendees that bit of Texas and Southern gay history, but, he stressed, “My story wasn’t any more special or more challenging than anyone else’s as part of history. So we can affirm each other.”
Hear Vela tell his own story at Archives for All, Y’All at Dallas College/El Centro on Friday.
Archives for All, Y’All features speakers who’ve been collecting, archiving, teaching and exhibiting LGBTQ history
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
LGBTQ history is more than Stonewall. It’s stories of LGBTQ lives from cities across the country. And it is on display this weekend in Dallas as the Queer History South conference comes to town.
Queer History South is a network of community members from across a 13-state area who share best practices for those collecting LGBTQ histories, archives, exhibits, historical research and education. The organization holds its second — and pandemic-delayed — conference, dubbed Archives for All, Y’All, in Dallas this weekend, Sept. 30-Oct.2.
The conference is of interest to archivists, historians, librarians, faculty, students, educators, nonprofit employees and community members working to preserve their community’s narratives. Moe Vela (see accompanying story) is the opening plenary speaker on Friday at 9 a.m.
The Dallas Way is the principle collector of LGBTQ artifacts and stories in the DFW area. Robert Emery will present a workshop on Outrageous Oral, The Dallas Way’s speaker series that has included presentations by more than 100 community leaders.
Other local history organizations will also present, including Invisible Histories of the South based in Birmingham, Ala., and founder of Queer History South, and The Austin LGBTQ+ Oral History Project at University of Texas. A presenter from the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana will discuss dealing with incomplete archives sometimes caused by state officials who destroyed or redacted incriminating documents.
On Friday night, attendees will visit the first and only LGBTQ historical marker in Texas, which stands on Cedar Springs Road, and then they will check out the world’s largest LGBTQ cowboy dance hall — The Round-Up Saloon. Others may take the Green Line to Fair Park for the opening day of the State Fair of Texas.
Mandy Carter is the opening plenary speaker on Saturday. She is the co-founder of Southerners on New Ground, the National Black Justice Coalition and Equality North Carolina. Her papers are archived at Duke University Libraries.
Speakers from the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida and the associate curator of education and outreach from the Orlando Museum of Art will discuss their work cruising for gay history outside the bars. In the afternoon, three speakers from University of North Texas will talk about the school’s physical and digital archives, research and preservation of North Texas LGBTQ history.
The conference continues Saturday with a reception at the nearby Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, with a special presentation on the museum’s LGBTQ exhibit. The bar at the museum opens at 6:39 p.m., two minutes after sunset signals the end of Shabbat.
The conference takes place at Dallas College/El Centro, 801 Main St. For more information, visit InvisibleHistory.org/qhs.
On Jan. 2, I took office as an elected County Council member representing all of Maui County in the West Maui residency seat.
I am one of three council members on the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board.
The Maui MPO is an agency formed in accord with federal regulations in 2016 by the State of Hawaii and County of Maui to facilitate comprehensive planning for federally funded or regionally significant transportation systems on the island of Maui.
The Maui MPO and its partner agencies develop plans and programs for a multimodal transportation system that facilitates the movement of people and goods. The Maui MPO does not construct projects or implement these programs directly.
Starting in July, I will also serve as the Maui County alternate to the executive committee of the Hawaii State Association of Counties, or HSAC. HSAC is the professional association for the council members and mayors of each county.
HSAC is also the Hawaii chapter of the National Association of Counties. The National Association of Counties will be hosting a conference in mid-July, which I will attend.
Being a new council member, the learning curve is steep. I am deeply grateful to the new administration, my colleagues and all of our staff, who have helped me learn the ropes and adjust to this new role.
We have recently completed our first county budget, and I am proud of the resources we have allocated toward affordable housing and optimistic our new director of Housing and Human Concerns will be able to hit the ground running.
I also advocated for adding more Ocean Safety officer positions to “right-size” Ocean Safety, funding for much-needed maintenance to the Kahana Nui retention basin, safety improvements for various county roads, and pursuing the purchase of 50 acres of agricultural lands for a park in West Maui, which was originally a condition of the change in zoning for the Kapalua Mauka project.
On Tuesday, one of my first pieces of introduced legislation was heard in the Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee. The legislation adds Hanakao’o Beach Park to the list of county beach parks at which commercial ocean recreational activity is prohibited.
The bill passed out of committee unanimously and will be heading to the full council for first memorizing in the near future.
One of the council’s primary functions is to establish land use policy. This is done through community plan updates, granting of land use entitlements and amendments to the county’s zoning code.
The committee assigned to vet and deliberate on land use policy is the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee, which I chair.
The committee has significant pending items, such as the West Maui Community Plan update and an application proposal for the urbanization of approximately 500 acres to allow for the creation of the Waikapu Country Town. I believe for the committee members to successfully and respectfully carry out our duties, Hawaii’s history and status must be discussed.
To that end, at the committee’s past couple of meetings, I invited David Keanu Sai, Ph.D., to present to the committee on Hawaii’s status under international law. Sai earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Hawaii and specializes in international relations, state sovereignty, international laws of occupation, United States constitutional law and Hawaiian land titles.
The purpose of the training is to provide the facts and truthful history of this place we all call home to decision-makers and the public at large — and to use this truth as a foundational basis for everyone’s decision-making and to raise our quality of life as residents of Hawaii Nei.
As a council member, my goal is to help move the county’s land use policy forward in a way that balances the future needs of Maui County with Hawaii’s past and current international status. Achieving that middle ground may be difficult, but as it is with all things in life, it is more important to do what is right than to do what is easy.
* Tamara Paltin is chairwoman of the council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee. She holds the council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.
A young reader, armed with books from her visit to the bookmobile, faces down another child, armed with a snowball, sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. Our money is on the booklover. (Cedar Rapids Public Library)
The younger of your two writers spotted a few #throwbackthursday posts on Instagram from the Cedar Rapids Public Library highlighting bookmobiles.
The older of your two writers immediately fell down a well of nostalgia, having been a regular Bookmobile patron in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The bookmobile stop in the parking lot of the Eagle grocery store (now True Value Hardware) on Mount Vernon Road SE was a sacred spot for a young reader falling in love with books.
The Cedar Rapids Public Library first sent a Bookmobile out into the community in 1952. It had six stops on its route. In 1954, a second vehicle was added. Ten years later, in 1964, a third Bookmobile was added to the fleet. At that time, mobile service was expanded to include Saturdays, with 19 neighborhoods served by the three vehicles.
A Gazette article on Sunday, Oct. 7, 1962, shared some impressive stats about the two bookmobiles in operation at the time. It reported:
Just as the main library and Kenwood branch have their own collections, the bookmobiles operate with a joint collection, all ordered especially for bookmobile use and all duplicates of material available at the main library.
It totals 27,598 books, including 10,500 adult titles and 17,000 juvenile. New books and replacements are added at the rate of 6,000 a year. The larger bookmobile carries 3,500 books, the smaller, about 3,000 … .
The place of bookmobile service in the total library program is unquestioned; it accounts for roughly 35 percent of the system’s total annual circulation.
The two units circulated 311,622 books in 1961, more than 14 percent over 1960. Circulation for the first nine months of this year is 276,285, or 13.5 percent over a year ago.
Bookmobile No. 3 added significant capacity, as noted in The Gazette on Sunday, Oct. 25, 1964:
Bookmobile No. 3 is a big one, 7 feet wide and 28 feet long inside. It has a capacity of 4,000 books or more…There is an intercom system between the front and rear desks of the Bookmobile — an essential feature during peak hours when as many as 50 or 60 people jam the 21-foot service aisle.
In the tight quarters of a bookmobile, the driver’s seat also served as the circulation desk in the 1950s or 1960s. (Cedar Rapids Public Library)
The list of 1965 bookmobile stops included:
Young and old readers alike visit a Cedar Rapids bookmobile on Oct. 7, 1962, during its stop at Center Point Road and 42nd Street NE in Cedar Rapids. In three-and-a-half hours, 754 books were checked out. (Gazette archives)
Librarian Pat Bradford checks the book selections of Diane Stastny during a May 27, 1958, bookmobile stop in northwest Cedar Rapids. (Gazette archives)
Despite the notion in 1962 that “the place of bookmobile service in the total library program is unquestioned,” a decade later the first two vehicles had been retired.
In 1983, the library decided to retire the only remaining bookmobile (the one of your author’s childhood) due, in part, to the expense of replacing the aging vehicle. The first bookmobile had cost $11,700; a replacement for Bookmobile No. 3 was estimated to cost $100,000.
Not everyone was pleased, of course, including Mary Wright who wrote a letter to the editor in January 1983 expressing her displeasure. It read, in part:
“The bookmobile is such an invaluable service because it makes books available to people throughout the city on a weekly basis. Not only children’s book, tapes and records but also book and periodicals for adults are available. Any specific book that you request can be put on the bookmobile with just a telephone call to the public library. If you have never used the bookmobile, stop by now and see what you’d be losing.”
For a while, a Friendsmobile — a van operated by Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library — continued to carry up to 1,300 books to various locations, but that effort, too, faded away.
The concept is not fully lost, however. Since 2021, the Cedar Rapids Public Library has supported the Mobile Technology Lab, which provides access to technology around the community. This summer, the Mobile Technology Lab added an older technology to its inventory. It started carrying some books.
We would like to thank Alison Gowans of the Cedar Rapids Public Library for her assistance with this article.
Jessica Cline is a Leadership & Character Scholar at Wake Forest University. Her dad, Rob Cline, is not a scholar of any kind. They write this monthly column for The History Center. Comments: HistoricalClines@gmail.com
The Friendsmobile stood in for the much larger bookmobiles in Cedar Rapids after Bookmobile No. 3 was retired in 1983. (Cedar Rapids Public Library)
The Cedar Rapids Public Library’s Mobile Technology Lab visits areas around the city. It started carrying books and other library materials this summer, too. (Cedar Rapids Public Library)
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court begins its new term Monday, but the nation, its leaders and the justices themselves do not appear to be over the last one.
The court’s 6-to-3 conservative majority quickly moved its jurisprudence sharply to the right, and there is no reason to believe the direction or pace is likely to change. This version of the court seems steadfast on allowing more restrictions on abortion, fewer on guns, shifting a previously strict line separating church and state, and reining in government agencies.
If it is the conservative legal establishment’s dream, it has come at a cost.
Polls show public approval of the court plummeted to historic lows - with a record number of respondents saying the court is too conservative - after the right wing of the court overturned Roe v. Wade’s ensure of a constitutional right to abortion. President Biden is trying to put the court in the political spotlight, hoping the abortion decision’s shock waves rocked the foundation of this fall’s midterm elections, once thought to be a boon to Republicans.
And the justices themselves are openly debating what the court’s rightward turn has meant for its institutional integrity. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. defends his conservative colleagues, with whom he does not always agree, saying unpopular decisions should not call the court’s legitimacy into question.
On the other side, liberal Justice Elena Kagan increasingly is sounding an alarm about the next precedents that could fall and the implications for public perception of the bench.
The court’s new docket offers that potential.
Justices have agreed to revisit whether universities can use race in a limited way when making admission decisions, a practice the court has endorsed since 1978. Two major cases involve voting rights. The court again will consider whether laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation must give way to business owners who do not want to provide wedding services to same-sex couples. And after limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority in air pollution cases last term, the court will hear a challenge regarding the Clean Water Act.
Liberal justices sound worried.
“The court shouldn’t be wandering around just inserting itself into every hot-button issue in America, and especially it shouldn’t be doing that in a way that reflects one ideology or one set of political views over another,” Kagan said last week at Salve Regina, a Roman Catholic university in Rhode Island.
She said that disregarding stare decisis - the doctrine of abiding by past decisions in the absence of compelling evidence that change is required - undermines public confidence. “It just doesn’t look like law when some new judges appointed by a new president come in and start just tossing out the old stuff,” she said.
The new justice this year is a liberal - Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court’s first African American woman, was nominated by Biden to fill the seat of Stephen G. Breyer, who retired after 28 years. Jackson will not change the court’s ideological makeup.
Breyer declared his last term on the court “very frustrating” in a recent interview with CNN. Breyer was known during his tenure for pragmatism and trying to reach compromise, and he seemed to warn the conservative majority about making bold moves.
“You start writing too rigidly … the world will come around and bite you in the back,” he said.
No matter what the new term brings, it is unlikely to match the drama of its predecessor - a repudiation of decades of the court’s precedents on abortion rights. The leak of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, upholding a restrictive Mississippi abortion law, created unprecedented tension at the court, which for a time was surrounded by a high black fence to ward off protesters.
The opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and the three justices chosen by President Donald Trump, achieved a decades-long conservative goal of overturning Roe.
“For many, that was a cause for great celebration,” said Irv Gornstein, the executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at the Georgetown Law Center. “For many others, it shattered their faith in the Supreme Court. Inside the court, Dobbs has provoked a deeply divisive debate on what it means for the court to act with legitimacy.”
Roberts voted to uphold the Mississippi law, but not to overturn Roe, calling that step too great a “jolt” to the legal system. But at a speech in Colorado last month, he defended justices who make controversial decisions.
“All of our opinions are open to criticism,” Roberts said in remarks to judges and lawyers. “In fact, our members do a great job of criticizing some opinions from time to time. But simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court.”
The public conversation among the justices since the Dobbs decision has been remarkable. Alito gave what liberals interpreted as a boastful address about the controversial decision this summer at a conference in Rome on religion and law.
“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, sponsored by the Religious Liberty Initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s law school. He sarcastically took umbrage at criticism from Britain’s Prince Harry.
“What really wounded me - what really wounded me - was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision whose name may not be spoken with the Russian attack on Ukraine,” Alito said.
Biden, in turn, invoked Alito last week at a gathering of Democratic activists, where he said Republicans loyal to Trump “just cheered and embraced the first Supreme Court decision in our entire history - the first one in our entire history that just didn’t fail to preserve a constitutional freedom, it actually took away a fundamental right.”
He added: “Justice Alito said that women can decide the outcome of this election - paraphrasing some quote in the actual decision. Well, he ain’t seen nothing yet.”
As pointed as Kagan’s words have seemed in her speeches to college audiences and at a judicial conference, she noted that she, Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor were even sharper in their dissents to the court’s rulings last term finding a right to carry a weapon outside the home for self-defense in a New York case, to relax the rules about public money going to religious schools and finding that Congress needed to be more explicit if the EPA was to exercise broad power in fighting climate change.
The dissent of the three in the abortion case stretched for 66 pages. Gornstein said at an event at William & Mary Law School that there could be long-term damage to relationships on the court should the 6-to-3 pattern be continually repeated in the coming term.
“That dissent said in no uncertain terms that that was a lawless decision, and that it was made only because five justices could make it so, and the only difference between prior law and this law is that there was a change in the composition of the court,” Gornstein said, adding “I do think there is a potential for ill will carrying over into this term and into future terms.”
At the same event, New York University law professor Melissa Murray said there is a “whole curio cabinet of weirdness” about the court. She noted that the three Trump nominees - Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett - pledged varying degrees of allegiance to stare decisis at their confirmation hearings and then voted to overturn Roe at the first opportunity.
And there is the unprecedented example of Thomas’s wife, Virginia, playing an active role in encouraging legal challenges to Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, while such issues are coming before the Supreme Court. She has agreed to an interview with the congressional committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The liberal dissents are not for the other justices but “for the rest of the country, the audience outside of One First Street,” Murray said, referring to the Supreme Court building’s address in Northeast Washington. “I don’t know that they care about collegiality, because they’re trying to alert the rest of the country.”
Conservatives say it is unremarkable that new justices do not vote the same way as those they replace, and that those on the ideological left would expect the same if the circumstances were reversed.
“It can’t be illegitimate just because somebody came on who thinks differently,” said Erin Murphy, a Washington lawyer who was part of the legal team in the guns case. “What if they just are reaching the result because they think it is legally correct? Just because someone appointed them in hopes they would do so, it’s political not law?”
Murphy is a former clerk to Roberts, who acknowledged last month that it had been a difficult term. “I think just moving forward from things that were unfortunate is the best way to respond to it,” he said.
Now is the time for Gov. Glenn Youngkin to make good on a major education promise — the one about teaching all of our history, the good and the bad.
Taking office last January, Youngkin lost no time acting on his campaign pledge to quash the presence, however minimal, of critical race theory in Virginia’s public schools. As promised, he also has promoted a louder voice for parents in classroom instruction. Teachers can now add to their mountain of tasks notifying parents of any sexual content in the books they plan to teach.
Still unfulfilled, however, is Youngkin’s history pledge. With a once-in-seven-years review of Virginia history standards due for completion in November, an opening has arrived. Yet, the recent decision by a Board of Education flush with new Youngkin appointees to delay public hearings on draft standards raises alarm. So does the Youngkins’ dropping from tours of the governor’s mansion — at least for now — a deeply researched narrative about the enslaved people who once lived and worked there.
Such developments must not signal a retreat from a long-overdue, more truthful telling of Virginia history.
When it comes to improving history teaching standards, opportunity abounds. It’s not just stories of oppression of Black and Indigenous peoples, critical as those are, that have been ignored or white-washed. Multiple examples of marginalized people taking control of their own fate also have been overlooked in an often-sanitized telling.
Consider the story of Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker and James Townsend, enslaved field hands who in May 1861 under cover of darkness stole a small boat and rowed it across the James River to Fort Monroe, risking life and limb in a bid for freedom. Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, the Union commander at Ft. Monroe, accepted them, setting in motion a watershed event.
When their owner, Col. Charles King Mallory demanded return of the three under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Butler refused. Instead, he designated the trio as “contrabands of war.” In Washington, President Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet elected not to intervene. Federal support was cemented in two Confiscation Acts. Eventually, tens of thousands sought Union refuge under the acts.
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The intersection of Black people bidding for their freedom and Butler’s decision to put the imprimatur of the federal government on that quest was a glorious moment, yet one little recognized in the telling of Virginia history. How is it that students learn the names of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — generals willing to tear apart a country in defense of slavery — but not the names of men whose actions epitomize American democratic ideals?
No mystery. The elevation of Confederate icons and the obscurity of three enslaved Black workers and a white Union officer reflect the power and prejudice at the helm of Southern society.
The newly proposed standards — available on the Department of Education website — give weight to all Virginians: white settlers, Black workers (enslaved and free), Native Americans, immigrants, and women and children, as well as men. This broader telling addresses what Norfolk State University historian Cassandra Newby-Alexander calls the “silences” in American history.
One pattern Youngkin might prefer not to repeat was set in the early 1880s when both a legislative majority and a governor committed to Black advancement took power in Virginia. Their dominance proved fleeting. Soon, forces of retrenchment prevailed, imposing second-class citizenship on generations of Black Virginians.
Similar Black political empowerment did not reoccur until 2020 when a Democratic majority in the legislature and former Gov. Ralph Northam combined to propel sweeping change. That flowering also appears brief. In January, critics of many of the changes captured the state’s three top offices and the House of Delegates.
Less than a year in office, Youngkin still has an opportunity to create a more noble legacy in matters of race than occurred in the wake of Black dominance in the 19th century. A good place to start is refusing to back-pedal on his promise to tell all the history.
Margaret Edds is the author of “What the Eyes Can’t See: Ralph Northam, Black Resolve, and a Racial Reckoning in Virginia,” due for publication in November from the University of South Carolina Press. She lives in Richmond.