Sunday, February 28, 2016

Who Will Be The Savior of The Republican Party?

Donald J. Trump
Donald J. Trump continues to fill up all the media outlets with what has become familiar behavior:

1. He seems never to have met a Republican that he likes. Name a Republican and he's immediately branded as "low energy," "a stupid idiot," "little boy Marco," "the weakest Republican candidate this party ever had," "a choker," "a liar," "the worst liar I have ever met," "the worst human being I've ever known," "you don't have one single endorsement among your Senate buddies, you should be ashamed of yourself," and the list goes on in endless epithets.

2. Yet he says, "I have so many friends." He cites his many friends in business, those around the world, in show business, in politics. "We're going to start winning, winning, winning, we're going to win so much you won't even believe it!" He truly is bigger than life, or so he would have us believe.

3. "I love you all - everybody in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada," (and he's just getting started on that line. We would suppose what with Super Tuesday coming up he will eventually get around to all of us whom he loves, loves, loves if we vote for him).

4. He hates Megyn Kelly of Fox News who dared to suggest his insults against women might be considered crass, or worse, just downright hateful. He calls her "a horrible person," "with blood coming everywhere out of her," and then boycotts her routinely instead of encountering her again. Is Mr. Macho really afraid of "that bimbo" Megyn Kelly? Or does she just come in for "fair and balanced" treatment he gives to anyone who dares to oppose him?

5. He's going to build a wall, "and now it just got ten feet higher," when the former president of Mexico suggested that Trump could just go pound sound if he thinks Mexico will pay for the wall. And Trump then goes on and on about the balance of trade between us and Mexico as though balancing our balance of trade accounts will somehow magically produce the $10 billion to build the wall. For a Wharton School of Business graduate, he must have been sleeping through Economics 101.

6. Article after article appears daily around the collective political water cooler of the American electorate. "What if Trump actually becomes our nominee," they stutter in disbelief. I know people so offended by Trump that they will vote for anyone else, yes, even a Democrat, rather than Trump.

7. There are other articles now appearing since the endorsement of Governor Chris Christie who suggest that Trump might just be a great choice as a nominee, since he's energized the Republican base like no one else has done since Ronald Reagan. Then they quickly add that Trump will rival Reagan among the greatest presidents. Seriously, I'm not making any of this up, am I?

Marco Rubio

Ted Cruz
Those are just seven observations off the top of my head that I've been following for the past several weeks. He's successfully thumped all of his would-be opponents into submission, and the field has narrowed to three with Trump, Rubio and Cruz. The desperation is now palpable. Like so many others who follow politics, this idea of "a savior" has been rattling around in my head with a hope that someone - ANYONE - might just be the ticket for America's future. But today it came into perfect focus for me.

Along with Patsy, we teach the fourteen and fifteen year-olds in Sunday School in our ward. Today we discussed "the doctrine of Christ," and spent our time together mostly in 2 Nephi 31. We had a good group today of seven delightful young ladies and one young man, as we took turns reading verses in the chapter. The topic heading is appropriate:

The “doctrine of Christ” is that all men everywhere must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. The doctrine of Christ is the only way to be saved in the kingdom of God. It is the foundation of the Church and the central message of its missionaries.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I also taught the fourth Sunday lesson in the high priest group today, the one devoted to selected sermons from the most recent General Conferences. Today, our stake leadership asked us to reflect on the talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, titled "Why the Church." Punctuation nerd that I am, I initially pondered why that statement didn't have a question mark at the end. However, he made a statement, he wasn't asking a question.

We had a profitable conversation together considering his three main reasons why the Church exists and must exist if we are to be enabled to claim the blessing of eternal life. He offered his three reasons:

1. How does His Church accomplish the Lord’s purposes? It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fulness” of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”

2. There is a second major reason the Savior works through a church, His Church, and that is to achieve needful things that cannot be accomplished by individuals or smaller groups. One clear example is dealing with poverty. It is true that as individuals and families we look after the physical needs of others, “imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.” But together in the Church, the ability to care for the poor and needy is multiplied to meet the broader need, and hoped-for self-reliance is made a reality for very many. Further, the Church, its Relief Societies, and its priesthood quorums have the capacity to provide relief to many people in many places affected by natural disasters, war, and persecution.

3. The final reason I will mention for the Lord to have established His Church is the most unique — the Church is, after all, the kingdom of God on the earth. . .

Its destiny is to establish Zion in preparation for the return and millennial rule of Jesus Christ. Before that day, it will not be a kingdom in any political sense — as the Savior said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Rather, it is the repository of His authority in the earth, the administrator of His holy covenants, the custodian of His temples, the protector and proclaimer of His truth, the gathering place for scattered Israel, and “a defense, and … a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.”

Rev. Paul Scalia
When I concluded the lesson, I left about five minutes at the end. The high priest group leader arose and stated, "I was impressed recently by reading the eulogy delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Paul, who is a Catholic priest. I think it might be the finest eulogy I've ever heard." Then he read in part:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

I came home and read the whole eulogy, and I concluded it is truly masterful. You can read it here.

So today, pondering the words of a living Apostle and a Catholic priest in the quietude of Pine Valley on a warm winter day, I have concluded there will be no savior in the offing to rescue the Republican Party, the Democrat Party or any other political entity we may have yet to hear about if a third party emerges out this political gumbo soup we are in today. We know the end result is the Savior's Second Coming, but the details between here and there do not bode well for would-be political anti-Christs who come among us posing as saviors.

May our descent into the moral abyss not be forever irretrievable or permanent, and may it someday be reversed if it is possible. That said (and I don't want to appear too negative here), we will be rescued by THE Savior Jesus Christ if we are attuned to His salvation, His resurrection, and His Church and kingdom on the earth today. And that may happen for Republicans and Democrats alike. In the end, we all have a lot more in common than we may imagine.

And that's not a bad thing. . .

Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia, May We Find His Jurisprudence Peer Someday

Justice Antonin Scalia
Like many conservatives (and liberals too!), I was saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend. The accolades and the tributes for him will go on for some time, I suspect. He is being widely lauded as the finest writer, legal mind and staunch defender of the originalist point of view when it comes to interpreting the Constitution that the Court may have ever seen. Finding his peer to replace him will be difficult. He has served longer than anyone else on the current Court.

The news had barely broken before the political wrangling had begun, including the opening moments of silence followed by "thermonuclear war" among the combatants at the latest Republican debate last Saturday night. Even before the ink was dry on the story of Scalia's death, President Obama signaled his determination to move ahead with his nomination "in due time."

In the one corner you have the liberals, who would love nothing more than putting forward yet another progressive judge through the nominating process President Obama will no doubt undertake at his earliest opportunity to cement his legacy in place.

In the opposing corner you have Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who immediately put out a press statement indicating the nomination belongs to the next president of the United States, and not the current lame duck one. McConnell's argument is certainly valid based on history.

Whoever Obama nominates, the smart money says it's dead on arrival. Anything less than a strict constructionist like Scalia will most certainly tilt the Court in favor of judicial activism. We've already witnessed that unlikely phenomenon with Chief Justice John Roberts surprising everyone by steering the Court with his majority opinions when Obamacare was upheld first, then the legalization of gay marriage.

It is not political hyperbole to state the intensity of this election season has shifted into high gear. While mildly entertaining until now, what with an avowed Communist Bernie Sanders challenging Hillary Clinton, who is almost certainly guilty of felonies over her e-mail handling while Secretary of State (but not likely to face any jail time), and billionaire Donald Trump continuing to suck all the oxygen out of the Republican nominating process, the tone of the debate will likely change where all three branches of government - the executive, the judiciary and the legislative - will all be involved.

Of course, few would doubt the ongoing dominance of the Republicans in maintaining control of both houses of the legislative branch (but even that is always an open question). The political divide over what will happen in debates over this POTUS nominating process will be epic, but not unheard of in the past. That said, we will see the Senate's role looming larger than ever in the coming months leading up to the election. Unless the Republicans close ranks and refuse to act on President Obama's nomination, the makeup of a new Court before the election would undoubtedly compromise the historical precedents of waiting to fill the post until after the election.

Let's look at the facts as they exist under the Constitution:

There is ample precedent in our past history on the side of those who advocate waiting until the next president is selected. Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, the so-called "Appointments Clause," allows a president to appoint specified public officials only with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, and the key word here is "consent." Though he may try to make this appointment on his own as a "recess appointment" when the Senate is not in session, he would exceed his authority in attempting it. Only the Senate may ultimately confirm the president's nominee to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

Historically, it has almost universally been the case that the closer we get to the end of a president's term, the more a delay has been viewed favorably. I read this morning that from President John Tyler forward, we have seen sometimes extended delays in filling vacancies on the Supreme Court. We think the country is deeply divided now, but probably no more than it was in Tyler's time. The same conditions certainly are in place today.

There are a number of practical reasons for delay, not the least of which is giving the American voters one more chance in getting it right. The crux of the Roberts' majority opinion in upholding Obamacare was in essence, "Don't look to the Court to bail you out, America, when you make poor political choices." He was concerned about the Court not being politicized, but his rulings may have done exactly what he did not intend. Perhaps by waiting for the next president to be chosen, American voters will respect the Court more and the new president's choice for the Supreme Court will be more widely embraced by the majority, assuming the Senate majority remains in the same hands as the new president's. At least that is the most optimistic view of the matter.

In my extensive reading this morning, someone even suggested if the new president were a woman (let's hope it isn't THAT woman), by putting forward a nominee now Obama would preempt her preference. If the next president were a strict constructionist like Scalia, then that new president should have the right to put forward a nominee more in the vein of Scalia. All of that in my mind suggests that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would undoubtedly be more reliable choices certainly than Hillary Clinton. Who knows for sure what a President Donald J. Trump or a President Bernie Sanders would do? If for no other reason, undertaking a deliberative and thorough search for finding the peer of Justice Scalia is worthwhile and should not be rushed. We've had ample precedents for waiting longer than a year.

It would certainly be in keeping with Obama's nature to try to ram through a first-ever recess appointment, but he would likely run head-long into a legal wall of his own making that has held such appointments cannot be upheld without Senate consent.

Supreme Court Building, Washington D.C.
I'm remembering this morning that there was a 2014 decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, where the SCOTUS, led by Scalia's brilliant writing in concurrence, ruled against recess appointments. It wasn't even a close vote (9-0), where they struck down three of the president’s recess appointments. In essence the high Court ruled them unconstitutional. Those appointments were attempted by Obama during a "pro forma congressional break" of only three days.

Talk about prescient irony, it was Scalia himself who wrote what some dubbed a “withering” concurrence opinion, when he warned against transgressing against the text of the U.S. Constitution. Scalia vigorously stated: “The Court’s decision transforms the recess-appointment power from a tool carefully designed to fill a narrow and specific need into a weapon to be wielded by future Presidents against future Senates,” and be believed the real intent of the Founders was to limit, not allow recess appointments beyond what they had intended.

Bristling at the sudden and arbitrary "10-day" recess invention attempted by Justice Breyer in the majority decision, Scalia added: “A self-aggrandizing practice adopted by one branch well after the founding, often challenged, and never before blessed by this Court - in other words, the sort of practice on which the majority relies in this case - does not relieve us of our duty to interpret the Constitution in light of its text, structure, and original understanding.” His biting accuracy will be missed.

My hope for our country is that we will find Scalia's peer in Constitutional integrity somewhere in this country. I am not one who is horrified at the thought of losing the Republic over this latest development, however. Scalia's death came out of left field and was surprising, when easily two or three other "expected" deaths might soon occur in the next few years, adding even more slots to fill on the SCOTUS, and raising the presidential sweepstakes to an even higher level. Remember, elections have consequences, as President Obama was so fond of reminding us all.

In sum: There is no precedent for taking this pending nomination out of the hands of the next president after the election of November 2016. Neither is there any legal foundation upon which a recess appointment could be justified.

I've used the word "precedent" a lot in this post. But my final word is that if the election season of 2016 has taught us anything, it is that relying upon historical precedents is shaky ground at best.