When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined President Barack Obama for lunch in his private dining room in July 2013, the White House sought to keep the event quiet -- the meeting called for discretion.Obama had asked his White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, to set up the lunch so he could build a closer rapport with the justice, according to two people briefed on the conversation. Treading cautiously, he did not directly bring up the subject of retirement to Ginsburg, at 80 the Supreme Court's oldest member and a two-time cancer patient.He did, however, raise the looming 2014 midterm elections and how Democrats might lose control of the Senate. Implicit in that conversation was the concern motivating his lunch invitation -- the possibility that if the Senate flipped, he would lose a chance to appoint a younger, liberal judge who could hold on to the seat for decades.But the effort did not work, just as an earlier attempt by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who was then Judiciary Committee chair, had failed. Ginsburg left Obama with the clear impression that she was committed to continuing her work on the court, according to those briefed.In an interview a year later, Ginsburg deflected questions about the purpose of the lunch. Pressed on what Obama might think about her potential retirement, she said only, "I think he would agree with me that it's a question for my own good judgment."With Ginsburg's death last week, Democrats are in a major political battle, as Republicans race to fill her seat and cement the court's conservative tilt.Obama clearly felt compelled to try to avoid just such a scenario, but the art of maneuvering justices off the court is politically delicate and psychologically complicated. They have lifetime appointments and enjoy tremendous power and status, which can be difficult to give up.Still, presidents throughout American history have strategized to influence the timing of justices' exits to suit various White House priorities.President Donald Trump's first White House counsel, Donald McGahn II, the primary architect of the administration's success in reshaping the judiciary, helped ease the way for Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement in 2018, which allowed Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate to lock down his seat for another generation.McGahn sought to make the justice comfortable with the process by which a successor would be chosen, according to people briefed on their conversations, by seeking his advice on potential picks for lower-court vacancies and recommending that Trump nominate one of his former clerks, Neil Gorsuch, to fill an earlier vacancy. (Brett Kavanaugh, who McGahn recommended to fill Kennedy's seat, was also one of his clerks.)Justices, however, often bristle at any impingement of politics or other pressures in their realm. Robert Bauer, who served as Obama's White House counsel for part of his first term, said he recalled no discussions then of having Obama try to nudge Ginsburg to step aside. Bauer said asking a judge -- any judge -- to retire was hypersensitive, recalling how in 2005 he wrote an opinion column calling for Congress to impose judicial term limits and require cameras in the courtroom, only to have Justice Sandra Day O'Connor blast his column in a speech on threats to judicial independence."The O'Connor episode reflects the sensitivity that justices can exhibit toward pressure from the outside about how the court runs," Bauer said, including showing "resistance to any questions about how long they serve." He added: "White Houses are typically mindful of all this."Resistance aside, Democrats outside the White House also strategized about how to raise the topic of retirement with Ginsburg. Several senior White House staff members say they heard word that Leahy had gingerly approached the subject with her several years before the Obama lunch.He was then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees Supreme Court nominations; he also had a warm relationship with Ginsburg, a bond forged over their shared enjoyment of opera and visits to the Kennedy Center. Asked through a spokesman for comment, Leahy did not respond.One of the former Obama administration staff members who heard discussion of the roundabout outreach by Leahy was Rob Nabors, who served in a series of White House policy and legislative affairs positions under Obama from 2009 to 2014. But Nabors said he recalled hearing that "it wasn't clear that the message was entirely transmitted effectively, or that it was received in the manner it was delivered."While Obama's own talk with the justice was tactful, changing conditions should have made his implicit agenda clear, according to the two people briefed about the meeting, who spoke only on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the topic. Democrats were worried about the prospect of losing the Senate. And the president had invited no other justices to lunch.But the failure of that conversation convinced the Obama team that it was pointless to try to talk to her of departure. The next summer, when another Supreme Court term closed without a retirement announcement from her, the administration did not try again.Neil Eggleston, who became White House counsel in April 2014, said that he did not remember anyone proposing that another attempt to ease Ginsburg toward resignation would do any good."I think it is largely not done," he said. "Suggesting that to a Supreme Court justice -- she is as smart as anyone; she doesn't need the president to tell her how old she is and what her timelines are."Given his previous tenure as chief counsel to the Judiciary Committee, Justice Stephen Breyer might have been a more pragmatic target of overtures. Walter Dellinger, a former solicitor general, mentioned to the White House counsel's office during the Obama administration a plan he conceived to motivate Breyer, a known Francophile, to start a next chapter."My suggestion was that the president have Breyer to lunch and say to him, 'I believe historians will someday say the three greatest American ambassadors to France were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Stephen G. Breyer,'" recalled Dellinger, who recently joined former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign team.Although it is not clear how, word of Dellinger's idea made its way to Breyer.Dellinger said that when he ran into Breyer at a holiday party not long after Trump was elected, the justice pulled him aside. "So Walter," he asked, "do you still want to ship me off to France?" Dellinger, who sensed the justice was ribbing him, responded, "Mr. Justice, I hear Paris isn't what it used to be."Dellinger added that he now thought Breyer was correct to resist the idea, saying "he has made a tremendous contribution in the ensuing years." Breyer's office declined to comment.In making that suggestion to lure Breyer with an ambassador position, Dellinger was harking back to similar ideas from Lyndon B. Johnson, a master strategist. Johnson lured Justice Arthur Goldberg, who he wanted to replace with his friend Abe Fortas, off the court by offering him the role of ambassador to the United Nations, saying that he would have tremendous power in negotiating the end of the Vietnam War.Goldberg never did have that authority and regretted his decision. "I asked Goldberg, why did you leave the bench?" said Laura Kalman, professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He answered her in one word: "Vanity."Johnson also played on the paternal pride of the Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, by appointing his son, Ramsey Clark, attorney general in March 1967. Johnson, who wanted to replace Clark with Thurgood Marshall, played up the notion that his continued presence on the court while his son ran the Justice Department created a conflict of interest, and Clark stepped down that June.But presidents cannot force justices to leave the court. Franklin Roosevelt floated a plan to "pack" the court by expanding the number of justices in frustration because aging conservatives kept striking down his "New Deal" programs. President William Taft could not push out Justice Melville Fuller, whom he deemed senile after the justice bungled Taft's swearing-in, biographer David Atkinson wrote; Taft had to wait until Fuller died of a heart attack a year later. (In a book about Taft, Henry Pringle wrote "the old men of the court seldom died and never retired.")Democratic leaders had precious few cards they could have played as they contemplated their options with Ginsburg. She made it clear in several interviews that she had no intention to retire; widowed in 2010, she was devoted to her work, determined to have a voice and appreciated the platform her celebrity offered her as an icon liberals liked to call the "Notorious RBG."She was clearly annoyed at any public suggestions that she step down. In 2014, Erwin Chemerinsky, now dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote articles, appearing in The Los Angeles Times and Politico, declaring that for the long-term good of progressive values, Ginsburg should step aside to make way for a younger Obama appointee."It was certainly conveyed to me that she was not pleased with those who were suggesting that she retire," Chemerinsky said.Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, had also written a column in 2011 in The New Republic calling for Ginsburg and Breyer to step down immediately, suggesting that they should not stay on the court so long that they risked conservatives inheriting their seats."I didn't feel at all apologetic about saying something which frankly seemed to me quite clear," Kennedy said. "I've been praying -- praying -- that I'd be able to look back and say I was wrong. It didn't turn out that way."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
Four years ago on the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump pledged that if he were elected, only "pro-life" justices would get his nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court.
WASHINGTON -- When the top federal prosecutor in Washington recently accused local police of arresting protesters without probable cause, Attorney General William Barr stepped in.Barr, who has frequently voiced his support for police officers, brought in the U.S. attorney, Michael Sherwin, to meet with the chief of the Washington police and other top law enforcement officials, escalating the local dispute to the top of the Justice Department.The meeting grew heated, but ultimately, Sherwin backed down, according to three people familiar with the encounter. Barr told Sherwin to write a letter that said he had not meant to imply that the police had acted unlawfully. In a nod to Sherwin's original objection, the Washington police are working with prosecutors to identify video and other evidence to back up the arrests.The episode was an example of Barr's approach to running the Justice Department under President Donald Trump: an agenda that is squarely in line not only with the White House but also with the Trump campaign's law-and-order platform and assertions that Democrats have made the United States less safe. Critics argued that the department's norm of independence from politics, widely seen as an anticorruption measure that grew out of the post-Watergate era, was at risk.Barr has threatened legal action against Democratic leaders who sparred with the president over stay-at-home orders during the pandemic and echoed Trump's accusation that they were not tough enough on protesters during nationwide unrest over race and policing. He led federal agents who patrolled the streets of Washington against the wishes of the mayor. And this week, the Justice Department seemed to play into the president's efforts to undermine voting by mail, making an unusual disclosure about an investigation into nine discarded military mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.In public comments, Barr has expounded on topics outside of what recent attorneys general publicly discussed during an election, particularly his sharp critiques of Democrats and his grim pronouncements that they could destroy democracy. In a recent interview with a Chicago journalist, after acknowledging that he is not supposed to wade into politics but narrowly defining that as campaign appearances, Barr declared that the country would "go down a socialist path" if it elects former Vice President Joe Biden.Under Barr, the Justice Department is as close as it has been to the White House in a half-century, historians said. Not since John Mitchell steered the Nixon reelection effort from the fifth floor of the Justice Department has an attorney general wielded the power of the office to so bluntly serve a presidential campaign, they said."The norm has been that attorneys general try to keep the reputation of the department bright and shiny as a nonpartisan legitimate arm of the government that needs to be trusted by everyone," said Andrew Rudalevige, a history professor at Bowdoin College who studies the power of the presidency.A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Barr's defenders said he was simply applying his own judgment and any benefit to Trump's campaign was incidental."Barr does what, in his best judgment, is the right thing," said George J. Terwilliger III, who served as deputy attorney general under Barr during the first Bush administration. "If the president is a political beneficiary of that, he is a collateral beneficiary, not an intended one."In recent months, as two forces -- the spread of the coronavirus and protests over police killings of Black people -- dominated headlines, Trump sought to blame Democrats for fomenting civil unrest and contributing to it through their handling of the pandemic.The Justice Department, particularly the civil rights division, took aim at Democratic elected officials as well.The division threatened action against states with Democratic governors including Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and New Jersey for nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus. It did not similarly request information from Republican-led states like Idaho, Indiana, Iowa and New Hampshire, where nursing home deaths linked to the pandemic accounted for large proportions of deaths. (On Friday, the Massachusetts attorney general announced indictments of two former leaders of a veterans' home that was the site of an outbreak that the Justice Department has also investigated.)And when the president pressured Democratic governors to lift stay-at-home orders imposed to slow the spread of the virus, the division accused states led by Democrats, including Michigan, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maine, Illinois, Colorado and Washington, of harming the economy and unconstitutionally limiting church attendance.In a speech this month, Barr called the stay-at-home orders the biggest constraint on civil liberties since slavery, setting off a firestorm of criticism.Barr's language has also matched the president's on blaming far-left extremists for the violence at protests. The attorney general told CNN that Antifa, a loose collection of anti-fascist activists, is the "ramrod for the violence" in cities where crime has broken out during the protests.But the department has criminally charged multiple people who admitted affiliations with far-right and white supremacist groups. In a 4px集運倉地址 release on Thursday promoting more than 300 arrests in recent months stemming from the demonstrations, the department made no mention of their allegiances.As anti-racism protests swelled nationwide this year, the civil rights division told the city attorney's office in Seattle, where some residents had established a police-free zone for protesting, that it was exploring potential enforcement action against the city for allowing it, said Stephanie Formas, the chief of staff for Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat.The division requested 911 call data and a meeting with the Seattle Police Department to examine the city's handling of the protest zone, but the meeting never happened, Formas said.The notification came two days after Barr told Fox Business Network in June he might "have to do something" to challenge the autonomous area. A department spokeswoman said that the career lawyers in the division explored legal actions against Seattle officials on their own without prompting from Barr or Eric Dreiband, the head of the civil rights division.As protests wore on, Trump accused Democratic leaders of allowing violence to spiral out of control, labeling New York, Seattle and Portland as "anarchistic cities" and announcing with fanfare that he had asked Barr to determine whether they should lose their federal funding. This week, the Justice Department announced that Barr concluded that they should.The matter helped fuel the president's attacks on Democrats but changed little; Congress doles out federal funding, not the executive branch.Current Justice Department employees rarely publicly criticize it or the attorney general, but this week a federal prosecutor in Massachusetts criticized what he deemed the "unprecedented politicization of the office of the attorney general" and accused Barr of bringing shame on the department."The attorney general acts as though his job is to serve only the political interests of Donald J. Trump," James D. Herbert, the prosecutor, said in a letter to The Boston Globe. "This is a dangerous abuse of power."Barr is not the only Cabinet member to embrace Trump's campaign agenda in stark terms -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given speeches in swing states and participated in the Republican National Convention, casting aside a long-standing tradition that the country's top diplomat should steer clear of campaigning for the president.But the merging of their messaging with the president's campaign agenda stands out. "Trump's use of Cabinet members as campaign surrogates to this extent is new," Rudalevige said.Barr himself has long held a dim view of the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence. The White House under Republican presidents had become afraid to treat the Justice Department as fully under its purview, he said in a 2001 interview, allowing law enforcement officials to operate with an independence that eroded the power of the presidency. Barr has long espoused an unfettered view of executive authority.Republican administrations "took the view that the attorney general/Justice Department was special and different, and you didn't mess around with it, didn't intervene, you didn't interfere," he said of his first stint as attorney general during the George Bush administration.While all presidents promote the accomplishments of their administrations, Barr's view defied the norm of the past several decades where presidents and attorneys general have typically sought a separation between the White House and the Justice Department to preserve the appearance that justice is meted out fairly, regardless of political affiliation."What used to be, by design, independent legal decisions by the department are now carefully staged to maximize their political impact," said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. "It's one thing to take advantage of some of the Justice Department's work for political reasons, but to turn the department basically into a satellite office of the Trump campaign is incredibly damaging to any institutional independence that was left."Barr's approach, however, could represent a new era of closeness between the White House and the Justice Department. Biden, who has frequently criticized the Trump Justice Department, said this week that if he wins the election, he would consider bringing the department's civil rights division into the White House to give it more authority.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
South Carolina hasn't voted for a Democratic senator since 1998, but Graham faces a well-funded opponent and changing political tides.
“Enfranchising 16-year-olds would be good for them and good for our democracy.”
“At 16, most kids have little awareness of politics, civics, or American history.”
“Voting is habit forming...which underscores the importance of having as stable an environment as possible for the youngest voters.”
“Keeping the voting age at 18 is not a slap at 16-year-olds. It is recognition that an informed electorate is the best kind.”
“When young people’s participation lags badly, issues important to them receive short shrift in the public discourse.”