Editorial February 26, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

“Somewhere in the three branches of government there has to be a place where voters of any partisan ideology can see a balanced review of the issues and resolution…”

The Constitution says the president must nominate to fill an opening in the Supreme Court and must do so with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Beyond that, the Constitution is essentially silent on the matter. Nothing in the document says the Senate must consider and vote on any president’s Supreme Court nomination. But, you know, requiring that the president appoint and with the advice and consent of the Senate would seem to imply the obvious without saying it; the Senate must act.

The arguments are largely about partisan ideology based on how the new judge will vote on issues. The Senate Leadership wants a conservative judge and is willing to roll the dice on winning the White House in 2016 and getting that conservative judge. The White House wants liberal or moderate judge and the Senate refuses to hold hearing on any nominee.

Both sides of this see the opportunity to influence the court for decades but the argument seems to be over whether or not it is a good idea for this president to appoint the next Justice. The White House points to the Constitution the Republican Congress would rather wait for the next president to appoint. That is what they mean by the Supreme Court vacancies decided by ‘the people’ although it just doesn’t apply to the current president who was elected by ‘the people’. One only needs to look at the balance of power in Washington over the years to conclude that  the people have different ideas of what they want and vote parties in an out as they wish. Maybe that is what the politicians should be looking at.

The most appropriate judge to be appointed would be a middle of the road judge because that would give political balance back to the Supreme Court decisions. It seems that would serve the democracy much better than the luck-of-the-draw process where a president with a political leaning gets to stack the court in his direction just because a Justice died during his term. It is luck-of-the draw and an inappropriate way to staff the court that provides a firewall against end runs around the Constitution.

Over the past ten years of following Congress on this website it is clear that the shift back and forth for control of the Hill achieves only two things; where the money is spent and the recurring complaints of the minority are readily taken up by whichever party happens to be in the minority. Different minority, same complaints about the majority. The standard way of making law subjects us to that revolving cacophony of political positions, two parties divided and within each party positions that further complicate the process of getting laws approved. So, we have a White House operating from a political stance and the Congress with its own political stance. Such are politics. With this constant effort to load the Supreme Court politically the game of political one upmanship continues and permeates all branches of government leaving taxpayers with a totally politicized government. Somewhere in the three branches of government there has to be a place where voters of any partisan ideology can see a balanced review of the issues and resolution rather than the already determined outcome based on a majority of justices with the same politics. That is the not the Supreme Court now.

This is one of those arguments that starts in the middle and never resolves itself and it is so because politicians see the Supreme Court as another tool to maintain power and in the course of making their point begin to leave logic and the idea of a fair and balanced democracy behind. By insisting on a Justice with a partisan stance they are overlooking that the political climate in America can change from election year to election year during which one side of the political spectrum is the winner and the other side of the political spectrum becomes under-represented. That’s okay on the Hill, luck of the election draw, if you will, but inappropriate for the final decider. Let’s say the court is stacked with conservative judges and conservatives lose the majority in Congress or the White House. That means that even if the ‘will of the people’ replaced conservatives in Congress and the White House the conservatives then in the minority are assured that their issues before the court will be treated better than liberal issues even if they are no longer in the majority.That would not seem to line up with the people choosing philosophy.

The Supreme Court should be as free from partisan ideology and thinking as possible so to serve all sides equally. Moderate judges could accomplish that and now is the perfect opportunity to get that done.

Hamilton on Congress

The Missing Half of Congress’s Job

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

Every now and then, I’m asked if I miss serving in Congress. My stock answer is that no, I don’t really miss it, but there are definitely times when I’d like to jump right into a policy debate or be in a position to call congressional hearings.

This is one of those times.

Over the last few weeks, several media outlets have reported that U.S. military commanders are suggesting that they need more American troops on the ground in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya. And last month, talking about our efforts to defeat ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told CNBC, “We’re looking for opportunities to do more and there will be boots on the ground and I want to be clear about that.”

This ought to have Congress working overtime to prepare for these requests. It’s rare to find a military commander who doesn’t want more troops: they face serious security challenges, especially in the Middle East. But one can be sympathetic and at the same time skeptical, or at least probing.

So Congress should be pushing very hard to get answers to some very tough questions. Where are we headed with these proposed troop increases? If they don’t work, what’s next? What’s our exit strategy? What are the prospects for negotiations? We keep saying we’re going to support the moderate opposition in Syria: who are they, what do they bring to the table, and how are we recalibrating our approach in the face of Russian airstrikes on behalf of the current regime?

We insist that we’re going to destroy ISIS, but no other country in the international coalition fighting the Islamic State seems willing to put forces on the ground. Are we going to be the only one? And just how does the administration propose to destroy ISIS?

Congress has two key functions in our system of government: legislation and oversight. Most public attention – and certainly most media attention – focuses on policy-making and legislative maneuvering. But Capitol Hill’s role in overseeing the executive branch is just as important.

That’s because in seeking answers, Congress can force the President and his top advisors to articulate and defend their policies, their objectives, the steps they’re taking (or proposing) to implement those objectives, and the impact they expect from their policies. In other words, Congress needs to act on behalf of the American people to ensure that major policy requests are looked at from every angle and fleshed out as thoroughly as possible so that we go into new situations – like putting young American men and women on the ground against a dangerous enemy – with a clear-headed understanding of why we’re taking these steps.

This means that our representatives on Capitol Hill should ask tough questions, demand responsive answers, and insist on a crystal-clear explanation of what the policy is and what alternatives are available. They need to bring in experts from outside the administration to critique the administration’s proposals and outline alternatives of their own. They need to press the administration on what resources are needed to obtain its objectives: in this case, how many troops, how much money, what are the risks to American lives and interests?

This demands walking a careful line that Congress hasn’t been especially good at negotiating of late. It has to be both a partner and a critic, supporting the President when it thinks he’s doing something right, criticizing him when it thinks he’s wrong, helping the administration craft policy that is in tune with the nation’s needs, and putting alternatives forward when it sees a better way.

Simply put, government functions better when Congress pursues robust oversight. It sharpens objectives, improves government performance, makes the bureaucracy more responsive, and curtails wasteful spending.

Sadly, this key responsibility has fallen into disrepair. Really tough overseers of the administration’s policies – lawmakers who are interested in government performance, not political one-upmanship – have grown scarce on Capitol Hill. But if we want to restore the vigor of the Congress, getting it to look into every nook and cranny of government is vital. The military’s pursuit of growing troop strength and new strategies in the Middle East would be a good place to start.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


 

ISIS

Silicon Valley, Hollywood to help White House in ISIS propaganda fight

Executives from tech companies and Hollywood studios will meet with officials from the White House, the Justice Department and other parts of the U.S. government on Wednesday to develop strategies to beat back ISIS messaging online and in the media. – CNBC

*****

ISIS Supporter on Trial in Virginia

Ardit Ferizi…is charged with assisting the terrorist force by hacking into a U.S.-based computer and stealing “personally identifiable” information on 100,000 Americans, including more than 1,300 military and government personnel, whom ISIS named publicly and urged its followers to attack. – The Weekly Standard.

SYRIA

A cessation of hostilities is more formal than a truce.

The US and Russia have announced a plan for a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria. Samir Puri of King’s College London explains how it differs from a truce, a ceasefire or an armistice. The cessation of hostilities is due to come into effect across Syria at 00:00 Damascus time on Saturday – BBC

*****

Syria Peace Agreement Details Curious

The agreement (between the US and Russia) doesn’t cover the Islamic State, the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front, or any other individuals considered terrorists by the U.N. Security Council. “Those groups will continue to be fair game for Russian air raids — a fact that could render the cease-fire useless depending on how Moscow interprets the “cessation of hostilities” agreement,”  – Foreign Policy Magazine.

LEGISLATION

H.R. 3624 proposes to amend a well-established, century-old legal doctrine called the “fraudulent joinder doctrine,” which offers guidance on whether a legal case belongs in a state court or a federal court.  Under this doctrine, a federal court has the authority to send, or remand, a legal matter involving more than one defendant to a state court provided at least one defendant named in the legal matter is a citizen of the same state as the plaintiff filing the suit and there is reasonable basis under state law for a claim against the defendant. Despite its name, the bill does not target “fraud” as the term is commonly understood, but instead targets the judicial rules for determining whether a particular case belongs in a state court or a federal court.

The effect of H.R. 3624, would be to make it easier for corporations named as defendants in a lawsuit to have the case heard in a federal court (where cases are more expensive and take longer) while making it more difficult for workers, consumers, and patients generally to have their cases heard closer to home in state courts. – House Minority Whip


 

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