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Three Ring Circus

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by David Souter’s recent retirement, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, bringing her a step closer to becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor would become the first hispanic and the third woman to serve as a justice in the highest court of the land. I applaud her story and experience, and her ability to rise from an impoverished upbringing in the Bronx to now be considered for a high office. While her accomplishments are many, and her gender and ethnicity notable, I hope that these things together do not comprise the reasons for her nomination. I think it’s great to have a hispanic woman on the bench (not like in sports), but I think it would be reprehensible for her to be nominated only because she is a hispanic woman.

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Whether or not you support Sotomayor’s nomination, the path of her nomination to likely confirmation have brought up additional questions concerning the proper roles and interactions of the three branches of our government.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) was the only republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of Sotomayor’s confirmation. The vote would have passed without Graham, but he made a point of announcing his approval of Sotomayor’s ascencion. It is not Graham’s vote for Sotomayor that irks me, but his apparent reasons for doing so. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Graham said he understood why his Republican colleagues were voting against her nomination. But he said he judged her to be highly qualified, and he noted that Mr. Obama had won the presidential election and with it, the right to choose his own nominees.

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NPR quotes Graham as saying:

“My inclination is that elections matter and I’m not going to be upset with any of my colleagues who find that you’re a bridge too far,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “But President Obama won the election and I will respect that.”

Earlier, Graham said that “we lost, and President Obama won, and that ought to matter.”

I do not know Graham’s mind or heart, but his comments appear to infer that it doesn’t matter if he personally accepts or rejects Sotomayor’s nomination. As president, Obama’s pick should automatically be confirmed, according to Graham. Apparently the president won that right when he won the election.

I disagree.

To allow any president, republican or democrat, liberal or conservative, such sweeping power undermines the separation of powers outlined within the Constitution. Graham’s (and every other senator’s) true responsibility is not to confirm any  nominee the president selects, but to scrutinize and critique every nominee. And then to vote in favor of only those nominees who they feel will fully uphold the rule of law in protecting the people from each other, and from the needy tentacles of the federal government.

Consider this excerpt from Article II, Section 2

[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law:  (italics added).

Call me nitpicky, but this seems to one of those opportunities for the Legislative branch to check and balance the power of the Executive branch. But this only works when legislators understand their role question the choices of the president, no matter how much they like him.

Perhaps Graham (and many of his colleagues) would benefit from watching some SchoolHouse Rock. If you happen to know him, please pass this on.

To the Signers

DeclarationsignersB&WIn 1848, historian B.J. Lossing published a volume titled, “Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.” The book gives a biographical sketch on each of the 56 signers, as well as historical context of circumstances and times surrounding the event. We easily recognize the names and stories of many of these men (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, JOHN HANCOCK), but the majority are unfamiliar to us. Had I not been reading the book, I probably wouldn’t know any of their names.

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In memory of their acts and willing sacrifice, I pay tribute to all of these Founding Fathers. In the introduction to his book, Lossing writes of the events of August 2, 1776 (the day when all but John Hancock signed the document–he alone signed on July 4, 1776):

The signing of that instrument was a solemn act, and required great firmness and patriotism in those who committed it. It was treason against the home government, yet perfect allegiance to the law of right. It subjected those who signed it to the danger of an ignominious death, yet it entitled them to the profound reverence of a disenthralled people. But neither firmness nor patriotism was wanting in that august assembly. And their own sound judgment and descretion, their own purity of purpose and integrity of conduct, were fortified and strengthened by the voice of the people in popular assemblies, embodied in written instructions for the guidance of their representatives.

Such were the men unto whose keeping, as instrments of Providence, the destinies of America were for the time intrusted; and it has been well remarked, that men, other than such as these,–an ignorant, untaught mass, like those who have formed the physical elements of other revolutionary movements, without sufficient intellect to guide and control them–could not have conceived, planned, and carried into execution, such a mighty movement, one so fraught with tangible marks of political wisdom, as the American Revolution. And it is a matter of pride to the American people, that not one of that noble band who periled life, fortune, and honor, in the cause of freedom, ever fell from his high estate into moral degradation, or dimmed, by word or deed, the brightness of that effulgence which halos the DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE.

It takes more effort to read that prose than what I’m used to. However flowery and poetic, I don’t believe Lossing exaggerated in the least regarding the noble nature of those men. In fact, a modern prophet’s experience teaches us just how honorable these men were:

I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. Genereal Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.

Another thing I am going to say here, because I have a right to say it. Every one of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to hte ordinance of the House of God fo them…Would those spirits have called upon me, as an Elder in Israel, to perform that work if they had not been noble spirits before God? They would not.

(Wilford Woodruff. April, 1888. See Just & Holy Principles, pg. 35)

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Our nation has reached another historical milestone. Yesterday, the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington D.C. was dedicated by…by…well, I don’t know because apparently that’s not important enough to report on, note that it’s equally unimportant to report to whom the center was dedicated. But I digress.

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Inside the Capitol rotunda

At a cost of $621 million dollars, this 580,000 square foot structure is regarded by some to be a stylistically degrading alteration to the aesthetics of the entire Capitol area. Read the linked story to see what I mean. But alteration or not, the center was necessary. Just ask Sen. Harry Reid. Check out the following from my favorite Washington Post satirist.

“In the summertime, because of the high humidity and how hot it gets here, you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid said at yesterday’s much-delayed opening of the Capitol Visitor Center. “Well, that is no longer going to be necessary.”

Indeed not. Now the unwashed masses will have climate-controlled toilets, an eatery and a gift shop, in a temple of marble, granite, bronze and cherry.

Crazy old Sen. Reid…always good for a laugh. Too bad I doubt his comment was made entirely in jest. I love the way our elected representatives take jabs at the way their constituents smell, because apparently, senators don’t ever have body odor, especially in stately buildings. It’s also amusing to me, in a sad head-shaking way, that what was once known as the People’s House is now more off limits to the people. But at least we can find consolation in the a state of the art visitors center which nearly prevents us from visiting the site itself.

Emancipation Hall in the new underground CVC

Emancipation Hall in the new underground CVC

The new visitor center has 26 restrooms and enough room (in the center itself, not the restrooms) for 4,000 visitors at a time. If that doesn’t make you want to visit our Capitol City, I don’t know what will.

The center also has two theaters that provide a cinematic introduction to the Capitol and a 16,500-foot exhibition hall full of historic documents and displays. Among them are Thomas Jefferson‘s justification for funding the Lewis and Clark expedition, George Washington‘s letter informing Congress of the victory at Yorktown and a ceremonial copy of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Ok, that part is cool. And the fact that there’s a statue of Philo T. Farnsworth.

One more quote from the Washington Post:

Thus was consecrated a sacred monument to the American tourist’s need to eat lunch and use the restroom. Participants prayed for the visitor center. “Breathe your spirit into this space, that amid the busy life and important work of government, visitors may always find here a gracious welcome and abiding peace,” offered Daniel Coughlin, the House chaplain. “Lord, we’re grateful for the official opening of this beautiful visitors center, and for the sacrifice, the service, the love and labor, that made this moment possible,” added Barry Black, the Senate chaplain.

My, what sacrifice was made for this addition! $621 million in taxpayer money (the original plan called for $71 million). Having waited in the long line in Washington’s sweltering summer heat, and having added my own aroma to the collective stench of the citizens, this is one sacrifice I personally would’ve been willing to forgo.

I saw this in my Google Reader from the LDS Newsroom feed this morning:wirthlinjb_04

SALT LAKE CITY | 2 Dec 2008 | Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, the oldest living apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last night, age 91. Elder Wirthlin had gone to bed at his Salt Lake City home, and died peacefully at about 11.30 pm of causes incident to age.

I immediately went to tell my wife. Here’s our conversation:
Me: Elder Wirthlin passed away last night.
My wife: I was thinking about that yesterday.
Me: Huh?
My wife: Yeah, I was looking at the picture of the First Presidency and thinking how young they are and that Elder Wirthlin is the oldest of the apostles now, and he might be the next to go.
Me: Great timing.
My wife: I hope it’s not my fault.

As a member of the Church, I’ve looked up to Elder Wirthlin (along with the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) for as long as I can remember. His conference talks didn’t always excite me. You know, sometimes the delivery of a speech by a an elderly man isn’t the most thrilling thing for a teenager. But when I learned to listen and appreciate the content of those talks, there was no going back. I found that I could relate to Elder Wirthlin. I loved his sense of humor! I loved his sense of duty. I loved his sense of love.

Of all the talks I’ve heard him give, perhaps the most unforgettable was his conference talk given in October 2007, titled, “The Great Commandment“.

Here was a great man of small stature teaching about the pure love of Christ and the power of that love when we make it a part of our lives. I remember Elder Wirthlin shaking like a mighty oak in an east wind–shaken, but not moved–with Elder Nelson standing by his side. It wasn’t just a talk about love, but his perseverance in delivering his talk was an example of love. I remember thinking then that it would be a wonderful last conference talk. I guess living like Elder Wirthlin lived, any talk he gave would be an appropriate last conference talk.

Elder Wirthlin was and is a giant in my eyes. Not for his size, but for his great capacity to love and convey that love.

In all things give thanks

Like nearly 10 million other Americans, I’m happy to be descended from Pilgrims. Of the 102 Mayflower passengers, only 53 lived through the first Winter after their off-course arrival near Plymouth, Mass.howland-overboard

John Howland is perhaps one of the most famous of the Mayflower passengers. He was a signer of the Mayflower Compact, and he and his wife Elizabeth Tilley lived through all of the trials of settling in the New Land. John almost didn’t make it to land as the voyage across the Atlantic very nearly ended his life as he was thrown overboard, due to turbulent seas, but managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely. Surely the Pilgrims had no idea as to what life would be like for their millions of descendants in the centuries to follow.

Some notable descendants of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley include Humphrey Bogart, George Bush, Barbara Bush, George W. Bush (go figure), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Gorham, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Joseph Smith. 13 generations separate me from John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley.

More on Thanksgiving later this week.

Chuck Norrised!

texas-rangerYes, folks. The ultimate authority has spoken. If only I had my own Walker, Texas Ranger lever next to my desk…

No kung fu here, but he has some good arguments in support of Prop 8. Citing many examples of backlash protests, Norris gives a great explanation of a PRO Prop 8 stance. Go get ’em Chucky! Excerpts below or read the full text here.

What’s wrong with this picture? Lots.

First, there’s the obvious inability of the minority to accept the will of the majority. Californians have spoken twice, through the elections in 2000 and 2008. Nearly every county across the state (including Los Angeles County) voted to amend the state constitution in favor of traditional marriage.

Nevertheless, bitter activists simply cannot accept the outcome as being truly reflective of the general public. So they have placed the brainwashing blame upon the crusading and misleading zealotry of those religious villains: the Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and especially Mormons, who allegedly are robbing the rights of American citizens by merely executing their right to vote and standing upon their moral convictions and traditional views.

What’s surprising (or maybe not so) is that even though 70 percent of African-Americans voted in favor of Proposition 8, protests against black churches are virtually nonexistent. And everyone knows exactly why: Such actions would be viewed as racist. Yet these opponents of Prop. 8 can protest vehemently and shout obscenities in front of Mormon temples without ever being accused of religious bigotry. There’s a clear double standard in our society. Where are the hate-crime cops when religious conservatives need them?

There were many of us who passionately opposed Obama, but you don’t see us protesting in the streets or crying “unfair.” Rather, we are submitting to a democratic process and now asking how we can support “our” president. Just because we don’t like the election outcome doesn’t give us the right to bully those who oppose us. In other words, if democracy doesn’t tip our direction, we don’t swing to anarchy. That would be like the Wild West, the resurrection of which seems to be happening in these postelection protests.

I agree with Prison Fellowship’s founder, Chuck Colson, who wrote: “This is an outrage. What hypocrisy from those who spend all of their time preaching tolerance to the rest of us! How dare they threaten and attack political opponents? We live in a democratic country, not a banana republic ruled by thugs.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of Proposition 8, it is flat-out wrong and un-American to intimidate and harass individuals, churches and businesses that are guilty of nothing more than participating in the democratic process. Political protests are one thing, but when old-fashioned bullying techniques are used that restrict voting liberties and even prompt fear of safety, activists have crossed a line. There is a difference between respectfully advocating one’s civil rights and demanding public endorsement of what many still consider to be unnatural sexual behavior through cruel coercion and repression tactics. One thing is for sure: The days of peaceful marches, such as those headed up by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seem to be long gone.

The truth is that the great majority of Prop. 8 advocates are not bigots or hatemongers. They are American citizens who are following 5,000 years of human history and the belief of every major people and religion: Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman. Their pro-Prop. 8 votes weren’t intended to deprive any group of its rights; they were safeguarding their honest convictions regarding the boundaries of marriage.

Amen and amen. You can always count on Chuck Norris.

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constitutionThe same way you would support a president you did vote for: with caution, questioning, acceptance, and respect. Whether you voted for someone or not, you ought to view their decisions with certain amount of healthy questioning. I’ve included a few quotes below to further explain what I mean.

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country…

“Every man who parrots the cry of ’stand by the President’ without adding the proviso ’so far as he serves the Republic’ takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the King could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent free man could take such an attitude.”

Author: Theodore Roosevelt. Works, vol. 21, pp.316, 321.

And one of my favorites:

God provided that in this land of liberty, our political allegiance shall run not to individuals, that is, to government officials, no matter how great or how small they may be. Under His plan our allegiance and the only allegiance we owe as citizens or denizens of the United States, runs to our inspired Constitution which God himself set up. So runs the oath of office of those who participate in government. A certain loyalty we do owe to the office which a man holds, but even here we owe just by reason of our citizenship, no loyalty to the man himself. In other countries it is to the individual that allegiance runs. This principle of allegiance to the Constitution is basic to our freedom. It is one of the great principles that distinguishes this `land of liberty’ from other countries.

Author: J. Reuben Clark, Source: Improvement Era, July 1940, p. 444

No matter the decision, political party or other persuasion of the president, our allegiance must lie with the Constitution on every issue.