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Op-ed

Bombshell report deals another blow to the Supreme Court’s reputation

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By Mary Zeigler  — Culled from the CNN

The Supreme Court’s reputation was already in question when The New York Times released an exposé over the weekend about another alleged breach at the high court.

Earlier this year, there had been revelations that Ginni Thomas, a conservative operative married to Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly urged former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Some legal experts suggested that Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from cases involving the 2020 election, but he did not. (In a statement before meeting with the January 6 committee, Ginni Thomas said she never discussed her campaign activities regarding the 2020 election with her husband.)

In May came the unprecedented leak of a full draft of an opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization dismantling federal protection of abortion rights.

The Dobbs leak set off an internal investigation — which is still ongoing — and reportedly poisoned the atmosphere at the court; another round of leaks soon followed around the possibility that some wavering had occurred from within on overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case.

The leak prompted fierce criticism, especially from within the court. Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the Dobbs majority, recently called the leak a quote, “grave betrayal,” in an appearance before the conservative Heritage Foundation, suggesting that it put the lives of some of the high court’s conservative justices at risk.

By the end of the summer, it seemed that two things were true. First, this series of revelations had wreaked havoc on the court’s public image, convincing many Americans that it was a profoundly partisan institution.

And, second, members of the court’s conservative supermajority did not much seem to care.

Just look at what happened with Dobbs: Despite months of controversy and plummeting poll numbers, the court released an opinion reversing Roe that was functionally identical to the one leaked in May. Alito, author of the Dobbs opinion, even dropped in a paragraph about the court’s legitimacy, suggesting that it was not his job to worry about what the American people think.

This latest bombshell about anti-abortion groups allegedly getting tipped off in 2014 about a yet-to-be-released blockbuster ruling will test if the justices have to care about the court’s legitimacy after all.

The New York Times reported that the Rev. Rob Schenck, a former anti-abortion activist, had spent years seeking influence at the Supreme Court, developing a network of top donors and court insiders. Schenck alleges that his sources formed close relationships with Thomas, Alito and Justice Antonin Scalia — bonds so close that one couple allegedly received a tipoff about the result in a major case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., at a dinner with Alito and his wife.

The Hobby Lobby case involved a challenge to the so-called contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which required employers to cover all female contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The owners of some for-profit businesses argued that these forms of birth control were actually abortion-inducing drugs — and that forcing employers to cover them violated employers’ rights.

According to the Times, Schenck said he was told that the employers would win the case from a conservative donor who had close social ties to Alito and his wife — and that Alito had written the majority opinion.

Schenck wasn’t present when his sources allegedly received news about the ruling, but several acquaintances report his telling the same story about the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, the Times reported. Schenck’s emails from 2014 and beyond also reinforce that he had some kind of inside information about the case and expected his side to win it, according to the Times.

In a statement the Supreme Court provided to CNN on Saturday, Alito called the tipoff allegations concerning the dinner conversation “completely false.”

In an interview with CNN, the donor cited by Schenck also denied allegations of receiving information about the Hobby Lobby ruling, though she admitted that she and her husband dined at Alito’s home.

But this report is the last thing the court needed with its approval ratings already at an all-time low.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the 1970s, Americans’ trust in government institutions shattered in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and revelations about then-President Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate, a break-in to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and subsequent cover-up. But the Supreme Court long seemed to be an exception.

On former President Donald Trump’s watch, that view was to change dramatically. Trump kicked things off by promising not just that his nominees would be conservative originalists but that they would guarantee the reversal of Roe.

With three Trump nominees on the court, the justices delivered the most conservative wins since 1931, according to an NPR report, citing statistics compiled by professors at Washington University and the University of Michigan.

And it wasn’t just the number of wins — it was how far to the right the court moved. The justices opened the door to displays of religious faith from public school teachers and coaches, and an expansion of public funding for religious schools.

The court also hamstrung the Environmental Protection Agency and cast doubt on the power of other agencies, created a super-right to bear arms that would make it hard to pass any gun regulations and eliminated the right to abortion, even rejecting the argument that abortion restrictions constituted sex discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause — a claim that neither the petitioners nor the respondents in the case had raised.

The message was clear: The court’s conservative majority was here to stay — and making no apologies for the revolution it was working in the law, no matter how deeply unpopular it was becoming.

By the end of the summer, the court’s reputation had taken a nosedive, but the conservative justices hardly seemed to care. They seemed convinced that they truly were insulated from the will of the people.

It’s true that the justices hold lifetime appointments — and that no justice has ever been successfully removed through impeachment. But historically, there were other ways to hold the court accountable — threats to strip the court of jurisdiction, changing the number of justices or even just ignoring the justices’ rulings.

The current conservative majority seems poised to continue making major changes. The court could end affirmative action, further gut the Voting Rights Act, give state legislatures the power to upend federal elections, further curb the power of the EPA and allow religious business owners to refuse service to LBGTQ customers.

The New York Times article on the court’s alleged leak will deal the court’s reputation another blow. Americans want the court to be above partisan politics (less than 20% polled recently by Pew think that the court should bring their political views into decision making), but a growing number of voters think that the court is a partisan institution.

Now, it seems the justices are not just delivering policy wins to one side of the aisle but have developed inside relationships with conservative organizations.

At a minimum, doing so creates a horrible impression for Americans promised that the justices will be neutral arbiters of the law. At worst, it’s a sign of deep corruption. (The Code of Conduct for United States Judges provides ethical guidance for lower court judges but specifically does not cover Supreme Court justices.)

The court seems convinced that it can continue on its current trajectory no matter how unhappy Americans are. If that’s true, Americans will lose trust in yet another institution, and the court will lose touch with the will of the people.

Both of those things would be dangerous for American democracy. And so, for everyone’s sake, we have to hope that there is some accountability for the court after all.

Mary Ziegler is the Martin Luther King Jr. professor of law at the University of California, Davis and author of the book “Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment.” The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

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Op-ed

Trump may not make it to the primaries

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BY KEITH NAUGHTON, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR

The conventional wisdom has Donald Trump as either the man to beat for the Republican nomination or at least headed for a drawn-out fight to the finish with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But could Trump flame out and not even make it to the Iowa caucuses?

It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. In fact, it’s not far-fetched at all.

Trump has severe strategic problems and polling problems, not to mention his legal difficulties. They all add up to a very rough trajectory over the next several months. Everyone knows Trump hates to lose. When faced with losing, he either claims he was cheated, or quits.

A year from now, Trump might be far enough behind DeSantis that quitting will be the only way to avoid losing.

Bad numbers getting worse

Trump’s polling has been soft for more than a year, with the percentage of Republicans who want him to run consistently falling 20 points or more below his approval ratings. He has found it difficult to score above 50 percent on ballot tests against Republicans who aren’t even running yet.

And those numbers are getting worse.

Both YouGov and Morning Consult conducted post-election benchmarks, and Trump’s fortunes are falling across the board. Morning Consult has the best polling for Trump, but Trump’s favorable rating with Republicans edged below 80 percent. While 61 percent of Republicans still want Trump to run, 73 percent of independents don’t. Trump’s ballot test against DeSantis fell from a 48 percent to 26 percent advantage pre-midterm to a 47 percent to 33 percent advantage, down 8 points.

The YouGov poll is a disaster for Trump. In one week Trump fell from 81 percent approval to 77 percent. Far worse, Republicans who want him to run collapsed from 60 percent to just 47 percent. DeSantis holds a 46 percent to 39 percent advantage on the ballot test. YouGov polled all voters on a Trump-DeSantis ballot and every demographic preferred DeSantis, except Hispanics who were split evenly. Conservatives favored DeSantis 51 percent to 33 percent, a catastrophe for Trump.

Dull and directionless Donald

But Trump’s biggest problem going forward is he has nothing new to offer.

His campaign announcement showed a man just plodding forward. After months of teasing a “big announcement” where everyone knew he was getting in the race, the actual event was an anti-climax. Instead of a big show, America saw Trump stroll into a gaudy country club ballroom and drone his way through a desultory teleprompter speech.

He offered nothing really new or interesting. Outside of pivoting from blaming the Democrats for stealing the 2020 election to blaming China (watch for that to become a theme), Trump just rehashed old promises and complained about Biden. What’s the message? Trump had four years to build a wall and didn’t, so give him a second chance? Trump didn’t drain the swamp, but he will this time? And there was no follow-up. No big Iowa or New Hampshire rally. Trump spoke, and that was it.

It all adds up to a candidate without a message, without credibility and even — finally — bereft of showmanship.

Given all that, how does Trump gain votes or even stop the bleeding?

Pivots won’t work

That lackluster Mar-a-Lago speech may have been an attempt to “pivot” in response to the beating Trump’s candidates took in the midterms.

It’s possible Trump and his advisers realized that blaming Democrats for “stealing” the 2020 election simply doesn’t have any traction, and they cast around for a new bogeyman: China is universally unpopular — maybe they figured he could avoid walking back his “stop the steal” claims by blaming Chinese President Xi Jinping and the CCP. Actual evidence has never been a requirement for these guys. But Trump and his acolytes are too deep in the original argument for this new gambit to work.

Trump always resorts to the teleprompter when he thinks a “statesman-like” approach is required. Again, he and his aides likely took a cue from the midterms, where voters rejected candidates who jockeyed to be the most obnoxious person in the room. But Trump’s whole shtick is being loud and on the attack with no boundaries. Trump is simply too deep in that character, too one-dimensional and doesn’t have the political chops to pull off a “new Nixon” transformation. There won’t be a “new Trump.”

Topping it all off, Trump has become a loser. Major GOP donors have jumped ship. Republican governors were meeting just a few hours away in Orlando — not one saw fit to make it to Palm Beach, an unthinkable snub just a year ago. No GOP Senator attended; instead, they voted Trump’s bete noireMitch McConnell (R-Ky.), back in as their leader. Even daughter Ivanka was a no-show. Those who did attend were a collection of MAGA table scraps.

In the summer, I wrote about the political co-dependency of President Biden and Trump. That dynamic has shifted with Trump taking the heat for GOP underperformance and Biden energized by the Democrats’ relatively good year. Biden ascendant does not so much hurt Trump as it helps DeSantis. With the prospect of Biden as the Democratic nominee, at least for now, more likely than not, DeSantis looks a lot better for Republicans.

The contrast of a new, energetic candidate in DeSantis vs. the aging, gaffe-prone Biden hurts Trump. Better to have a 46-year-old (in 2024) winner against the creaky 82-year-old Biden than to have the only slightly less geriatric, tedious, losing Trump.

The YouGov poll showed that 54 percent of voters think Biden’s age impairs his ability to be president, while just 18 percent disagree. For independents, the totals are 51 percent to 8 percent. All demographics and both parties have at least a plurality who think Biden’s age is a problem.

In sum, nothing is working for Trump. He’s running on fumes.

Quitting is better than losing

If Trump is staring at defeat by next December, my guess is he will find a way to get out — perhaps to fight “unfair” prosecutions, maybe to deal with some fake health scare, or — less likely — deferring to his wife and family. Perhaps it’s a combination. There’s no way Trump will go begging for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire only to be rebuffed. He may be a bit delusional, but he can read the polls.

Too many pundits and politicos have been burned by Trump. The lazy and safe take is to be cautious about writing Trump’s political obituary. But political conditions have completely changed from the days when Trump was riding high, and the political cognoscenti engaged in more wishful thinking than real analysis.

He is offering nothing to reverse his decline.

Only his opponents’ self-destruction — whether DeSantis or Mike Pence — might change the game. It’s possible, but that means Trump’s future is at the mercy of others. And given his own self-destructive tendencies, it would take an epic series of meltdowns to prop Trump up.

Culled from the Hill

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

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Anthony Obi Ogbo

Contentious race for Harris County Judge—why voters must stand by incumbent Lina Hidalgo

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“Republican Party intentionally rendered Harris County a crime scene with bloody gun laws to corroborate their “tough-on-crime” campaign strategy.” ―Anthony Obi Ogbo

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It was not a surprise when the Houston Chronicle handed an endorsement to Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s Republican Party challenger. Citing very flimsy justifications in its editorial piece, The Chronicle concluded, “we encourage Harris County voters to back Mealer in this race. We can only hope that once in office, she’d effectively address crime, tend to basic services, and restore civility on the court by governing as a strong local leader, not a partisan.”

And seriously, The Chronicle wants voters to believe that a Donald Trump student, a 2020 election denier who does not believe in democracy and rule of law could “restore civility on the court by governing as a strong local leader.”

Without a doubt, the race for Harris County Judge has taken a pugnacious turn for the worst.  From the corporate media to predatory Republican Party business gurus and cohorts, a do-or-die conspiracy venture to unseat this incumbent is costing her opposition a fortune. For instance, the latest campaign finance reports show that as of mid-October, Mealer raised nearly 5 million dollars—more than most state-wide candidates.

The opposition campaign funds are utilized to lampoon Hidalgo with a composition of junky advertorial slots littered all over the media. As a strategy to support their fictitious claim that Hidalgo was defunding the police, the Republican members of the Harris County Commissioners Court have consistently boycotted meetings, blocking the passage of the proposed county budget, then using that to generate campaign materials for the midterm.

There are obvious reasons why rapacious opposition cronies want Hidalgo’s pound of flesh. She is the first woman to be elected County Judge and only the second to be elected to the Commissioners Court. Additionally, her Democratic Party identity and all-inclusive progressive ideology make her the opposition’s nightmare. For instance, she expanded early childhood education, pursued criminal justice reform, and initiated stricter regulation of land development and pollution. To make her opposition witch hunters even more uncomfortable, she facilitated easier access to voting and passionately supported commonsense policies for undocumented immigrants.

Her aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic further elevated her popularity among Harris County residents.

Yet Hidalgo remains a hard nut, who in 2018 at the age of 27, and as a first-time candidate surprised the political establishment by crushing a three-term Republican brand name incumbent, Ed Emmett. Her aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic further elevated her popularity among Harris County residents.

The Republicans on the other hand floated a long list of policy meltdowns to back up their antagonizing disapproval of Hidalgo’s stewardship. According to The Houston Chronicle, which indeed provides overbearing media coverage for the anti-Hidalgo fraternity, “Our gravest concerns, though, involve Hidalgo’s failure to respond with urgency to Harris County’s crime wave.”

It is hypocritical when the opposition blames Hidalgo for the County’s high rise in crime without at least citing the root of the problem. The current uncontrollable crime rate was hatched when Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican collaborators enacted the permitless carry bill into law in 2021. This deadly legislation, which took effect starting Sept. 1, made it legal to carry handguns without a license or training. Thus, the Republican Party intentionally rendered Harris County a crime scene with bloody gun laws to corroborate their “tough-on-crime” campaign strategy.

If any party should bring us matters of moral decency in government, it is definitely not the Republican Party

Hidalgo’s three staffers were indicted for allegedly steering an $11 million contract toward a Democratic operative, and the opposition has made this an anthem. I would agree with Hidalgo that the indictments are meritless and politically motivated. But wait a minute, if any party should bring us matters of moral decency in government, it is definitely not the Republican Party.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is currently facing state securities fraud charges and reportedly is under FBI investigation for bribery, yet he is still on the ballot. It has been nearly seven years since the attorney general was indicted on felony securities fraud charges and he is still on the job. Additionally, Gov. Abbott recently appointed an officer indicted for misconduct during George Floyd protests to the police regulatory agency. Justin Berry was among 19 Austin police officers indicted earlier this year, accused of using excessive force against people protesting the murder of George Floyd. So, who really needs these lessons on moral decency?

The truth is that after a 2016 Harris County election “Blue Wave” when the Democrats swept up every single countywide seat, including the district attorney and sheriff’s offices, the Republican opposition has been alarmed about losing the state majority. Harris County, the third largest in the nation, has remained a Democratic Party enclave which might likely influence the state political dynamic.

The battle for Harris County Judge goes beyond the ongoing conspiracies orchestrated by a desperate Republican opposition. Their challenger, Mealer, is a good woman, but she is a stooge who is being planted by the anti-democratic Republican Party to represent their interests.

The call to retain the incumbent, Lina Hidalgo, in the office is not a partisan move.

I have always advised communities not to rely on corporate media endorsements to make their political choices because their interests are often profit-oriented, politically motivated, and thoughtlessly bigoted to appease some ulterior causes.  The call to retain the incumbent, Lina Hidalgo, in the office is not a partisan move. Ushering a Republican stooge into this office would tear this county apart. Also, Harris County voters must not be confused by sensational stories of the corporate media spewing amplifying headlines about this race being very tight.  According to Texas Trends Survey 2022: The Race for Harris County Judge, published by the Hobby School of Public Affairs of the University of Houston, “Among Harris County likely voters surveyed, the vote intention in the county judge race is 52% for Democrat Lina Hidalgo and 42% for Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, with 6% undecided.”

Now, if you care to know why the State Republican leaders are doing everything to block minority voters, here is why: In the same survey, Hidalgo holds a 71-percentage point advantage over del Moral Mealer among Black voters, 79% vs. 8%, and a 44-percentage point advantage among Latino voters, 69% vs. 25%.

Now you know why, come rain or sunshine, every minority must vote!

♦Publisher of the Guardian News, Journalism and RTF Professor, Anthony Obi Ogbo, Ph.D. is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News. He is the author of the Influence of Leadership (2015)  and the Maxims of Political Leadership (2019). Contact: anthony@guardiannews.us

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Anthony Obi Ogbo

Consolidating the South-East—Atiku’s ‘Dan Ulasi’ Move is a Smart Choice

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“Dan Ulasi understands Nigeria’s electoral maps and could read them with his eyes closed” ―Anthony Obi Ogbo

________________________

Campaigns for the 2023 general election officially commenced on September 28, in line with the timetable and schedule of activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This date signaled the beginning of a process of shaping the electioneering landscape ahead of the general election. In the succeeding weeks, all the major political parties unleashed their supporters on the campaign trail to wave the flags of the electioneering crusade.

 

From the major streets of the core cities, as can be seen on social media, the Nigerian election campaign is trending. For instance, the Labor Party (LP), with Peter Obi as its flagbearer, touted highly attended October 1 rallies all over the country. The All Progressive Congress (APC), even with its flagbearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, out on an unexplained foreign visit, showcased highly attended rallies in the core cities of the North-West and South-West zones. The presidential candidate of the New Nigerian People Party (NNPP), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, upon commissioning his presidential campaign office in Kano, bragged that his party was the fastest-growing political party Nigeria had ever seen. There was massive attendance when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) flagged off its campaign in Uyo with its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, leading the cause and urging Nigerians to vote for his party to ensure good governance.

However, what we must understand is that rally attendance or intimidating images of campaign gatherings do not determine the outcomes of elections. In my recent article, ‘The test of translating a movement into electoral victory votes,’ I outlined a pathway to victory and explained how strategic alignment can sustain a winning approach. I clarified the three most crucial winning structures: facilitating and sustaining an on-the-ground poll army, strategic coordination of electoral maps, and the ability to counter ballot mishandling and falsification of ballot figures. Strategy is key.

So, when Atiku Abubakar appointed Chief Dan Ulasi as the Technical Adviser on Contact and Mobilization for the South-East geopolitical zone, we can be sure that his party is strategically working the electoral maps. After all, the South-East is bitter with the Nigerian system over an unfavorable political arrangement that isolates it from core political leadership positions. This situation was made worse when another chance eluded them in the presidential nomination process of the PDP, a party they have passionately supported.

He has been working the electoral process since the Second Republic politics of the late 70s

The appointment of Chief Ulasi to walk this troubled cause might be a lucrative political gamble. He is a Nnewi-born ballot strategist and political technocrat; he has been working the electoral process since the Second Republic politics of the late 70s, was chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in Anambra State in the aborted Third Republic, and also served as chairman of the PDP in 2003.

He understands Nigeria’s electoral maps and could read them with his eyes closed. During the 2015 contentious presidential race between former President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Ulasi also coordinated strategic structures and was the only PDP strategist to predict that his party was in trouble. His party at the time did not listen.

At the presidential level, the South East has been a PDP stronghold. Upholding that position requires strategists who understand the political landscape, and Atiku realizes that. Within his party’s framework, Chief Ulasi has strategically helped raise the South-East geopolitical ethnic group to the national political setting. In his recent media outing, he presented his insights on where the Igbos would be headed under each of the major political parties. He explained the danger of the Igbos voting for other major parties, especially the LP. “There is no way that those votes will lead us to victory. First, an election has happened in Osun and they failed woefully.” Chief Ulasi argued that voting for losing parties would isolate the Igbos once again from the central government. A situation they have been enduring since the current administration.

A lone candidate without considerable legislative support is limited in how they can help their base

The role of electoral maps is crucial in a democracy. A lone candidate without considerable legislative support is limited in how they can help their base. As I stated in my previous article, in Nigeria’s organizational structure, the executive branch does not make the laws; it carries them out. The judiciary evaluates the laws but often has the power to preside over crucial decisions. The National Assembly, which consists of a Senate with 109 members and a House of Representatives with 360 members, exerts significant power in making structural changes. In fact, should the President reject a bill, the Assembly could pass it by a two-thirds majority of both chambers and overrule the veto—in which case, the President’s consent is not required.

Under the current legislative structure, in the Senate (109 seats), the APC has 66 seats to the PDP’s 38 seats, while the other parties combined have two seats, with three vacant seats. In the House of Representatives (360 seats), the APC has 227 seats to the PDP’s 121 seats, while the other parties combined have 11 seats, with one vacant seat.

In conclusion, by transcending a quest for a new president, this election must involve strategies to mobilize for substantial control of the legislative chambers. Atiku’s invitation of Chief Ulasi to the PDP’s campaign strategy suite is specifically addressing this purpose. Without a doubt, he made a smart choice.

♦Publisher of the Guardian News, Journalism and RTF Professor, Anthony Obi Ogbo, Ph.D. is on the Editorial Board of the West African Pilot News. He is the author of the Influence of Leadership (2015)  and the Maxims of Political Leadership (2019). Contact: anthony@guardiannews.us

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