Anyone expecting senators to behave like jurors in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is bound to be disappointed. In ordinary criminal trials, we disqualify jurors if they know the defendant, the witnesses, or even the latest news. If we applied those standards to senators, we’d have to disqualify the entire Senate.
Fortunately, it is possible for senators to be both political and fair. Today’s senators would do well to study the example set by their predecessors in trying Clinton.
Clinton’s trial began on Jan. 7, 1999, before a politically divided Senate of 45 Democrats and 55 Republicans. Nevertheless, by a vote of 100 to 0, the Senate followed procedures outlined in its 1986 resolution entitled “Procedures and Guidelines for Impeachment Trials.” Trent Lott, the majority leader at the time and a fierce Republican partisan, did not stand in the way of this unanimous agreement. In the end, 10 Republicans voted to acquit President Clinton on one article, five on the other.
Politics could displace law
Among other matters, the 1986 rules provided that “the Senate shall have power to compel the attendance of witnesses.” When disagreement broke out about whether to call witnesses, the senators deliberated in private, and then publicly voted to depose witnesses. The senators heard videotaped deposition testimony for three days from witnesses. The trial lasted more than a month.
The 1986 rules are still in force. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared his intent to ignore them and to run the trial according to whatever procedures the White House wants. Apparently, McConnell sees no conflict between swearing an oath to do justice according to law and then confessing that “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position.”
Trial of Donald J. Trump: As the impeachment process moves to the Senate, here’s how it will all work
McConnell flatly says there will be no witnesses, unless the president wants them. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been equally blunt. “I don’t need any witnesses,” he said, since “I’m not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain” for the whole process.
Unless something changes, politics will displace law in any Trump impeachment trial. To her credit but also at her peril, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has departed from the example the House set in 1998, when members immediately walked over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Instead, the speaker has announced that transmission of these articles will be delayed until the chambers can agree on fair trial procedures.
Some accuse the speaker of her own political maneuvering to deny, or at least to delay, the president’s right to answer his accusers. Others defend her as having no choice but to use whatever leverage she possesses to ensure that the Senate conducts a trial, and not a farce.
Precipice of a constitutional crisis
So far, Pelosi has said only that she will delay transmitting the impeachment articles, as opposed to saying she might never send them. However, the prospect of a brief delay may not be enough to bring the Senate leadership into bipartisan negotiations. Without such negotiation, we would face stalemate and a constitutional crisis.
If the speaker persists and refuses to deliver the impeachment articles to the Senate, some will say she is the one violating the Constitution. While the Constitution contains no explicit provisions concerning the time frame for transmitting articles of impeachment to the Senate, or even compelling delivery, you could argue that it implicitly assumes a Senate trial will follow impeachment in a timely manner.
In ordinary circumstances, this argument might be persuasive. However, these are not ordinary times. Left unstopped, McConnell by his own words stands ready to violate the Constitution’s core commitment to fair trials under the rule of law. The Constitution does not require the speaker to sit back and watch the Senate disobey the Constitution. And McConnell cannot invoke the importance of holding a Senate trial while refusing to hold anything resembling an open trial.
Trump impeachment twist: Pelosi reclaims the Constitution for liberals and today’s America
We can walk back from this constitutional precipice. If senators in the Clinton impeachment trial could put aside their partisan divides and unanimously agree on fair trial procedures, then today’s senators should be able to do the same. All that has to happen is for the majority leader to let each senator vote on the rules, free from threats of reprisal. Although it takes a two-thirds vote to convict the president, it takes only a simple majority to adopt rules of procedure. This means a moderate coalition could emerge, a prospect that McConnell will bend every rule to thwart.
An early draft of the Constitution proposed holding impeachment trials before the Supreme Court. But Alexander Hamilton thought it would be a mistake to take all politics out of the impeachment trial. Instead, he counted on the Senate’s ability to distinguish between the petty politics of self-interest and the permanent political interests of the people in living under the rule of law. The very gravity of impeachment, Hamilton thought, would turn politicians, sometimes drunk on power, stone sober.
Before it is too late, we should all raise a glass to constitutional sobriety.
Jeffrey Abramson is the author of “We, the Jury: The Jury System and the Ideal of Democracy.” He teaches constitutional law at the University of Texas at Austin.
How Faith Shapes My Politics – The New York Times
Over the past few decades, whenever a Republican president puts up an important judicial nominee — especially a Catholic one — we go through the same routine. Some Democrat accuses the nominee of imposing her religious views on the law.
“The dogma lives loudly within you,” Senator Dianne Feinstein notoriously told Amy Coney Barrett in a 2017 confirmation hearing. Then Republicans accuse Democrats of being religious bigots. Then the nominee testifies that her personal opinions or religious faith will have absolutely no bearing on her legal judgments.
This unconvincing routine gets us no closer to understanding two important questions: How does faith influence a person’s political views? How should we look at religiously devout people in public life?
To the extent that I have answers to these questions it’s through my own unusual experience. I came to faith in middle age after I’d been in public life for a while. I would say that coming to faith changed everything and yet didn’t alter my political opinions all that much. That’s because assenting to a religion is not like choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat. It happens on a different level of consciousness.
When I was a kid, I was raised, like most people in our culture, on certain stories: Moses leading the Israelites out of oppression, little David slaying Goliath, Ruth swearing loyalty to Naomi.
During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true. These values — welcome the stranger, humility against pride — became the moral framework I applied to think through my opinions, to support various causes. Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful.
About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it. There were extremes of joy and pain, spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness that were outside the normal material explanations of things.
I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.
What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. Secular religions are really good at identifying some evils, like oppression, and building a moral system against them. Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness — in other people, in sensations of the transcendent — I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life.
These realizations transformed my spiritual life: awareness of God’s love, participation in grace, awareness that each person is made in God’s image. Faith offered an image of a way of being, an ultimate allegiance.
But when it came to forming opinions or writing columns, I was still in the same business. Sure, my style of thinking changed a bit. I spent more time listening, trying to discern how I was being called. I began to think with my heart as much as my head. (That could just be male middle age.) But my basic moral values — derived from the biblical metaphysic — were already in place and didn’t change that much now that the biblical stories had come alive.
My point is there is no neat relationship between the spiritual consciousness and the moral and prudential consciousnesses. When it comes to thinking and acting in the public square, we believers and nonbelievers are all in the same boat — trying to apply our moral frameworks to present realities. Faith itself doesn’t make you wiser or better.
When it comes to judges, I don’t believe any operate without a moral framework, like perfect legal automatons. I don’t believe faith alone points any of them to concrete answers. Look at how judges from the same faith come out all over the map on all issues. Look at how, deep down, the anti-abortion Catholics you know are driven by intellectual and moral conviction, not by mindless submission to Rome.
And to be honest about it, our worldly connections are usually more influential than our faith commitments when it comes to our political and professional decisions. If you want to know how Amy Coney Barrett is going to rule, pay more attention to the Federalist Society than to People of Praise, her Christian community.
In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.
And we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic, which has been a coherent value system for believers and nonbelievers for centuries, will fade from our culture, the stories will go untold, and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all.
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End 'Wild West' for political ads, campaigners say – BBC News
A surge in online political advertising spending during last year’s general election shows the need for greater transparency, campaigners say.
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) estimated the three main UK-wide parties spent more than twice as much on online adverts as on 2017’s poll.
A lack of regulation was creating a “Wild West” in need of stronger oversight, it added.
The government called its efforts to reform advertising “world-leading”.
Last month, minsters published plans for a “digital imprint” on social media ads, promising “the same transparency” for voters as for election leaflets and posters.
The ERS welcomed these, but said they were “unlikely to be sufficient”.
In a report, the campaign group said providing more information to voters about political adverts online represented an “urgent challenge for democracy”.
It argued claims over their accuracy were becoming “increasingly prominent” online, where it was easier for pop-up campaigners, as well as established political parties, to influence debate.
The ERS added there had been “several high-profile examples of dishonest or misleading claims” across the political spectrum during the 2019 campaign.
It pointed out existing accuracy rules on commercial adverts did not extend to political campaigning, while donations laws provided only a “minimal” snapshot of how much parties spent online.
What did the report find?
- The study, compiled by academics Katharine Dommett and Sam Power, estimated party spending using the transparency archives of social media firms
- It found the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems combined spent around £6m campaigning on Facebook and just under £3m on Google
- The analysis suggested the Conservatives spent comparatively more on Google, backing claims it sought to reach voters through YouTube
- The researchers said 64 non-party groups had registered as official political campaigners for the election, with 46 registering after the poll was announced
- They calculated a total of 88 non-party campaign groups placed 13,197 adverts on Facebook, at a combined cost of £2.7m
The report made recommendations requiring political campaigners to provide more detailed spending invoices more quickly after elections to the Electoral Commission, the UK’s elections watchdog.
It also urged parties to work with regulators and the advertising industry to develop a code of practice for political adverts.
The Electoral Commission says it does not have the power or resources to monitor the truthfulness of political advertising.
But it has previously echoed calls for greater transparency, adding in its review of the 2019 election that rules needed to be updated.
Constitution Minister Chloe Smith said: “People want to engage with politics online. That’s where campaigners connect with voters, so naturally political parties across the board are increasing their digital campaigning activity.
“This government is already making political campaigning more transparent for voters, with new, world-leading measures that will require campaign content promoted online to explicitly show who is behind it.”
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