LOS ANGELES - This week, justice took center stage.
In Washington D.C., following last week’s passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the battle over her replacement began to heat up, as accusations of hypocrisy were lobbed from, and against, both sides.
In Louisville, Kentucky, after months of protests over the death of Breonna Taylor, the state’s Attorney General announced that one involved officer would be indicted, but not as a result of Taylor’s death, instead for endangering others.
To break those cases down, and more, Elex Michaelson is joined on The Issue Is by former California Senator Barbara Boxer, as well as a panel of powerful attorneys, Areva Martin, Harmeet Dhillon, and Jessica Levinson.
The conversation kicks off with Barbara Boxer, who represented California in Congress for 34 years, 10 in the House of Representatives, and from 1993 through 2017, in the Senate.
During Boxer’s first year in the Senate, she voted to confirm Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. That year, Justice Ginsburg was confirmed with a vote of 96-3.
“She meant a lot to the female Senators on both sides of the aisle,” Boxer said of Ginsburg. “She experienced so much discrimination… the fact that she understood what it feels like to be treated in an unequal fashion, having graduated at the top of her class, could not get a job in a top law firm, being told by the Dean of the law school ‘why are you here, you’re taking a spot up where men would have that seat,’ she carried in her heart the pain of that.”
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Boxer added that upon meeting Ginsburg during the 1993 confirmation process, she fell in love with the Justice-to-be immediately, not least because the two shared a similar background, both Jewish, both hailing from Brooklyn, and both standing at barely five-feet tall.
“It’s really impossible to describe the loss, because it’s like the loss of John Lewis” Boxer continued. “When you lose someone who really felt the stain of discrimination, you know that they have such authenticity that they can really change minds, and one of Ruth’s goals was to change minds, and she was able to do that.”
Boxer had less laudatory words for the woman likely to replace Ginsburg on the court, Amy Coney Barrett, a Federal Court of Appeals Judge from the 7th Circuit who, if confirmed, could spend decades on the High Court.
“It's like filling the seat of a Civil Rights icon with someone who, you know, really doesn't care about it,” Boxer said, noting that Barrett comes with the approval of The Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization focused on an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. “It’s a blow to all Americans.”
With less than 40 days until the November election, Boxer said she found it unbelievable, in fact, a betrayal, that Republicans were pushing forward with a nominee at all, especially given their response to the 2016 vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
As the battle over whether President Trump should nominate a new Justice rages on, many Democrats have proposed measure to combat a shifting ideological balance on the Court, proposals that range from statehood for Washington DC and/or Puerto Rico, term-limits for Supreme Court Justices, and increased calls to add Justices to the High Court’s bench.
Michaelson asked Boxer what she makes of the proposals.
“I’m not giving up that we can’t stop this, that’s number one. Number two, I agree with Chuck Schumer, everything should be on the table,” Boxer said. “When there’s a betrayal like this, you should look at everything.”
With justice front-and-center, Michaelson was next joined by an all-star panel of powerful attorneys, Areva Martin, Harmeet Dhillon, and Jessica Levinson.
As with Boxer, the conversation began with a discussion of the recent Supreme Court vacancy, and whether or not it is appropriate for President Trump to submit a nominee for consideration so close to an election.
“Absolutely it is, because it is not optional for the President to do his duty to fill that Supreme Court seat, and neither is it optional for the Senate to advise, consent, and move it if they consent,” Dhillon said, citing the historical precedent since the 1880s, that confirmations have only failed once when the party in control of the White House also controls the Senate.
Martin disagreed with Dhillon’s assessment of the President’s obligation to fill the seat.
“It was wrong for the Republicans to stop Merrick Garland from having a hearing and from being confirmed, that was a stolen seat by the Republicans,” Martin said. “And moving forward with this nomination will be a second stolen seat.”
Additionally, Martin said that should Republicans move forward with a confirmation, there will be a big price to pay at the polls, and should they lose, she hopes Democrats increase the size of the Court - a position which even Justice Ginsburg rejected, saying it would make the Court appear partisan.
Levinson, like Ginsburg, was skeptical of the idea of packing the court.
“I completely understand the desire, and the anger, and the motivation behind doing it,” Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said. “But it’s not an elegant solution to the problem here, because guess what, for all the people who don’t want a 6-to-3 majority of Conservatives, at some point there will be another Republican President, and then there will be even more seats to fill.”
Stressing the need to think long-term when making these large structural changes to the judiciary, Levinson suggested that one possible reform may be the application of term-limits to the Supreme Court, as well as staggering those terms, so that each President had a chance to nominate an equal number of Justices.
Levinson’s preferred judicial change would require a Constitutional Amendment.
Before wrapping up, the panel turned their focus to the events this week in Louisville, Kentucky, where the state’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced one indictment in the death of Breonna Taylor.
While none of the officers were charged with her death, one officer was charged with wanton endangerment for firing his gun into a neighboring apartment.
Martin expressed her dismay, not only with the decision, but with Cameron himself.
“This Attorney General lacks complete credibility with that community,” Martin said, referencing Cameron’s appearance at last month’s Republican National Convention. “An indictment of an officer for shooting bullets into an apartment building, but no indictment for the bullets that went into the apartment where Breonna Taylor was killed, basically sending the message to African Americans that property in this country has more value than a Black life.”
Dhillon pushed back, alleging that Martin’s depiction of the events was a distortion of how the process unfolds in a criminal case, noting that the decision to not pursue further indictments did not sit with Cameron, but instead a 12-person grand jury.
“We can try to demagogue Daniel Cameron, but what you’re really doing is demagoguing a grand jury of 12 citizens who did their best, I’m sure they did, that’s how the process works,” Dhillon responded. “My prayers to [Taylor’s] family, and I hope that justice is done with that officer who endangered peoples’ lives.”
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.