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On Endangered Species: or

Why is asking visitors to its website to send their Congressmen a pre-written letter ("As your constituent, I'm writing to urge you to support the 'Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act,' Rep. Richard Pombo's effort to reform the Endangered Species Act, and help restore American property rights...") when...

1) The legislation has not been introduced;

2) Drafts of a bill made available to independent property rights advocates (who mostly are being kept out of the loop -- never a good sign) show it could be a property rights disaster?

A better approach seems to be one along the lines suggested in a letter signed by over 60 conservative leaders to Rep. Pombo in which Americans are compensated for any endangered species-related taking of their property (unlike any draft of the Pombo bill we've seen or heard of).

I'm also wondering about something else.

Isn't it a little disingenuous of to quote Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center as if DeWeese supported the as yet non-existent "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act" when the American Policy Center's website headlines a strong attack on drafts of the proposal ("Due to recent confusion and half-truths concerning the coming effort to reauthorize Endangered Species Act, the American Policy Center feels it is time to clear the air a bit. Some of our frequent allies on property rights are playing word games with grassroots property rights advocates in hopes of deceiving them into supporting what appears to be a bad bill...")?

Wouldn't it be better for to quote someone who actually thinks it is a good deal for Americans to be paid 50 cents on the dollar as compensation for the government taking their land against their will?

I expect I agree with 99 percent of the time, but their work on this matter has me puzzled.

Addendum: I stand corrected. Over 70 leaders/institutions, not 60, have signed the letter to House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo that calls for, among other things, "compensating landowners for any [emphasis added] taking of their property or loss of use of their property resulting from the ESA."


Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 Draft Analyzed

The National Center for Public Policy Research has a new press release out today examining House Resources Committee Chairman's "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005" (a bill that actually has not been introduced) based on available drafts.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the proposal would gut the Endangered Species Act; independent property rights advocates are taking the opposite view -- looking askance, for instance, at a provision that would extend the ESA's reach into coverage of "invasive species."

The press release follows:

Pombo Proposal Wouldn't Gut the Endangered Species Act: It Could Give it Formidable New Teeth

Critics of Rep. Richard Pombo's Endangered Species Act reform initiative - critics such as the Center for Biological Diversity -- are simply wrong when they claim it would gut the Endangered Species Act, says The National Center for Public Policy Research.

"Richard Pombo's bill, if unchanged, could give the ESA alarming new powers," said David Ridenour, vice president of The National Center and a long-time activist on land issues.

Pombo's proposal is called "The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005" and, until recently, was expected to sail quickly through the House Resources Committee. Rep. Pombo chairs the Committee.

"Property rights advocates are voicing concern about a provision that would extend the ESA's reach into so-called 'invasive species' -- never before regulated under the law," said Ridenour.

Under an Executive Order signed by President Clinton, invasive species are "any species, including seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem."

"By this definition," says Ridenour, "almost any living thing could be considered an 'invasive species,' thereby giving federal bureaucrats broad new powers to regulate human activity -- where we live, what we plant in our yards, and where and how we vacation."

"Rep. Pombo may have been attempting to create a more narrow definition of invasive species," he said, "in an attempt to pre-empt more onerous regulations. If so, he should be applauded for his good intentions. But good intentions or not, such regulations could do more harm than good."

"Extending regulations to cover invasive species is a Pandora's Box that once opened may never be closed," Ridenour continued. "We won't need to wait for its ill-effects: Since equestrians, dirt bikers and ATV enthusiasts can carry seeds on or in their clothing, equipment and horses, these regulations can immediately be used as a pretext for kicking recreationists out of our national parks and other public lands."

The draft legislation also includes a compensation provision for property rights losses due to the ESA. But it would only kick in after a landowner loses 50 percent or more of the affected portion of his/her property value. Many small landowners can't afford a 25 percent loss of their farmlands, homes, ranches and investment property, much less 49.9 percent.

And even those who hit that magic 50 percent trigger may never see any money, as property owners would still be required to jump through costly and time-consuming bureaucratic hoops that can make it uneconomic to file a claim.

"The protections offered to private landowners are a lot like having the French on your side in war -- largely symbolic," said David Ridenour. "Chairman Pombo could have done better, especially in light of the growing public support for property right protections in the wake of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. City of New London decision."

The National Center identified other problems with the draft legislation, including:

* It would require property owners who are compensated for losses under the ESA to transfer title to their land to the federal government. This may permit the government to acquire land at bargain prices. It is not clear, for example, if government could gain 100 percent title by paying for a 50 percent loss.

* The proposal would exempt ESA advisory committees from the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which, among other things, requires public disclosure of advisory committee membership. Important decisions should not be made in secret by unaccountable and anonymous committees.

"I applaud Chairman Pombo for recognizing the importance of fixing the ESA, but I don't believe his bill will produce the results he hopes," said Ridenour. "You can't fix an already poisonous law by increasing its dosage. Unfortunately, I believe this is what some of the provisions of the bill would do."

The Endangered Species Act is already one of the most powerful statutes on the books. Critics say this is one of the main reasons it has failed so miserably.

Of the nearly 1,300 domestic species listed as either endangered or threatened since the ESA went into effect over 30 years ago, less than 1% of these species have recovered sufficiently to be delisted.

A similar number of species have gone extinct over that time.

Environmentalists claim that the 1 percent extinction rate is a sign of the ESA's success. This, they say, means the ESA has "saved" 99 percent of the protected species from extinction.

Critics call this position "delusional."

"The act of delisting species -- including those long since extinct and those that were never in danger in the first place -- is so politically-charged that it practically takes an Act of Congress to get a species off these lists," said Ridenour. "Continued listing of a species can be more of a statement on the power of the environmental movement than it is the true condition of a species. The only measure that counts is recovery."

Recovery of species, Ridenour says, is linked to strong property rights protections.

Close to 80 percent of all species listed as either endangered and threatened species have habitat on private lands. Thus, private landowners are critically important to the survival of these species.

Under the current ESA structure, because the discovery of such species on private land can result in severe land use restrictions that can lead to economic ruin, private landowners have strong financial incentives to make their land as inhospitable as possible to rare species.

"If landowners are punished for being good environmental stewards, we should not be surprised if many of them are not good stewards," said Ridenour. "Compensation to property owners for losses resulting from species conservation is an effective means of ending this perverse incentive system. Species would benefit; people would benefit."

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, DC. Founded in 1982, it has promoted innovative, market-based solutions to environmental problems.

For more information, contact Ryan Balis at (202) 543-4110 or email him at


Cross-posted on The Commons Blog.


Congressional Action: Junko Cushman

On July 25, Senator John Kerry shared a resolution written for another legislative body regarding the death of San Diego community and Democratic Party activist Junko Cushman:

Mr. President, I wish to submit to the record the following resolution regarding the passing of Junko Cushman.

Beloved by all her friends and neighbors, Junko always found time to serve her community. Whether working to bring arts and culture to her community, or improving the quality of healthcare, Junko always showed uncommon passion and determination in her efforts. She discovered very young that the key to a fulfilling life is a life of helping others. Junko's community may be weaker for her loss, but is no doubt stronger for her service. It is my privilege to honor her on the Senate floor today.

The resolution follows:

Whereas, the passing, at 60, of a distinguished California resident, Junko Cushman, whose good deeds earned her the respect and admiration of her colleagues and the countless individuals whose lives she touched, brought immense sorrow and loss to people throughout the state; and

Whereas, although she never sought attention, Junko Cushman's natural sense of style and hands-on commitment to charitable causes were impossible to overlook; and

Whereas, a Japanese-born San Diegan, she entertained with international flair, excelled at multicultural floral arrangements, and took a leadership role in the Union of Pan Asian Communities; and

Whereas, Mrs. Cushman served as chairwoman of events benefiting the San Diego Museum of Art and the Arthritis Foundation and had been on the boards of the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Foundation, and Burnham Cancer Institute; and

Whereas, Mrs. Cushman dedicated her time and service to San Diego State University's Japanese Cultural Fair in Balboa Park; and

Whereas, in 1987, Mrs. Cushman served as Chairwoman of a Union of Pan Asian Communities dinner dance on Harbor Island and, in 1989, she played a similar role for the Arthritis Foundation; and

Whereas, Over the years, Mrs. Cushman has shown her strong support for California's political system through her affiliation with the Democratic Party; and

Whereas, in 1989, Mrs. Cushman and her husband, Larry, were honored for their community service at a Meals on Wheels dinner dance; and

Whereas, born in Nagano, Japan, and raised in Tokyo, Mrs. Cushman graduated from the prominent Tamagawa High School and, at age 19, she moved to Los Angeles, California, where she studied English for two years before returning to Japan; and

Whereas, she leaves to mourn her passing and celebrate her legacy her husband; Larry; her brother, Hisato Hara; her stepdaughters, Diane Cushman and Janice Ziegler; her grandson, Zachary; her two granddaughters, Ashley and Sarah; her niece Mari; and her nephew Yasuto; now, therefore, be it

Resolved by Assembly Member Juan Vargas, That he expresses his deepest regret at the passing of Junko Cushman, and extends his heartfelt sympathy to her bereaved family and friends.

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.


AFL-CIO Breakup: Priorities, Priorities

This New York Times article examines the possible impact of a breakup of the AFL-CIO on the Democratic Party...

...but forgets to examine the impact of an AFL-CIO breakup on workers.


Kathleen Parker: Easy Virtue

This piece by Kathleen Parker is pretty funny:

I hadn't realized how unaware I was until the woman seated next to me snapped a strip of leather around my wrist and whispered: "This is hottest thing in Hollywood right now."

Looking down, I admired my new adornment. Embossed on the soft caramel leather band were the words "Stop Global Warming." Almost immediately, I was aware of wearing a bracelet. I was also aware of an unfamiliar warmth. Not the global sort, but that which radiates from one's Inner Virtue.

I could feel other people in the restaurant looking at me and knew that they knew. As I walked down the street later, strangers glanced discreetly at my wrist, whispering and nodding. Their faces betrayed their thoughts:

"There goeth forth a woman who opposes global warming," and all were glad.

And soon the planet would cool, and the glaciers would freeze again, and Mother Earth would smile upon her diverse and virtuous children...

Read the rest here.


Congressional Action: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

On July 22, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter and Rep. John Shimkis addressed the House regarding H. Con. Res. 128, Expressing the Sense of the Congress Regarding the Baltic Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the text of which reads:

Whereas the incorporation in 1940 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union was an act of aggression carried out against the will of sovereign people;

Whereas the United States was steadfast in its policy of not recognizing the illegal Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania;

Whereas the Russian Federation is the successor state to the Soviet Union;

Whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, including its secret protocols, between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union provided the Soviet Union with the opportunity to occupy and annex Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania;

Whereas the occupation brought countless suffering to the Baltic peoples through terror, killings, and deportations to Siberian concentration camps;

Whereas the peoples of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania bravely resisted Soviet aggression and occupation;

Whereas the Government of Germany renounced its participation in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and publicly apologized for the destruction and terror that Nazi Germany unleashed on the world;

Whereas in 1989, the Congress of Peoples' Deputies of the Soviet Union denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and its secret protocols;

Whereas President Putin recently confirmed that the statement of the Congress of Peoples' Deputies remains the view of the Russian Federation;

Whereas the illegal occupation and annexation of the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union remains unacknowledged by the Russian Federation;

Whereas a declaration of acknowledgment of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Russian Federation would lead to improved relations between the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the people of Russia, would form the basis for improved relations between the governments of the countries, and strengthen stability in the region;

Whereas the Russian Federation is to be commended for acknowledging grievous and regrettable incidents in the Soviet era, such as the massacre by the Soviet regime of Polish soldiers in the Katyn Forest in 1939;

Whereas the truth is a powerful weapon for healing, forgiving, and reconciliation, but its absence breeds distrust, fear, and hostility; and

Whereas countries that cannot clearly admit their historical mistakes and make peace with their pasts cannot successfully build their futures: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the consequence of which will be a significant increase in good will among the affected peoples and enhanced regional stability.

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.


John Kerry, Hypocrite?

From the AP, "Kerry Seeks Release of Roberts' Documents":

Democratic Sen. John Kerry urged the White House on Friday to release "in their entirety" all documents and memos from Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' tenure in two Republican administrations.

"We cannot do our duty if either Judge Roberts or the Bush administration hides elements of his professional record," said the Massachusetts senator who was his party's presidential candidate last year...
Pardon me, but isn't this the same guy who expected their voters to do their duty when casting presidential ballots in 2004 without seeing elements of his professional record?


Politics of Personal Destruction: Keep Kids Out of It, Project 21 Says

Project 21 member Michael King has nothing good to say about a conversation on the left-wing Daily Kos blog about the little son of Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts.

Michael, by the way, is the host of the Rambling's Journal blog.

While we are on the topic of the way the Roberts family is being treated, allow me to once again endorse Michelle Malkin's thoughts on the topic (here and here).

Once again, I agree with Mary Katherine Ham as well.

I thought the Roberts family looked great that evening.


Congressional Action: RU-486 Kills Women

On July 21, Rep. Chris Smith addressed the floor of the House:

Mr. Speaker, the FDA issued a stern warning on Tuesday about the dangers to women from RU-486, the abortion drug the Clinton administration aggressively pushed through approval without proving its safety. Not only is RU-486 baby pesticide, killing unborn children up to 7 weeks, it is poison to the women themselves. Licensed by the Population Council, manufactured in the PRC, and widely disbursed by Planned Parenthood, at least five women have died in the U.S. after taking this dangerous drug. As a result of these women's deaths and serious concerns that many more women have died as well -- underreporting is a serious problem--new drug labeling will warn women that serious danger of sepsis and blood infection can occur.

Because RU-486 was rushed to approval by the Clinton administration using the expedited FDA subpart H process, which is supposed to be used for HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases, numerous safety concerns were suppressed, trivialized and overlooked. The Clinton FDA approval process was a gross sham. The approval of RU-486 is a scandal that is today killing women. The FDA must pull this dangerous drug...

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.


Project 21 Chides the Left

Project 21 has a new, rather amusing new press release out that compares recent statements by liberals about Judge John Roberts to statements made by the left about then-Judge David Souter when Souter was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1990.


Congressional Action: What Judges Do

On July 20, Senator Orrin Hatch, in a floor speech about the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, discussed the role of judges:

An effective process for hiring or selecting someone to fill a position, any position, must start with an accurate description of that position. I am reminded of a 1998 article by Judge Harry Edwards appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. I was in this body at the time. He was that court's chief judge from 1994 to 2001 and a colleague of Judge Roberts. Judge Edwards warned that giving the public a distorted view of what judges do is bad for both the judiciary and the rule of law.

The debate about judicial selection is a debate about what judges do, about their proper place in our system of representative government. Getting the judicial job description right is necessary for a legitimate and effective selection process. It defines the qualifications for the job. It identifies the criteria we should apply. It guides the questions that may properly be asked and answered and the conclusions that should be reached.

Judges take law that they did not make and cannot change, determine what it means, and apply it to the facts of a legal dispute. That is what judges do. That judicial job description applies across the board. It does not depend on the parties or the issues before the court. It does not depend on the law that is involved in a particular case. And it certainly does not depend on which side wins or should win.

I believe we must help our fellow citizens better understand what judges do so they can better evaluate what we will be doing in the weeks ahead as we consider this nomination now before us.

Without in any way trivializing the work of judges, I want to use a practical example because I believe it can be simple without being simplistic.

Judges are like umpires or referees. They are neutral officials who take rules they did not make and cannot change and apply those rules to a contest between two parties or multiple parties.

How would we evaluate the performance of an umpire or referee? Would we say he or she did a good job as long as our favorite team won the game? If we were hiring an umpire or referee, would we grill him or her about which side he or she were likely to favor in the upcoming matches? Of course not.

Desirable results neither justify an umpire or referee twisting the rules during the game nor are automatic proof that the umpire or referee is fair and impartial. Umpires and referees must be fair and impartial from beginning to end during the contest before them. They do not pick the winner before the game starts, nor do they manipulate the process along the way to produce the winner they want.

In the same way, we must not evaluate judges solely by whether we like their decisions or whether their decisions favor a particular political agenda. The political ends do not justify the judicial means.

This is a very important point, something we must keep in clear focus throughout the weeks ahead.

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.


The Moon

Look close. It really is made of cheese!


Judicial Task Force Formed by Project 21

Project 21 has announced the formation of a Project 21 judicial task force to address issues of judicial nominations and questions of Constitutional law.

Principal members include:

Cheryl Harley LeBon, a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee;
Brian Jones, a former general counsel to the Department of Education and a former Senate Judiciary Committee staff member;
Peter Kirsanow, a labor lawyer and sitting commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Other members include:
Anthony Anderson, a prison youth counselor;
Jerry Brooks, a former public affairs television show host;
Reverend Steven Craft, a reformed convict turned prison minister;
Marc Elcock, an attorney for the Iowa House of Representatives;
Lisa Fritsch, a freelance writer and speaker;
Day Gardener, director of Black Americans for Life;
Eddie Huff, an insurance agent and host of the "NewBlackThought" blog;
Michael King, host of the popular "Ramblings Journal" blog;
Charles Johnson, a criminal defense attorney and former professional football player;
Darryn "Dutch" Martin, a frequent contributor to;
Kevin Martin, an environmental contractor;
Mychal Massie, a columnist and talk show host;
Geoffrey Moore, a graduate student in business;
Council Nedd II, a health care consultant and ordained minister;
Donald Scoggins, founder of the Frederick Douglass Republican Leadership Forum;
Ak'Bar Shabazz, a business consultant;
Bishop Imagene Stewart, who runs a shelter for battered women and is a talk radio host.
In a press release announcing the formation of the task force, Peter Kirsanow commented upon President Bush's selection of Judge John Roberts to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor:
Judge Roberts is a superb pick for the Supreme Court. His integrity, intellect and judgment are unassailable.
Lisa Fritsch seconded the praise:
In selecting Judge Roberts, President Bush has proven once again that polls and ad campaigns are not driving his decisions. This judge is a respected representative of sound and balanced jurisprudence.
Jerry Brooks expressed a hope that the confirmation process will be dignified:
We can only hope that the Senate will not turn this process into a political three-ring circus. President Bush should be able to have him nominees considered in the same timely manner enjoyed by his predecessors. This is a golden opportunity for senators to show decorum as well as common sense.


Slang is No Ticket to Success

Project 21 members are saying that teaching ebonics in the public schools, as San Bernardino, California now proposes to do, is no way to give students a passport to personal fulfillment and professional success.

Says Project 21's Michael King:

Teaching Ebonics, which is nothing more than urban slang, will not provide a means for an individual to acquire a job. It will not help someone maintain a living. It will not provide an individual with the skills necessary to compete in an academic setting, let alone a professional setting. It does absolutely nothing positive for those to whom it is taught. I don't see professors trying to justify hacker geek-speak or online shorthand as their own separate language!
Says Project 21's Kevin Martin:
There are some who would prefer the San Bernardino school system and other schools throughout the United States take the easy way out by sending our children into the world without a grasp of basic English skills. This is a disservice to the black community that will severely limit our children's skills in the job market. This is a prime example of what people call 'the soft bigotry of low expectations.'
Read Project 21's entire press release here.


Scotty Beams Up

Thanks for the memories, James Doohan.

Before Doohan's death, he arranged to have his ashes sent into space.

My Dad was an engineer. It was nice to see the "Scotty" character demonstrate that engineers can be heroes.


I'm With Michelle On This

The photos of young Mr. Roberts are hilarious.

My take is the same as Michelle's. I identify totally with the parents -- but I am impressed that their children are so clean. Did the kids get dressed 10 feet offstage, and 1 minute before? Probably -- smart parents!


Project 21 on Bush Supreme Court Nomination

Project 21 released comments Tuesday afternoon on the President's then-pending Supreme Court nomination:

Black Activists Speak Out on Bush Supreme Court Nomination

With tonight's announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, members of the black leadership network Project 21 implore senators to engage in a quick and fair confirmation process that is free of partisanship and political power-plays.

"The President has chosen. It is now prudent that this nominee be accorded fair and timely proceedings that are free of the rancorous hyperbole Americans have witnessed in the Senate over the past few years," said Project 21 member Mychal Massie. "This process is not about left or right, but rather about the nominee's willingness to support and defend the Constitution. Let us hope that those who have asked to share their opinions with the President and had their voices heard do not now choose to apply an ideological litmus test to the process."

President George W. Bush met with Senate leaders about potential candidates prior to tonight's announcement, and he and members of the White House staff have had direct contact with at least 60 senators during the selection process.

"Let's hope this confirmation process is free of any and all litmus tests and other types of political wrangling," said Project 21 member Darryn "Dutch" Martin. "A nominee should be judged on their merits and strict adherence to our Constitution."

Project 21 takes no position on the confirmation of any particular judicial nominee, but believes that it is in the best interest of the United States that judicial vacancies are filled with appropriate speed....


Congressional Action: Kennedy's View

On July 19, Senator Ted Kennedy delivered a speech outlining his view of the Judicial nomination process. An excerpt:

It is a fundamental part of our system of checks and balances that the power to appoint judges, especially Justices of the Supreme Court, is shared by the President and Senators from all fifty States, so that the Nation's diverse interests can be represented in this important choice.

The Founders believed that the whole Senate and the President together would do the best job of confirming independent Supreme Court justices, who would be above politics, and not beholden to any politician or political party. They wanted an independent, impartial Supreme Court that would give everyone a fair hearing, rather than favoring powerful corporations or special interests with political clout.

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.


Congressional Action: Independent Judiciary

On July 18, Senator Max Baucus delivered a speech supporting a judiciary independent of other branches of government. It included the following story:

...President Eisenhower, who appointed Chief Justice Warren, tried to influence the Chief Justice on that landmark case. [Warren biographer Jim] Newton reports that during the period when the Court was considering Brown v. Board of Education, President Eisenhower invited Chief Justice Warren to join him at dinner with a number of guests. That was while that case was pending.

It turned out that President Eisenhower had also invited one of the lawyers for the Southern States in the Brown case.

As the President and Chief Justice stood up from the table -- this was dinner, remember, with one of the lawyers for the Southern States there, a private dinner, Chief Justice Warren was there, and President Eisenhower, who appointed Chief Justice Warren, was there -- as they stood up from the table, the President took the Chief Justice by the arm. The President motioned to others in the room and then whispered into the Chief Justice's ear: "These are not bad people."

The President told the Chief Justice that they were only concerned about their "sweet little girls" having to sit in school beside African-American children.

That is what President Eisenhower said at that dinner to Chief Justice Warren when Brown v. Board of Education was pending. So it mattered that we had a Chief Justice who was independent enough not to listen to the President who appointed him.

It mattered that Chief Justice Warren was independent enough to write for the majority:

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal...

Note: "Congressional Action" is a blog feature highlighting an an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work.


Health of Supreme Court Justices: Is It Our Business?

There are a number of interesting questions raised in this Washington Post story about the health of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The article raises other questions, but some that occur to me are:

* Is it ethical for the head of one of the three branches of our federal government to keep the public from knowing details of his serious medical disorders?

* Should a distinction be made between disorders that are purely physical versus those that are reasonably likely to affect his judgment (speaking purely hypothetically, a hip replacement versus growing memory loss)?

* Is it less important for the public to know the health status of the Chief Justice because he lacks the power to send troops to war?

* Since the public "sees" the President (on TV) and hears from him often, and pretty much every official move the President makes is followed and analyzed by the press, yet (for some reason) there is a zone of privacy around Supreme Court justices, does it actually become more important for a justice to affirmatively make public personal matters of potential public concern?

Personally, in questions of this nature I think public officials should err on the side of public disclosure.

Columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a piece on this issue last January. Although she and I do not share many political views, I agree with her on this one.