The Irreplaceable And Inimitable Antonin Scalia

With the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the nation lost one of the most ardent defenders of the Constitution and individual liberty in the history of the republic. Our liberties and citizens’ relationship to their government are more at risk now than perhaps at any other time.

Immediately after the announcement that Scalia had died of heart-related issues, the distinguished jurist was regaled and demeaned by detractors who have taken umbrage at his judicial interpretations. One of the most despicable was from the senior style editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, who proclaimed via tweet, “The devil is back in Hell! Yay!”

“I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can’t separate the two, you gotta get another day job,” the principled Scalia once said — something that many on the left clearly have no intellectual or moral grasp of.

And why was he so reviled? As former Attorney General Edwin Meese said, it was because “throughout his 30 years on the Supreme Court, Scalia championed the rule of law. He refused to permit his personal convictions to have any say in any rulings. Instead, he vehemently believed that his role was to apply the law, not to make it.”

Scalia was an originalist in his constitutional interpretation. The Constitution should be understood in the context of what the authors intended, and that interpretation should be consistent with what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. And more specifically, from a textualistic perspective, interpretation should be consistent with what “reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.”

As such, Scalia was perhaps most unique among our Supreme Court justices. As Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said of him last week, “Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans. Justice Scalia’s fidelity to the Constitution was rivaled only by the love of his family. Through the sheer force of his intellect and his legendary wit, this giant of American jurisprudence almost singlehandedly revived an approach to constitutional interpretation that prioritized the text and original meaning of the Constitution.”

His most brilliant statements are found in the hundreds of opinions he wrote while on the bench. As a champion of liberty and the freedoms assured by the Constitution, he was an unrelenting defender of our Bill of Rights. As an example, in a 2013 case Scalia wrote the majority opinion that protected individual privacy, requiring authorities to procure a warrant to use a drug-sniffing dog outside a residence to determine if there are drugs on the inside.

He wrote, “But when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals. At the Amendment’s ‘very core’ stands ‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion. This right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity.”

In the 2004 Rumsfeld v Hamdi case, the court sided with the Bush administration indefinitely detaining U.S. citizens without charges being filed during the war on terror. Scalia wrote the dissent, arguing, “Many think it not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty give way to security in times of national crisis — that, at the extremes of military exigency, inter arma silent leges. Whatever the general merits of the view that war silences law or modulates its voice, that view has no place in the interpretation and application of a Constitution designed precisely to confront war and, in a manner that accords with democratic principles, to accommodate it.”

Justice Scalia once said, “As long as judges tinker with the Constitution to ‘do what the people want,’ instead of what the document actually commands, politicians who pick and confirm new federal judges will naturally want only those who agree with them politically.” This could not have been more evident than in one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of the 21st century. Scalia authored the dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage. Not because of homophobia, as his detractors alleged, but because he objected to nine judges functioning as an oligarchy overriding the will of the people.

He wrote, “It is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact — and the furthest extension one can even imagine — of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”

The President is well within his constitutional requirements to put forth a replacement to Scalia on the court, and the Senate is well within its constitutional powers to not confirm a replacement in the final months of Obama’s administration. Quoting from the president himself, “Elections have consequences,” and the electoral process seated a confirming body that, by majority, would prefer a judge closer in interpretive disposition to Scalia than to Sotomayor or Kagan, Obama’s previous appointees. They can wait as long as they want, until they get a nominee that so comports, whether under this president or the next.

Regardless, whoever is ultimately appointed will truly never replace the inimitable, irreplaceable Justice Antonin Scalia.

Obama’s Fabricated ‘Gun Epidemic’ Hyperbole

On the first day of the year, President Obama declared he could “no longer sit around and do nothing about the epidemic of gun violence” in this country.

The New York Times published a front-page editorial in December titled, “End the Gun Epidemic in America.”

But do we really have an “epidemic,” and at what point does hyperbole damage rational debate and resolution?

To illustrate how hyperbolic the notion of “epidemic of gun violence” is, let’s look at what real epidemics look like.

Typhus, which spread throughout Europe during the Thirty Years War in the 1600s claimed over 10 million lives. It resurfaced during the 20th century, and caused several million deaths during WWI in Eastern Europe.

AIDS spread throughout the world in the 1980s, and since that time has taken the lives of more than 25 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that each year malaria causes 300 to 500 million infections and over 1 million deaths each year.

Smallpox is estimated to have killed 90 million Native Americans, and killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans per year at the end of the 18th century. Even as recently as the 1960s, it killed over two million people.

Those are epidemics, and are just a few of the top ten. Now for comparative purposes, let’s examine the “epidemic of gun violence” in the United States in the 21st century.

According to the FBI’s most recent “Crime in the United States” report, there were 8,124 murders committed with firearms in 2014, which was down 3.9 percent from 8,454 in 2013. The 2014 figure is the lowest rate of any year included in the report. Data from 2015 is not yet available.

The report indicates the vast majority of gun murders are committed with handguns, but the figures for all firearms declined as well. Rifles (including controversial “assault” style rifles) were used in 248 homicides last year, which is lower than the number committed with knives, “blunt objects” (like baseball bats), and fists or feet. The overall murder rate was down 1.2 percent last year.

This seems to be following the general trend in violent crimes, which is also down 1 percent from the previous reporting year. Violent crimes such as robbery, aggravated assault, and property crime rates are all lower, year over year, and sharply lower in just the last 10 years. The only violent crime rate that increased last year, according to the FBI, is rape, which increased 1.6 percent for 2014. Yet even that is down 10.9 percent over the past 10 years.

Overall, violent crime has declined 20 percent since 2005. The total number of violent crimes reported for 2014 was 1,107,564, for a rate of 374.9 incidents per 100,000 population. Aggravated assault is by far the most reported violent crime, which last year accounted for 232.1 of the total violent crime incidents per 100,000.

By comparison, murder, regardless of weapon, occurred at a rate of 4.5 per 100,000 population. Firearms were used in 67.9 percent of the homicides last year, which means the firearm murder rate amounts to three gun-related murders per 100,000 population. From a percentage standpoint, that translates to .003 percent of the population.

Not only do we not have an “epidemic” of gun violence, the gun violence rate is declining, and has been for the past 45 years according to FBI data. And this has been occurring during a period of American history when gun ownership has skyrocketed.

According to the Congressional Research Service, gun ownership in the U.S. has gone from 185 million in 1993, to over 357 million in 2013. Even accounting for population growth, we’ve gone from .94 to 1.45 guns per person over that time.

After the Charleston attack last June when nine people were gunned down in a church, President Obama declared, “We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.” Even that statement is nonfactual. What the FBI classifies as mass public shootings, where four or more people are killed in a public place, is in decline, in spite of the sensationalized reporting by the media and visceral reactions by the public.

A peer reviewed study by John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, and William M. Landes from the University of Chicago Law School, offers some insights into why the national firearm violent crime rate has been declining.

“Overall, we find that states without right-to-carry laws had more deaths and injuries from multiple shootings per year (both in absolute numbers and on a per capita basis) during the 1977 to 1997 period. Note also that the number of states with right-to-carry laws increased from 8 to 31 and the percentage of the U.S. population in these states rose from 8.5 to 50 percent in this period. Yet, states without right-to-carry laws still account for the large majority (often around 90 percent) of deaths and injuries.”

They continue, “We find that ‘rampage killings’ declined by at least 47 percent after concealed handguns laws are passed. The decline in the number of attacks in states enacting right to carry laws range from 61 to 71 percent. The average number of murders and injuries per state fell from 3.17 to 1.36 and the average number of attacks per state fell from .42 to .20.”

Not only do we not have a “gun violence epidemic,” the data indicates the violent crime rate, including those using a firearm, is declining. Further, it would appear that there is a causal effect between the decline in gun-related murders and liberalized gun ownership laws.

Perhaps the solution is not in additional gun control measures, but expanding right-to-carry laws where currently disallowed.

 

What Conservatives Can Learn From Liberals

There are tactics and characteristics of the American left that conservatives would be well advised to emulate. Until these lessons are learned, conservatives will likely continue to struggle at the ballot box, and liberty will be but a noble afterthought.

Perhaps the most critical lesson to learn is that politics, and governance in general, is incremental. The ebb and flow of the political environment and the mechanics of governance move incrementally, either toward liberty and constitutional principles, or toward centralized planning and governmental hegemony. Every piece of legislation, policy statement, regulation, executive order, election, and every judicial decision moves the nation, a state, or a community slightly one direction or the other. It rarely moves all the way to one extreme or the other.

Many conservatives tend to look at each of the above events as an all-or-nothing proposition. If they can’t have absolute 2nd Amendment rights, it’s all wrong. If they can’t have completely free markets, the system is corrupt and it’s no good. If a candidate doesn’t agree completely with their perspective, they’re evil and cannot be supported, and they’re simply the “lesser of two evils.”

The long-term perspective significantly shapes incremental adaptation. Liberals seem to have a more long-term view of the process, and realize that each political victory is a rung on the progressive ladder. Too many conservatives suffer from severe myopia, mistakenly believing that if they can’t jump to the top of a ladder in one jump, they’ve failed, or that other conservatives have failed them if they can’t, or don’t, make the jump to the top minus the intervening steps.

This tendency places some conservatives in the unenviable position of never being satisfied with anything. Since they can’t have things just precisely the way they want them to be, they will forever be unsatisfied, and politically unfilled. Liberals, generally, seem to relish each minor victory and recognize any politically incremental movement for what it is – one step in the process.

When we realize that every election and every other political activity takes us incrementally toward liberty, we begin realizing that each minor move to constitutionality and liberty is a victory, however small. And, rather than bemoaning the failure to leap to the top of the ladder, relish the small victory, and gear up for the next battle for the next incremental triumph.

Closely related is persistence. When liberals don’t get what they want, they keep pressing ahead, until at last they persevere. When HillaryCare failed in the 90’s, the issue was placed on the back burner until they could muster the political clout to pull it off with the 2010 edition – ObamaCare. The old aphorism, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” should be the mantra of conservatives. Don’t give up, don’t give in; and if we fail, then try again until we succeed.

Liberals are masters of the compromise. In foreign affairs, they’re willing to concede large swaths of political ground for minor gains. For example, they assure a nuclearized Iran in 10 years, for little more than the appearance of having achieved a great deal for the U.S. But when it comes to domestic affairs, it’s just reversed. They will concede hardly anything in exchange for massive concessions from Republicans. This art is obviously a learned trait, and one that has thus far eluded conservatives. Until they can learn to at least meet halfway on issues of principle, conservatives will forever be the political doormats in American politics. Acquiescing and caving totally to the left not only emboldens the left, but it alienates conservatives from their political base and ideological constituency.

Granted, part of the left’s success in this regard is due to the fact that they have the media to advance their narrative. When Congress presents a budget, and the president threatens to veto it, liberals and the media all blame Congress if the government is shut down for not presenting a budget the president can sign. If it’s vetoed, the president shut government down, not Congress! Conservatives must learn to control the narrative, and shape the story in a way that ascribes blame where it belongs. President Reagan was able to do this, even without the alternative media that’s available today.

The left is organized, mobilized and energized at the grassroots level in such a way as to capitalize on technology and social media. Conservatives have come closer to creating a genuine grassroots organization with the emergence of the Tea Party. But even that is fragmented, sometimes regionalized, and parochial in nature. Until conservatives learn to master grassroots organization and mobilization, we’ll always be playing second fiddle.

Conservatives tend to be more defensive and reactionary, rather than aggressively proactive. We have constitutional principles – American principles – as our ideological foundation. Rather than sitting back and defensively trying to protect and preserve them, we’ve got to learn to be proactively advancing and bolstering them. Just as in sports, defense alone can’t win a game. There’s got to be an offense scoring points in order to win.

Liberals don’t seem to care how liberal their fellow ideologues are. They just care if they claim to be liberals, and if they subscribe to their broad dogma. Conservatives are often too consumed with whether one is “conservative enough,” or a “true conservative.” Consequently, we spend more time fighting amongst ourselves, pointing fingers, making accusations, and casting aspersions than we do in fighting the real enemies of liberty. A house divided against itself cannot stand; and as long as conservatives engage in this internal civil war, we will remain our own worst enemies. We can only succeed when we’re united.

George Washington claimed, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” America’s plant is withering; and if we’re to save it, we need to start working proactively together as freedom’s stewards.

Martin Luther King And His Far-Reaching Impact

Some people take umbrage at the fact that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has a holiday dedicated to his remembrance while none of our founders, or even presidents, do.

I am not among them. In many ways, MLK epitomizes the founding principles the nation was based on, for they, along with his theological convictions, comprised his core belief system.

As we celebrate the 87th anniversary of his birth, acknowledgement of his contributions to civil rights and peaceful demonstration for just causes is just a portion of what the man represented. His insights on freedom, work, selflessness and morality apply equally to all Americans, regardless of political orientation, race or creed.

Perhaps that was the key to his enduring legacy – not just that he advanced civil rights, but that he taught and expounded precepts that transcended the great social divide of his time. Perhaps there is as much for us to learn from those teachings in transcending and bridging the divisions of our time.

To him, everything revolved around freedom. “I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom,” King said. “Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.”

This may seem ostensibly a self-evident truth, but the concept is increasingly foreign to too many of us as we look continually to government for solutions, at the expense of individual liberty to choose and act.

He also stated, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” When we realize much of what’s done in the name of government is oppressive to freedom, it’s increasingly evident as an electorate we must rise up in opposition to freedom-inhibiting laws and regulations, and demand redress.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom,” King declared on another occasion. Individual and universal freedom was everything to him, without regard to ethnicity or other contradistinction. He advocated freedom, as opposed to government programs that diminish the freedom to build, achieve, to be rewarded for those achievements, and to succeed.

He often talked about how critical it was for all Americans to have a job. To him, a good job was ennobling and built character. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence,” King said. A working society was a free society, for without work, one becomes the ward of the state and loses their individual freedom to become and do.

He was critical of those whose entire focus was on themselves and their own self-interests. And he made no distinction between the personal and the private, the political and the individual. Said King, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” And as if to underscore this notion, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Clearly those who engage in identity politics for their personal aggrandizement are not looking at the greater good for society and America.

He always emphasized doing, and acting on principles. It wasn’t enough to echo the refrains of freedom; one had to work for them. And at times he seemed to echo the sentiments of Edmund Burke, the English philosopher who said, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

King’s version was, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” How can one claim ownership of great precepts, and not be willing to act on them?

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Clearly, to King, all lives matter.

The Rev. King was a highly principled man, driven by truths and fundamental values. He referred often to those values. “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.” Some of those values were the very foundational principles upon which the nation was founded, that he found lacking in their application to all American equally.

He was not a perfect man. None are. Yet he advanced a commitment to “moral foundations” and “spiritual control” which he saw as critical for society as a whole, and can only be accomplished by each of us dong our part.

I think he would concur with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a great student of history, who declared, “History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster.”

Although an icon of the civil rights movement, King was not single-dimensional. He called upon all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religious convictions, or socio-economic status to do their part for the benefit of society and the country. It’s wholly fitting to have a holiday dedicated to his memory and teachings. And the nation would be better off if more effort were expended in adherence to his precepts.

 

Independent Voters, America Needs You!

The final word to escape the lips of William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame was “Freedom!”

The scene still sends chills down my spine, and arouses a profound sense of gratitude for the freedoms we have in America, even with their gradual erosion that we’ve witnessed over the past 240 years. Just as William Wallace was willing to give his all for freedom, Republicans in America are generally committed to the ideological foundation of our republic: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We implore independent voters to side with the cause of liberty and individual freedom.

With that said, the Republican Party is no more monolithic than the Democrat Party is. There are elements within both parties that are more or less conservative or progressive. Those of us who are more conservative align ourselves ideologically with the classical liberals of the 18th century who founded this nation, again based on the Lockean Creed and embedded in our founding documents. These are the principles that have made America unique, and it is our conviction that this legacy must be perpetuated for the republic and American exceptionalism to survive.

As classical liberals, we acknowledge that the more government grows and encroaches into our individual lives, the more our individual freedom and liberty is diminished. It was this principle that Benjamin Franklin referred to when he stated, “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”

While we acknowledge the need for some security as a safety net for a certain percentage of the population,  and the ability to achieve or fail develops character and is good for all, individually as well as collectively as a society. Consequently, we resist expansion of government power and incursion into, and control over, our lives.

We believe that in a representative republic, we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that our elected officials are beholden to the will of the people to act in our collective best interests, rather than catering or pandering to select groups or special interests.

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted saying, “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” While the attribution may be in question, the logic isn’t.

We maintain the Constitution purposefully delineates the limited powers of government in order to maximize individual freedom and liberty. Consequently, we are supportive of the constitutional functions of government, and logical and progressive levels of taxation in order to support them. We support logical, protective regulation, but reject centralized planning and government intrusion into every aspect of our lives at the expense of our liberty.

We are supportive of rational levels of taxation to pay for the services we demand of government, but acknowledge the factual consequences of diminished return the higher taxes are. And as the former Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Christina Romer has proven, for every $1 collected in taxes, there is a diminution of GDP (Gross Domestic Production) output of $3. Taxes, then, should be kept as low as possible to maximize growth of the economy and provide us individually with maximum financial freedom.

We want the economy to grow, not just for the improvement of our station in life, but because we need more than 120,000 new jobs created each month just to keep pace with population expansion. And more than that is needed to start picking up the gap of those who are underemployed, who, based on the Department of Labor’s U-6 report, currently stands at 10 percent.

This kind of job expansion can only occur with a healthy, thriving private sector, that rather than being demonized by Washington and inflicted with senseless regulation and micromanagement by government bureaucrats, is fostered and facilitated by prudent policy and regulation. Ronald Reagan said, “The best welfare program is a job,” to which we would qualify further, a “good” job.

We adhere to fundamental fiscal principles, that the government should be beholden to the same financial restraints that we as individuals are, and that we shouldn’t spend what we don’t have. We maintain it’s illogical to presume that spending two times more than you receive in income or revenue is sustainable and that unrestrained spending threatens to bankrupt the nation and raze the republic.

We believe in free market economies, not only because they work, but because they afford the most freedom to hard-working Americans. Government can serve a legitimate role in protection of citizens and their property, but should not have power to micromanage our health care, energy use, or commercial activities.

Thomas Jefferson succinctly stated, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.” We hold that to be a self-evident truth.

Right now we have a federal government that is neither wise nor frugal, but to that end we strive for a reversal at the national level, and an improvement in state and local government as well. To effect such change, it is imperative that independents consider not just the personalities of presidential and congressional candidates, but the broad principles at the base of their ideologies.

If the republic is to survive as intended, it will be because a majority of the 39 percent of independent voters decide that it’s worth saving, and then vote accordingly. We would invite a thorough examination of the issues and the candidates, and a resolve to make logical, cogent decisions on how to vote that will facilitate a return to common sense governance, and a resurgence of commitment to the principles upon which the nation was founded.

America’s founding principles made her great; she can be so again!