Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on regaining trust in the ethics of the U.S. Supreme Court
Once again, the Supreme Court is finding its ethics under scrutiny. Last week, Justice Clarence Thomas declined to recuse himself in a case involving the plot to overturn Arizona’s 2020 presidential vote, despite his wife’s efforts to pressure state lawmakers to set aside Joe Biden’s victory there. Then the New York Times reported Saturday on allegations that a decision in a 2014 case involving contraception and religious rights leaked to a high-profile abortion foe — a troubling precursor, if true, to the breach that occurred this spring when a draft opinion of its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade became public.
Unlike other federal judges, the justices on the Supreme Court are subject to no code of conduct. It is time for the court, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., to set ethics standards for itself that are transparent, consistent and actually work. At stake is no less than its legitimacy, which has been battered by growing public doubts that it truly operates as an apolitical arbiter of the law.
The Post reported in June that Justice Thomas’s wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, urged at least 29 Arizona lawmakers to overturn the popular vote in their state following the 2020 presidential election, asking legislators in one email to “fight back against fraud” and “ensure that a clean slate of Electors is chosen.” Despite his wife’s efforts to upend the election result, Justice Thomas failed to recuse himself earlier this year from a case involving the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by Trump supporters who were seeking to achieve the same end. The panel, which she had called an “overtly partisan political persecution,” subsequently interviewed Ms. Thomas about her postelection 2020 activities.
Justice Thomas once again declined to recuse himself last week from a case regarding Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward’s alleged efforts to set aside the 2020 presidential vote in her state. He was one of two justices who dissented from the court’s decision allowing the Jan. 6 committee to access some of Ms. Ward’s phone records.
Washington is populated by countless power couples, and conflicts of interest — or appearances of them — are bound to occur from time to time. But Ms. Thomas’s activities stand out as particularly blatant. “Ginni Thomas has held so many leadership or advisory positions at conservative pressure groups that it’s hard to keep track of them,” the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote earlier this year. “And many, if not all, of these groups have been involved in cases that have come before her husband.” One glaring example: Ms. Thomas’s consultancy received more than $200,000 from right-wing activist Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, according to Ms. Mayer, as Mr. Gaffney urged the court to rule favorably on President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Justice Thomas voted to uphold the ban, and he did not disclose the $200,000 payment to his wife.
Meanwhile, the Times reported Saturday that a former antiabortion activist, the Rev. Rob Schenck, claims that he was told how the court would rule on a major 2014 birth control case, saying that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. tipped off two associates of his. There is limited corroborating evidence, and Justice Alito and others allegedly involved deny this happened. Yet Mr. Schenck’s contemporaneous emails and conversations indicating that he knew the case’s outcome and the author of the opinion are reason to worry. He says he ran “Operation Higher Court,” a years-long effort among conservative activists to ingratiate themselves with justices via donations to the Supreme Court Historical Society, meals and trips to places such as Jackson Hole, Wyo. “I saw us as pushing the boundaries of appropriateness,” Mr. Schenck said, and the Times’s reporting suggests his operatives achieved high levels of access to certain justices.
An ethics code binds lower-court judges but not Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice Roberts says that justices refer to the code but make their own ethical calls. This is not enough. The justices should formally bind themselves to a judicial code of conduct, rather than simply consulting one when they are so inclined.
Then there is the question of how to enforce such rules. One option is to have the whole court review requests that, for example, certain justices recuse themselves. Another is to create a panel of outside judges, perhaps distinguished retired jurists whose work the high court no longer oversees, to consider Supreme Court ethical questions referred to them.
Critics of such an arrangement point out that, unlike on lower courts, the Supreme Court risks deadlocking 4-4 on major cases if a justice is recused. This could leave important legal questions unresolved and lower courts without definitive precedents to apply. Limiting justices’ work because of their spouses’ conduct, meanwhile, raises the prospect that talented people with professionally active partners will not pursue careers on the bench.
Yet the court’s reputation is indispensable; its power rests both on its constitutional mandate and its credibility. The justices should not continue to dismiss Americans’ declining confidence as the product of misunderstandings about how they work. Moreover, if the court fails to adjust, Congress might step in. Federal lawmakers are considering several reforms, including imposing restrictions on compensated travel and setting requirements that justices must disclose with whom they meet.
Congressional action, however, would no doubt raise separation-of-powers issues. That is all the more reason that justices should acknowledge that they have given the public reason for its mistrust, and take it upon themselves to restore faith in their impartiality.
The New York Times on extremism in the Republican Party
On October 12, 2018, a crowd of Proud Boys arrived at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. They had come to the Upper East Side club from around the country for a speech by the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes. It was a high point for the Proud Boys — which until that point had been known best as an all-male right-wing street-fighting group — in their embrace by mainstream politics.
The Metropolitan Republican Club is an emblem of the Republican establishment. It was founded in 1902 by supporters of Theodore Roosevelt, and it’s where New York City Republicans such as Fiorello La Guardia and Rudy Giuliani announced their campaigns. But the presidency of Donald Trump whipped a faction of the Metropolitan Republican Club into “an ecstatic frenzy,” said John William Schiffbauer, a Republican consultant who used to work for the state G.O.P. on the second floor of the club.
The McInnes invitation was controversial, even before a group of Proud Boys left the building and violently confronted protesters who had gathered outside. Two of the Proud Boys were later convicted of attempted assault and riot and given four years in prison. The judge who sentenced them explained the relatively long prison term: “I know enough about history to know what happened in Europe in the ’30s when political street brawls were allowed to go ahead without any type of check from the criminal justice system,” he said. Seven others pleaded guilty in the episode.
And yet Republicans at the New York club have not distanced themselves from the Proud Boys. Soon after the incident, a candidate named Ian Reilly, who, former club members say, had a lead role in planning the speech, won the next club presidency. He did so in part by recruiting followers of far-right figures, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, to pack the club’s ranks at the last minute. A similar group of men repeated the strategy at the New York Young Republicans Club, filling it with far-right members, too.
Many moderate Republicans have quit the clubs in disgust. Looking back, Mr. Schiffbauer said, October 12, 2018, was a “proto” Jan. 6.
In conflicts like this one — not all of them played out so publicly — there is a fight underway for the soul of the Republican Party. On one side are Mr. Trump and his followers, including extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. On the other side stand those in the party who remain committed to the principle that politics, even the most contentious politics, must operate within the constraints of peaceful democracy. It is vital that this pro-democracy faction win out over the extremists and push the fringes back to the fringes.
It has happened before. The Republican Party successfully drove the paranoid extremists of the John Birch Society out of public life in the 1960s. Party leaders could do so again for the current crop of conspiracy peddlers. Voters may do it for them, as they did in so many races in this year’s midterm elections. But this internal Republican Party struggle is important for reasons far greater than the tally in a win/loss column. A healthy democracy requires both political parties to be fully committed to the rule of law and not to entertain or even tacitly encourage violence or violent speech. A large faction of one party in our country fails that test, and that has consequences for all of us.
Extremist violence is the country’s top domestic terrorist threat, according to a three-year investigation by the Democratic staff members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which reported its findings last week. “Over the past two decades, acts of domestic terrorism have dramatically increased,” the committee said in its report. “National security agencies now identify domestic terrorism as the most persistent and lethal terrorist threat to the homeland. This increase in domestic terror attacks has been predominantly perpetrated by white supremacist and anti-government extremist individuals and groups.” While there have been recent episodes of violent left-wing extremism, for the past few years, political violence has come primarily from the right.
This year has been marked by several high-profile acts of political violence: an attempted break-in at an F.B.I. office in Ohio; the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the speaker of the House; the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo by a white supremacist; an armed threat against Justice Brett Kavanaugh; a foiled plan to attack a synagogue in New York.
It is impossible to fully untangle the relationship between conspiracy theories and violence. But what Americans do know should sound alarms: A survey this year found that some 18 million Americans believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and that force is justified to return him to power. Of those 18 million, eight million own guns, and one million either belong to a paramilitary group or know someone who does. That’s alarming because violent people who belong to communities, online or offline, where violence is widely accepted are more likely to act. A portion of the G.O.P. has become such a community.
The full extent of this violence is not well documented. The Senate committee’s damning report concluded that the federal government, specifically the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, has “failed to systematically track and report data on domestic terrorism as required by federal law, has not appropriately allocated its resources to match the current threat and has not aligned its definitions to make its investigations consistent and its actions proportional to the threat of domestic terrorism.” Those shortcomings need to be urgently remedied.
Beyond the obvious need for better data on extremist violence, preventing or stopping the spread of extremism is complicated, although there are some important, concrete steps that can be taken. This board has argued for stronger enforcement of state anti-militia laws, closer monitoring of extremists in law enforcement and the military, and better international cooperation to tackle this transnational issue. Social media companies need to develop new tools to keep extremist material off their platforms and adjust their algorithms so users aren’t exposed to ever more extreme content.
Yet one of the most effective ways to deter political violence is to make it unacceptable in public life. To do that, all political leaders have an important role to play. In a speech in September, President Biden did his part, when he identified the threat that the dominance of specifically “MAGA Republicans” poses not just to the Democratic Party but to the entire country. “They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country,” Mr. Biden said.
A couple of months after that speech, Americans voted in midterm elections in which hundreds of “MAGA Republicans” who had enthusiastically spread extremist statements, lies and conspiracy theories ran for local, state and federal offices. Voters rejected many of them, and while that is encouraging, elections alone are not enough.
The campaign season was marked by numerous incidents in which many Republicans used speech that has been linked to violence. They depicted gay and transgender people as “groomers”; they helped spread the racist so-called great replacement theory that has inspired numerous mass shootings; they promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory, not to mention ubiquitous lies about fraud and the 2020 election, which led to the Jan. 6 attack.
Despite voters’ repudiation of many of his acolytes, Mr. Trump has announced his return to the campaign trail, a move that promises to dial up the enthusiasm of his most devoted adherents. They include, of course, members of the Proud Boys. During a debate during the 2020 campaign, Mr. Trump refused to disavow them or their movement and instead told them to “stand back and stand by.” And so they did until Jan. 6.
Mr. Trump’s reinstatement on Twitter means not only further proliferation of “degrading and dehumanizing discourse,” as Brian L. Ott, an author of “The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage,” warned in these pages a few days ago, but also a greater likelihood of violence. As Mr. Ott explains: “Social media generally and Twitter specifically lend themselves to simple, urgent, unreflective and emotionally charged communication. When the message is one of intolerance and violence, the result is all but certain.”
Leaders in politics, law enforcement, the media and elsewhere have an obligation to do everything they can to remove from public life those who participate in or endorse political violence.
The onus falls on Republicans. While voters this month rejected some of the most extreme candidates, the party is still very much under the spell of Mr. Trump and his brand of authoritarianism. Two prominent Republicans who have been outspoken about right-wing extremism and baseless lies, Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have been driven out of office. Meanwhile, the spread of conspiracy theories that have already inspired violence continues unabated from politicians and conservative media.
Even if Mr. Trump doesn’t become the party’s nominee for president, the party and many of its supporters seem to have convinced themselves that the spread of extremism in service of their causes is not an urgent concern. Those who can influence the direction of the party — its voters and its biggest donors and supporters — must do everything they can to convince them otherwise. American democracy depends on it.
Democrats, too, have a role to play. They should not spend money on far-right fringe candidates in the primaries with the hopes of beating them in general elections. To do so only further pollutes the public square, even if it can lead to Democratic victories, as it apparently did this year. Rather than giving in to the temptation to tar the entire party with the actions of its worst members, Democrats should continue to find opportunities for bipartisanship whenever possible.
The alternative is allowing extremism to run rampant until the degradation of American politics is complete.
A scene in Roanoke, Texas, this summer gave a chilling preview of what that future might look like if violence from the right begets violence from the left, in a country deeply divided and with far more guns than people. A group of armed right-wing demonstrators turned up to protest a drag queen brunch only to find another group of people, dressed in black and holding military-style rifles. The second group called themselves the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club and reportedly took it upon themselves to provide security for the event. The local police separated the two groups and made no arrests, but this kind of confrontation is not a sign of healthy democratic debate.
Political disagreement need not include the menace of violence. Americans, and their political leaders, have the ability to choose a different future.
The Wall Street Journal on Biden’s student loan relief
The Biden Administration on Tuesday canceled tens of billions of more dollars in student debt on the sly by extending its payment and interest moratorium for the umpteenth time. Who knows if or when borrowers will have to make payments again.
On Friday the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to lift an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals injunction on the Administration’s half-a-trillion-dollar write-off or hear the case on expedited review. Now the Education Department is extending its pandemic payment pause through next August or until the High Court rules on the case — or so it says.
“It isn’t fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers who are eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments while the courts consider the lawsuit,” President Biden said. So the payment pause that the Administration earlier claimed was needed to give borrowers time to prepare to make payments is now needed so they can prepare… not to make payments.
Congress initially paused payments and interest accrual on student loans in March 2020 amid government lockdowns. The “forbearance” was supposed to expire on Sept. 30, 2020, but the Trump and Biden Administration have extended it again and again. The Biden Administration keeps claiming this will be the last extension, only to provide another.
The Administration last extended the moratorium through December when it announced its student loan write-off in August. Few borrowers needed it. The unemployment rate among college grads (1.9%) is similar to pre-pandemic levels. A Federal Reserve study in May found that “borrowers have seen their financial positions improve during the pandemic,” owing in part to generous government transfer payments, including $3,600 child tax credits and $3,200 in stimulus checks. Delinquency rates on auto loans and credit cards are below pre-pandemic levels.
The two-and-a-half-year pause has saved the average borrower $400 a month, which many have saved, invested or used to pay off higher-yielding debt. Yet it has also cost taxpayers $155 billion to date since interest isn’t accruing on student debt that Uncle Sam is financing with debt that carries increasing interest rates. This latest extension would start in January, and if the litigation isn’t ended by June 30 payments would be delayed for another 60 days after that. This could cost another $40 billion.
None of this money has been appropriated by Congress. The Administration cites the same legal justification — the 2003 Heroes Act — for extending the payment moratorium as it has for canceling debt outright. It claims the law allows the Education Secretary to waive any regulatory or statutory provision related to the federal student aid program during a national emergency.
Missouri and other states that have challenged the Administration’s write-off are likely to prevail on the merits if the Supreme Court agrees they have legal standing. But the Administration almost appears to be taunting the High Court and reminding Justices that it could extend the payment pause even if its write-off gets struck down.
That is all the more reason for the Supreme Court to take the case. The Administration’s unilateral claim of a never-ending Covid national emergency to provide sweeping student loan relief deserves to get slapped down as the abuse of power it is.
The Los Angeles Times says DACA recipients need permanent relief
One of the few issues most Americans can agree on when it comes to the thorny topic of immigration is that longtime residents who were brought into the United States illegally as children should be granted permanent status. Congress should seize the opportunity during the lame-duck session to pass such legislation before the end of the year.
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy in peril in federal court, California Sen. Alex Padilla has joined other Democratic senators to corral support to pass bipartisan legislation after Thanksgiving that would provide a permanent solution for these immigrants whose fates have been in limbo for years. Legislation could be a standalone bill or language attached to a must-pass government spending bill. Either way, such legislation would need the support of at least 10 Republicans and all 50 Democrats to pass. Padilla, who heads the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, is appealing to common sense, making the case to Republicans that offering permanent residency to immigrants who’ve lived in the country most of their lives and work in essential jobs boosts the economy.
It’s a last-ditch effort to resolve a problem that’s hounded legislators for decades. There’s a short window of opportunity before Republicans take over control of the House, closing the door for at least two more years on any permanent fix. The House passed a bill to give “Dreamers” legal status in 2021. It’s time for the Senate to approve the legislation, which would allow it to reach President Biden’s desk soon.
President Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012 after Congress failed to pass a bill that would have offered young immigrants who met certain requirements the opportunity for legal residency. DACA has allowed more than 800,000 young immigrants in the U.S. to live, work and travel legally, but it was intended to be a temporary solution. It has survived legal challenges, but its fate will now be decided by a U.S. district judge who earlier had ruled in a lawsuit filed by several states led by Texas arguing that DACA is illegal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has sent the case back to the judge for a final resolution.
Instead of waiting for the resolution of that federal court case, Congress must find a way to offer permanent relief to the immigrants we’ve come to know as Dreamers, who are thoroughly American and have built lives here as college students, entrepreneurs, essential workers and valued members of every community.
Is this a long shot? Perhaps, but now would be a good time to remember that the original Dream Act was introduced in 2001 by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and combined elements of two bills sponsored by Democratic and Republican legislators. The Dream Act’s initial bipartisan support eroded dramatically in the weeks after the 9/11 attack heightened security concerns.
Since then, various attempts to revive different versions of the Dream Act have fallen short in Congress because Republicans want stricter border controls. The border has been fortified in many ways through the years, yet the fate of Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants remains uncertain. DACA now symbolizes the long-standing failure by federal lawmakers to craft much-needed comprehensive immigration reform.
Poll after poll through the years show that most Americans want DACA recipients to be allowed to remain legally in the U.S. An analysis conducted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute in 2017 — at the height of Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria — found that “Americans’ general feelings toward immigrants and immigration have become more positive in recent years.”
Of course, some people may prefer to have DACA recipients leave the country, perhaps thinking that these immigrants are a financial drain on taxpayers. But Dreamers contribute about $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes annually, according to the nonpartisan Center for American Progress.
Granting Dreamers permanent status is of paramount importance for California, which is home to approximately 170,000 of the 600,000 current DACA recipients nationwide.
It’s time for senators to put aside their differences and show leadership in addressing the fate of Dreamers.
China Daily on U.S. security threats from within
The United States Federal Communications Commission has adopted new rules that will block both the importing and selling of technology products from five Chinese companies, citing national security concerns.
The FCC said on Friday it had banned approvals of new equipment from the telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies, ZTE and Hytera Communications, as well as surveillance equipment from Dahua Technology Co and Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology on the grounds they “are deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to national security”.
Although the companies were previously prohibited from supplying U.S. government systems and the private sector was strongly discouraged from using their equipment, the ban is not retroactive, so theoretically the companies can go ahead with previously authorized sales in the United States.
However, the FCC has left the door open to the possibility it could revoke previous authorizations.
Whatever decision the U.S. communications watchdog finally makes about those deals, it will have little impact on these companies in the U.S. market as they were being elbowed out. All five were already on a list of companies that were identified as constituting a potential threat to U.S. national security, so there is little surprise that the FCC should make an additional effort to exclude them from the U.S. market.
What is worth real concern is the FCC claims that all five members voted “unanimously” to enact the unprecedented ban, which illustrates a worrying degree of success for the fear-mongers in Washington.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about the development, calling it another example of the U.S. side baselessly abusing state power to suppress Chinese companies on the pretext of “national security”. Pointing out that the U.S. move is in violation of market rules, it said it undermines the rules-based international economic and trade order that the U.S. administration claims it is seeking to uphold.
The U.S. side is clearly treating market economy practices from a non-market perspective. “National security” is their fail-safe fallback to counter any companies that might blunt its technological edge. Although the alleged national security risks are unsubstantiated, once the “national security threat” label has pinned on a company, it is easy to sail through the present-day U.S. decision-making process to get the desired action to cut that company down to size.
Letting such fear continue spreading and escalating will further poison the already strained bilateral relations, and sink them in a vicious circle of hysteria-driven mutual suspicion and antagonism, which is in neither party’s interest in the end.
Hikvision’s comment on the ban points to the inherent irony of such an approach, saying that the decision “will do nothing to protect U.S. national security, but will do a great deal to make it more harmful and more expensive for U.S. small businesses, local authorities, school districts, and individual consumers to protect themselves, their homes, businesses and property.”
The risk to the U.S. comes from within, not from China.
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