New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Responds to Ruling by Ninth Circuit

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the following statement after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision to uphold the suspension of President Trump’s immigration ban: [Read more…]

Writers Resist Restrictions on Free Expression

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Over 35 prominent Philadelphia authors, journalists and poets will read for hundreds of members of the literary community and concerned citizens at Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty on Sunday, January 15 at 2 PM to protest the potential erosion of cherished American rights such as free expression in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election. The event will be held at the National Museum of Jewish History and is free and open to the public.

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” will take place in sight of Independence Hall. It will feature Beth Kephart, Liz Moore, Thomas Devaney, Nathaniel Popkin, Herman Beavers, Lorene Cary, Carmen Machado, Fran Wilde, former Philly Poet Laureate Frank Sherlock, and dozens of other members of the local literary community. Many of them will be reading seminal Philadelphia freedom texts from the American Revolution to the 21st century.

It’s one of 50 simultaneous Writers Resist events around the US, which will include readings and speeches by authors like Cheryl Strayed, Alexander Chee, and Mary Karr, former U.S. Poet Laureates Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove, and journalist Amy Goodman.

“Writers Resist” was conceived by poet and literary activist Erin Bilieu. She became concerned during the recent Presidential campaign about public cynicism and the disdain for truthfulness that have eroded democratic ideals.

“Writers are acutely aware when the uses of language are empty,” she said. “Whether you live in a red or blue state, or another country that cares deeply about the American experiment, there is no more important battle than our right to truth.”

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” is being organized by local authors Nathaniel Popkin, Alicia Askenase, and Stephanie Feldman.

“We’re bringing together writers at the birthplace of American freedoms, and we’ll be reading from historic texts to remind us of the legacy we all need to protect,” says Popkin. “We’re coming together because as writers we must speak up for the First Amendment, for dignity and truth.”

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” Facebook page #WritersResist. “Writers Resist” is a national network of writers driven to #WriteOurDemocracy by defending the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democratic society.

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty”
Sunday January 15, 2017
National Museum of American Jewish History, Dell Auditorium
5th and Market Streets
2-5 PM
Free and open to the public.

Political Gerrymandering in Wisconsin and Its Implications for Pennsylvania

Wisconsin's Congressional Districts

Wisconsin’s Congressional Districts

— Carol Kuniholm and Barry Kauffman

On Monday, November 21, a panel of three federal judges determined that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This case, Whitford v. Gill (originally filed as Whitford v. Nichol), represents the first time in three decades that a federal court has struck down maps on the grounds that they give unfair advantage to a political party. [Read more…]

Is the Constitution Judeo-Christian?

It is commonplace, particularly in discussions about religious liberty, to describe the Constitution as “Judeo-Christian” in its origins — but is this historically accurate? Professors Menachem Lorberbaum of Penn’s Katz Center and Tel Aviv University, Michael Moreland of Villanova’s Charles Widger School of Law, and Suzanne Last Stone of the Cardozo School of Law discuss the development and context of the Constitution to explore its relationship to the Jewish and Christian traditions. Michael Gerhardt, National Constitution Center scholar-in-residence, moderates.

This program is presented in partnership with the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where Lorberbaum is the Ellie and Herbert D. Katz Distinguished Fellow, and Stone and Gerhardt are affiliated scholars, for the 2016-2017 academic year, exploring Jewish political thought.

Registration: Registration is recommended for all programs. Call 215-409-6700, or reserve your seats here.

Seating: Seating begins one hour prior to program start time. Programs begin promptly, and latecomers may not be admitted.

Confirmation: Please note programs are subject to change; call the National Constitution Center at 215.409.6600, or check our website for updated information.

Parking: Parking will be available for $9 at the National Constitution Center parking garage, located at the rear of the building on Race Street between 5th and 6th streets, on a first-come, first-served basis. Pick up your discounted parking voucher at registration.

Advice and Consent and the Nomination of Judge Merrick Garland

One seat on the nine-member Supreme Court has been vacant since Justice Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016. To rectify this problem, will President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court be headed for a vote, for withdrawal or for a recess appointment? [Read more…]

Angry Words From the Father of a Muslim-American Patriot

Mr. Khan with Pocket sized Constitution. Photo: Freeze Frame from DNC Video Feed.

Mr. Khan with Pocket sized Constitution. Photo: Freeze Frame from DNC Video Feed.

Editor’s note: Attacks and counter attacks are raging over this speech. Updates have been added at the end of this article.

One of the most emotional moments during the last night of the Democratic National Convention centered around the story of fallen Army Captain Humayun Khan and the convention address by his bereaved father. Captain Khan, a University of Virginia graduate, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. He was one of 14 American Muslims to give his life serving the United States during the decade following 9/11.

In a video released at the convention, Hillary Clinton is shown paying tribute to Captain Khan during a speech on national security that she delivered shortly after Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The video was followed by a stirring speech by Khizr Khan, the fallen captain’s father. Khan slammed Donald Trump for his divisive and discriminatory policies. Holding a copy of the Constitution, he asked whether the Republican nominee had ever read it and also whether he had ever been to Arlington Cemetery. “Go look at the graves of the brave patriots,” he said, “who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

Donald Trump should fear the wrath of Khan for scapegoating a religion and giving ISIS exactly what it wants.

Editor’s Note:

Since Mr. Khizr Khan’s respectful and dignified speech explaining why he disagreed with Donald Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States, Trump has hit back describing himself as having been “viciously attacked.”

Senator John McCain and veteran’s groups have strongly criticized Trump for disparaging the family of a brave fallen soldier.

Reinterpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

070314.N.DNT_.HobbyLobby%201_0[1]Blowback for the Jewish Community?

Jeffrey I. Pasek spoke recently to a large and completely engaged audience at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and why Jews should care about it. Pasek, a partner in the Labor & Employment Group of the law firm Cozen O’Connor and a longtime leader in Jewish communal affairs, explained the modern legal history of religious freedom under the First Amendment and its statutory sequel, the RFRA. He discussed the Supreme Court’s unexpected expansion of this law and the potentially troubling consequences it could have. [Read more…]

Sen. Boxer’s knockout election, Sen. Craig’s bathroom bust

Senator Barbara Boxer joins Marines in Iraq at mealPart 6 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

‘It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,’

– U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, from New York’s Westchester County

The composition of the U.S. Senate threatened to partly claim homeland security funds for New York City.

The city that bears the starkest terrorist target on its back was competing with 64 cities for shrinking funds, from $887 million to $725 million in the budget that ran to Sept. 30, 2011. The 20 percent cut was part of the Republican-imposed budget deal reached between President Obama and members of Congress.

More after the jump.
New York House members attempted to pare down the number of eligible cities from 64 to 25 or less, but Senate members vetoed the idea, according to The NY Daily News.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a Westchester Democrat, told the News that the city would lose $27 million because of the large number of competitors.

“It is appalling that a united House position – and common sense – weren’t enough to convince the Senate that the most at-risk areas need this security funding,” she said.

Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, added, “I guess Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry, but in terms of landmarks at risk and assets being targeted, nothing comes close to New York City.”

Besides Nashville, other cities eligible to compete for anti-terror funds were Anaheim, Calif., Bridgeport, Conn., Baton Rouge, La., Omaha, Neb., Toledo, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., according to the News.

Eventually, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, pared down the number of cities eligible for this money, allowing NYC to receive more funds.

It is a common practice for lawmakers to respond to a situation which mainly affects one or a few communities by spreading funds to other towns which do not need it for this purpose. That’s why state money is often allotted to wealthy as well as poor school districts.

On the federal level, we are stuck with a dual system of tradeoffs. All House members represent the same number of people, but senators can demand more because each state is represented by the same number of senators no matter what the population.  

As a result, senators from a large state must concede even more than they would if the Senate was based on proportionate representation.Senator Larry Craig of Idaho

Barbara Boxer and Larry Craig served in the Senate simultaneously for 16 years. Craig, first elected in 1990, retired in disgrace in 2008, after he made some unusual gestures to an undercover police officer in the next toilet stall at a Minneapolis airport restroom.

In her 2004 re-election bid, Boxer achieved bragging rights to winning more votes – 6.9 million – than any senator in American history. She certainly won more votes than many of our earlier presidents. Boxer’s accomplishment can probably be attributed to her staying power and the ongoing growth of her adopted state. Faced with an aggressive opponent in 2010, Boxer could not match her 2004 record, though she was still re-elected.

Minneapolis restroom where Senator Larry Craig was arrested.California’s population is now up to 36.9 million and Idaho is home to 1.5 million, yet Boxer and Craig exercised exactly the same level of clout from 1993 (when Boxer joined the Senate) to 2009.  As a reminder, members of Congress are elected in November during an even year and assume office in early January.

This contrast exemplifies, if to an extreme degree, that the constitutional requirement of two Senate seats for each state does not work in a democratic system. It allows all the less populous states to exercise far more clout than the bigger states.

In his book “How Democratic is the American Constitution?”, Yale professor emeritus Robert A. Dahl writes, “Because the votes of U.S. senators are counted equally, in 2000 the vote of a Nevada resident for the U.S. Senate was…worth about 17 times the vote of a California resident. Surely the inequality in representation it reveals is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens.”

Dahl’s book cites James Madison’s words: “The states were divided into different interests, not by their differences in size, but by other circumstances.”

Minority groups have long been impaired by this system. Dahl recounts that between 1800 and 1860 the House passed eight anti-slavery measures that were all defeated in the Senate. The South exploited its Senate power to end Reconstruction “and for another century it prevented the country from enacting federal laws to protect the most basic human rights of African Americans,” Dahl writes.

What more damage can be done if the Senate continues in its current form?

A recommendation to improve the system, detailed in a future chapter, would transform the operation from the equal number for each state to a more proportional method. The least populous states would lose one senator and senators in larger states would represent sections of each state. Depending on their size, some states would be authorized to elect more than two senators. On the surface, such changes must pass through the amendment process, which makes it appear impossible that it will ever happen.

More infuriating is the persistence of the filibuster rule which obstructs sensible legislation even more. It was born in folly and is protected in folly. We can safely compare treatment of the filibuster to Seinfeld’s Bizarro World.

To change policy, change the system

Maturing moment – Convention delegates sign great but flawed Constitution at Independence Hall.

Part 4 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

Congress will never change so long as both political parties are locked in an endless struggle for power.

Many senators and representatives in both parties enter Congress with the best of intentions, but they must still run for re-election and consider how their votes will affect their respective parties.

The end result means frequent watered-down compromises between what is best for their constituents and the public at large, and for their party.

More after the jump.
Republicans seem dead set against doing anything for vulnerable citizens,and they have feared that a more conservative candidate will be nominated to face President Obama in November. Democrats will restrain themselves because they worry that Democrats representing swing states or swing House districts will be endangered by initiatives considered to be too liberal.

It would be ideal if citizens entered Congress as, well, citizens intent on solving America’s problems, but political pressures intrude on a disproportionate basis. The election of independents could readily revitalize elections and the governing process.

The present system impedes the election of independents who would have difficulty raising the kind of money and building the type of campaign organization that can be provided by a political party. Because of the winner-take-all system, independents usually end up siphoning votes from one or both party candidates.

Some bad actors from either party who hold safe seats would probably get elected anyway, but a less partisan Congress would dilute their power. Probably nobody would have dared tell a president that he lied.

Independent candidates have been elected in a handful of statewide elections, usually small states. Of 100 senators and 435 House members, only two members of Congress are independents – Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was also elected as an independent when he represented Vermont in the House. Like independent governors in other states, these candidates were already people of stature.

These kinds of obstacles might be overcome by creating a system known as Instant Runoff Voting, which allows voters to list other preferred candidates in case their favored candidate ranks low on the pecking order. More on this in later chapters that outline recommended improvements.

It is probably impractical for an independent to mount a serious campaign for president or for elected office in a diverse, populous state, but it might be possible in congressional districts and small states.


The performance of Congress tops a chain of oppressive circumstances that restrict government on most levels in resolving difficulties in society.

The failings here are evident – crime, poverty, substandard schools, housing shortages, unemployment, inadequate health-care coverage, the widening income gap, child abuse, prejudice, political gridlock, corruption, government mismanagement and so on.

People often complain about conditions, but little is done about them. Some Americans who may fit the label of “liberal” assail Obama for failing to push his progressive agenda harder. Some African-Americans gripe that Obama has not done enough for issues which affect the black community. All true.

Maybe they failed to notice some slight stumbling blocks. Obama and Democrats in Congress have been unable to succeed with basic initiatives because of Republican opposition. The House passed legislation for a partly publicly financed health care system on Nov. 7, 2009, when it was controlled by the Democrats, but the Senate dislodged what was called the “public option” because Republicans threatened to exercise their filibuster power.

The same fate awaited Democratic attempts to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy.

If Democrats cannot get past these simple hurdles, how are they expected to do much else of a progressive nature?

The barrier that blocked Democratic legislation in Congress is one of many traps in our governance system that obstructs efforts to address some of the most basic needs in our country. Children continue to go hungry, more loyal employees in the private sector lose their jobs, students still attend overcrowded schools, prices persist in rising as wages stagnate.

Our system also maintains institutional racism. African-Americans and other racial minorities are disproportionately victimized by such policies.

None of this is likely to improve so long as we endure the policies produced by our current system.

To change policy, change the system.

The historic magnitude of the Constitution cannot be minimized, but certain of its rules limit America’s ability to serve its citizens adequately. The Constitution provides a durable foundation, but in two centuries it was necessary to place a great deal of building blocks atop it. What we have now is far from sufficient.

The Constitution contains four significantly flawed requirements. The most obvious was the set of provisions prolonging slavery. Fortunately, slavery was abolished with the Civil War, but the Constitution reflects the ongoing racial conflicts inherently embedded in American society.  

The electoral college was widely vilified when the 2000 presidential election turned into a bizarre spectacle – not the first time that a presidential candidate won the electoral college while losing the popular vote. The electoral college served its purpose for selecting presidents during the nation’s early years, but the reason for it no longer exists and the electoral college remains a drag, at best, on the democratic process.

The electoral college allows the ongoing potential for the selection of a president who is elected by only a minority of the voters, not to mention other disadvantages.

Creation of the Senate permits a minority of the country’s population to control part of the legislative process and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The majority of the people must depend on chance at the ballot box to obtain sufficient clout in the Senate.

On the surface, the amendment process can easily block any attempt to adjust these clauses to make the system more democratic. Any proposed amendment can be thwarted by provisions requiring a two-thirds vote in each house and ratification by three quarters of the 50 states.

Under this system, interestingly, the minority of the population can block adjustments of the rules which already stifle the will of the majority.  

Our system of governance also inhibits the appointment of Supreme Court justices and judges on the lower federal courts whom we can trust for fairness. It is possible for the minority of the people to select judges because of the power of the electoral college and the composition of the Senate.

Beyond the Constitution itself, our 50-state network as we know it is anachronistic. The economic strength or weakness of many states now depends on corporate decisions reached in other states and even foreign countries. Big cities or metropolitan areas usually fund a state’s operations by higher proportions, and the larger states send more money to the federal treasury than smaller states.

Some cities and metropolitan areas may well be self-sufficient if they detach themselves from their state governments. It would likewise make sense if low-population states merged, or if some small states folded into an adjacent larger state.

Many of our problems are self-inflicted. We entrust our political leaders with extensive powers on levels from the White House to City Council. We have elected many exceptional people for public office, yet we have voted people into office who mismanaged our government, stole from us and even contributed to frantic turmoil throughout the world.

Politicians who betray our trust are able to do so because we let them get away with it.

Few enough Americans exercise their rights. Many do not vote in any elections and others will only vote in selected elections, especially the presidential election and in big-city mayoral elections. We do not take time to learn about candidates’ backgrounds and their positions.

Way of Wisconsin – Citizens exercise their democratic rights in rotunda of state capitol in Madison, in protest of Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union initiatives

Once successful candidates take office, too few of us bother to keep track of what they do or communicate our concerns to them. Nor do we organize sufficiently to express dissent of their actions. The series of mass protests in Madison, Wisc., was an exception to what we have experienced in modern times.

Mayors, governors, judges and elected officials of all kinds have mismanaged their operations or abused the trust placed with them. Scandals abound, involving massive contract overruns, judges prosecuted for profiting from sentencing practices, council members benefiting from questionable procedures, a lawyer’s conflict of interest over a proposed building, sexual harassment, the appointment of a schools chief seen as indifferent and unqualified,  and a state government’s longtime neglected oversight of an abortion doctor ultimately charged with murder of babies after being born alive.

The system can be changed.

This begs some legitimate questions: Why bring all this up? Are there any alternatives? If there are, how do we bring about any change?

A series of recommendations are recited in the latter portion of this series. They include a more proportionate form of congressional representation; a realignment of state governments; more regional systems of government; modified rules governing the federal courts; and electoral changes to encourage campaigns of independent candidates, among other measures. Did I mention scrapping the electoral college?

These suggestions can at least serve as a starting point for consideration.

The most anticipated concern about these ideas is this likely question: How? To risk understatement, the obstacles to any changes are daunting.

Broken system – Electoral vote prompts need for bizarre recount in Florida, sparking protests.

If the Senate refuses to adjust or eliminate the filibuster rule, what hope is there for anything else? To amend the amendment process, we obviously need to use, well, the amendment process. The public understood full well the consequences of the electoral college when we endured the Florida recount a decade ago, but there has been no groundswell to eliminate it.

We should be under no illusion that the system will change. Maybe conditions can improve, but at this rate the outlook is not optimistic.

However, it is crucial to understand the deficiencies of the system before we can improve conditions. Making America what it should be does not seem possible under the existing way of doing business, but maybe it can happen. I do not know how to change policy without changing the system.

At stake is good government and how it can best serve its people.