Editorial Roundup: United States
Jun 13, 2023, 5:47 AM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on a rare win for judicial restraint
Because the Supreme Court took a right turn during the Trump years — and particularly after it overturned Roe v. Wade last year — conservative activists have hoped that the court would repudiate many old precedents they have long disliked. On voting rights, cases such as Allen v. Milligan, which concerns Alabama’s 2022 congressional map, appeared to be potential vehicles for the court to recast the law in a sharply conservative direction.
But last week, a closely divided court tempered such hopes, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh sided with the three liberal justices in that Alabama case, upholding a core precedent on one of the country’s most important civil rights laws, the Voting Rights Act. They deserve to be commended for — at least in this instance — restraining what has become a reckless, activist court.
The justices considered Alabama’s congressional map, which has hardly changed since the early 1990s despite population growth patterns that had rendered it increasingly unrepresentative; by the 2020 redistricting cycle, the imperative to draw a second majority-Black district was glaring. Line-drawers in Alabama’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature declined to do so, inviting court challenges.
Alternative maps containing a second Black-majority district were in some cases superior on the basis of traditional redistricting criteria, such as avoiding the splitting of county lines, than the one the state adopted. Under the court’s 1986 Thornburg v. Gingles ruling, there was little doubt that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2. But this court, with the help of Chief Justice Roberts, has dismantled the act’s protections in successive cases since 2013. The Alabama case appeared to be an opportunity for the Roberts court to eviscerate Gingles, too.
Alabama asked the court to do so, arguing that the justices should replace it with a new interpretation of the law that would make it easier for states to claim their electoral maps are legal, even if they appear to shortchange minority voters. But, writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts rejected Alabama’s invitation to rewrite precedent, declaring the state’s proposed new standard would defy the Voting Rights Act’s text and prove unworkable and complex.
This means courts will continue to examine real-world conditions to determine whether race has factored into the political process to an excessive degree — and unreasonably limited minority groups’ ability to elect candidates of their choosing. Even as it preserves important protections for minority voters, this process also reflects the congressional compromise that led to Section 2’s current text, which commands courts to consider the discriminatory effects voting rules and procedures might have.
Cynics might speculate that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh are preparing the way to issue blisteringly conservative rulings later this month, perhaps on affirmative action. But their motives are unknowable and, in practice, irrelevant. Whether Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh would have repudiated Alabama’s maps absent long-established court precedent or whether they did so to convey that a conservative court will not dismantle every precedent when given an opportunity, the result is the same. And, either way, their action is laudable. Restraint is a judicial virtue this court has too often failed to embody.
Now, the question is whether this is a blip in the court’s otherwise sharp-right shift or a sign that there are finally five justices willing to slow, pause or halt the court’s campaign to upend legal precedents that have guided American society for generations.
The Wall Street Journal on Trump’s indictment
Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his indictment by President Biden’s Justice Department is a fraught moment for American democracy. For the first time in U.S. history, the prosecutorial power of the federal government has been used against a former President who is also running against the sitting President. This is far graver than the previous indictment by a rogue New York prosecutor, and it will roil the 2024 election and U.S. politics for years to come.
Special counsel Jack Smith announced the indictment in a brief statement on Friday. But no one should be fooled: This is Attorney General Merrick Garland’s responsibility. Mr. Garland appointed Mr. Smith to provide political cover, but Mr. Garland, who reports to Mr. Biden, has the authority to overrule a special counsel’s recommendation. Americans will inevitably see this as a Garland-Biden indictment, and they are right to think so.
The indictment levels 37 charges against Mr. Trump that are related to his handling of classified documents, including at his Mar-a-Lago club, since he left the White House. Thirty-one of the counts are for violating the ancient and seldom-enforced Espionage Act for the “willful retention of national defense information.”
But it’s striking, and legally notable, that the indictment never mentions the Presidential Records Act (PRA) that allows a President access to documents, both classified and unclassified, once he leaves office. It allows for good-faith negotiation with the National Archives. Yet the indictment assumes that Mr. Trump had no right to take any classified documents.
This doesn’t fit the spirit or letter of the PRA, which was written by Congress to recognize that such documents had previously been the property of former Presidents. If the Espionage Act means Presidents can’t retain any classified documents, then the PRA is all but meaningless. This will be part of Mr. Trump’s defense.
The other counts are related to failing to turn over the documents or obstructing the attempts by the Justice Department and FBI to obtain them. One allegation is that during a meeting with a writer and three others, none of whom held security clearances, Mr. Trump “showed and described a ‘plan of attack’” from the Defense Department. “As president I could have declassified it,” he said on audio tape. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
The feds also say Mr. Trump tried to cover up his classified stash by “suggesting that his attorney hide or destroy documents,” as well as by telling an aide to move boxes to conceal them from his lawyer and the FBI.
As usual, Mr. Trump is his own worst enemy. “This would have gone nowhere,” former Attorney General Bill Barr told CBS recently, “had the President just returned the documents. But he jerked them around for a year and a half.”
That being said, if prosecutors think that this will absolve them of the political implications of their decision to charge Mr. Trump, they fail to understand what they’ve unleashed.
In the court of public opinion, the first question will be about two standards of justice. Mr. Biden had old classified files stored in his Delaware garage next to his sports car. When that news came out, he didn’t sound too apologetic. “My Corvette’s in a locked garage, OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street,” Mr. Biden said. AG Garland appointed another special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate, but Justice isn’t going to indict Mr. Biden.
As for willful, how about the basement email server that Hillary Clinton used as Secretary of State? FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that she and her colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to him, 113 emails included information that was classified when it was sent or received. Eight were Top Secret. About 2,000 others were later “upclassified” to Confidential. This was the statement Mr. Comey ended by declaring Mrs. Clinton free and clear, since “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
This is the inescapable political context of this week’s indictment. The special counsel could have finished his investigation with a report detailing the extent of Mr. Trump’s recklessness and explained what secrets it could have exposed. Instead the Justice Department has taken a perilous path.
The charges are a destructive intervention into the 2024 election, and the potential trial will hang over the race. They also make it more likely that the election will be a referendum on Mr. Trump, rather than on Mr. Biden’s economy and agenda or a GOP alternative. This may be exactly what Democrats intend with their charges.
Republicans deserve a more competent champion with better character than Mr. Trump. But the indictment might make GOP voters less inclined to provide a democratic verdict on his fitness for a second term. Although the political impact is uncertain, Republicans who are tired of Mr. Trump might rally to his side because they see the prosecution as another unfair Democratic plot to derail him.
And what about the precedent? If Republicans win next year’s election, and especially if Mr. Trump does, his supporters will demand that the Biden family be next. Even if Mr. Biden is re-elected, political memories are long.
It was once unthinkable in America that the government’s awesome power of prosecution would be turned on a political opponent. That seal has now been broken. It didn’t need to be. However cavalier he was with classified files, Mr. Trump did not accept a bribe or betray secrets to Russia. The FBI recovered the missing documents when it raided Mar-a-Lago, so presumably there are no more secret attack plans for Mr. Trump to show off.
The greatest irony of the age of Trump is that for all his violating of democratic norms, his frenzied opponents have done and are doing their own considerable damage to democracy.
The Los Angeles Times on schools and Pride month
It was supposed to be a routine vote. On the Tuesday agenda for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education was an item designating June as Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community, recognizing the month in which the 1969 Stonewall uprising began. Local boards and councils vote on ceremonial items like this all the time to recognize various communities in their districts.
But then the agents of hate showed up. Even before the meeting, dozens of people gathered outside to lodge their objection to a vote that they believe supported the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Among the protesters were members of the Proud Boys, a group advocating for white supremacist and anti-government ideologies that participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Soon, LGBTQ+ advocates showed up to protest the protesters, and before long the crowd became unruly and violent. Three people were arrested.
In the end, the Glendale school board voted to support the designation and, in so doing, took a courageous stand against an insidious strain of intolerance that has been creeping into public school districts across the nation.
Just the week before, a very similar scenario played out in North Hollywood over a school assembly featuring, “The Great Big Book of Families” at the Saticoy Elementary School. Protesters carried signs with statements such as, “Parental Choice Matters.” Ironically, Saticoy parents did have a choice about whether they wanted their kids to attend the assembly.
That protest didn’t scare the Los Angeles Unified school board either. On Tuesday the board passed a resolution listing upcoming events it will recognize in addition to Pride Month, such as LGBTQ+ History Month in October and Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. In addition, the resolution encourages all district schools to incorporate LGBTQ+ curriculum adopted by the state.
Troublingly, the protests in Glendale and North Hollywood are part of a growing political movement nationwide targeting LGBTQ+ communities, trying to silence and erase them, and even often falsely accusing them of crimes. Books that have been banned in districts nationwide, including in California, are often targeted solely because they include LGBTQ+ characters or topics.
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. in light of more than 525 state bills in 2023 targeting them. It was the first time in its 43-year history that the civil rights organization made such a declaration. More than 70 of these bills have been signed into law so far this year.
These targeted campaigns aren’t just happening in states governed by primarily Republican legislators. At the Temecula Valley Unified School District in Riverside County, teachers protested on Tuesday after the school board rejected social studies textbooks and curriculum for elementary students that contained what school board members called “morally objectionable material.” School board President Joseph Komrosky called slain gay rights activist and former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk “a pedophile.” Shame on that board for tolerating such hateful statements at a public meeting.
Too many school districts are giving into the intolerant bullies. Los Angeles and Glendale should be proud that their school boards did not.
The New York Times on Donald Trump indictment and betrayal of our trust
It is hard to overstate the gravity of the criminal indictment issued against Donald Trump late Thursday by a federal grand jury. For the first time, a former president has been charged with violating federal laws, laws that he swore to uphold just over six years ago. It is the first time a former leader of the executive branch has been charged with obstructing the very agencies he led, and the first time a former commander in chief has been charged with endangering national security by violating the Espionage Act.
The indictment, unsealed on Friday, accuses Mr. Trump of 37 crimes. The majority of them — 31 of the counts — are for willful retention of national defense information, each a violation of the Espionage Act. There is one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, in which Mr. Trump is accused of conspiring with his personal aide, Walt Nauta, to hide classified documents from the F.B.I. and the grand jury investigating the case. The other charges involve withholding documents, corruptly concealing documents and making false statements to law enforcement authorities.
The potential prison sentences for Mr. Trump add up to as much as 420 years, even though conviction almost never results in the maximum sentence. But this indictment confronts the country with the harrowing prospect of a former president facing years behind bars, even as he runs to regain the White House.
Mr. Trump and his Republican allies are already trying to politicize the indictment, insisting that the charges issued by 23 randomly chosen residents of South Florida were an attempt by President Biden to demolish his rival. But the evidence compiled by the government is so substantial that it is clear the Justice Department had no choice but to indict.
The indictment says that Mr. Trump not only took from the White House classified documents that he was not authorized to possess but also that he showed them to visitors and political cronies at his country club. One of the documents involved a potential attack on another country, which The New York Times has reported was Iran. “Isn’t it amazing?” he asked one visitor, brandishing the document. During that conversation Mr. Trump acknowledged that he knew the document was “a secret,” the indictment said.
The details in the indictment make it clear that Mr. Trump knew that he was not authorized to keep national security secrets in his possession and that he played a cat-and-mouse game to conceal them from the F.B.I. and other federal officials. At one point he suggested his lawyer take some documents to his hotel room and “pluck” out anything really bad, the indictment says. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” he asked his lawyers. He added, “Well, look, isn’t it better if there are no documents?” Meanwhile, he instructed his lawyers to falsely inform federal investigators that they had cooperated fully.
With these actions, the former president demonstrated once again his contempt for the rule of law, his disregard for America’s national security and his mockery of the oath he took to support and defend the Constitution.
Mr. Trump walked out of the White House with details of the nuclear capabilities of the United States and a foreign government, descriptions of support for terrorist activities by a foreign country and communications with the leader of a foreign country. It is the willful retention of this material that led to the 31 charges of violating the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime if someone deliberately retains national defense material “and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”
Mr. Trump’s recklessness in retaining and showing off military secrets is both arrogant and breathtaking. It put the lives of American soldiers at risk. These are some of the United States’ most closely guarded secrets — so sensitive that many top national-security officials can’t see them — and Mr. Trump treated them like a prize he had won at a carnival. These actions underscore, yet again, why he is unfit for public office.
What makes the spectacle all the more stunning is that it was entirely unnecessary. Had Mr. Trump responded to the many formal requests to return the wrongfully taken documents by apologizing and handing them over immediately, he would have avoided any confrontation with federal law enforcement. That’s what responsible public servants like Mr. Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence did when classified material was found among their papers.
The former president’s defenders rushed in to call it political persecution. “It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him,” wrote the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, in a tweet before the indictment was unsealed, as if Mr. Biden had any involvement in these charges.
To make an accusation that a prosecution is a purely political act — one that will undermine the public’s faith in an independent judiciary — is a serious charge and requires at least some basis in fact before it is irresponsibly broadcast to the world. There is no support for that charge, because it requires ignoring two years of evidence painstakingly collected by nonpolitical law enforcement investigators. The Justice Department appears to have followed the basic processes and rules already in place to reach this decision. The public is now able to judge for itself whether the government has a serious case and whether it is actually the Republican critics who are the ones doing the instant politicizing.
And Mr. Trump will be afforded due process, including a trial by a jury of one’s peers and the right to appeal a guilty verdict — all the protections the Constitution guarantees.
The Justice Department’s role is to apply the law equally, without regard to the status or political affiliation of the accused lawbreaker. That’s what makes this indictment so necessary: Federal prosecutors have sought and won convictions in dozens of classified-document cases involving behavior less egregious than Mr. Trump’s. And that’s why the claims of a witch hunt are lamentable. Don’t take it from us; listen to Mr. Trump’s own former attorney general, Bill Barr.
“This says more about Trump than it does the Department of Justice,” Mr. Barr said on “CBS Mornings ” on Tuesday. “He’s so egotistical that he has this penchant for conducting risky, reckless acts to show that he can sort of get away with it.” He added, “There’s no excuse for what he did here.”
It’s become common during the past eight tumultuous years to invoke the term “unprecedented” — a useful shorthand for Mr. Trump’s compulsion to upend established norms and blow past crucial democratic guardrails. But his unprecedented behavior should not obscure an equally important point, which is that the response to it has many precedents.
The United States has prosecuted dozens of former governors, cabinet members and lawmakers. These prosecutions are essential in reaffirming the principle that no one — and especially no political leader — is above the law. To fail to bring such a case is to make it more likely that other abuses of power will occur.
The Guardian on the upcoming GOP presidential primary
Donald Trump has an excess of companions in the race for the Perry Johnson ).
No one can predict what will happen in this race, and upsets do happen. Large fields and long shots positioning politicians for a future bid or the vice-presidential slot on the ticket are nothing new in primaries. Nor are improbable, often self-funded entrants. But the current flurry of activity – Mr. Pence, former New Jersey governor Mr. Christie and North Dakota’s governor Doug Burgum all announced runs this week – seems to be prompted less by the belief that Mr. Trump is beatable than by the belief that Ron DeSantis isn’t the man to beat him. The Florida governor surged in polls after winning by a landslide in the midterms, while Trump-backed candidates fell short. It did not last.
Mr. Trump’s savaging of Mr. DeSantis shows he takes nothing for granted. But he is polling more than 50% among Republicans, while Mr. DeSantis is a distant second on about 20%. Mr. Trump has the status of a former president, yet pitches himself as an insurgent. His personal conduct and erratic politics are already priced in, and he has delivered for his base – notably on the supreme court and, therefore, abortion. Some still like the idea of Trumpism without Trump: a more competent, less reckless version of the former president. But Mr. DeSantis has appeared awkward on the campaign trail. While he counts on a hard line on social issues – including abortion and the battle with Disney – to help him regain ground, it may be unsettling donors.
Mr. Pence trails in distant third: though vice-presidents often win presidential nominations, he is loathed both for backing his former boss’s iniquities until the 11th hour – and for certifying 2020’s election results and rejecting the lie that Mr. Trump had won. His support is in single digits, at about 5%, as is that for Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina, and Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the UN. Tim Scott, also of South Carolina, and only the second black Republican senator ever directly elected, has impressed some pundits but is even further behind.
The concern of anti-Trump Republicans is that the sheer number of candidates will split the votes of those pondering an alternative. While Mr. Christie has laid into Mr. Trump, and Mr. Pence did so in his campaign launch, Mr. DeSantis has vacillated before hardening his line – and still refuses to comment on Mr. Trump’s claims that the last election was stolen.
The others criticize him only in veiled terms. They hope to pick up Mr. Trump’s supporters should he be hobbled, perhaps due to some unforeseen act or his multitude of legal woes. Prosecutors have formally notified the former president that he is a target of the criminal investigation examining the retention of national security materials. It is far from clear that any of the cases against him will obstruct his return. Yet the biggest threats to Mr. Trump’s political prospects still appear to remain outside his party.