Letters from an American, July 21, 2023, a Friday

July 21, 2023 (Friday), Letters from an American, Prof. Heather Cox-Richardson

Defying SCOTUS, redistricting, and the border.

On June 8 the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of a lower court blocking the congressional districting map Alabama put into place after the 2020 census, agreeing that the map likely violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act and ordering Alabama to redraw the map to include two majority-Black congressional districts. 

Today the Alabama legislature passed a new congressional map that openly violates the Supreme Court’s order. By a vote of 75–28 in the House and 24–6 in the Senate, the legislature approved a map that includes only one Black-majority district. 

Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and many of the other members of Alabama’s congressional delegation had spoken to the Republicans in the state legislature about the map. Editor of the Alabama Reflector Brian Lyman reported that the map’s sponsor said he had spoken to House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) too:

“It was quite simple,” the sponsor said. McCarthy “said ‘I’m interested in keeping my majority.’ That was basically his conversation.” 

Alabama governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed the bill into law. 

Today, assistant U.S. attorney general Todd Kim and U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas Jaime Esparza wrote to Texas governor Greg Abbott and Texas interim attorney general Angela Colmenero warning that the actions of Texas in constructing a barrier in the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico “violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties.” 

The floating barrier violates the Rivers and Harbors Act, which prohibits the construction of any obstructions to navigation in U.S. waters and requires permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before constructing any structure in such waters. Abbott ignored that law to construct a barrier that includes inflatable buoys and razor wire.

Mexico claims the barrier buoys blocking the flow of water violate treaties between the U.S. and Mexico dating from 1944 and 1970. Mexico has asked for the barriers to be removed. So has the owner of a Texas canoe and kayaking company, who says the buoys prevent him from conducting his business. And so have more than 80 House Democrats, who have noted Abbott’s “complete disregard for federal authority over immigration enforcement.”

Unless Texas promises by 2:00 Tuesday afternoon to remove the barrier immediately, the U.S. will sue. 

Abbott has made fear of immigration central to his political messaging. He is now faced with the reality that Biden’s parole process for migrants at the southern border has dropped unlawful entries by almost 70% since it went into effect in early May, meaning that border agents have more time to patrol and are making it harder to enter the U.S. unlawfully. 

Abbott’s barrier seems designed to keep his messaging amped up, accompanied as it is by allegations troops from the National Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety have been ordered to push migrants, including children, back into the river and to withhold water from those suffering in the heat. There are also reports of migrants being hurt by razor wire installation along the barrier.

Abbott responded to the DOJ’s letter:

“I’ll see you in court, Mr. President.” 

Yesterday, on the same day that Shawn Boburg, Emma Brown, and Ann E. Marimow added to all the recent stories of Supreme Court corruption an exclusive story showing how then-leader of the Federalist Society Leonard Leo funded a “a coordinated and sophisticated public relations campaign to defend and celebrate” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance a bill that would require the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics. 

“We wouldn’t tolerate this [behavior] from a city council member or an alderman,” committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. “It falls short of ethical standards we expect of any public servant in America. And yet the Supreme Court won’t even acknowledge it’s a problem.” “The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act,” Durbin said, “would bring the Supreme Court Justices’ ethics requirement in line with every other federal judge and restore confidence in the Court.”

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) disagreed that Congress could force the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code. He said . . .

“This is an unseemly effort by the Democratic left to destroy the legitimacy of the Roberts court.” Although he agreed the justices need “to get their house in order.”

Today, Dahlia Lithwick and Anat Shenker-Osorio noted in Slate that voters of both parties strongly support cleaning up the Supreme Court.

As signs of an indictment for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election grow stronger, Trump has taken to threats. When asked about incarceration, Trump said earlier this week: “I think it’s a very dangerous thing to even talk about, because we do have a tremendously passionate group of voters, much more passion than they had in 2020 and much more passion than they had in 2016. I think it would be very dangerous.”

His loyalists are working to undermine the law enforcement agencies that are supporting the rule of law. On July 11, 2023, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to chair of the Committee on Appropriations Kay Granger (R-TX) asking her to defund Biden’s immigration policies as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which investigates crime.

It is notable that, for all their talk about law and order, the Republican-dominated legislature of Alabama and the state’s Republican governor have just openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court, which is hardly an ideological enemy after Trump stacked it to swing to the far right. 

The Republican governor of Texas is defying both federal law and international treaties. After rampant scandals, the Republican-dominated Supreme Court refuses to adopt an ethics system that might restore some confidence in their decisions. As aided by his loyalists, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is threatening mob violence if he is held legally accountable for his behavior. 

The genius of the American rebels in 1776 was their belief that a nation could be based not in the hereditary rights of a king but in a body of laws. “Where…is the King of America?” Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense. “I’ll tell you Friend…that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.” 

Democracy is based on the rule of law. Undermining the rule of law destroys the central feature of democracy and replaces that system of government with something else.

In Florida today, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon set May 20, 2024, as the date for Trump’s trial for hiding and refusing to give up classified national security documents.

May 12, 2023 and No Surge at the Border, Angry Bear, angry bear blog