Update on Redistricting Cases With Potential Pennsylvania Impact

The issue of partisan gerrymandering was on the docket during the first week in October, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in courts in Pennsylvania. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of intentionally drawing voting district lines in a way that benefits a particular political party. Here is a court-by-court update on the status of these gerrymandering cases.

In the U.S. Supreme Court

https://pixabay.com/en/supreme-court-building-usa-546279/

U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford. Early news reports of the argument suggest the expected: the four liberal justices see the injustice of a gerrymander that denies people of the “wrong” party a meaningful right to vote. The four conservative justices may be willing to stay with the existing system, under which courts do not interfere with redistricting on the grounds that it is a “political” matter. Justice Kennedy, who is potentially the key swing vote, appeared to take the arguments by the plaintiffs seriously. Judgment in the case will take a while, likely emerging sometime during the present term, which lasts until the end of June 2018.   –Ken Myers
 

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin case, another partisan gerrymandering case was filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia by five Pennsylvania citizens. Taking a different approach from the Wisconsin case, the Pennsylvania plaintiffs in Agre v. Wolf argue that the the partisan nature of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim that even the attempt or intent to gerrymander is unconstitutional under this clause and that the court should require Pennsylvania to come up with a process of redistricting that has effective guarantees against partisan overreach.

As Raymond Solomon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained:

We’re not just looking for a new map, but a new process. California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have shown that there can be neutral and fair processes that do not rig the outcomes in advance. We feel the U.S. House is the People’s House, and deciding who goes to the People’s House belongs to the people and not the politicians.

 

In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

At the state level, a hearing was held before Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a partisan gerrymandering case brought by petitioners the League of Women Voters and individual voters from across the commonwealth. At issue in the hearing was whether this case should be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling in the Wisconsin case, as claimed by lawyers for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and its leaders.

The petitioners argue that a delay is not warranted because their case is based on the state constitution, not the federal one, and therefore, would not be governed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They also emphasize that time is critical to prevent yet another election where the voices of Democratic voters are effectively silenced because their voting districts were drawn to secure Republican victories.

Judge Pellegrini said that even if he allows this case to proceed without waiting for the Supreme court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the judicial process will not be completed before the 2018 midterm elections. He did mention the option of a King’s Bench petition, which can potentially fast-track a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

When can we expect Judge Pellegrini to rule on whether he will delay the case or permit it to proceed in Commonwealth Court? David Gersch, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, believes the judge will issue his order within a few weeks.

 

Will the Next Charlottesville be Here?

Jeffrey Saltz, Democratic candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County

By Jeffrey Saltz

Candidates for public office frequently state that they learn the most about local issues by talking with their voters.  This may sound like a cliche, but in fact I recently learned about virulent anti-Semitism and racism lurking right in our backyard, by talking with voters who have been exposed to such hatred.

Together with my running mate Wendy Rothstein, I am a Democratic candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County — the main county court located in Norristown.  As a candidate, I have traveled the length and breadth of Montgomery County, a large and diverse district, from my home in Lower Merion to close-by communities in Cheltenham and Abington, to the more rural areas farther north.  Wherever I go, I have spoken of the lessons that we have learned this year about the importance of judges in protecting individual rights and in standing up to government abuse of power.

Ever since August 12, I mention the march of neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, which for me was a blaring wake-up call.  The Charlottesville march was sickening and terrifying.  And the most frightening part was that we know that we have not seen the last of these hate groups — especially with the encouragement provided by Donald Trump’s message of moral equivalency.  As I have addressed groups around the county, I have asked the question, “What if the next march is here?”  Free speech is constitutionally protected, but violence and intimidation are not.  Who do you want sitting in the courthouse if the marchers come here and bring these legal issues with them?

Audiences seemed responsive.  But in truth, I wondered whether my questions were just abstract and hypothetical.  That was until I went to the Perkiomen Valley, in the northern reaches of Montgomery County, encompassing towns like Schwenksville, Red Hill, and Pennsburg.  To a group of voters, I posed my usual question — “What would happen if the Klan were to come here?” — but the reaction was very different.  They laughed.  My question was a foolish one.  As the audience explained, “The Klan is already here.”  They told me how Klan members have lived in the community for years, including the man in their neighborhood who stands in public places dressed in a Nazi-style brownshirt.  The Klan has typically been quiet, but recently, I was told, they have become more vocal.  “They feel they have permission now,” one voter said.

White supremacist carrying a Nazi flag during Charlottesville riot. Photo courtesy: Andy Campbell

Voters in the town of East Greenville showed me flyers that they had received in the mail, anonymously, before the Charlottesville march.  I will not describe them in detail, because they were so offensive that I refuse to repeat their content.  Let me just say that they were the most vile anti-Semitic and racist materials that I have ever seen.  It was as if they had been taken right off the wall of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  They were appalling.  I could only imagine the fear that was evoked when everyone in the neighborhood opened their mail that afternoon.

My experience with the voters of the Perkiomen Valley drove home the point that questions about where the next Charlottesville will occur are not just hypothetical.  The hate groups are already here.  More of them may be coming.  We need to be ready, so that violence and intimidation do not threaten our democratic values and individual rights. 
_______________

Jeffrey Saltz lives in Lower Merion and is a Democratic candidate for the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.  He is a past President of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne.  More information is available at www.saltzforjudge.com. 

The Book of Jonah in Today’s Politics

Demonstrators sitting-in outside PA State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s office. Photo courtesy of March on Harrisburg.

By Rabbi Michael Pollack

In the Biblical worldview, our world has a moral compass, and our history is intimately linked to our actions. Our collective crimes and injustices result in our pain and suffering, and our ancestors called this divine judgment and divine wrath. In the words of the enlightenment philosopher Hegel, “World history is world judgement.” The Bible is a series of historical atrocities interpreted by our ancestors as divine judgement for our collective moral and ethical failures. Our ancestors’ crimes usually included materialist idolatry, injustice, corruption, violence, and  war — all performed in an atmosphere of mistrust and spite. And our weakened society too often turned against itself in civil war, or was unable to fend off invaders like the Assyrians or the Babylonians.

[Read more…]

Two Gratz Students Produce Hip New Jewish Toys

Partners in Yom Tov Toys: Elana Gootson (left) and Jessi Sheslow (right).

Using her coursework at Gratz College, student Elana Gootson launched Yom Tov Toys in 2016 with her business partner and fellow student Jessi Sheslow. The two entrepreneurs are now producing an innovative toy that is different from anything else available on the market today — a toy that seamlessly combines kid appeal with Jewish humanitarian values.   [Read more…]

Sen. Scott Wagner Berates George Soros With Anti-Semitic Comment

Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner, a wealthy Republican and a Trump supporter who is running for governor of the commonwealth, has had some run-ins this year with political trackers. Trackers are campaign hires responsible for videotaping opposing candidates, with the goal of recording politically useful gaffes. In May, Wagner was captured on tape assaulting a tracker like a violent thug. Three months later, in the following exchange with a tracker about billionaire George Soros, Wagner came off as an anti-Semite: [Read more…]

Rabbis Forgo Annual High Holy Days Call with President

The High Holy Days are an opportunity for reflection and introspection. As the leaders of major denominations in American Jewish life, we have been deeply engaged in both, considering the events of the Jewish year that is ending and preparing spiritually for the year to come.

Press Release from the Religious Action Center

In so doing, we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether to continue the practice in recent years of playing key roles in organizing a conference call for the President of the United States to bring High Holiday greetings to American rabbis. We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year.

The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.

The High Holy Days are a season of t’shuva for us all, an opportunity for each of us to examine our own words and deeds through the lens of America’s ongoing struggle with racism. Our tradition teaches us that humanity is fallible yet also capable of change. We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred. We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society. And we pray that 5778 will be a year of peace for all.

Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Jerusalem Official Discovers Sudden Disappearance of White House Watchdog

By ILAN CHAIM

Art Buchwald’s 1973 column about excuses for President Richard Nixon. Photo courtesy: Los Angeles Times.

JERUSALEM (PJV) – A  senior government statistician in Jerusalem discovered last week that his official counterpart in Washington has apparently disappeared. The statistician, who must remain unnamed, informed the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that US President Donald Trump has apparently abandoned the US Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) guidelines, which both generate the president’s budget as well as overseeing and regulating how it is used.

Instead, the official finally saw, after a futile search throughout the US government’s considerable number of websites, a new official website appear. It announced that the administration is “updating” the regulations.

The question occurs as to why the OMB guidelines are in sudden need of updating a role it has carried out since the Nixon administration in 1970. The largest White House branch oversees and coordinates the administration’s procurement, financial management, information, and regulatory policies.

The OMB annually reviews federal agency budget requests in preparation for deciding what resource requests would be sent to Congress as part of the president’s budget. It therefore functions as the mechanism by which a president implements his policies – from the Department of Defense to NASA. Its director reports directly to the president, vice president and White House chief of staff.

These regulations also feature as an international role model on the website of the United Nations, so they will apparently be available for comparison with the Trump administration’s adulterated version that is currently under reconstruction.

The Israeli statistician had become alarmed during his search for the original site, when he suddenly found he could no longer reach his Washington counterpart. “I would search and search until I realized that the problem was more serious than an incorrect email address,” said the source.

He suggested that the “updating” apparently indicates that Trump himself or someone high in the administration wants to remove any government supervision of the White House budget. The Israeli equivalent is the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The immediate seriousness of this discovery,” the source pointed out, “is that the quality of information reaching the US public from its government is largely determined by how closely it adheres to standards of good government and reflects reality. When you remove these standards, the government is free to distort reality.”

He said further that this new phenomenon appears to be linked to another recent bureaucratic disappearance in the US capital involving the Office of the Chief Statistician of the American government. The guidelines referred to are listed on the website of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (https://fcsm.sites.usa.gov/policies/). Try reaching any of the links under Government-Wide Standards and Guidelines.

The possible missing link he referred to may be part of an ongoing controversy regarding the appointment of the current US Chief Statistician Nancy Potok. She was appointed a day before Trump was inaugurated (!) and there has been no mention of her since, though she hasn’t officially resigned or is not known to have been purged.

The Trump administration is apparently now casting its darkening shadow over OMB appointments, which are meant to be permanent, non-partisan, qualified staffers who in the past have been relied upon for their accuracy and objectivity. Another indication is that the previous chief statistician had an interactive webpage of her own that served the public’s need for facts, which has since vanished.

Online Middle School Israel Educational Program

By Ferne Hassan

A new middle school curriculum, “LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is now available nationwide. The 6-lesson unit allows students to explore the historic Jewish roots to Israel while discovering their own personal, modern connection.

Through a sophisticated, interactive, on-line application, LINK was developed by teachers, curriculum writers and internet experts who understand the need for a dynamic, educational experience of this kind. The outcome is a platform designed to enable students to determine for themselves, through experiential and project based learning, their own, unique Israel connection.

Students discover an Israel not usually found in traditional Jewish curricula; an Israel whose actions are informed by Jewish values and reflect the best of what matters to today’s youth. They learn about an Israel that is diverse, where humanitarian aid is a priority, and where there are opportunities for refugees and economic migrants. They are inspired by an Israel whose innovations and technologies are improving and saving lives throughout the world.

“LINK: Discovering Your Israel Connection” is headed by Mina Rush, Director of Middle School Education and programming for StandWithUs, a sixteen year-old, international Israel education organization. Mina’s background includes being the Director of Outreach for Jewish World Watch where she also did programming in Jewish education.

“The motivation behind this endeavor was to create a program that could reverse Jewish students’ diminishing relationship to Israel as evidenced by recent polls. My experience showed that traditional methods of teaching did not always achieve the desired results. I realized that students are best able to connect when the material represents their core values. This realization led to the direction that LINK has taken,” explains Rush.

A year-long pilot program of 20 schools across the US was completed in July, 2017. Jewish day schools and Jewish supplementary schools participated in the study, representing all Jewish denominations. Data was collected from teachers and students to measure progress and to determine if educational goals were being met.

Data analytics revealed that after participating in the LINK program:
– Students showed a 45% increase in knowledge and understanding about Jewish continuity in Israel.
-Students showed a 55% increase in knowledge, understanding and challenges of Israel’s size, demographics and location.
– Students showed a 75% increase in knowledge and understanding of Israel’s diversity.
– Students showed a 78 % increase in knowledge and understanding about Israel’s role in global humanitarian and disaster aid as well as efforts Israel makes at home with refugee and economic migrant populations.

– Students showed a 60% increase in knowledge and understanding about the global impact of Israeli advances in technology.

Teachers reported that students readily engage in the lessons and look forward to their experience with the curriculum. They articulate not just an increase in knowledge, but pride in and a connection to Israel.

“The use of technology and the presentation of the information truly honors today’s teen. When our students in the school were surveyed, many stated that the LINK program was the favorite part of their school day,” states Sandy Borowsky, CJE, MS.ED, Educational Director Orangetown Jewish Center in New York.

Tears for Our Country

-Deanne Scherlis Comer

I, like so many, am weeping at the words I heard yesterday from the leader of our beloved country.

Moreover, I am wondering if any of the president’s supporters who have any shred of moral credibility left are looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, “What have I done?” And when will other members of that coterie of his inner circle show some backbone and call out, loudly and clearly, the heinous words and actions that have tarnished this presidency?

This is the time to be an “upstander” and not a “bystander” in our daily interactions as well. Our children, whose footsteps are shaping the path of our nation’s history, are listening.

This is the time to remember and honor all those who have stood up and fought against Nazism, Fascism and global genocides at any level.

March by white nationalists carrying torches in Charlottesville. Photo:

White nationalists marching in Charlottesville. Photo: All InOne News video.

This is the time to remember the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors who are the heroic remnants of the horror inflicted by racial and ethnic hatred.

This is the time to feel empathy for the African Americans who still feel the inequalities, for the moderate Muslims who feel threatened, and for the undocumented, law-abiding immigrants who want a fair opportunity and path to citizenship.

My father fled the pogroms of Communist Russia and always cautioned me about speaking out on issues I believed in. He felt that as a Jew, I should keep a low profile. “Well,” I told him, “Elie Wiesel believed that even if no one is listening, we need to yell against injustice so others don’t change us!”

So, as a human being, as the daughter of an immigrant, as an American Jewish woman, as a mother, as a grandmother and as a Holocaust educator, I will continue to speak my mind.

Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

Deanne Scherlis Comer is past chair of Abington School District’s Holocaust Curriculum Committee and is an education consultant for the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center of Delaware Valley.