Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The difference between Ashli Babbitt and Daunte Wright

 Recently, a talking point on social media has contrasted the deadly shootings that involved QAnon adherent Ashli Babbitt, who was killed in the January 6 insurrection, and Daunte Wright, a black motorist killed by police in Minnesota last week. The social media posts question why Officer Kimberly Potter was charged in the death of Wright but no charges were filed against the officer who killed Babbitt. The simple answer is that the two incidents were very different and governed by different standards for the use of force. 

Both killings were caught on video so we have a very good idea of what happened in both cases. In the case of Ashli Babbitt, even though Capitol Police do not wear body cameras, there are multiple videos of the moment of her death because the rioters themselves were documenting their attack on Congress. One video, available on the Washington Post site with labels and captions, gives context for the situation. 

Capitol Police officers were backed against a door outside the “Speaker’s Lobby” of the House of Representatives. Rioters are confronting the officers and punching the glass on the door. Babbitt is at the front of the crowd and she can be seen talking to the officers. Members of the crowd offer to “make a path” for the three officers with their backs against the door to withdraw. When the officers move away, the crowd tries to break down the door. One rioter can be seen hitting the door, which has been reinforced with chairs on the other side, with what appears to be a baseball bat. An officer on the other side of the door who is not fully seen points a gun at the mob. 

The video goes to a split-screen as members of the mob yell that they see a gun. Babbitt is boosted through a broken window on the right side of the door opposite from the officer with the gun. The officer fires and Babbitt falls backward out of the window.

The Youtube video below has a different angle. The doorway is viewed straight-on and Babbitt, wearing a star-spangled backpack and with some sort of flag apparently wrapped around her waist, is seen attempting to pass through the broken window. The officer fires and she falls backward to the floor as the crowd scatters. 

In the case of Daunte Wright, we do have body camera footage. Wright was originally pulled over because his car had expired tags, but the officers then realized that there was a warrant for his arrest. 

In the video, we see three officers attempting to handcuff Wright when he breaks free and gets back into his car. A brief struggle ensues and Officer Potter, a 25-year veteran of the force and a training officer, can be heard yelling, “I’ll tase you,” but it is obvious that she is holding her pistol. She announces, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and the officer struggling with Wright backs away as Potter fires. 

Her reaction is swift and horrified. She screams, “Oh my [censored]. I shot him.”

Wright attempts to drive away with his girlfriend, who was also in the car but is mortally wounded. He collides with another vehicle several blocks away and is pronounced dead at the scene per MPR News

The two shootings could not be more different. Ashli Babbitt was an aggressor, part of a mob that was actively trespassing on federal property and attempting to attack members of Congress. Daunte Wright was a fugitive who was attempting to evade arrest and flee. Different rules apply to the different circumstances. 

Although laws vary from state to state, police are generally allowed to use deadly force in situations where their actions are “‘objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” This standard stems from the Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Connor (1989).

This built on an earlier decision, Tennessee v. Garner (1985), in which the Court ruled that officers could shoot fleeing suspects but only if such force is “necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

These two decisions apply directly to the cases of Ashli Babbitt and Daunte Wright. Babbitt was part of a violent mob attacking the Capitol. It is “objectively reasonable” to believe that the officer thought that using lethal force to stop the mob from breaking the doorway was necessary not only to save his own life but the lives of members of Congress and other government employees as well. 

Justice Department press release outlines the legal standard to charge the officer who shot Babbitt: 

Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that the officer did so “willfully,” which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean that the officer acted with a bad purpose to disregard the law.  As this requirement has been interpreted by the courts, evidence that an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required under Section 242. 

The report on Babbitt’s death concluded that the shooting was justified and that the officer acted reasonably under the circumstances. His actions were ruled to be reasonable in “self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber.”

On the other hand, Officer Potter had no reason to believe that Daunte Wright wanted to do anything other than get away. The arrest warrant stemmed from an incident in December 2019, more than a year earlier, and Wright was not a threat to the life or property of anyone as he attempted to flee. Potter did not intentionally shoot Wright because the shooting would have clearly been an unreasonable and unconstitutional use of force. 

This truth is underscored by the fact that the police department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota is not even attempting to justify the shooting. Officer Potter submitted her resignation from the force and was herself arrested and charged with manslaughter in what a police spokesman in the video above calls an apparent “accidental discharge.” 

The bottom line is that there are two constitutional reasons for police officers to shoot someone. The first is in defense of a life, either the officer’s life or that of some innocent person. The second, which is closely related, is when a fleeing suspect’s escape would pose a threat to someone’s life. In both cases, the officer’s determination of the threat must be “objectively reasonable.”

There is the legal standard for the use of force, but there is also the reality of juries. In many cases, juries set an even higher standard for convicting police officers than the Supreme Court’s already high standard for charging them. As I wrote last week, an Arizona jury acquitted the officer who shot Daniel Shaver in a hotel hallway even though he gave contradictory commands that the intoxicated Shaver tried to obey. The case of the South Carolina police officer who shot Walter Scott, another black motorist, in the back and then planted a Taser on Scott’s body, ended in a mistrial. The officer eventually pled guilty to federal civil rights charges. 

One of the few officers to be convicted of a bad shooting was Mohammed Noor. Noor, another Minnesota officer (what’s going on up there?) was responding to a report of a possible rape when he fired through the window of his squad car, across his partner’s chest, at an unarmed 40-year-old Australian woman in her pajamas who had approached the car. Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12-1/2 years for the 2017 shooting. 

Even if the Capitol Police officer had been indicted for the shooting, there is almost no chance that he (or she, we don’t know the officer’s identity) would be convicted. It would almost have to be a jury of 12 Anons to get a conviction in the case. 

On the other hand, Potter may or may not be convicted. She clearly killed Wright unintentionally, but as noted above, juries often give police a lot of leeway. 

The deaths of Ashli Babbitt and Daunte Wright resulted from very different circumstances. Different rules applied in both cases, but the officers’ action had to be “reasonable” in both situations. The actions of the Minnesota officer who killed Wright were not reasonable, but the actions of the Capitol Police officer were reasonable in the midst of an attack by a violent mob. 

In the vernacular of many Second Amendment activists, the insurrectionist mob f-ed around and Babbitt found out. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Babbitt was the only fatality among the insurrectionists because officers defending the Capitol had adequate justification to shoot many more of the rioters. 


Speaking of cops behaving badly, last week video of a disturbing traffic stop from December 2020 in Windsor, Virginia became public. A YouTube video combines the driver’s cellphone video with two body cameras from the officers involved. 

The driver of the car, Caron Nazario, an active-duty army lieutenant who is black and Hispanic, was stopped because the officers thought that he did not have a license plate on his car, although a CNN report notes that a temporary dealer tag was in the rear window. Nazario reportedly activated his turn signal and continued driving to find a well-lit area in which to pull over. More than a mile later, he stopped at a gas station.

In the ensuing confrontation, the officers approach Nazario’s vehicle with guns drawn and yell at him with confusing orders. In rapid sequence, the officers tell him to “put your hands out the window and turn the vehicle off,” let me see your hands,” open the door and step out,” and “keep your hands outside the window.” 

Nazario asks repeatedly why he was stopped, but the officers never answer the question. Instead, one warns him that he about to “ride the lightning.” When Nazario says that he is afraid to get out of the car, one of the officers replies, “You should be.” 

Nazario tells the police at one point that he does not have to get out of the car for a traffic stop. This seems to be his big mistake. The Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania v. Mimms (1977) that an “order to get out of the car, issued after the respondent was lawfully detained [for a traffic stop], was reasonable, and thus permissible under the Fourth Amendment.” 

The average motorist doesn’t know about the Supreme Court ruling from 40 years ago, however. I didn’t until I looked it up. The officers could have explained to Nazario that the law required him to get out of his car, but instead they increased the tension by repeatedly screaming the same commands over and over.

The officers eventually try to open Nazario’s car door and pepper spray him without warning. Throughout the entire incident, Nazario keeps his hands in view and holds them out the window. 

After he is pepper-sprayed, the officers open his door and order him out, but Nazario is still wearing his seatbelt. The officers order him to release the seatbelt, but Nazario still has his hands raised. Nazario announces that he is reaching for his seatbelt, to which the officer responds, “Fine!”

As with many of these incidents, there were mistakes on both sides. Nazario’s temporary tag was not correctly displayed in the holder and he disobeyed a lawful order to get out of the car. On the other hand, the officers did nothing to de-escalate the situation and continuously heightened Nazario’s fear that he was going to be shot. 

In the end, the officers end up letting Nazario go. They give him the choice of being charged or to “chill and let it go.”

The CNN report indicated that one of the officers alleged in his report that Nazario “assaulted” him by “striking my hand away” and that the pair gave him “several more commands to comply with orders or he would be sprayed.” The body camera footage does not back up either claim. 

The officer who pepper-sprayed Nazario has been fired and the other officer will undergo additional training per CBS News. Nazario has filed a lawsuit against the department, but such suits are notoriously difficult to win. 

The incident is yet another example of why we need police reform that includes better training for cops on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations. I believe that this sort of incident is much more common than most of us would care to admit. 

Throughout the incident, Nazario remained calm and polite, we don’t know what would have happened if he acted differently, but I don’t blame him for being afraid for his life. That is especially true since Nazario is the nephew of Eric Garner, who was killed by NYPD officers during an arrest in 2014. 

Good advice if you are stopped by police is to be calm, be polite, and keep your hands in sight, as Nazario did. Don’t make sudden moves. This is especially true if you are exercising your right to carry. When in doubt, sit still and keep your hands visible. Maintaining a grip on the steering wheel is one way of doing this. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with your state’s laws regarding interaction with police so that you can know both your rights and the limits of the officer’s authority.


If you didn’t read the Racket over the weekend, check out my discussion of President Biden’s retreat from Afghanistan and the new Republican America First Caucus in Congress.

Fro the Racket

https://www.theracketnews.com/p/the-difference-between-ashli-babbitt

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Afghanistan and the Anglo-Saxons

 The two big stories on my mind that I haven’t yet discussed are the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the new Anglo-Saxon caucus in the Republican Party. As the famed blues singer Calhoun Tubbs said, “Want to hear about it? Here it goes!”

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I would go almost a week without denouncing the proposed Afghanistan withdrawal, but President Biden’s announcement caught me in a busy work week followed by an anniversary trip. Don’t take my silence for consent, however. I’m one of the few Americans left who still believes that we have an important role to play in Afghanistan.

Afghan Army soldiers patrol near the village of Kusheh, Afghanistan, March 24, 2010. TU.S. Army photo by Spc. Spencer Case See more at www.army.mil (Public domain)

Share

How many Americans were even aware that we still had troops in Afghanistan? Most probably haven’t given it much thought in years. Why? Because death tolls aren’t front-page news anymore.

As of January, the US only had 2,500 troops left in-country. In 2020, the US only lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan during the entire year. These deaths are still tragic, but at less than one per month, the effort is very sustainable.

Likewise, the financial cost of the war in Afghanistan was only $52 billion in 2019. Although this sounds like a lot, it represents only about 0.2 percent of the COVID relief bill, not to mention the full federal budget.

Still, why should we spend the money when we are deeply in debt? For the answer, let’s look back in history to the 1980s, a time when music was at its cultural peak, hair was big, legs were warmed by cloth accessories, I was in high school, and the Russians were in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and fought a protracted guerilla war to prop up their puppet government in Kabul. Sound familiar? Thanks in part to US aid, mujaheddin fighters eventually persuaded the Soviets to leave in 1989. The war didn’t end at that point though.

Fighting continued, first against the communist government left by the Soviets, and then among the various Afghan factions. In 1996, as the US was celebrating the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the Taliban gained control over most of the country.

What followed was a humanitarian crisis as the radicals massacred opponents and dynamited historical sites. The situation developed into a security crisis when the Taliban gave refuge to Osama bin Ladin and al Qaeda.

And therein, lies one of the main reasons why we should stay. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does geopolitics. If the US doesn’t exercise control over Afghanistan, someone else will. That might be the Taliban or some other radical Islamic group or it might be Iran, the Russians, or the Chinese. Whoever it is, it won’t be as good for the US - or Afghanistan - as having Americans control the country.

I’m not deluded about the possibility of having Afghanistan become a functional democracy - that is likely decades away if it’s possible at all - but it is in our interest to project a stabilizing influence in the region, both to prevent the country from once again becoming a terrorist haven as well as to prevent another bloodbath of innocent civilians.

Additionally, giving up and going home reflects poorly on America as an ally. We now have a long history of abandoning our friends when the going gets tough. Recent examples include South Vietnam, the Kurds, the Iraqis, and now the Afghans. With friends like us, who needs enemies?

I’m also not under any illusions that those of us who favor staying in Afghanistan are anywhere near a majority. Both parties seem to have decided that the war is over, regardless of whether the enemy has been vanquished. President Trump had already set a May 1 deadline for withdrawal so Biden is leaving the troops in place longer than Trump would have. If Donald Trump was still president, I’d worry that we might continue the global retreat by leaving NATO and South Korea.

George Orwell once said, “The quickest way to end a war is to lose it,” but withdrawing Americans from Afghanistan won’t end that war, it will only move the conflict into a new and bloody phase, one that might require sending American soldiers back as we were forced to do in Iraq.

Both parties need to learn that deserting our allies is not the way to make America great or respected again.


Speaking of tribal conflicts, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) seems to be the driving force behind a new America First Caucus. A platform document circulating on the internet that promotes the group says that the caucus will “follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.” You can read the full document, which appears to be genuine but may not have been intended for public release, on Punchbowl News.

The quotes that got the most attention from the media were where the platform advocated “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and support for infrastructure “that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture.”

Image credit: punchbowl.news

If there is any doubt about the aims of the caucus, the platform calls for new limits on legal immigration, saying, “America’s legal immigration system should be curtailed to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation’s culture and rule of law.” This is a very subjective standard, especially since crossing the border illegally to ask for asylum is in fact a form of legal immigration. If that sounds self-contradictory then you understand why the US needs to reform its immigration laws.

While the platform doesn’t go so far as to say that only “Anglo-Saxons” will be welcomed into either the caucus or the Republican Party, it is unquestionably a racial dog whistle. Actually, that’s not accurate. Dog whistles are veiled, suggestive statements while this one uses explicitly racial and ethnic terms.

And what is an “Anglo-Saxon” anyway? Britannica defines the group as “Germanic peoples who, from the 5th century CE to the time of the Norman Conquest (1066), inhabited and ruled territories that are today part of England and Wales.” In other words, “Anglo-Saxon” denotes a narrowly defined geographical ethnicity that represents about half of the United Kingdom. Apparently, Scots and Irish need not apply, much less Greeks, whose ancient philosophers and experiments in democracy inspired our own founders.

It’s pretty obvious that “Anglo-Saxon” and “European” as used here are code words for “white.” Even though the Spanish architecture of the forebears of our Latino countrymen may qualify under the “European architecture” clause, my guess is that “Anglo-Saxon” has a higher priority than “European.”

I’ve long said that the Republican Party cannot survive as a viable political entity as a primarily white party. CNN exit polls show that the white share of the electorate has declined from 77 percent in 2004 to 71 percent in 2016 and 67 percent in 2020. While the Republican share of the white vote has remained relatively constant at about 58 percent, this represents fewer and fewer voters as a share of the entire electorate.

Meanwhile, Democrats kept about 89 percent of the black vote and have seen their share of Latinos and Asians increase by about 10 percentage points over the same period. The Democrats are getting a larger share of a growing pie when it comes to minority voters.

Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 prompted soul-searching and a post-mortem by Republicans. The report recommended increased outreach and sensitivity to minority groups, but Republican voters decided to take the opposite tack in 2016. The move worked against the worst mainstream party candidate in US presidential history but failed against a more traditional politician in 2020. The AFC platform doubles down on that wrong turn.

Make no mistake. The AFC platform is not a conservative document even if the racist parts are omitted (and they are racist by definition). Among the other planks are:

  • Voter suppression in the form of calling for “an end to mail-in voting”

  • Attacking the First Amendment and property rights of “Big Tech”

  • A promise to “direct as much money as possible to our domestic infrastructure needs”

  • Attacks on “hawkish neoconservative foreign policy” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya that seem to wistfully recall the days when those countries were ruled by terrorist-supporting dictators

  • Isolation in the form of not continuing to be a “globalist watchdog”

  • Calling free trade “nefarious”

A good motto for the caucus might be, “Come for the white nationalism and isolationism, stay for the expansion of government!” While the platform doesn’t explicitly mention President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the retreat is one area where the America Firsters presumably agree with the Democrats.

In addition to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is already backpedaling from the platform, the caucus has drawn the support of the rapidly imploding Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) as well as Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

The America First Caucus serves to illustrate how divided the Republican Party continues to be. It also underscores how ethnocentric and anti-conservative one of those Republican factions is.

The America First wing of the GOP may be large enough to control the party, but, if so, it will be the big fish in a rapidly draining pond. Many Republicans have already been turned off by the party’s reaction to the 2020 election and the subsequent insurrection. If the party veers toward even more blatant white nationalism, it will no doubt scare off even more people. And it won’t be just minority voters who are part of the exodus from the GOP.

America has a policing problem

 With the latest video of a police shooting, this one of 13-year-old Adam Toledo of Chicago, America must face the reality that we have a policing problem. One or two unnecessary deaths could be passed off as tragic accidents, but we now have a years-long pattern of police killing people who didn’t have to die, sometimes the very people that they were sent to help.

I have watched the Adam Toledo video. It’s not easy to watch. If you haven’t seen it and want to, it’s available here on Vimeo. If you don’t want to watch it, I don’t blame you.

Photo credit: Vimeo screenshot

Share

The video shows the Chicago police officer running down an alley after a man wearing a white hat, dark hoodie, and light-colored pants. When the officer tells the man to stop, he begins to run away. The fugitive stops and turns around as the officer screams at him to “Show me your hands!” The suspect turns, the officer fires, and the man falls to the ground.

We now know that the “man” in the video was Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy. The officer, Eric Stillman, immediately rendered first aid and called for an ambulance, but Toledo was pronounced dead at the scene. The entire encounter on March 29 took less than 30 seconds. Stillman left his car at 1:45 on the video and Toledo was shot at the 2:05 mark.

The officer reportedly found a gun near Toledo’s body and at 5:35 on the video, an officer shines a light on a gun lying by the fence several feet away from Toledo’s body. The Chicago PD says that the body camera video shows a gun in Toledo’s hand at the 2:04 mark. I watched this portion of the video second-by-second and it’s difficult to tell for sure, but what is indisputable is that he raised two empty hands as he turned to face the officer in the next second when the bullet was fired.

Another indisputable fact is that, per the Chicago Sun-Times, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy told a judge last week that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot. The newly released body camera video contradicts this statement to the court.

As with many of the recent police killings, there were mistakes on both sides. Toledo, a seventh-grader, should not have been walking the streets of Chicago at 2:30 a.m. My daughter is about the same age and I cannot imagine her being out in the middle of the night, especially on a school night, but she and Toledo lived very different lives.

Toledo should not have been with Ruben Roman, a 21-year-old with a criminal record. Roman should not have had a gun since he was on probation and he definitely should not have given it to Toledo. Likewise, Toledo should not have accepted the gun… if indeed he did. Toledo should not have run from the police.

But Officer Stillman should not have shot an unarmed man who was complying with his orders. Nothing that Toledo did makes it okay for Stillman to have shot him.

I hate to second-guess the officer, who was involved in a foot chase and undoubtedly surging with adrenaline, knowing that he was looking for an armed suspect. I hate to do it, but we have to because this sort of thing happens way too often.

We also have to second-guess the entire police department because, if not for the body camera, the official record would reflect that Toledo was holding a gun when he was shot by Stillman. When government lawyers tell lies that are contradicted by body camera footage, is it any wonder that people mistrust the police?

I am not anti-police by any means. My brother was a cop and I have other friends who have and still do serve. The harsh fact, however, is that American police are needlessly killing far too many people.

This is not a racial issue. Even though many of the most well-known victims are black, such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, many whites are needlessly killed by police as well.

One of the most disturbing body camera videos was the shooting of Daniel Shaver in 2016 by a Mesa, Arizona police officer. Shaver, who was white and unarmed, attempted to comply with difficult and contradictory instructions from the officer as he begged for his life. When Shaver, who had been drinking, tried to keep from falling, he was shot and killed by the officer. The officer was acquitted in the case and even rehired by the department so that he could qualify for a pension.

I am not advocating for defunding the police, but we do need police reform. There are a few ideas that seem like good places to start. The first is to better screen police applicants and weed out people who are too aggressive and combative. It takes a special temperament to be a cop and not everyone should do the job.

The AR-15 that Philip Brailsford, the officer who killed Daniel Shaver, used that night was etched with the words, “You’re f--ked.” This paints a picture of someone who may have a very different mindset than fulfilling the mission of protecting and serving.

Another important reform is better training. I think it’s true that officers need to be better trained in de-escalation. Too often, the reaction is to shoot first and ask questions later. Several veterans have made the point that American soldiers serving in combat zones have more strict rules of engagement than police officers patrolling American cities. This needs to change.

It is an obvious truth that police officers need to be able to protect themselves, but they also need to be accountable for protecting civilians, both innocent and otherwise. We need to find a balance between an officer’s fear for his life and wantonly shooting down unarmed Americans in the street. Or in their own homes.

As Steve wrote yesterday, we need to hold police who are bad apples or who make mistakes accountable. It erodes the public trust when cops like the ones who killed Breonna Taylor and Daniel Shaver get off scot-free and sometimes don’t even lose their jobs.

Qualified immunity also must go. This legal doctrine could be a post in itself, but essentially it makes it almost impossible for victims of government abuse, such as the families of those unnecessarily killed by police, to collect damages. The doctrine frequently puts police officers and other government officials who behave badly above the law.

What’s worse, qualified immunity is a creation of the Supreme Court, not a legislature. Colorado and New Mexico recently banned qualified immunity. More states and Congress should follow suit.

Many people will point to Adam Toledo’s mistakes on the night of March 29 to justify his death at the hands of Officer Stillman, but Toledo was not the only victim that night. Even if Stillman keeps his job and escapes legal liability for the killing, two lives were ruined when he pulled the trigger. It is likely that Stillman will be haunted for the rest of his life by the image of Adam Toledo with his hands raised.

I don’t believe that Officer Stillman set out that night to kill a child. I also don’t think that he shot Toledo, who was of Mexican heritage and not black, because he was a minority kid. But the fact remains that Stillman did kill an unarmed seventh-grader.

Reforming the police may save the lives of some kids like Adam Toledo, but it may also save the lives and mental health of police officers as well as helping to prevent riots and retaliatory violence. It is a tragedy for a 13-year-old to be killed by police but it is also tragic to have to live with pulling the trigger.

Share

I wrote the first part of this piece last night. As I was writing it, the rampage killing at the FedEx facility was unfolding, although I didn’t hear of this murder spree until this morning.

As we come out of the pandemic, the crazies seem to be out in full force. There have been numerous killing sprees over the past few weeks. If we are to be honest, we not only have a policing problem, but we have a gun problem and a crazy person problem as well.

I made a meme years ago that said, “I’m not for gun control, but I do support crazy person control.” I stand by that meme today, although as I wrote a few weeks ago after the Atlanta spa murders and the King Sooper’s murders, red flag laws are the one type of gun control law that might help to prevent some of these rampage killings. I caught some flak for that, but I believe it to be true.

Right now, I think that the most critical danger to the Second Amendment comes from the senseless spree killings and the fear of average Americans that they could be randomly targeted anytime and anywhere. If we want to preserve our Second Amendment rights then we must get the security situation under control. The surest way to feed the gun control frenzy is to have Americans continue to be gunned down by maniacs who go to their workplaces or random stores or schools.

Some segments of the country are afraid that they’ll be murdered by criminals or spree killers on one side or recklessly killed by police on the other. It’s an untenable situation that is similar in many ways to Afghanistan and Iraq where civilians are trapped between security forces and radical terrorists.

Americans want answers and they want action. Every senseless killing spree feeds the gun control movement, especially if an AR-15 is involved. And some of these people do want to ban and confiscate every gun they can.

If pro-gun people really want to protect Second Amendment rights, they need to get on board and help find solutions to the crisis that is the current epidemic of killing sprees. These solutions need to go beyond promoting carry laws to finding ways to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people and criminals while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

From the Racket

Friday, April 16, 2021

Court expansion is the secret Democrat plan to alienate moderates

 I’ve said for a while that both parties act like they want to be in the minority. Every time either party gains power, it bellies up to the trough of government power and gorges itself to the point where nonpartisan voters are sickened by the gluttony. At that point, unaffiliated voters in the center shift to the opposition party in order to rein in the power grab. It is only a question of how long the process takes.

We’ve seen the process play out several times in recent years. Democratic excesses under Barack Obama paved the way for Donald Trump. Trump, in turn, governed as if his base were the only voters who mattered.

Photo credit: Ian Hutchinson/unsplash.Com

It may turn out that it took the Democrats four months under the Biden Administration. Yesterday, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would expand the Supreme Court to 13 justices from the current nine. Of course, the new four justices would be appointed by President Biden.

There are a couple of problems with this strategy. The fact that polling last fall showed overwhelming opposition to the plan to expand the Court is not the least of its flaws.

The biggest problems with the plan are Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Both the West Virginia and the Arizona Democrat are on record as opposing an expansion of the Court. Without these two votes, the expansion plan would be dead even if Democrats could get the bill past a Republican filibuster. Of course, the Democrats can’t get around the filibuster without the votes of… wait for it… Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

The two red-state (or at least purple on the part of Arizona) Democrats understand what many in the national party don’t. Namely, veering left to cater to the progressive base is the fastest way to lose both the Democratic majority and the seats of vulnerable senators -like Manchin and Sinema- who would be forced to vote on the unpopular bills.

Yet another problem is that, if Democrats are able to pull off a court expansion, we can be sure that it would not be the last time. This is especially true if the filibuster is a casualty of the rush to pack the Court. Without the filibuster, we can expect both parties to expand the Court every time they have a judicial minority and are in control of both Congress and the presidency. The result would be the politicization of the Supreme Court in a way that we have never seen.

Democratic claims that the Court should be expanded to 13 justices because there are 13 federal circuit courts are an after-the-fact rationalization. The reality is that there is no need to have one justice for every circuit and such a balance seems never to have been the case. It is true that a justice is assigned to each federal circuit court for emergency orders and that some justices do double duty, but both the number of circuits and justices have fluctuated independently throughout our history.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 which established the details of our judicial system both created three circuit courts and set the number of justices at six. Originally, Supreme Court justices “rode circuit” and held court in each circuit two times every year. Additional circuit courts were added sporadically as states joined the Union and (sometimes) separate acts of Congress both increased and decreased the size of the Court. The Court grew several times, eventually expanding to 10 justices in 1863 and then was reduced to nine by the Judiciary Act of 1869. We did not reach our current total of 13 circuit courts until 1982 with the passage of the Federal Circuit Act. There seems to have been no period when there was one justice per circuit and no real reason to adopt the model now.

Although I am not in favor of the Democratic plan to expand the Court, the Republicans are not innocent in all this. The Democratic push to pack the Court was easily predictable because many on the left were openly threatening to do so if the Republicans broke their own standard of confirming a justice in the middle of an election.

It was also Mitch McConnell who invoked the nuclear option and eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. The move was a response to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s first use of the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for lower-court nominees and presidential appointments in 2013. If McConnell had preserved the filibuster for Supreme Court appointees, it might not be so tempting for Democrats to pack the Court today, in part because the makeup of the current Court would be different.

Nevertheless, the push to pack the Court is destined to blow up in the faces of the Democrats. Congressional math makes it a suicide mission and one that will be intensely unpopular with moderate voters. If such a radical course of action doesn’t push moderate voters back toward the GOP it will probably only be because Republicans worked harder to alienate the electorate than the Democrats did.

Both parties have the attitude that they could lose power at anytime while often simultaneously acting as though they will never again be a minority. The irony is that if leaders led their parties in a more moderate and measured agenda, they stay in power longer and make more permanent gains.


From the Racket