December 3rd, 2013
December 3rd, 2013
Need proof that the so-called disclosure campaign aimed at Corporate America is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to silence pro-business voices in the political arena? Take a look at how one political party (I won’t say which one) is howling the day after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “unceremoniously dropped” a proposal pushed by the Professional Left to require companies to publish contributions to political and nonprofit organizations.
As columnist Robert Samuelson recently pointed out, the influence of U.S. companies on the political process is “vastly exaggerated” – and simply feeds public cynicism, rather than real reform. Yale Law School Professor Jonathan Macey rightly suggests the real goal of activists like the ones pushing the SEC “isn’t disclosure but unilateral business disarmament” in the battle over public policy.
Democrats on the Hill (OK, I said it) are urging supporters to “harass” the SEC into adopting the new rule. Let’s hope the SEC holds firm against the powerful interests that want to suppress advocates for free markets, lower taxes, less regulation and other pro-business policies.
November 22nd, 2013
Eric Magnuson, former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, has been pushing the so-called “Impartial Justice Act” – a proposed constitutional amendment that would formalize “merit” selection in the state. Minnesota’s Constitution requires that judges “shall be elected by the voters from the area which they are to serve …” Yet most judges resign mid-term, allowing governors to fill vacancies by appointment – an end run around the people and the constitution.
Minnesota already has an informal “merit” selection system in place, with the usual lawyer-dominated commission making recommendations to the governor. The crucial caveat is that the governor does not have to appoint a judge from the spoon-fed list provided by this unelected commission.
Magnuson and much of the state’s legal elite want to do away with even this crumb of protection voters enjoy from a completely unaccountable judiciary. As our friends at Gavel Grab point out, Magnuson wants to “formalize” the process and make the “merit” selection commission the supreme authority in picking judges.
Why do “merit” selection proponents fear the input of voters? Well, Magnuson explains, “It’s pretty hard to find out how a judge is doing unless you actually go to court, watch the judge, talk to lots of lawyers and court personnel and people who have appeared in front of the judge.” In short, unless you talk to lawyers, you have no right to pass judgment on whether a judge deserves to keep his/her job.
Thankfully, Magnuson has a solution for all those unenlightened voters. Under the plan he supports, there’s going to be another commission – “non-partisan” of course – made up of folks appointed by the Supreme Court, the governor and the legislature. This commission would produce a “report card” on each judge so “voters would then know if a judge was qualified” or not.
So let me get this straight: A commission appointed by the governor who selects judges in the first place and the Supreme Court comprised of those judges is going to issue a report card on how great all the judges are?
The authors of Minnesota’s Constitution had it right. Judicial selection should be left up to the voters to decide.
November 21st, 2013
Proponents of a more activist judiciary and speedier confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees – like the Justice at Stake crowd – are pleased with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s willingness to abandon the 60-vote rule on filibustered nominees and ram judges home on a simple majority vote. Yet even died-in-the-wool liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank suggest that Democrats are going to “deeply regret” this decision.
One immediate impact will be far more polarized courts and an escalation in attacks on judicial nominees at all levels. The need to invoke cloture with 60 votes “fostered more bipartisanship in the Senate,” according to Senate historian Donald Ritchie. It also acted as a break on the most ideological nominees, because presidents understood that more moderate candidates are required to win 60 votes. Think more Justice Scalias and fewer Justice Roberts.
As Charles Krauthammer observed, now that the filibuster genie is out of the bottle, we’ll soon see the day when the new rules are applied to Supreme Court nominees. When that happens, “Democrats will absolutely rue the day” they eliminated the filibuster because a Republican Senate majority will be in a position to push through high court nominees, delivering a “devastating blow to the liberals on the Court and to the liberals in the country.”
November 21st, 2013
From Aristotle’s Politics, typically described as the most influential book on political theory ever written:
“There is this to be said for the many: each of them by himself may not be of a good quality; but when they all come together it is possible that they may surpass – collectively and as a body, although not individually – the quality of the few best … For when there are many, each has his share of goodness and practical wisdom …”
It seems that 2,400 years ago, Aristotle had the answer to the “merit” selection crowd who condescendingly believe “the few” can make better choices about judges than “the many.”
November 20th, 2013
The Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal recently ran an editorial endorsing the abolition of democratic judicial elections and the adoption of a lawyer-dominated “merit” selection system. Here’s my response, which the paper decided not to print:
A recent Intelligencer Journal editorial endorses a legislative proposal that would require Pennsylvanians to give up their right to vote for state judges and allow a commission to handle judicial selection.
The primary reason given is that many voters “have never heard of” the judicial candidates running, “much less know anything about” them. A commission of “experts,” we’re told to believe, could be counted on to make better decisions than ordinary people – decisions based only “merit” rather than the arbitrary, unwitting choices of voters.
I’m sure this seemed like a clever argument, but the notion that citizens should be denied the right to choose their public servants because some people think they lack the knowledge to make informed or “intelligent” decisions creates a pretty slippery slope that can quickly lead to the disenfranchisement of voters in a range of elections.
By this standard, shouldn’t we stop voting for local school boards and county sheriffs? After all, a huge number of voters probably “have never heard of” most of these candidates, “much less know anything about” them.
More to the point, do we really want to establish voter knowledge or their perceived ability to make intelligent decisions as a rationale for excluding people from the voting booth?
While the editors of the Intelligencer Journal surely have only the public interest in mind, such has not always been the case.
For decades following the Civil War, millions of African-Americans were required to pass “literacy tests” to secure their right to vote. In Alabama, ironically enough, one of the questions asked of prospective voters to demonstrate their qualifications to vote was to name the county judges in the state!
For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of literacy tests against challenges from the NAACP and civil rights proponents. In fact, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that our federal government finally outlawed the pernicious idea that citizens should have to prove their literacy or intelligence in order to secure the right to vote.
Obviously proponents of merit selection are not trying to return us to the days of literacy tests and other schemes to unfairly disenfranchise voters. But it’s important to remember that voting is a pretty sacred right in American democracy, and it shouldn’t be lightly discarded just because some people mock the intelligence of voters and question whether they have the knowledge to choose judges wisely.
Dan Pero is President of the American Justice Partnership, an organization dedicated to promoting legal reform at the state level.
November 15th, 2013
Influential columnist Robert Samuleson takes on the myth that rich donors are somehow buying government and argues the influence of U.S. companies on the political process is “vastly exaggerated.”
Samuleson’s column lends credence to Yale Law School Professor Jonathan Macey’s contention that the goal of the current transparency charade – funded by billionaire speculator George Soros – “isn’t disclosure but unilateral business disarmament” in the political arena. According to Samuelson, “democracy’s problem is not the influence of money.” In fact, writes Samuelson:
“The idea that government is routinely bought and sold by the rich is a source of widespread – but misleading – cynicism. It’s the false premise on which so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ rests. Money interests are allegedly so corrupt that they must be controlled or else will ruin democracy. The resulting campaign rules have, by inspiring evasions and compromising free speech, fed the cynicism they were supposed to suppress. They have made politics more costly and cumbersome without making it more effective.”
The bottom line: All the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by the phony transparency crowd isn’t giving us better government, it’s just feeding more cynicism.
November 15th, 2013
The Michigan Senate blocked Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s attempt to make an end-run around the First Amendment through her proposal that targeted issue advocacy ads in state elections.
Johnson’s proposal – which she tried to muscle through via administrative fiat, rather than amending Michigan campaign law – was being pushed under the same “disclosure” charade the State Bar is peddling and which I highlighted in a recent op-ed. The main thrust of these proposals is not to provide the public with greater transparency, but instead to create an “enemies list” of individuals or businesses who can be intimidated into silence. As Yale Law School Professor Jonathan Macey put it in a Wall Street Journal piece, the idea is to “silence pro-business points of view by using disclosure to name and shame the companies that speak up for U.S. businesses.”
The Michigan House should stand with the Senate and protect free speech against phony disclosure rules.
November 6th, 2013
For years, Michigan’s Court of Claims – the court that hears legal actions filed against the state – has been dominated by liberal activist judges whose opinions were so flagrantly partisan they got overturned by the Court of Appeals more often than pancakes get flipped at the local diner. Now, a reform passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder to diffuse politics on the court has Democrats “howling,” says Frank Beckmann in a Detroit News op-ed.
“The Court of Claims rulings were transparently partisan, which is why state Dems are now howling so loudly about the change – they fear they’ve lost some of their ability for activism from the bench….Democrats have only themselves to blame for the political reaction to their own partisan actions which sullied any pretense of non-partisanship by the [Court of Claims].”
The new reform will make the Court of Claims less partisan and more accountable, which is all for the good. It will also reduce the influence of state labor unions which have done so much to wreck Michigan’s economy and cripple state finances. As Beckmann puts it, that may be bad for one political party, but it’s “good news for the state as a whole.”
November 5th, 2013
New York City took a sharp left turn yesterday, electing Bill de Blasio as the successor to Mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani. From a business perspective, the most alarming facet of de Blasio’s liberalism isn’t his self-professed love for “democratic socialism” – presumably nurtured during his work for Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista government. Instead, it’s his commitment to using the power of government to “direct corporate America” to support the Professional Left’s political agenda – or at least bully companies and pro-business groups into silence.
Exhibit A is the public intimidation campaign waged against Target back in 2010 after the company contributed to a group supporting a pro-business candidate for governor. When it was revealed the candidate also opposed same-sex marriage, Target was quickly denounced as bigoted, homophobic or worse and a nationwide boycott was threatened. Despite the fact that Target’s contribution had nothing to do with the issue of marriage – traditional or otherwise – de Blasio embraced these intimidation tactics as a useful model:
“What happened to Target was child’s play. We will use every tool: whether it’s actions among consumers, up to boycotts; whether it’s shareholder actions; whether it’s work from pension funds, to use the power of pension funds to direct corporate America to change its ways; legal action. You name it, it’s on the table.”
The goal for de Blasio and others in the modern progressive movement isn’t simply to raise taxes or impose more government regulations; it’s to de-legitimize Americans companies or pro-business groups who even dare to promote free market policies in the political arena.
NPR – formerly National Public Radio – has a hit piece out on a Michigan Supreme Court race that cost Justice Alton Davis his seat on the bench. Taxpayer-supported NPR ($445 million to its parent the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) tries to portray Davis’s defeat as a “new way of doing politics,” with campaign ads sponsored by independent organizations like the American Justice Partnership, which I lead.
Of course, no mention was made of the dark money that helped defeat Michigan Chief Justice Clifford Taylor in 2008. Nor did NPR dig into the liberal C-3 world that includes groups like Justice at Stake and other beneficiaries of George Soros’s millions. And no comment on the “social welfare” groups that use private money to try to silence pro-business voices in the political arena.
Actually, the real story behind former Justice Davis is far more interesting than NPR’s air-brushed version.
Davis got to the Michigan Supreme Court through a backroom deal that would have made the old Tammany Hall crowd look like a bunch of amateurs. His appointment was made possible when longtime Justice Betty Weaver agreed to resign under the cloud of a complaint filed by her fellow justices with the Judicial Tenure Commission. But before resigning, Weaver first asked Davis whether he would replace her and then cut a deal with former Governor Jennifer Granholm to appoint Davis in her place.
The Weaver-for-Davis shuffle allowed Democrats to seize control of the Court, bypassing the will of Michigan voters who had elected a pro-rule-of-law majority, rather than a trial-lawyer-friendly judge like Davis. Michigan voters dumped Davis unceremoniously at the first possible chance. So the real story behind Davis’s defeat is one of the voters rejecting sleazy backroom deals and rising up to retake control of the Court, not a relatively small ad financed by AJP.
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