Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren: His Purpose Is Not to Make Actual Sense

President-elect Barack Obama has ticked off the LGBT community and their friends and allies (yr. blogger included) by offering the symbolically-charged inaguration invocation spot to Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback evangelical megachurch. Warren opposes gay marriage and campaigned for Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban in California.

While I disagree with Rev. Warren's position on the issue, I can't be the only one to find the position doubly infuriating because it's so incoherent. In a recently published interview with BeliefNet and the Wall Street Journal Rev. Warren explained -- or tried to -- his views. Below is an excerpt regarding the marriage issue itself. This follows an attempt to discuss civil unions which becomes a big mess and results in Warren submitting a number of "clarifications" after the fact. I'll try to get to the civil unions bit in a later post, but first we need to suss out the initial position.

(plain text is Warren, bold is the questioner and my thoughts are in italics.)

    The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

      The polygamy bugaboo will be funny no matter how many times gay marriage opponents use it. People like Warren base their opposition on the Bible, then invoke polygamy, ignoring the fact that polygamy was foursquare within the 5000 year old definition of marriage up to and through the biblical era.

    Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

    Oh , I do.

      This hurts the worst. Later he talks about having gay friends and eating at their homes. The homes of people whose relationships he equates with incest and pedophilia, apparently.

    For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews – historically, marriage is a man and a woman.

      Well, a man and as many women as he can afford.

      Oh, another thing. Warren et al. rhetorically claim (or at least imply) that the definition of marriage has remained static for all those 5000 years. In addition to the above, marriage has at various times been defined as between people of the same race, as between a man and whoever his parents arranged for him, and between a man and the woman he was deemed to own. All of those definitions have been changed and the world failed to spin off its axis.

    And the reason I supported Proposition 8, is really a free speech issue. Because first the court overrode the will of the people, but second there were all kinds of threats that if that did not pass then any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn’t think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships, and that would be hate speech. We should have freedom of speech, ok? And you should be able to have freedom of speech to make your position and I should be able to have freedom of speech to make my position,

      At this point Warren is either being dishonest or obtuse. Nothing in the California Supreme Court's decision repealed the First Amendment. Put another way, the U.S. Supreme Court held that anti-miscegenation laws violate the Constitution. People can still legally speak out against interracial marriage. They aren't arrested for it, they just are considered douchebags.

      This argument was a staple of the Prop 8 folks and made it difficult to respect their position as simply a difference of opinion. It was a lie then and remains a lie today.

    and can’t we do this in a civil way.

      The lying and comparing political adversaries to the worst people in the world way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Believe this License Plate is Unconstitutional

. . .though I don't believe the suit against it will ultimately be successful.

This blog has reported earlier about efforts in Florida to create a Christian-themed specialty license plate. South Carolina has begun production and, as of this week, been ordered to stop. Americans United, who brought the suit, has been crowing about a preliminary injunction handed down this week.

Just to be clear about this, a preliminary injunction does give an indication that the judge is leaning toward the party who secures it, but it isn't a complete win, even at the trial court level. It is what it say -- preliminary. Under the right circumstances a judge will make one party or the other stop what they are doing to preserve the status quo pending the ultimate decision. While one part of the calculus is a judgment that the moving party is likely to succeed on the merits, it's entirely possible to obtain a preliminary injunction, then ultimately lose.

To say nothing of the appeal. The Fourth Circuit runs shoulder to shoulder with DC in the race for the most conservative appellate panel. And at some point the Supremes will weigh in as well and the current Court is not friendly to Establishment Clause claims.

In the opinion granting the injunction, the trial court notes:

    As the Supreme Court has further explained, "Government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization." [quoting County of Allegheny v. ACLU].
Allegheny County is a 1989 case regarding a government-sponsored Christmas and Chanuka display. Of the five member majority, only one -- Justice John Paul Stevens -- still sits on the Court. On the other hand, Justice Anthony Kennedy now the swing justice authored a dissenting opinion which offers his views at the time regarding government-sponsored religious speech. Kennedy rejects the argument that government religious endorsement is unconstitutional if it conveys the message to non-believers that the are not part of the political culture. Instead, he argues that Establishment Clause cases turn on whether the government conduct is in some way coercive to non-believers.

A lot has happened to Kennedy's jurisprudence since 1989s- he is the one conservative justice who has drifted toward the center. So it remains to be seen whether that is still his view and whether he will forego that view given that the majority decided differently. Personally I'm not confident that he will.

And so what's the harm, you ask? If the standard is actual coercion, shouldn't that offer enough protection to reprobates and heretics like yr humble blogger and his friends. Well, a couple of things. First off, make no mistake -- making nonbelievers feel as if they are outside the American community isn't a side effect of efforts like the SC license plate, it's a goal. And a constant drumbeat of messages that certain people are not "real" Americans pushes closer and closer to the level of coercion.

In other words, the line between government conveying the message that nonbelievers are truly part of the community and "coercion" is far more difficult to draw that Justice Kennedy seems to believe.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Party Animals in the Sixth Circuit

Remember the HAVA suit against Jennifer Brunner during the runup to the election? The Republicans filed suit against Ohio's Secretary of State alleging that she was violating the Help America Vote Act1. A three judge panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled that the suit should be dismissed, then the entire Sixth Circuit sitting en banc overturned the panel's decision. Then the Supreme Court reversed again.

A story in last week's Washington Post put the case in a broader context. The Republican dominated Circuit hs been using its discretionary power to rehear en banc to overturn panel decisions the majority doesn't like:

    "Anytime two of us show up on a panel and they don't like it, they yank it," said one Democratic-appointed judge on the circuit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid directly provoking colleagues.

    That may be only a slight exaggeration, according to a Washington Post review of all of the circuit's en banc rulings in the past decade. In the past five years, initial verdicts by panels dominated by Democratic appointees were clearly reversed by Bush's appointees and other Republican picks 17 times, out of 28 decisions issued by the full court.

This is arguably an abuse of the en banc power:
    Under 6th Circuit rules, full court, or "en banc," hearings are allowed in order to ensure "uniformity of the court's decisions" when separate panels of three randomly appointed judges disagree, or when questions of "exceptional importance" are at stake. But some of the court's Democratic appointees allege that the Republican-appointed majority is grabbing and reversing cases whenever those judges disapprove of the social consequences of the Democratic appointees' rulings.
Much of the article focuses on criminal appeals and the whole thing is worth the click-thru. H/t Stefan Padfield at Akron Law Cafe whose link eventually gets you there.

One last point. The accompanying graphic shows that in 2001 the circuit was essentially split with 27 vacancies. The vacancies at that time pretty much account for the shift during the Bush years. In the second Clinton term Republican Senators were refusing to allow dozens of Clinton's appointees an "up or down vote" leaving several circuits and district courts with similar gaping vacancies. We cannot allow whatever shenanigans the Rs try to pull with Obama's nominees this time around.

1The suit itself was somewhat Bizarro World. The Act requires state election officials to compare voter rolls against public databases to create a sort of EZ Pass for voters deemed bona fide before showing up at the polls. Republicans being Republicans wanted to covert it into a Help REAL America Supress the Vote Act.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rod Blagojevic Is Why I'm Not a "Democrat for Blackwell"

Some merry blogosphereic pranksters have started a "Democrats for Blackwell" Facebook group, advocating that the former Secretary of State and current far right commentator be elevated to RNC chair. The gag -- and it's a good one -- is Blackwell's radical conservatism coupled with his political incompetence will keep the Republican Party weak and regional. All respect to the guys behind this, I laughed when I got the invite. But the ill fortunes of the Republican Party are not a good thing.

Case in point, a David Broder column about indicted Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic. After recounting Blagojevic's improbable rise to power, Broder notes

    He had a rocky first term in Springfield, where he quickly became known as an absentee executive and where his inner circle was rumored to be operating with hands out. An unseemly family feud with his father-in-law fed the gossip mills.

    But in 2006, the badly weakened Illinois GOP furnished another unelectable opponent, and Blagojevich won without breaking a sweat.
I for one want the Republican Party to come back, at least enough to be a credible threat. (I'd like it if we could consistently beat that threat, but still) First I'm close enough to center to understand that a Democratic agenda with no brakes is not a good thing. But more than that, losing political accountability makes the Blogojevices (and for that matter, Tafts and Noes) that much more likely.

I want a Republican Party that can both deter corruption and root it out when it happens. I'd prefer a party that can occaisionally field a moderate candidate who I could vote for if the Dem is, say, a more recalcitrant version of Marc Dann. Sadly, conservatives have spent so much time filtering out anything that doesn't tell them how right they are, I doubt they can properly diagnose their problems, much less fix them.

RNC Chairman Blackwell would calcify all the worst tendencies of the Party. That's an excellent subject for Facebook humor. But it's not something anyone should actually wish for.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The GOPs Problems in a Nutshell

In a HuffPo piece on the RNC looking at Howard Dean's fifty state model for inspiration, this nugget:

    "By relying on wedge issues to win, they've used issues to divide people and worked to appeal to an increasingly smaller group of people," said the aide. "Dean's point has not just been that we need to show up in all 50-states but also that as a party we need to ask people for their votes, listen to what they have to say and be willing to work to solve issues in areas where we have common ground, even if we don't agree with everything."

    Part of that is simply showing up. The leading Republican presidential candidates this cycle famously shunned an African-American themed debate, much to the chagrin of moderates like Jack Kemp, who worried that the party had become too country club.
It's entirely true that running on a politics of red meat and hot buttons is inconsistent with running across the map. One indication of how far the party has gone toward rigid dogmatism: the fact that Jack Kemp is now being called a moderate. It was surreal when wingers derided McCain as a moderate, but Jack Kemp? He was one of the intellectual drivers of the Reagan revolution for God's sake. He is, to be sure, consistently concerned about elevating the poor, but he has just as consistently stood firmly for market-based solutions and limited government.

Yes, this is a characterization by a liberal blogger and yes, probably "pragmatist" is a better description than "moderate." Still the point remains -- Jack Kemp, once a mainstay of the conservative wing of the GOP is now an outsider and the conservative wing is nearly coextensive with the party itself.

One of my reading obsessions since the election has been anything and everything about how the Republicans can bounce back. It's in the best interests of the country that there be two viable parties to keep each other in check. But more and more it feels like conservatives aren't particularly interested in coming back if it means anything less than fielding a uniformly conservative party.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Mayor Recall: How Very Akron of Us

While the quixotic effort to recall Mayor Plusquellec appeared stillborn, a little more ink got spilled this week. Bob Dyer wrote an anti column infused with Dyer's usual ironclad grip on the obvious. Also Boring weighed in tonight.

The campaign itself is unlikely to amount to much. In the first place, mounting a signature campaign at the start of Ohio's winter is pretty much a guaranteed movement killer. And the whole thing seems inspired as much as anything by spokesman Warner Mendenhall's panic at the prospect of a week going by without his name appearing in the paper.

Nonetheless, the rhetoric from those in favor of the recall is so very Akron, it bears mentioning. You can get a sample on the group's website -- a link appears in this ANN piece. (It's a source of great amusement that you can't find the site by Googling "recall Mayor Plusquellec" or anything similar, and I don't want to spoil the effect.) Also, check out comments in the various stories. The debt is out of control! Crime is going up! The Mayor is a big meanie!

Once again, residents of the most successful big city in Ohio can't see what's going right. Not everything of course -- this is Ohio after all. But go out of town and tell people you are from Akron and those in the know will talk about Akron as a model for moving beyond rust belt economics.

In many ways Akron's political culture* is the dead opposite of our big neighbor to the north. Clevelanders have a charming credulity about their future, believing that one more big development project will finally be the thing that turns the city around. In Akron, no matter how many successes the city has, people are convinced that doom is impending. The recall campaign is just the latest manifestation of Akron's fatalism.

*Edited per Colin Morris in comments. Many Thanks.


  • The series of posts on the legal road to Guantanomo has been postponed. I realized that it will cover material on the final and not all my students in the current class know of the blog. Happily, I realized this before hitting "Publish."
  • Meanwhile I've hit yet another snag in my effort to get back to the blog. Just a bunch more stuff needed getting done.
  • Also I hurt my back over the weekend, but I'm better now. You wouldn't think back troubles interfere with blogging, but they do.
  • Romeo Crennell may be the worst Browns coach of my lifetime.
That is all.

Ralph Regula (R-Canton) Coming to Akron Press Club

Congressman Ralph Regula, the outgoing and longtime representative of Ohio's 16 district, will speak at the Akron Press Club this Friday, Dec. 12. Lunch begins at 11:45. Details here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Legal Road to Guantanamo: An Introduction

With President-Elect Obama promising to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, we are on the verge of a national conversation on the matter. As my humble contribution in my humble corner of the internets, I will offer a brief history of the legal precedents that led up to the current morass. Beginning in the Civil War era, a series of Supreme Court decisions -- some franky sloppily decided -- helped get us where we are. And since my students are studying them, the work here does double duty.

A few caveats are in order. First off, there are plenty of actual experts out there who study this stuff full time. I'm not that guy. As such, I'll offer some basic outlines of the history, but don't expect the final word. Also, I'll be focusing on the legal side, but we all know some opinionating will sneak in. And of course if I actually finish this series, it may be my first.

All that said, we'll get started in the morning.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wading Back In

So here we are again. Once again a long, unannounced hiatus with a similarly unannounced return. Will it be different this time? I honestly don’t know.

By now you all have heard the tale. My myriad responsibilities as university instructor, part-time writer and full-time Dad, along with some long term volunteer projects, does tend to get in the way of blogging these days. And at the same time, I fell out of love with blog world some time ago and haven’t yet fallen back in.

During this latest stint in the basement, Jeff Coryell and Redhorse both called it quits. I knew it would happen, but still it saddens me. And leaves me with a much less friendly blogosphere to return to.

Yet return I shall.

I will say that with the election now over, this blog may again find its footing. The Pages has always been more about policy than politics and lets face it, politics tends to be an enemy of real policy discussion. Now that a new administration is taking shape nationally and the Strickland administration finds itself bailing frantically as the state takes on water, there's a lot to talk about. I'm particularly interested in what Strickland will try to do on school funding, the burgeoning debate over what to do with Guantanomo, the continuing disintegration of the news media and much more.

Later. For tonight I'm easing myself into all this. My goal is to write something at least once a day, but this is it for the day.

See you after class tomorrow.