On today's BradCast: American democracy is far more broken than most of us realize. But we can't begin to repair it until we've corrected the GOP's stolen U.S. Supreme Court by expanding it and, as our guest today notes, "entrenching democracy". [Audio link to show follows below.]
But, before we get to that today, very quickly, we take note of the more than 200,000 Americans who have now been killed by COVID-19. As AP reports, that is the equivalent of a 9/11 disaster every single day for 67 days in a row. Or the entire city of Salt Lake City, UT or Huntsville, AL being wiped off the map. That horrific number likely under-counts the real total by tens of thousands and is expected to more than double to nearly 400,000 or more dead by the end of this year. The tragic landmark also comes the day after the President of the United States told his supporters at another shoulder-to-shoulder, largely-maskless campaign rally in Ohio on Monday night that the coronavirus "affects virtually nobody."
Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate appear to have completed their hypocritical contortions of reality in order to declare they are now ready to vote to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat vacated with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just four days ago. See? That was easy! Never mind all of those vows back in 2016 --- and even as recently as July of this year, in the cases of hypocritical Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa --- that they would never, ever support a new Justice being seated on the Supreme Court in the last year of a Presidential term! The "new rule", as Lindsey Graham dishonestly lied about it in 2016 (on video tape, asking for his words to be used against him if he ever acts otherwise), is now apparently the "old rule" and no longer operative. After his flip, Graham announced Monday night that whoever Trump's nominee is (to be revealed Saturday, before RBG is even buried), they "will be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee and we have the votes to confirm the justice on the floor of the Senate before the election. And that's what's coming."
The news from Graham, who now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, comes as Colorado's Sen. Cory Gardner agreed to support Trump's nominee, after saying in February of 2016, when Scalia died, that "I think we're too close to the election. The President who is elected in November should be the one who makes this decision.". It also comes as Utah's Mitt Romney, who voted just months ago to remove Trump from office during his impeachment trial, declared that he believes it's in keeping with "historical precedent" and a matter of "immutable fairness" to consider, ASAP, a third lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land by the man who he didn't even think should hold the job of President just seven months ago. Things change quickly around here.
For the record, Ernst, Gardner and Graham are all facing very tough re-election challenges this year from Democratic Senate nominees Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, respectively.
None of these nightmares, however, could even be happening, were it not for our broken system of democracy. One which has allowed not only one stolen Supreme Court seat back in 2016, but which allows a President who lost the popular vote and a Republican caucus in the Senate which received fewer votes than the Democratic Senators (yet still retains its majority) to break their own invented "precedent" in order to steal yet another seat on the nation's highest Court.
As our guest today characterizes the stolen SCOTUS majority after the GOP's FIRST stolen seat in his upcoming Harvard Law Review article on "The Degradation of American Democracy --- and the Court": "McConnell's stratagem was unprecedented: the theft of a Supreme Court seat. Even though Democrats have now won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, a combination of the vicissitudes of the electoral-college system, the ability of most Justices to time their retirements, and McConnell's Machiavellian maneuver, has produced the most conservative Supreme Court since the 1930s. This is not how democracy is supposed to work."
But it's how it "works" now, apparently, even as that paragraph was penned before McConnell's latest "Machiavellian maneuver" upon the death of RBG. We're joined today by Harvard Law School legal historian, Prof. MICHAEL KLARMAN, to discuss our broken democracy and how to begin repairing it by expanding the size of the current Court to restore the liberal majority stolen from Democrats beginning in 2016. We last spoke with Klarman back in 2018, when he argued that if Democrats failed to do so when they next regained both the White House and the Senate majority, they would be committing "political suicide". Now, he argues, the case is even stronger and more urgent.
Klarman also clerked for the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the 1980s and shares some thoughts on both her passing and on his time working for the now-legendary late Justice at the top of our conversation.
"The argument for altering the size of the Court is very straightforward," Klarman goes on to explain. "The only argument against it is if Democrats do it, then Republicans will do it, and we'll be in a retaliatory cycle that will never end. But there are three different responses to that. One is the Republicans have already done it by shrinking the size of the court by one [for a year after Scalia died]. Second, the Republicans will do it, whether Democrats do it or not, the first time it appeals to Mitch McConnell to do it. Mitch McConnell has demonstrated in the last few days that he's just an utter and complete hypocrite. ... So if Republicans are going to pack the court anyhow, that's hardly an argument against Democrats doing it."
"The other argument is we need to break out of the situation we are in right now, which is a Republican Party and a President that are a threat to American democracy," Klarman warns, before going on to list the ways in which the GOP now "suppresses votes in a score of different ways at the local level --- with voter ID laws, with voter purges, shutting down mobile voting sites so college campuses can't encourage students to vote --- I mean, it's really quite extraordinary what the Republican Party is doing in order to steal elections."
Klarman tells me that any Democratic attempt to entrench democracy, should they win the White House and Senate, can be struck down by a Supreme Court that "will come up with some contrived Constitutional argument to strike it down."
"If you actually entrench democracy, and all Americans who wanted to vote could vote without obstacles, the Republicans Party understands they would never win another election until they start changing their policies so that they appeal to more Americans," he says.
Right now, Klarman argues, "The deck is stacked against Democrats. So Democrats get one chance to do this right [if they are able to win back the White House and Senate in November.] And if they don't do it, then you're going to have to give up on American democracy pretty soon, because this Republican Party supports an authoritarian President who doesn't believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, independent judges, who encourages violence, who pals around with autocrats around the world. The Republicans are fine with that. People don't seem to appreciate how alarming the situation is. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy. This is the most important election in American history, since the Civil War."
Finally, as if all of that is not disturbing enough, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report! Which, as usual, is filled with nothing but great news all around!...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)