Tag Archives: U.S. Senate

The Crux Of The Problem

The Senate–which has managed to do pretty much nothing during the pandemic (granted, it wasn’t exactly productive in the months before that, either)–is rushing through the process of confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

There are many aspects to this unseemly exhibition, but one that has been less remarked upon is the connection between the Senate’s growing problem of disproportionate representation and that body’s importance to the seating of Supreme Court Justices.

A recent post by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com connected those dots.

Silver says that the constitution of the Senate poses an “enormous problem for Democrats”–not simply because the parties as currently constituted map onto urban and rural representation. (Democrats dominate in cities; Republicans triumph in rural areas.) As he points out,

 because the Senate is responsible for confirming Supreme Court picks, that means the Supreme Court is a huge problem for Democrats too. Sure, Democrats might win back the Senate this year — indeed, they were slight favorites to do so before the Ginsburg news. But in the long run, they’re likely to lose it more often than not.

You can probably grasp intuitively that a legislative body which provides as much representation to Wyoming (population: 580,000) as California (population: 39.5 million) will tend to favor rural areas. But it’s a bigger effect than you might realize, so let’s run some numbers. At FiveThirtyEight, our favorite way to distinguish between urban and rural areas is based on using census tracts to estimate how many people live within a 5-mile radius of you.

Using this metric, Silver broke the country down into four categories: those with fewer than 25,000 people within 5 miles were classified as rural; those falling between 25,000 and 100,000 were exurban; between 100,000 and 250,000 were suburban or small city; and over 250,000 were urban. Using this (somewhat arbitrary) classification system, Silver found that these “buckets” were almost even: 25 percent rural, 23 percent exurban/small town, 27 percent suburban/small city, and 25 percent urban core/large city.

He then looked at the Senate, and– surprise! (no surprise; I’m kidding)– found a major skew to rural areas in that chamber’s representation. It turns out that the Senate has” two or three times as much rural representation as urban core representation … even though there are actually about an equal number of voters in each bucket nationwide.”

And of course, this has all sorts of other downstream consequences. Since rural areas tend to be whiter, it means the Senate represents a whiter population, too. In the U.S. as a whole, 60 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white and 40 percent of the population is nonwhite. But in the average state, 68 percent of people are white and 32 percent are nonwhite. It’s almost as if the Senate has turned the clock back by 20 years as far as the racial demographics of the country goes. (In 2000, around 69 percent of the U.S. population consisted of non-Hispanic whites.)

The post goes through a lot of mathematical calculations, which you can see if you click through, but the bottom line is stark:

the Senate is effectively 6 to 7 percentage points redder than the country as a whole, which means that Democrats are likely to win it only in the event of a near-landslide in their favor nationally. That’s likely to make the Republican majority on the Supreme Court pretty durable.

There is a lot to unpack in this article, beginning with my extreme discomfort with its underlying premise that the Supreme Court is merely another arena for American political partisanship. Granted, judicial philosophy has always been a significant cause of dissension, but it is only in the last few years that the judiciary has effectively been reduced to the status of partisan prize–as a tool for imposing political hegemony through the legal system, rather than a safeguard of fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.

What the article does make very clear, however, is the disturbing and undeniable fact of minority rule. White rural Republicans–who are advantaged by the current situation–like to recite that America is a republic, not a democracy, as if that somehow rebuts the fact that a true republic is a representative democracy. (Look it up.)

This situation is at the crux of our national problems. America is currently ruled by an unrepresentative minority–and the effect of that reality includes but is certainly not limited to the GOP’s intentional corruption of the nation’s judiciary.

Bought And Paid For….

As I have previously noted, I am a capitalist, an advocate of market economics.

Most members of today’s GOP are not.

In order to work properly, genuine capitalism requires regulation. Much as I hate sports analogies, this one fits: just as you cannot have a fair sporting contest without referees/umpires, you cannot have a working market economy without rules that ensure a level playing field. (You also have to distinguish between areas of the economy in which markets work and areas–like healthcare– where they don’t, but that is a subject for a different post.)

When people with little or no bargaining power have little or no choice but to do business with large, powerful institutions, government has an obligation to insure that the powerful are not taking advantage of the powerless. And that brings me to yesterday’s Senate vote to protect Wall Street from those annoying people from whom they profit .You will not be shocked to find that Mike Pence (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers) cast the deciding vote.

Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote late Tuesday to block new regulations allowing U.S. consumers to sue their banks, handing Wall Street and other big financial institutions their biggest victory since President Trump’s election.

The rules would have cost the industry billions of dollars, according to some estimates. With the Senate’s vote, Wall Street is beginning to reap the benefits of the Trump administration focus on rolling back regulations it says are strangling the economy. The vote is also a major rebuke of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which wrote the rules, and has often found itself at odds of Republicans in Congress and the business community.

The issue is that fine print in the agreements that we consumers have to sign when we apply for credit cards or bank accounts– fine print that requires us to settle any disputes that may subsequently arise through arbitration, in which a third party generally favorable to the Big Guys rules on the matter, rather than going to court or joining a class-action lawsuit.

The CFPB rule would block mandatory arbitration clauses in some cases, potentially allowing millions of Americans to file or join a lawsuit to press their complaints.

After more than four hours of debate, the Senate voted 51 to 50 to block its implementation. Pence was forced to cast the deciding vote shortly after 10 p.m. when two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, opposed the resolution. House Republicans already passed legislation to block the rule, which now needs the approval of President Trump.

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country. Wall Street won and ordinary people lost,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement minutes after the vote. The legislation “preserves a two-tiered justice system where banks can have their day in court but deny their customers the same right.”

Proponents of the roll-back trotted out the “usual suspects”–those slimy lawyers and their class-action lawsuits–and pretended that the rule wouldn’t really protect consumers and that it would infringe on our freedom to contract. (Because you can always negotiate your credit card terms with MasterCard…) There may be some lawyers who abuse the system (although courts have ways of punishing such abuses), but class action lawsuits are a very important tool for justice. They’re one of the very few ways consumers can force changes to unethical and predatory business practices.

Class action lawsuits allow large groups of people to seek small amounts they individually wouldn’t have time or money to pursue. Large companies employing legally questionable practices rely on the ability to make a lot of money by cheating individual consumers just a little, not enough to justify hiring a lawyer and bringing an individual suit.

Reading about the Senate vote, my husband asked me why any Senator would vote to roll back the rule. I suggested he look at where those Senators’ campaign contributions came from.

If markets are for buying and selling, the Senate is evidently a thriving marketplace.

Roy Moore–Again

What was that line from Jaws 2? He’s baaack…And this time, he’s being supported by ex-White House eminence grise Steve Bannon.

Roy Moore is very likely to be the next Senator from Alabama. He’s currently in a special election run-off to replace former Senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions, as most people who follow politics know, has a well-documented history of racial insensitivity (at least); Moore, on the other hand, is a flat-out crazy theocrat.

Back in 2016, I wrote about Moore, who was then on the Alabama Supreme Court, after he ordered Alabama officials to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

For those of you who’ve been vacationing on the moon, Moore—who has long been a religious zealot with delusions of grandeur—is the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a position he regained after being removed for defying federal law and several court orders by erecting a five-ton replica of the Ten Commandments at the door to the Alabama courthouse. Most recently, Judge Moore issued an administrative order declaring that “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses” to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s June Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage involved a case from a different federal circuit, so it does not apply in Alabama, Moore argues. Legal experts say that is a patently wrong interpretation of American law.

Patently wrong indeed! Law students who took such a position would never pass a bar exam.

Read my lips, “Judge.” If you don’t like gay people, fine. Don’t invite them over for dinner. If you disapprove of same-sex marriage, don’t have one. If your version of God hates homosexuals, feel free to pray for their descent into the fiery pits (or whatever hell you people believe in).

But no matter how fervent your belief, no matter how wedded you are to your animus, you don’t get to overrule the Supreme Court. If you are incapable of following and applying the law, you need to be impeached or otherwise removed from a position that allows you to affect other people.

As the quoted language notes, the flap over same-sex marriage (and ethical Judicial behavior) wasn’t the first time Moore had insisted that his version of Christianity should take precedence over the Constitution and the rule of law.

Back in 2001,  Moore, at the time the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court (a powerful argument against judicial elections), placed a 5,280-pound granite monument in the rotunda of Alabama’s Judicial Building in Montgomery. He had ordered the monument without the knowledge of the other justices on the court.

The monument depicted the Bible, open to two pages on which the stonemason had carved the King James version of the Ten Commandments. A private evangelical group, Coral Ridge Ministries, paid for it.

A Montgomery attorney sued to have the monument removed, and–predictably–Moore lost both at trial and on appeal. He was subsequently removed from the Court, but ran for his old seat in a subsequent election, and won. His refusal to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling in the same-sex marriage case was pretty convincing evidence that he hadn’t moderated his views, or his willingness to ignore laws inconsistent with his version of Biblical Truth.

Now he wants to represent Alabama in the United States Senate, and he is currently leading in the polls–despite (among other things) recently publicly reaffirming his “personal belief” that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

Just what America needs: another demented zealot determined to make America Godly (i.e., white, straight and Christian) Again.