Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High

United States Supreme Court
Mourners gather outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, September 19 (Ted Eytan)

The death of one Supreme Court justice shouldn’t plunge the whole country into crisis. The fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s has is more proof that America’s top court is too powerful.

In no other democracy does the highest court feature so prominently in the public imagination.

Here in Catalonia, Spain’s Supreme Court is controversial for consistently ruling against Catalan interests, but I doubt many Catalans know the names of individual Supreme Court justices. Certainly the average Dutch person or Italian doesn’t.

Even in Poland, where the ruling far-right party has created a parallel legal system to sideline a Supreme Court it considers to be dominated by liberals, the fate of individual justices doesn’t provoke such strong emotions as in the United States.

American justices have been aware of the danger. Antonin Scalia, a conservative, cautioned a year before his death in 2016 that America could find itself governed by a “black-robed supremacy” unless its rediscovered its tradition of “self-rule”. Read more “Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High”

Don’t Defund the Police

Police car Washington DC
Police car outside the White House in Washington DC (Unsplash/Matt Popovich)

It’s exasperating to see yet another black man shot by police in America when he posed no apparent threat. Officers fired seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when he leaned into his car.

Blake survived. George Floyd didn’t. He suffocated when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, sat on his neck for almost 9 minutes in Minneapolis in May.

Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests. Blake’s shooting provoked demonstrations as well as looting and riots in Kenosha.

Black men in America are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police than white men. African Americans comprise 12 percent of the population but 33 percent of prisoners. Black men are routinely arrested and prosecuted for misdemeanors and victimless crimes when whites aren’t.

So it’s not hard to understand why “defund the police” has become a popular slogan.

But it’s not a solution. Read more “Don’t Defund the Police”

Trump’s Pardon of Roger Stone Is Clearly Corrupt

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

Nearly four years of Donald Trump’s corruption and incompetence have nearly numbed me, but when everyone from National Review, which has often given the president the benefit of the doubt, to Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, speaks out, we ought to pay attention.

Friday afternoon, Trump commuted the forty-month prison sentence of his longtime accomplice Roger Stone, who had been convicted of witness tampering, obstructing an investigation and lying to Congress. Read more “Trump’s Pardon of Roger Stone Is Clearly Corrupt”

Trump Attacks the Rule of Law

Caudillo Donald Trump
The “Yankee caudillo” Donald Trump (The Washington Post)

When Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2017 — before the court even had a chance to sentence him for contempt — it reminded me of that adage of South American dictators: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”

Now we know just how far Trump is willing to take America down the path of a banana republic. Read more “Trump Attacks the Rule of Law”

Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland

Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech at the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, April 11, 2019 (KPRM/Adam Guz)

Poland’s ruling conservative party’s obsession with bending the legal system to its will is creating what the Financial Times calls a parallel legal system: one set of judges are loyal to Małgorzata Gersdorf’s still-independent Supreme Court while another obey the government-friendly Constitutional Tribunal. Read more “Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland”

Electoral Commission Sidesteps Courts to Ban Catalan Leaders

Quim Torra
Quim Torra enters the parliament of Catalonia to be sworn in as the region’s president, May 14, 2018 (Miguel González de la Fuente)

Spain’s electoral commission is trying to sidestep the courts in order to ban Catalan separatist leaders from office.

The commission ordered Catalan president Quim Torra to step down on Friday, although he is appealing a similar ban from office by the Catalan High Court.

It also barred separatist party leader Oriol Junqueras from taking his seat in the European Parliament, despite the European Court of Justice ruling that he must. Read more “Electoral Commission Sidesteps Courts to Ban Catalan Leaders”

Catalan Rulings Expose Politicization of Spanish Judiciary

Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia's Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015
Oriol Junqueras, the leader of Catalonia’s Republican Left, makes a speech in Barcelona, Spain, July 20, 2015 (CDC)

On the same day Europe’s highest court ruled in favor of the imprisoned former Catalan vice president and separatist leader Oriol Junqueras, who has been prevented by Spain from taking his seat in the European Parliament, the Catalan High Court banned the region’s president, Quim Torra, from public office for refusing to remove separatist symbols from government buildings during the most recent election campaign.

Torra is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court and will remain in office until it has ruled.

Junqueras remains in prison, but the European ruling gives hope to self-exiled Catalan politicians Toni Comín and Carles Puigdemont, who like him were elected to the European Parliament in May but haven’t been allowed by Spain to take their seats.

What the two decisions have in common is that they reveal how politicized the Spanish justice system is. Read more “Catalan Rulings Expose Politicization of Spanish Judiciary”

Top European Lawyer Argues in Favor of Catalan Politicians

Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1, 2017
Catalan leaders Oriol Junqueras and Carles Puigdemont deliver a news conference in Barcelona, Spain, March 1, 2017 (Generalitat de Catalunya/Rubén Moreno)

Maciej Szpunar, an advocate general at the European Court of Justice, has argued in favor of Catalan politicians who were elected to the European Parliament in May but have been prevented by the Spanish government from taking their seats.

Former regional president Carles Puigdemont and former regional health minister Toni Comín, both of the center-right Together for Catalonia party, have been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since 2017 to avoid arrest for leading a failed independence bid that year.

Oriol Junqueras, the former leader of the Republican Left, stayed in Spain and was sentenced to thirteen years in prison last month for misuse of public funds and sedition against the Spanish state. Read more “Top European Lawyer Argues in Favor of Catalan Politicians”

It Will Be Hard for Catalans to Accept Supreme Court Verdict

Seat of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid, November 27, 2012
Seat of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Spain’s Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of twelve Catalan independence leaders who stand accused of sedition and rebellion against the state. The verdict will be hard for Catalans to accept as fair, especially when the same court has sided with the family of Francisco Franco.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court suspended the planned exhumation of the dictator’s remains from the monumental Valley of the Fallen in the mountains near Madrid, arguing it would not be in the “public interest”.

In its verdict, the court used the honorific “don” to refer to Franco and wrote that he was head of state from October 1, 1936. That is when Franco was proclaimed leader of the coup against the Republic, but his government wasn’t recognized as legitimate by most countries until after the Civil War.

To many Catalans, especially left-wing separatists who imagine themselves heirs to the Republic, it confirms that the rest of Spain hasn’t reckoned with the past. Read more “It Will Be Hard for Catalans to Accept Supreme Court Verdict”

Good News on Guns and Criminal Justice Reform

The Washington Monument and United States Capitol seen from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
The Washington Monument and United States Capitol seen from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

Few good things come out of Washington DC anymore, but today is an exception.

  • The Trump Administration is banning bump-fire stocks, which effectively turn semiautomatic weapons into machine guns. Owners will have three months to turn in or destroy their devices.
  • The Senate has voted 87-12 in favor of criminal justice reforms. Prison sentences for drug crimes will be lowered, judges will be given more discretion in sentencing low-level offenders and inmates will be allowed to serve more time in halfway homes or under house arrest.