Demands for police accountability aren’t going away in SouthCoast, Massachusetts, no matter what some officials think.
In the absence of progress on police accountability in a legislature with a Democratic supermajority, residents have been attempting to address police abuse at the local level. But at every step of the way they have been thwarted and disrespected by politicians who don’t even bother to conceal their contempt for police accountability or those demanding it.
New Bedford City Councilor Brian Gomes has convened another of his “non-listening” session to consider only the PD’s Use of Force policies. Bigger issues — qualified immunity, SROs, community review boards with subpoena power — aren’t up for discussion. And in any case, neither the Mayor nor the Council care to listen: “The public hearing is not intended to be a forum to engage in debate nor address issues not directly relevant to the policies.”
2020 New Bedford Commission on NBPD Use of Force Policies
Public Hearings on Zoom
Wednesday, December 2nd, 6:00-7:30pm
United Interfaith Action, which is one of a number of community groups that has been attempting (unsuccessfully) to gain the ear of Fall River and New Bedford mayors, has scheduled two events in both cities:
UIA Police Reform Community Action
Fall River: Community Action Meeting on Zoom
Monday, November 30th, 6:30-8:00pm
There’s considerable context to New Bedford City Council‘s decision to offer up a “Blue Lives” resolution at precisely the moment that City residents needed reassurances that Black Lives really do matter.
On May 25, 2020 George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer triggered protests all over the country. In New Bedford, where the memory of police murders of Malcolm Gracia and Eric Aguiar were fresh, Mayor Jon Mitchell, a former federal prosecutor, appointed a Use of Force Commission on June 15, 2020 and put it in the hands of City Councilor Brian Gomes, a law and order zealot who supported chain gangs in the late 90’s. Both Mitchell’s Commission, and his choice of Gomes to lead it, drew howls of protest from citizen groups who foresaw that neither Michell nor Gomes were likely to act in good faith.
On July 7, 2020 the NAACP New Bedford president gave New Bedford and county officials a list of demands for protecting communities of color, and BREATHE! and other citizen groups were out in the streets demanding changes in policing. But as far as Mitchell and the Council were concerned, they had created their “study” — and that would be the end of it. Behind the scenes the Council was actually moving — not to reform the police — but to shield it from public accountability.
“a member of the Mitchell Administration, the Police Chief, the Fire Chief, the EMS Director, the New Bedford Police Union and the New Bedford Fire Union meet with the members of the Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods to discuss the implementation and protection of Qualified Immunity language for the members of the Police Department, the Fire Department, and the Emergency Medical Service.”
The motion carried and was referred to the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods. On October 14, 2020 the committee met to discuss LED street lights, crosswalks, and vandalization at pocket parks. The Council had also invited New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro to consider
“the implementation of using drones to monitor high crime neighborhoods for surveillance across the City, adding another tool in fighting crime; and further requesting, that the drones be used for surveillance and security purposes when the City is holding major events, along with monitoring the City as a whole.”
At this meeting the Council revisited a 2018 request to Mayor Jon Mitchell and then- School Superintendent Pia Durkin to install
“security in all schools throughout the City, which includes panic buttons, cameras, and evacuation plan; and further, consider hiring armed guards possibly using former retirees from the Police Department and/or Veterans; furthermore, that the School Department install a hotline within the school system for students to report unusual activity, threats or even comments about guns or anything that threaten [sic] the wellbeing and safety of all faculty and students, titlle it ‘YOU HEAR IT, YOU SEE IT, YOU REPORT IT, TOGETHER WE MAKE OUR SCHOOLS SAFE.'”
But the highlight of the October 14th committee meeting was to follow through on the August 20 motion on Qualified Immunity. Lopes moved, seconded by Councilor Brad Markey, that the Council write a letter to the State delegation (Rep. Tony Cabral and Sen. Mark Montigny) “voicing the Council’s position against the proposed Qualified Immunity Proposition” in the Police Accountability legislation still languishing in the State House. According to minutes of the October 14th meeting filed by Clerk of Committees Denis Lawrence, Jr.:
“Councillor Lopes asked Police Chief Cordeiro how the current legislation at the State Capital, as it relates to Qualified Immunity, would affect the local police force. He was told if passed, this would cause a problem with the city along with other cities of the same size in Massachusetts. It may end up preventing the police force from protecting the very people they are trying to protect. Neighborhoods that are struggling will continue to struggle if not more so. A police officer will now be hesitant to be proactive if their decisions to act can be used against them. [Cordeiro] believes that the people who should know about the possible problems with Qualified Immunity do not know about it at all. Councillor Lopes expressed his concern for the future quality of police officers this would attract when the department looks to recruit officers; the Chief agreed. The Chief explained that currently the department is operating below their budget and does not have full complement of officers. He predicts an exodus of officers from cities to better communities. The Chief suggested that the Council and other entities flood the State Legislature with calls against the Qualified Immunity proposal. Councillor Lopes expressed his concern of when an Officer uses Narcan to revive a person from an overdose that they can be held liable. The Chief agreed that this could be an issue if passed.”
On September 21, 2020 the 60-Day Use of Force Commission report was released. There were no surprises. Instead of oversight, police would receive more taxpayer-funded “training.” But the mayor’s primary goal had been achieved in those 60 days — to blunt public anger at the police. On September 24, 2020, reading political winds that seemed to be in their favor, Mitchell and Cordeiro backed out of a community discussion on police accountability sponsored by United Interfaith Action.
The Qualified Immunity motion did not result from a community conversation, but was the product of closed discussions involving the Mayor’s office, the Police Department, Police, Fire, and EMS unions, Lopes, Gomes, Markey and others on the Council. No troublesome citizens were invited into the backroom. Gomes rushed to announce the motion in an October 22, 2020 statement to the same Councillors who had voted for it. The list of recipients who would soon receive copies was far more important.
On October 26, 2020 the actual letter was supposedly sent to Tony Cabral and Mark Montigny. On that same date Gomes scheduled a Zoom-based Use of Force Commission hearing, which he said would record public questions regarding the New Bedford Police Department’s Use of Force Policy, but at the poorly-run Zoom meeting Gomes ruled out answering any questions related to police accountability in general.
On November 13, 2020 WBSM’s Chris McCarthy wrote about the Council’s letter, incorrectly characterizing it as “unanimous” when at least one Councillor was not present, and the New Bedford Police Union celebrated McCarthy’s op-ed on Facebook.
As of November 14, 2020 at least one of the the intended recipients, Rep. Tony Cabral, still had not seen the letter to him that WBSM, the Police Union, and the Standard Times had all received. And Sen. Mark Montigny, when asked for comment by the Standard Times, had none.
These back-room machinations are a slap in the face to New Bedford residents, community groups, and the religious community that had all attempted to engage in good faith with Mitchell and the City Council on matters of police accountability.
The letter Lopes and the Council sent to SouthCoast legislators demonstrates once again that, rather than representing the views of New Bedford’s citizens, the Mayor and Council have little regard for them. When the Mayor, the PD, police and fire unions, and much of the City Council (half of whom are not accountable to any specific ward) begin doing backroom political favors for the police — locking the public out of the discussion in the process — voters ought to take notice.
There is no reason that police, who claim to need Qualified Immunity because they make split-second, life-and-death decisions, need it any more than surgeons or air traffic controllers. Accountability to the public by both police and public officials is at stake here, and it’s an unresolved issue that will continue to hound the Mayor and his police-friendly Council.
Just as Qualified Immunity confers special rights on police that no other citizen enjoys, the Mayor and Council have compounded the injustice by permitting a privileged police voice to be the only one to represent the city on Qualified Immunity.
Voters in King County, Washington just amended their county charter. Charter for Justice had endorsed the 7 amendments and all passed. Of note were three amendments to the charter that pertain to sheriffs and a fourth that applies to all law enforcement officers in the County.
According to the Seattle Times, the Charter Review Commission overwhelmingly recommended returning the sheriff to an appointed position. An appointed sheriff can now be replaced between elections in case of wrongdoing or incompetence, and it removes politics from administration of the department. In addition, an appointed position enables a national search for the best law enforcement and jail administration candidates.
Amendment 1 requires an inquest any time a prisoner dies in custody. And Amendment 6 gives the county discretion to redefine a sheriff’s duties — rather than giving carte blanche to a sheriff.
Finally, Amendment 4 gives teeth (and subpoena power) to King County’s civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO).
1 – Inquests
Require an inquest when a death occurs in a King County detention facility. Require an inquest when an action, decision, or possible failure to offer appropriate care by a member of a law enforcement agency might have contributed to a person’s death. Require King County to assign an attorney to represent the victim’s family in the inquest proceeding.
4 – Oversight
In 2015, King County voters established the civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) to investigate, review, and analyze conduct of county law enforcement. However, at the moment they don’t have access to much of the information they need to conduct investigations. This amendment would give OLEO the power to subpoena witnesses, documents, and other evidence relating to its review and investigations. Any subpoenaed witnesses would have the right to be represented by an attorney.
5 – Sheriffs to be appointed
Returns the office of sheriff to an appointed position, to be appointed by the King County Executive and confirmed by the King County Council. Gives voice to those who can’t vote or who face serious barriers to voting. Requires community and stakeholder engagement throughout the appointment process. Allows for greater public oversight of county law enforcement. Increases the ability to implement reforms. Takes political money from the sheriff’s guild and the inherent conflict of interest out of the election process. Allows for prompt accountability rather than waiting years for an election and hoping there is a qualified alternative.
6 – Public determines Sheriff’s duties
Removes language from the 1996 Republican amendment that prevents alteration of sheriff’s office duties. Gives King County Council the authority to establish the duties and purpose of the Department of Public Safety. Enables King County to explore more effective public safety, rooted in community-based alternatives rather than the traditional criminal legal system.
They See Blue is a grassroots organization with a mission to mobilize and engage Americans of South Asian origin in the democratic process to help Democrats win Federal, State, and Local races. They have produced a great resource guide on Georgia organizations doing on-the-ground work to Flip the Senate.
On November 12th, state committee members of the Massachusetts Democratic Party will vote for a new Chairman. At present the party is led by Gus Bickford, who for years has held the post in conflict of interest with his day job as a political consultant. Bickford recently took his ethics challenges to a whole new level by poking his nose into the Morse-Neal race for the 1st Congressional District and launching a homophobic attack on Morse. This misstep, not so distant from Thursday’s vote, will probably end his tenure. Thankfully.
Under Bickford’s tenure the MassDems have fallen into greater and greater disrepair. Membership is down, many town committees aren’t operating, and democracy has been a casualty. The party hasn’t been able to successfully challenge Republican governors and Bickford has failed to provide help in critical county and legislative races. Voters who have left the MassDems to become unenrolled say the party’s platform, revised every other year, doesn’t bear any similarity to to how Democratic lawmakers actually vote.
Bickford is being challenged by Mike Lake and Bob Massie.
Lake is deputy treasurer of the MassDems and CEO of Leading Cities, which promotes “business development and government cooperation opportunities and implementing public policy that effectively addresses the shared challenges facing 21st century cities.” Massie is known for his advocacy of environmental, climate, human rights, economic issues, and corporate responsibility. Both are affluent white guys who established nonprofits and did well for themselves in the process.
Massie authored a roadmap called “BUILDING OUR FUTURE TOGETHER: A 10-Point Plan to Strengthen the Massachusetts Democratic Party and Win the Governorship in 2022.” And at least according to Lake, he and Massie are on the same page about many of the changes necessary to fix the party: “I think Bob Massie and I frankly have a much more aligned vision of what the party can be. […] We have already pledged to support each other.”
So, Massie or Lake — either would be a vast improvement over the ethically-challenged do-nothing currently presiding over the demise of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. If you have any particular preference, make sure to let members of the state committee know.
As the remaining votes in the 2020 presidential election continue to be counted, the math is showing that more than 75 million Americans have had enough of Donald Trump, while 70 million still think he walks with Jesus. Biden’s narrow win over a mentally-ill white supremacist was not a blowout, to White America’s disgrace, but the almost 5 million difference in votes was enough of a victory for those who felt the country had been brought to the edge of a cliff.
Regardless of Biden’s win, he will be severely hobbled if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. The election decided 96 Senate seats — 48 for Republicans, 48 for Democrats — but two Senate seats remain to be filled by recount and special election.
The battle for the United States Senate is just getting started.
Both Senate seats are in Georgia, and both remain undecided after the exceptionally close races in that state. Besides a presidential vote that is almost certainly headed for recount, in January Raphael Warnock will face Republican Kelly Loeffler in a special election after a four-way race, and Jon Ossoff will face Republican David Perdue in a Senate runoff election.
If both Warnock and Ossoff win these elections, Democrats will have a majority in the Senate.
After Trump’s stinging repudiation, and because the Senate hangs in the balance, Republicans are not going to go down in Georgia without a fight. These two Senate races will almost certainly be the most expensive in history. Republicans will pull out all the stops to raise large sums to defeat Warnock and Ossoff. And then they will try to suppress the vote and challenge ballots.
Funding for both Democrats, and for voting integrity, will be necessary to win this fight.
You can donate to either candidate via their links above — or navigate to gasenate.com.
Razor-thin margins of the 2020 presidential election left many Democrats scratching their heads in dismay at the almost 49% of the population who supported Trump, wondering what had gone wrong. In a three hour long conference call, Democratic Party leaders identified their scapegoat — it was progressives who had tanked the 2020 elections for them.
Democrats are quick to dismiss their own failures. In 2016 the same accusing fingers pointed at so-called identity politics as the reason for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Centrists linked arms with the American Right in denigrating the unique challenges of marginalized people and the idea of inviting them into the Democratic Big Tent.
2020 was no different. Democrats wasted no time channeling their inner Joe McCarthy, admonishing that “socialism” was responsible for soft Democratic performance and that support for abortion, LBTQ, trans rights, and gun control was too “divisive.”
Repeated attacks like these demonstrate that progressives will never find a permanent home in the Democratic Party. As Joe Biden begins assembling his cabinet and planning his first 100 days, we will see exactly how party centrists intend to reward progressive contributions to his win.
For almost four years I was a Democrat. But from almost the moment I joined the party I discovered — at least at the state level — an inert, ineffective and undemocratic organization, entirely focused on fundraising for political machines and lazy incumbents, whose business is conducted mainly in the dark.
Nick Martin, writing in the New Republic, describes his unhappy relationship with his home state, North Carolina, but also his disappointment in the half-hearted efforts of the NC Dems. Martin also describes his grudging admiration for the clear, persistent, and ruthlessly effective messaging of Republicans:
“You don’t have to understand much about electoral politics to grasp that the Republican Party’s ground game in rural North Carolina was leagues beyond whatever slapdash operation the Democratic Party rolled out of the back of the shed. The GOP understood that it wasn’t going to pick up enough votes in the state’s bluer hubs to beat Biden in the state, so they organized the hell out of their base…”
Democrats scratch their heads in wonder at evil geniuses like Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove, and marvel at the Republican long game. But what Martin describes in his article is no magic formula but instead simple common sense — organize the hell out of your base, appeal to their values, make them excited to vote, and use the base to magnify and echo the message. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And Republican values don’t change, no matter how unpopular they are. And Republicans don’t apologize for them.
In her response to the Democratic Party’s most recent Joe McCarthy moment, progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered a few observations of her own. Reviewing the unsuccessful ground games of several Democrats who laid blame for their losses at the feet of a party supposedly too “socialist,” Ocasio-Cortez noted that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee failed in its digital messaging — right in the middle of a pandemic — by blacklisting political consultants who work with progressive primary challengers and who actually know how to deploy social media effectively. In Ocasio-Cortez’s view, some of these Democratic losses were self-inflicted.
Readers may recall the “Better Deal” that Democrats rolled out in 2017 following Hillary Clinton’s defeat — but most likely not. The intended reboot of the Democratic Party was dead the moment Schumer and Pelosi’s press conference ended. Democratic messaging then — as it still is now — was timid and vague and nobody, much less Democrats themselves, believed a word of it.
On the left side of the party, progressives proposed concrete programs — Medicare for All, rescuing students from lifelong debt, and a Green New Deal. And they made efforts to explain their policies, not just the social but the economic benefits. Elizabeth Warren famously had a plan for everything but faced an uphill battle in the primaries because many in the Democratic Party, including almost everyone on the primary debate stage with her, thought she was too “socialist.”
Love ’em or hate ’em, we know exactly what progressive Democrats stand for. This cannot be said of centrists, whose campaign promises are rarely convincing. If this sounds harsh, just look at the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform. It sounds fairly progressive but when you see how Massachusetts Democrats actually vote you realize the platform is nothing but a cynical heap of verbiage, revealing only that its professed values ultimately mean nothing.
And voters have taken note, especially in the three counties that comprise the 9th U.S. Congressional District. Bristol, Plymouth, and Barnstable counties are slowly moving from purple to red, and the party’s answer to this rightward drift is to accelerate it.
But Democratic failures are also structural, particularly at the state level. If you voted in the September Democratic primaries you may have noticed that there were almost no challengers to incumbents who, for the most part, vote pretty much like Republicans. Town Democratic committees in Massachusetts have long since given up holding weekly or monthly meetings and only emerge from hibernation during presidential elections. Bob DeLeo runs the Massachusetts House exactly like Mitch McConnell does the U.S. Senate. Neither is a force for good.
And when the stakes are high for marginalized people, most Massachusetts Democrats are nowhere to be found. In 2016 the Massachusetts Democratic Party couldn’t be bothered to challenge Bristol County’s white supremacist sheriff. And Massachusetts Democrats still haven’t passed comprehensive police accountability legislation or the Safe Communities Act. Or thrown enough support behind efforts to get rid of a racist flag and racist school mascots. And Democrats wonder why groups they take for granted, including Black voters, were induced to vote for Trump in small but surprising numbers.
All over America Republicans are taking control of state houses. State Democratic parties are lying half-dead on gurneys and have to be shocked back to life. The party needs to become a bottom-up organization again. But throughout the Democratic Party it is political machines, consultants and donors who wield the power, fighting challenges to incumbents, failing to revive state and local committees and resisting party reform. And all power flows from the top. Again, the party’s wounds are self-inflicted.
There are obvious and commonsense ways of addressing the state party’s structural problems. Bob Massie, who is gunning for MassDems president Gus Bickford’s job, just released a plan to reform and revive the party. It’s worth a read.
But my guess is that Massie won’t have any more luck fighting headwinds in his own party than Keith Ellison did when he made a bid as Chair of the national DNC. Democrats hate change as much as Republicans. And they hate progressive change even more.
It seems inevitable that the Democratic Left will eventually be forced to build itself a new political home. But for the moment we can all breathe a sigh of relief that within a few months the country will no longer be run by a mentally ill fascist whose midnight Tweets re-traumatize us daily.
For many the 2020 elections were supposed to be a referendum on Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 virus. Instead they turned out to be a referendum on how much Americans care about the lives of their neighbors and children, racial justice, science, and democracy. That such significant numbers of people voted for white supremacists, QAnon wingnuts, and xenophobes also showed that Trump correctly grasped how little Americans worry about criminality, fascism, and corruption in their electeds.
An editorial in last night’s Tageszeitung hit the nail on the head when it pointed out that not only do Americans not care, “they know exactly what they’re doing.” Trump voters knew full well last night that they were burning down the house with everyone in it. And that there would be no survivors.
But this is who we are. Trump didn’t burn down the house. White America did.
Democratic pollsters told us that America needed a steady voice from the “middle.” It turned out their prescriptions were no better than their polling. Pinning all their hopes on Biden’s character and promising a reset to the halcyon days of 2008 backfired on Democrats. in the end Biden’s only strategy was running on Trump’s COVID failures. It wasn’t enough.
After the death of 3,000 people in 911, Americans were ready to invade the world, gut their own Constitutional protections, seal the border, and then bring their foreign wars back to America’s police forces. But now, with a quarter of a million deaths directly attributable to Trump’s denials and sabotage, there is barely a peep of outrage from his supporters. The Coronavirus is just the flu and, anyway, Trump’s not responsible, China was. They freely argue that America hit an iceberg and we’re just going to have to throw women and children overboard and crowd as many billionaires into the lifeboats as we can to save the economy.
Another takeaway from this election is that it was less a referendum on Trump’s corruption and impunity — which Americans obviously admire — than on the Democratic Party’s inability to offer something different. The DNC’s idea of “new” was a 78 year-old with hair plugs and dentures. A piece of meatloaf from the ice box with just a hint of freezer burn. After learning nothing in 2016, Democrats decided to return to 2008. But here we are in 2020. If Democrats don’t clean House (and Senate) soon, 2024 will be a third act in the ongoing tragedy of the Democratic Party’s slow-motion demise.
It may be hours or days until we know who won the election. I don’t share the view that both candidates were equally terrible. Trump is a fascist. If he wins, or the presidency is handed to him by the Supreme Court (for the 3rd time in my life), it will be the final nail in the coffin of our ersatz democracy. If Biden manages to prevail, Lady Democracy will still be on life support, her funeral delayed but relatives able to book flights to visit her while she moves in and out of consciousness. Biden was the only option to preserve some of the machinery of democratic governance. Just at the moment it finally dawned on many white Americans that they’ve never really lived in real democracy.
But the greatest lesson of this election for me was that White America may not vote its interests but it certainly votes for people who look like themselves. Time after time the white voter looks into the mirror and refuses to see the aging, racist sociopathic bully on the other side of the glass — yet each time he invariably looks like Donald Trump.
The sunset of the Voting Rights Act and resulting widespread voter suppression have disenfranchised voters throughout the United States. In this most recent presidential election we have seen almost every trick used to make voting difficult or impossible. But there are other paths to disenfranchisement. Who we see on a ballot, who we see on a debate stage, and how we select a winner all determine whether we get the politicians we need.
The hegemony of the so-called Two Party System isn’t doing democracy any favors either. Like the convention of having 9 Supreme Court justices, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires a two-party system. The reality is that we have dozens of political parties. Yet this magic number is taken by many as an article of political faith.
Then there are the debates. This year more than a dozen presidential candidates qualified to appear on state ballots, but you wouldn’t know it since only two parties were invited to appear at debates hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Despite its government-y name, the CPD is a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose board members are a Who’s Who of establishment politics. It was founded by the then-chair of the Democratic Party, Paul Kirk, Jr., and by his Republican equivalent, Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. Since 1996 CPD’s sponsors have included Anheuser-Busch, Dun & Bradstreet, Philip Morris, Sara Lee, Sprint, AT&T, Ford Motor Company, Hallmark, IBM, J.P. Morgan, U.S. Airways, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and — well, you get the idea.
The entire election process — including the voting procedure itself — is also designed to disadvantage third parties. The American preoccupation with “viability” always trumps presenting new ideas to voters. When, as Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein did in 2016, a third party candidate does overcome all odds and manages to get on the ballot, s/he is usually vilified, as Stein was, for stealing votes from “viable” candidates who are only viable thanks to free coverage from media giants and non-profits like CPD. Stein was arrested when she tried to “crash” CPB’s 2016 debates.
I recently viewed a 2016 video of Stein being interviewed by “Headliner” anchor Mehdi Hasan. When asked what she could uniquely offer voters, she pointed to: student debt relief; an emergency jobs program based on a green energy economy; and an end to police violence. While today’s Democrats are still struggling to address police violence, income inequality, and climate change, Stein nailed it four years ago.
Fast forward to 2020. It wasn’t just Bernie Sanders and the Squad who brought progressive platform planks to voters. Ideas from Stein’s platform were eventually embraced by at least several Democrats in the 2020 election cycle.
I was one of those who voted “Green” in 2016. Admittedly, my vote was lost in a sea of Massachusetts votes for Hillary Clinton. But I felt it was important to support a fundamentally decent candidate with a more humane and rational platform than Democrats were offering. And — no — my vote didn’t bring Donald Trump to power any more than Russian troll farms or Jim Comey did. Democrats anointed the wrong candidate, and she lost because not enough people wanted her.
Which brings me to Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). RCV is used in a number of American cities, Maine, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Ireland, and elsewhere. It gives voters more than one choice on a ballot, so that if their first candidate is not viable — in the real sense of the word — then their 2nd, 3rd, or 10th choice will at least influence the final vote. Ranked Choice Voting also avoids costly runoff elections by calculating instant runoffs.
On November 3rd Massachusetts voters will have a chance to choose Ranked Choice Voting by checking “Yes” on Question #2. The 10-way Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District offered a perfect example of why RCV is needed. As a Boston.com article pointed out, “winning without the support of the vast majority of voters has become a feature of most recent open House primaries. In 2018, Rep. Lori Trahan won her 3rd District primary with less than 22 percent of the vote. In 2013, Rep. Katherine Clark won with less than 32 percent. In 1998, former Rep. Mike Capuano clinched the nomination with 23 percent.”
And we call this democracy?
Had Ranked Choice voting been available in 2016, I imagine that Green voters like myself would have held our noses and chosen Hillary Clinton as our second pick. But that wasn’t even an option.
So if Massachusetts voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, still end up rejecting Ranked Choice Voting in the face of increasing problems with conventional voting, then I will be quick to offer this piece of advice: Shut up about third parties spoiling “your” wins. You had your chance and you blew it.
If Republicans jam through the appointment of an “originalist” judge who is also a member of a cult replete with handmaids, Democrats should expand the Supreme Court. And Joe Biden should start with two new justices. It would warm my heart to see Barack Obama and Merritt Garland on that bench.
Of course, not everybody thinks expanding the Supreme Court is a great idea. Some Democrats — including Biden himself — fear the sky would fall if such an audacious thing were to be done.
But given that the Republicans have been packing lower courts for years, maybe we need to trade in “Hope and Change” for some “Audacity and Change.” The threat of so-called “court packing” would send a chilling message to Republicans pondering Trump’s eclipse — do it and see what happens.
The erosion of separation of church and state is of great concern. From the Oval Office to the State Department, the Executive branch is swimming with fundamentalists and enemies of secularism and science. The Senate and the Supreme Court are now filled with people who overtly privilege and promote Christianity from their government posts.
Well, I’m not quite ready for Gilead. Aside from Amy Barrett’s cult, shouldn’t we restore some religious balance to the highest court in the land? 63% of Supreme Court Justices are already Catholic in a country where only 23% identify as such. If Barrett is confirmed that number would hit 75%. Many American Catholics deeply disagree with their more conservative co-religionists on the Court. And more Americans than ever check off “none” in the religious box. A lot of us aren’t ready for Gilead.
Expanding the Court is hardly a new idea. Donald Trump’s next favorite president (after himself, of course) is Andrew Jackson, who added two justices to the Court in 1836.
There is also nothing sacred about nine justices or lifetime presidential appointments. The way justices are appointed in other Western nations puts our process to shame.
The Supreme Court of Canada is appointed by the Governor in Council and consists of nine justices. The number started out as six, was bumped up to seven, and ultimately became nine. On the surface Canada’s looks like ours, but Canada’s Supreme Court Act requires that three judges come from Ontario, three from Quebec, two from the Western provinces or Northern Canada and one from the Atlantic provinces. And judges must also retire before their 75th birthdays.
Striving for diversity doesn’t mean they’ve succeeded
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has twelve justices and they must have already served on the bench for 15 years, or 2 on a “federal” bench. The UK convenes a selection commission chosen from judiciaries in Britain, Scotland, Northern Island and Wales, and it strives for at least regional balance. After selection, a justice is formally appointed by the Queen. Even with 12 justices that number can still be increased. Justices must retire at 70 or 75, depending on when they joined the bench.
The German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, or BVerfG), has sixteen justices divided a couple of ways into two senates and three chambers. Judges are elected by both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, each of which selects eight justices. A Justice must have previously held a position on the bench and be at least 40 years of age. Justices serve for 12 years or until the age of 68, whichever comes first.
The French Court of Cassation is the highest appeal court in France and has an elaborate system of chambers and sitting and administrative judges, but 15 justices head up the court. These 15 judges serve a 9 year term and 3 each are appointed by the President of the Republic and Senate and National Assembly presidents. To become a judge a lawyer must be admitted to the Supreme Court Bar after passing an exam from the National School of the Magistracy. Typically, candidates are already judges in lower courts.
Our Supreme Court selection process is a mess. Not only is it highly politicized, but it lacks regional and demographic representation, professionalism, and justices typically serve well past normal retirement. More importantly, the selection process is simply undemocratic.
We need a serious re-do of the selection process as well as term limits for the Supreme Court. And there are many places to look for good ideas, starting with those of our closest allies. Add Supreme Court reform to a long list of Constitutional changes necessary to update American democracy — now that we’ve seen how fragile it really is.
But in the interim, let’s expand the Supreme Court.