Skip to content

Meet Merrick B. Garland

March 26, 2016
by

By Emma Haskell ’19 – Inside Politics participant

 

In the midst of one, if not most exciting and unpredictable, Presidential races in history, the race just got a bit more exciting. On March 16, 2016, Obama announced his nomination for the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States (SCOTUS): Merrick B. Garland. Garland could potentially fulfill the current vacancy on the court after the untimely passing of Justice Scalia on February 13, 2016, at the age of 79 at a resort in Texas. Born and raised in Illinois, Garland went to Harvard Law School where he would graduate summa cum laude. He has served for nineteen years on the D.C Circuit Court, which is, according to CNN, “often considered as the nation’s second most important court.”  His veteran federal status and immense credentials for this position however, can not trump his evident centrist record in the eyes of the Republican-controlled Senate, which hold a check on the executive branch by having the ability to accept or reject the President’s nominee for the respected appointment. A liberal majority has not been present in the Supreme Court since the Warren Court ended in 1969 and Republicans are not happy about the potential change of this lifetime appointment. The pressing question that lingers the polarized political atmosphere is whether or not the current residing President should have the power to select the next Justice or if it should be left to the results of the unforeseeable Presidential election of 2016, arguing that the people need to decide.

Now Republicans and Democrats are left butting head to head, which is unfortunately an often occurring issue in today’s partisan politics, as many Republican Senators remain steadfast in their attempts to strike down the president’s nominee. A shift in the Supreme Court majority means new outcomes to the widely debated topics of today such as immigration, campaign finances, abortion and so on. Therefore, consequently the Republican Senate is left checking Obama’s actions. Republicans will continue to argue that this is not a personal issue but rather it simply comes to ideology. That being said some Senators of the GOP do agree to meet with Garland despite that many steadily remain behind McConnell’s attempts to barricade this vacancy and “appropriately revisit the matter” when there is a nomination for the next president. The handful of Republicans Senators willing to meet with Garland shows an immense progress in our country’s legal system as it offers a glimpse of compromise between the red and blue. However, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York forewarns the issue that “If Merrick Garland can’t get bipartisan support, no one can.”

That all being said action will have to be taken soon in the upcoming lame duck months. Republican senators continue to stand still in their opposition to Obama’s pick and will continue to do so despite some concerns that if they don’t accept this nomination now, and a Democratic candidate is to win the election, then the nominee will only lean further to the left. Regardless change is inevitably on the horizon and whomever the new appointment will be will cause foreseeable shifts in the ideology of the SCOTUS. Now only time will tell and if it is anything like the current Presidential debate, who knows what will happen next?

 

 

Why People Are Voting for Donald Trump

March 24, 2016

Kira Gabriel ’19 – Inside Politics Participant

 

For all his bravado and bluster, presidential candidate and possible Republican nominee Donald Trump does not actually say much. Instead of presenting any substantive ideas, policies, or reforms, Trump tends to state unsubstantiated and baseless problems. In a speech last June, Trump alleged, “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them.” Rather than offering facts or figures to bolster his claims, Trump has the tendency to simply restate his previous sentiments, often without even rephrasing.

The solutions to the unfounded problems he presents often are just as lacking for a basis in reality. Famously, Trump promised to build a wall on the United State’s southern border, stating, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.” Nowhere in that statement, and indeed in many of his statements, was there any actual plan or solution.

On December 7th, Trump released a statement that called “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” In a speech regarding his position, Trump stated, “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension.” He essentially said himself that this opinion was not based in any fact, rather that the fact was just “obvious”.

However, Donald Trump is not selling pragmatic reform, nor is he offering political progress- he is offering quite the opposite. Staunchly, Trump stands against politicians and the established political systems. He is even bankrolling his own campaign, a key point to his operation. Trump, during his speech announcing his candidacy, said, “Well, you need somebody, because politicians are all talk, no action. Nothing’s gonna get done… But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”

He is the candidate who will not sell out to corporations, nor politicians; he will not bend to foreign nations, the media, or even women. It is not important that the Economist stated that his wall plan would cost “$285 billion, by one estimate—roughly $900 in new taxes for every man, woman and child”, nor is it relevant that his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the country is entirely unconstitutional. The fact that Trump’s companies declared bankruptcy four times and part of his speech was used in an ISIS video seems to be insignificant. Facts are irrelevant. The strong support for Trump is a deeply emotional reaction, where logic is trivial.

Donald Trump has managed to tap into a population of disenfranchised voters who feel left behind by recent shifts in society. The fear of terrorism and frustrations regarding unemployment, have translated into racism and xenophobia- something Trump plays right into. He also offers a strong pushback against the recent societal movement towards a more politically correct discourse, stating, “We can’t worry about being politically correct.”

Trump, like all good salesmen, is selling an idea. His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” suggests that as a nation, we can return to our former glory. However, he conveniently forgets the racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and economic miseries that plagued America’s past – and may again come in November.

 

Rallied and Angry: Trump vs. Sanders

March 22, 2016

Abby Bull ’16 – Women in Leadership participant

If posed with two quotes, one from Donald Trump and one from Bernie Sanders, could you tell the difference? Sure, some might say, they have completely different philosophies when it comes to many social issues including gay rights and abortion. Trump says that gay marriage is not his “thing” while Sanders has supported it for many years. However, Sanders and Trump are very similar in many other respects leading to specific social, economic, and political followings by the general public. It could be said that the two politicians are practically the same entity in how they present their issues and how they discuss the future of the United States. For instance, take these two quotes, one from Sanders and one from Trump,

 

“I am angry and the American people are angry.”

“And I can say oh I’m not angry … I am very angry because our country is being run horribly”

 

Who said which? The two quotes are practically identical except for the slightly aggressive nod at the government in the bottom statement. The top quote is of Bernie Sanders in Clinton, Iowa and the bottom is Donald Trump during the Republican presidential debate on Fox Business Network on January 14th, 2016. The message in each statement is the same and it is a message that resonates soundly with the American people. Each candidate is calling for radical change in the governing of our country. They are anti-establishment to their core. The battle cries for Sanders and Trump are one in the same; the main difference is who they blame.

The main distinction between Sanders and Trump is that Sanders is angry about the social and economic state of the United States and aiming his anger at the unequal distribution of wealth that seems to plague the United States.  Conversely, Trump takes the exact opposite position stating that the main problems rooted in society are due to the immigrants, refugees and citizens on welfare, many of whom want to work and gain some small semblance of decent life in our country.

From this distinction between Sanders and Trump, it is easy to understand the differences between citizens who support either candidate strongly. Many Sanders supporters have accumulated significant debt from going to university or have a fear of repeal for Obamacare. They see the government and big banks as the enemy and rally around Sanders for publically criticizing banks’ interest rates and the refusal of a democratic socialist system to pay for services such as education and healthcare. On the Republican side, many Trump supporters are blue collar and many have lost or have the risk of losing their jobs as companies move overseas. As a direct result, many of Trump’s supporters blame the individuals who have taken their jobs in Mexico or other nations for creating more obstacles in the way of reaching the American dream.  Consequently, they then become angrier when other individuals are unemployed because they are using government economic assistance while seemingly taking the money out of their hands.

In the end, both Sanders and Trump have appealed to the same emotions in the American people. The feelings of anger and frustration are geared towards a system where each side visualizes a solution that the government is not working towards. But still, the problem remains in deciding which candidate is angry for the right reasons or if both candidates should be discarded for a calmer, establishment candidate that will keep the country headed in the right direction.

Where Do the Presidential Candidates Stand On Gun Control?

March 21, 2016

Nicholas Fronsaglia ’19 – Inside Politics Participant

According to Mass Shooting Tracker, in 2015 there were 372 mass shootings (a shooting where four or more people were shot and/or killed, excluding the shooter), resulting in 475 deaths and 1,870 injuries. These numbers have brought gun violence and control to the forefront of American politics. Both Republicans and Democrats are taking strong sides for and against stricter gun regulation to try and prevent these numbers from getting worse in the future. These discussions have brought the highly debated Second Amendment into hot contention. Public outcry has been pushing for strict regulations on gun ownership and purchasing, whereas groups such as the National Rifle Association have been standing strong for the protection of their right to bare arms. Each candidate has taken their own side on the issue, making it an issue that voters are paying attention to as election season heats up. Here are the views of the current Presidential candidates:

 

Donald Trump:

Trump takes the stance that it is not the guns that are killing people. He believes we should be worried about people who have access to guns and also have mental health issues. He believes that we should still have the freedom to own guns but agrees that mentally unstable individuals are the main issue behind mass shootings.  He deflects the problems of background checks, illegal gun sales, and loopholes in the system to the fact that mass shooters are mentally unstable. Trump is also a strong believer that regulations are useless because gun violence is inevitable.

 

Ted Cruz: 

Cruz takes the far-right view summarizing that Obama is coming for our guns and if we do not stand by our Second Amendment Rights, then all firearms will be lost. Cruz believes that the Second Amendment is the greatest protection from government tyranny. In April of 2013, Cruz voted against banning of high capacity magazines, or magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets at a time.

 

Hillary Clinton:

Clinton has a long history of pro-gun regulation. She is seen as an ally for the pro-gun regulation advocates. One of her major points is that the gun manufactures should be held responsible for what their products are capable of. She also believes that strict regulations will help keep children safer. Clinton attempts to appease both sides by stating there is an explicit difference between simply halting all gun use and keeping guns away from the people who wish to do harm with them. Finally, she also wants to allow states to have the ability to make their own gun laws.

 

Bernie Sanders: 

Similar to Clinton, Sanders also wishes that gun manufacturer immunity be reversed. He wants there to be instant background checks upon purchase that would not allow the sale of guns to those with criminal records or those who are deemed unstable to own a gun. One of Sanders biggest issues with the sale of guns is the gun show loophole which allows those who might not have been able to get their gun from a retailer to acquire it in the form of a private sale. Sanders is also a very strong supporter in banning semiautomatic guns. Sanders is considered an “F” voter by the NRA meaning he has a pro-gun control voting record.

 

 

With constant gun violence across the country, gun control is something all voters are looking at as election day quickly approaches. Each candidate has taken their side and only the voters will be able to choose which candidate has the best plan to stop the current rate of mass shootings.

Being A Woman, Being A Lawyer, and Being Real

March 20, 2016

Maranda Moyer ’19 – Women in Leadership Participant

 

Take a moment and pause. Picture in your head a lawyer speaking in front of a court room. What did you see? Do you see a judge, a legal pad, a freshly ironed suit, and a strong confident lawyer?  Now focus in on the lawyer, is it a man or a woman? Throughout United States history, many professional careers are still seen as roles needed to be filled by men. These careers are commonly ones in politics, business, sports, media, science, and law. Gender equality in the work force is slowly evolving as women are achieving careers in various fields, but have yet to reach a point where women can be content.

Law is the complex and intricate backbone to the United States, requiring inputs from both men and women. The American Bar Association is dedicated to improving the law profession, eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, and advancing the rule of law. Each year the American Bar Association collects information regarding the demographics of licensed lawyers. The 2015 National Lawyer Population Survey discovered that 52.2% of students enrolled in law school are men and 47.8% are women. This statistic is empowering due to the fact that women are perusing advanced education, fairly equally, in order to obtain professional careers. Despite this great advance, the American Bar Association also found in the same 2015 study that 67% of practicing lawyers are men, and 33% are women. This is a 34% gap, as men make up a majority of lawyers in the United States. As an aspiring lawyer, this is disheartening as it brings up questions as to why these qualified women are being cut short of acquiring jobs as lawyers. Sadly, the answer goes back to the opinion that men are more suited for these types of professional careers. The solution to this problem is to increase exposure of women in law to society.

One program dedicated to providing college boys and girls with experience in the courtroom, is the American Mock Trial Association. AMTA creates a case each year and creates affidavits and evidence that will have to be deciphered in order to prove an innocent or guilty sentence. Colleges then form teams assigning witness and lawyer roles. The college teams then compete against each other at competitions in different regions of the United States. AMTA is beneficial for all students planning on attending law school, and desire a career as an attorney. This includes women and allows them to gain experience in a courtroom and compete with men. AMTA also allows men and women to gain public speaking skills and increase their confidence. I was fortunate enough to compete and represent Gettysburg College in the 2016 AMTA regional competition in Baltimore, Maryland on February 26th and 27th. I was exposed to court etiquette and real life interactions between a judge and a lawyer. Programs like AMTA provide women with the chance to exhibit that they obtain the same skills as men, and can successfully compete in a typical “male” environment.

In order for women to be hired in these professional settings, their abilities need to be exposed as equal to that of man’s. Women experience gender inequality in many work fields, law being one. These inequalities only motivate women to break down these barbaric ideas and to prove themselves to society. We are not okay with a 34% gap. However, a change requires women gaining skills and confidence through programs like the American Mock Trial Association. Women will continue to advance and dissolve societal barriers, in order to achieve true gender equality. In the words of Hillary Clinton “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you [women], it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.”

Can Isis’ Acts Be Labeled as Genocide?

March 19, 2016

Brooke Matthews ‘19 – Women in Leadership Participant

-The Meaning of This Designation and How It Could Affect the Presidential Election-

Recently, the Obama Administration has been challenged by lawmakers and religious activists to label the attacks carried out by ISIS in Iraq and Syria as genocide. Genocide is defined as the systematic and deliberate killing of a large group of people who belong to a specific nationality or ethnic group. Advocates for religious freedom desire that the United States classify ISIS’ acts as genocide, based on the brutal attacks that ISIS has carried out on the Yazidis in Iraq and the horrific beheadings they have carried out on Christians. The Yazidis are a religious and ethnic group in Iraq, who descend from the region’s most ancient roots. They face executions by ISIS members for a reputation as “devil-worshippers.” Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious group have been brutally attacked by members of ISIS, including one man who shared how ISIS killed his father, his uncles, and kidnapped 25 of his relatives including the women. Many other Yazidi victims have claimed that the reason the Islamic State targeted them was because of their religious affiliation. ISIS has also, on many occasions, threatened victims to either convert to Islam or be killed. Yazidis are not the only victims however, many Christian advocacy groups claim that Christians are victims of ISIS killings as well. There have been many horrific beheadings of Christians from Ethiopia and Egypt, and ISIS propaganda has explicitly proclaimed waging war on Christians.

There is no doubt that the various beheadings, crucifixions, and murders committed by ISIS have been utterly atrocious, but are their actions considered genocide? There has been a lot of discussion, both inside the White House and the State Department, about the moral and legal consequences that could come with labeling these killings as genocide. One positive that would come with the label “genocide” is that it would increase the ability for the United States to grant asylum for the victims of ISIS. This is because the victims would easily be able to argue that they are clearly being targeted based on their religion. However, this designation could also become very complicated, because it would raise questions about what the United States and other nation’s obligation it is to give refugees from Iraq and Syria a home. It would also spark questions about a possible increase in U.S. military engagement in the region, since genocide would require not only military involvement but humanitarian aid as well. Classifying ISIS’ acts as genocide would not only create these complications, but will also affect the 2016 presidential election.

If the White House and the State Department decided to come out and distinguish these acts as genocide—during the last year of President Obama’s term—the repercussions that will occur will fall in the hands of the following president. This is crucial because if the next President is a Democrat they will have a very different way of handling the situation than if the next President is a Republican. If we take the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for example, she would most likely support granting thousands of refugees asylum in the United States, while also diplomatically negotiating with other countries concerning the amount of refugees they could take in. It would also not be surprising if she eventually called for military action in the region to help protect victims and safely transport them to areas of asylum. On the other hand, if we take Republican candidate Donald Trump for example, his plan for handling the ‘genocide’ caused by ISIS in Iraq and Syria would be very different from Hillary Clinton’s plan. He would most likely disregard the idea of diplomatic negotiations and would instead immediately place full-force military action in the region. He would rather view the immediate problem as getting rid of ISIS all together with acts of war, instead of granting new homes and peace for the thousands of victims. This is because Donald Trump has a stringent immigration policy consisting of building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants and also ISIS victims that could be a potential threat to our nation. Therefore under his policy, the United States would not grant asylum to the refugees of Iraq and Syria.

Although these are only two of the current presidential candidates, it is still easy to say that each party, in general, would tackle the issue of the ISIS genocide differently. Not only would labeling ISIS’ repulsive acts as genocide make an impact for the victims who are desperately seeking asylum, but it would also make an impact on our country’s involvement in the situation. The biggest impact comes from whom our citizens choose to elect as our next president, because depending on their party’s—as well as individual—policy platform, our country may either gain thousands of new members or be engulfed into another war.

Prisoners of Habit: The Case for Criminal Justice Reform

March 19, 2016

Abby Tootell ’17 – Women in Leadership

In a country that promotes such high standards of living for its citizens, our prison system has proven itself to be counteractive to American culture. Prisons are designed to house convicted criminals in order to protect society from the potential threat of the inmates as well as give them opportunities to reconstruct their lives, through education, drug-treatment, and other occupational programs. In fact, inmate efforts produce nearly 100% of all US military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, and other clothing and equipment for soldiers. However, since 1980, there have been two dangerous trends in the prison industry that have jeopardized the goals of the correctional system; overcrowding and privatization as well as required American’s immediate attention.

There are nearly two million inmates in federal, state, and private prisons across the country. This represents a 50% increase in federal inmates since 2000 and an 800% increase since 1980, putting the federal prison system at 30% above capacity at the expense of inmates.  Associated problems with this overcrowding include double- and even triple-bunking as well as increased inmate-to-staff ratios, both of which are associated with prison violence, risking the safety of both inmates and security officers. Furthermore, with each incident of misconduct comes increases in the sentences of involved inmates, cyclically contributing to the overcrowding problem. Reconstructive programs, including those related to education, drug treatment, and work experience, have become limited and even turned to wait lists to control overwhelming demand. Without these important programs, inmates are not as able to make changes in their lives and develop personally so as to be productive members of society when they are released, defeating one of the two purposes of prison sentences. In terms of the other goal of incarceration, protecting the public, former Attorney General Eric Holder has gone on the record saying that increases in incarceration rates and sentences do not lead to improved public safety, decreased crime rates, or stronger communities. This overcrowding epidemic presents dangerous risks with little to no benefits, and yet it is widely ignored by the public. As Americans, how did we allow our citizens to face such abuse, and what can we do to fix it?

The American Civil Liberties Union identifies four major flaws in the prison system that have brought the country to this problem. First is the highly-unsuccessful War on Drugs. While failing to cause noteworthy decreases in drug use, all the money the United States has spent trying to control the drug industry has increased the number of drug-related convictions. This is not necessarily a bad trend until one considers that many of these convictions come from possession of small amounts of drugs that are not worthy of prison sentences. Additionally, mandatory minimum sentences have set standards for prison sentences for specific crimes without consideration to individual factors. This has taken away the ability for judges to use their expertise to give fair sentences to convicts and has caused longer prison sentences. Hundreds of thousands of inmates have been incarcerated strictly because, although they poise no dangerous threat, they were unable to pay a fine or were convicted of a nonviolence offense. In these cases, inmates are not a concern to the safety of the community and can be equally helped without incarceration, such as through probation or electric monitoring systems, without putting the strain on our prisons. On a similar note, there are several problems that are best addressed without the involvement of the criminal justice system at all. Mental illnesses, substance abuse, and homelessness cannot be solved through prison time and require more serious attention through personal treatment and support. By ending the war on drugs, eliminating mandated minimum sentences, avoiding prison sentences when convicts are not a security threat, and building up programs to treat certain problems, the prison population would be dramatically reduced while maintaining public safety and supporting inmates.

The second alarming trend in this industry is the privatization of prisons, or the government outsourcing of prison control to private, for-profit companies who manage security and other daily operations. The fundamental problem with this, however, is that these companies are strictly interested in profits, and they earn a set income based on the number of prisoners they house. Therefore, prison companies sacrifice human rights in order to lower costs and increase profits. The largest of these companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) earns over 1.7 billion dollars annually, despite causing increases in both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-guard violence. They also have been accused of fraud in the form of billing states for incomplete work. Despite these problems, however, the massive size of these companies gives them immense political power where they hire lobbyists to press for stricter sentencing guidelines and more corporate privacy. This is especially dangerous because it shifts the focus of the legislature from the best interests of the prisoners to the best interests of the private companies at the expense of inmates. These sacrifices are inhumane and unacceptable for our country. We must prioritize the well-being of our inmates if we expect them to reintegrate into society.

Fortunately, prison reform has recently gained bipartisan support. Recent initiatives in Congress have focused on sentence reform, such as reducing mandatory minimum sentences and allowing judges to give defendants sentences below the minimum. Other bills have proposed equalizing sentences for crack and powder cocaine and classifying some low-level felonies to misdemeanors. Another noteworthy bill sought to change the ways in which criminal records are sealed and expunged, which would allow former inmates and acquitted defendants to find jobs, satisfying an important goal of incarceration. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 proposed reduced penalties for repeat offenders and eliminate some mandatory life sentences. Several efforts have been successful, as the federal prison population dropped by 5,000 inmates in 2014, representing the first decline since 1980. It is these movements toward sentence reform as well as stricter regulations for private prison companies that will restore the goals of our prison system and the high standards it supports.