Archive

July 2nd, 2016

The Supreme Court's Texas abortion ruling reignites a battle over facts

    Monday's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt finally answered a question almost 15 years in the making: How do you know if a law unduly burdens a woman's right to choose abortion? Before answering this question, Hellerstedt addressed the constitutionality of two parts of Texas's abortion law. One provision required doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and a second regulation mandated that abortion clinics comply with the regulations applied to ambulatory surgical centers. In a 5 to 3 decision, the court struck down both measures. Most obviously, the decision matters because clinics in Texas will stay open, and the constitutionality of similar laws on the books in other states is now far from a sure thing. But Hellerstedt also makes a difference because it sends the clearest message in decades about where abortion jurisprudence is going: toward a battle over facts.

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July 1st

The Orlando shooter Googled my name. I wish he had reached out to me.

    A few days ago, a colleague from the college where I teach and serve as president called to let me know the FBI had just paid a visit. They wanted to inform me that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had been Googling me on his computer and iPhone. They were concerned that he may have had malevolent intent, given that the Islamic State had called for my death twice in the last year, presumably due to my strong condemnation of the utterly anti-Islamic nature of their "state" in a sermon that went viral in the Middle East.

    After some deliberation, I thought of another explanation for Mateen searching for me: Perhaps he had been conflicted about what he was contemplating and wanted to seek advice. I may be guilty of wishful thinking, but I would like to believe that in his heart he knew something was not right. We cannot determine what motivated this young man - who had a wife and a child - to infamously propel himself into American history by means of one of our bloodiest massacres. But my sense, given what we've learned about him since then, is that it cannot be reduced to a simple equation.

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The risk of a constitutional crisis in Britain

    The phrase "constitutional crisis" looms large over the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union. The possibility of such a crisis has already been invoked in connection with what would happen if the Scottish Parliament refuses to approve Britain's withdrawal from the EU; what might happen if Britain's main Parliament should ignore the results of the Brexit referendum; and the possible consequences of taking seriously the popular petition calling for a second vote on the basis of a new "rule" requiring a 60 percent approval and 75 percent turnout on EU-related matters.

    All this talk raises an inevitable question: What, exactly, is a constitutional crisis? And equally fascinating, what would a constitutional crisis look like in the country that initiated the modern idea of the national constitution and yet still lacks a written one?

    There is no official definition of a constitutional crisis -- that in itself is a telling fact. In order to trigger one, a country usually has to be facing a situation in which its constitutional principles offer no clear, definitive answer to a pressing problem of governance.

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Never mind the confusing polls, Clinton is ahead

    Looking at reliable recent polls, you could come away with two contradictory conclusions: Donald Trump is cratering, allowing Hillary Clinton to run away with the presidential race. Or Trump has survived an awful month and is surprisingly competitive.

    I'm going presume to tell you what the state of play really is by looking at multiple surveys and extrapolating a bit.

    Clinton, though she remains an unpopular candidate, has an advantage of about 7 points, though it's slightly less when third- and fourth-party candidates are included. State surveys that show Trump running almost even in battleground states are exaggerated. More worrisome for Republicans are the internal dynamics of these findings that suggest deep trouble for the presumptive nominee and perhaps the party.

    Start with gold standard polls. Any list of best pollsters, from the data guru Nate Silver to political practitioners, would include Ann Selzer, the Bloomberg Politics pollster, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, who conduct the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, and Gary Langer, who does surveys for ABC News/Washington Post survey.

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Justice Kennedy's surprisingly open mind

    For years, the Roberts court has been, for all practical purposes, the Kennedy court. It has almost always been Anthony Kennedy, not Chief Justice John Roberts, who has provided the decisive vote in closely divided cases - leading the court, year after year, to reach more liberal outcomes than many expected. Whether on marriage equality, mandatory life sentences for juveniles, the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo, overcrowded prisons, or Arizona's anti-immigration laws, Kennedy has parted company with fellow conservatives to recognize the rights of the disadvantaged.

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How Ruth Bader Ginsburg just won the next abortion fight

    Rejecting Texas' latest effort to do away with abortion rights, the Supreme Court served the antiabortion movement some very bad news Monday. The justices didn't believe Texas was just trying to help its poor, hapless women out. Instead, according to Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion: "In the face of no threat to women's health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities."

    From now on, the court warned, it would no longer, as the White Queen said in "Through the Looking Glass," believe "as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Not even about abortion. Not even, the court emphasized, when the impossible suggestions, like looking after women's health, come from the legislative branch. You want to help women out, Breyer wrote? You gotta prove it to us.

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How high-school students can compete globally

    There are commodity bubbles, stock bubbles, bond bubbles -- and education bubbles. American high schools are a classic education bubble, if by bubble we mean a mismatch between a commodity's real-world value and the value the public places on the commodity.

    The value many Americans place on their own local high schools is "great." Principals assure their schools are successfully launching generations of Sergey Brins into a global economy. Teachers repeat the "science, technology, engineering and math" mantra as if that alone ensures their pupils will conquer the world. Many parents too share this image. Since 1985, about half of families have been ranking their local public schools "A" or "B" in Gallup polls.

    But American high schools are not great. They are not even good.

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Did it take Baltimore's riots to change its leaders' attitudes?

    When the riots broke out in Baltimore, Maryland, after Freddie Gray's funeral last year, I was among those expressing dismay over the burning and looting. More than 60 businesses - including two much-needed pharmacies - in black neighborhoods were destroyed.

    What I could not see was the impact the riots would have on Baltimore's business and political leaders, what would come out of the ashes.

    As as soon as the smoke cleared, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating the Baltimore Police Department. Police agreed to wear body cameras.

    Charm City's business community began showing a renewed interest in its people, with job-training programs and more job opportunities. The Maryland legislature passed laws aimed at helping fathers keep up with child-support payments and keep their kids in their lives. Other legislation has made it easier for addicts to get treatment.

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Court's abortion ruling will send evangelicals and Trump into one another's arms

    Monday's Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law regulating abortion clinics will push presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and conservative white evangelicals further into each others' arms.

    The decision comes just as Trump is facing plummeting poll numbers, intensifying his need to galvanize the GOP base. Evangelicals, dismayed by the court's forceful rejection of the claim that the clinic regulations were necessary to protect women's health and safety, will likely see Trump as their best hope to nominate justices who share their commitment to making abortion illegal.

    When Monday's decision came down, Trump already had taken steps to solidify his backing from evangelicals, meeting with a group of 1,000 conservative Christian leaders in New York last Tuesday. While hardly unanimous, many of these leaders gave Trump high marks for how he answered questions they submitted, particularly about Supreme Court nominations. Pledging to appoint "great Supreme Court justices," Trump promised the group all his nominees would be "pro-life."

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Brexit's cautionary tale for Trump supporters

    Here is the real lesson from the stunning Brexit vote: Throwing a tantrum at the polls is not liberating; it is self-defeating. Those tempted to vote for Donald Trump should pay very close attention.

    Brexit was a big deal, but it is not the end of the world. Reeling financial markets should recover from the shock, which has been nowhere near as serious as the 2008 meltdown. There will be some political turmoil in Europe, but I believe it will abate as everyone sees the extent to which British voters were defrauded.

    It is already clear that those who chose to leave the European Union will not reap the benefits they were promised. Great Britain, or what's left of it, will become a little poorer, less dynamic and less important. That's about it.

    The working-class Britons who bought the Brexit snake oil likely will not see their incomes rise or their prospects brighten. Nor will they see their multicultural society become monocultural again. The whole thing was a fantasy, cynically concocted by ambitious politicians who apparently never thought the nation would take them seriously.

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