Perpetually Litigious WILL Takes Loss At Supreme Court Over Biden’s Student Relief Program

It goes without saying that there are many smiles around Wisconsin following the news that the Supreme Court rejected a request from a conservative advocacy operation in the Badger State aimed at thwarting President Biden’s student loan debt relief program.  Since the request was flawed in its conception it comes as little surprise that conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied the emergency application to block the program. The challenge to the plan came from the Brown County Taxpayers Association. 

The loan relief plan, which has strong merits for being set in motion, and is set to begin taking effect this weekend, could cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.  The plan cancels $10,000 in debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per household, and $20,000 for those who received Pell grants for low-income families.  The taxpayer group was ginned up and aided by the continually discontented Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a group that has never met an idea of social value it did not oppose. They had already suffered a defeat when a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit, saying the group lacked legal standing to stall Biden’s effort.

Legal minds and policy analysts have stood by the research contained in the now rather famous memo from the Department of Education, which was partly written by Toby Merrill.  He was helpful in creating the Predatory Student Lending program, aimed at cracking down on ruthless lending practices on low-income borrowers. It was his draft of a key legal analysis arguing that President Biden has the authority to cancel student loan debt through executive action that has so riled and energized the ones who now aim to stop the needed program.

“Congress has granted the Secretary a more specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs in the Higher Education Act (HEA) itself.” The legal analysis in the memo pointed to a key provision that gives the President, via the Secretary of Education, broad authority to “compromise, waive, or release” a borrower’s obligation on federal student loan debt. It should be noted that many student loan borrower advocacy organizations and members of Congress have cited this analysis to support their argument that Biden should cancel student loan debt using executive action.

Tonight, we can be glad that WILL was bounced by a conservative justice, but knowing the zeal that the perpetually litigious-minded thrive on we know more such battles are in the offing.  I am, however, confident that the law is on the side of Biden and the former students in this land.

No Cheering, Just A Weary Sadness Over Committee Supeona To Donald Trump

People of a certain age on Thursday may have thought back to an event in 1974 as they watched the January 6th Committee take a unanimous and historic vote to subpoena Donald Trump. Decades ago, the House Judiciary Committee voted on Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon.  The voice of Congressman Peter Rodino, Jr. was heavy and somber that July day as he said “aye”, the gravity of the moment still resonates for those who lived during the troubling years of Watergate. 

Peter Rodino, Jr

Twenty-five years afterward, Rodino would write of that day and how the emotions were most intense. He said it was “an awesome responsibility. Indeed, after we voted to impeach Nixon, I returned to my office, ignoring reporters and staff; I called my wife and, when she answered, broke down and cried.”

While this nation has witnessed so much bombast, chaos, and charged rhetoric in the past 7 years so to make the historic vote to subpoena a former president seem akin to another low-pressure system on a weather map, the fact is today was remarkable and truly sad. What the Committee has demonstrated in painstaking detail over months of investigations and hearings is that Donald Trump can be placed at the center of a deliberate and highly calculated, multipart effort to overturn the will of the voters following the 2020 election.  As was made clear to the nation Thursday the disturbing behavior and actions by Trump and his close allies started well before Election Day.

No one takes delight in bringing forth these revelations, reporting them, or analyzing them.  From those who serve with the Committee, the journalists who track developments and report to the nation, or pundits and bloggers who add perspective, there is no glee to be found regarding seditious actions or an armed insurrection at our Capitol.  It is mind-numbing and so far removed from the ideals we all know to be at the heart of our government and in the hearts of our fellow citizens.

We read, almost daily now, about the women in Iran who have taken their roles as citizens to the streets to demand national reforms.  We applaud the strong-willed citizens of Ukraine who will not relent in their efforts to stop Russian aggression.  But it is also true we have brave and sincere folks in our nation who we can rightly note for their actions, too, as defenders of our democracy.  When a modern version of Profiles in Courage is written there is no doubt Congresswoman Lynn Cheney will require a leading chapter.  At this time in our country when nearly all elected Republicans abdicated their responsibilities while being compliant to Trump, it was that Wyoming pol and her Illinois colleague, Adam Kinzinger, who showed the nation what a moral foundation looks like. 

Many in the nation have fallen into their prescribed roles of tribal politics after today’s committee session concluded.  But regardless of where we land politically, there is no getting away from the fact our democracy was so attacked that a congressional panel felt it was required to subpoena a former president.  For history buffs, it needs to be noted that Congress has previously demanded testimony from ex-presidents, but only in exceptionally rare circumstances, as in 1846, when subpoenas were handed down to former presidents John Tyler and John Quincy Adams.

Committee Chairperson Bennie Thompson noted Thursday that  “the subpoena to a president is a” serious and historic action and stated he and the full panel wanted to take that step “in the full view of the American public.”  And it did that very thing. As the voice vote was taken, and then the call of members for a verbal vote was finished, it left a heavy feeling in this home.  No cheering.  No fist bumping.  Just a weary sadness of where we are and what must be done to lift up our democracy.  We know as a nation what Congressman Rodino felt on that muggy July day.

Supreme Court Starts Session With Win For Gun Control Safety In America

The new session of the U.S. Supreme Court started out with an action that runs in alignment with a major theme of this blog, gun safety in the nation.  The Court rejected two appeals by gun owners seeking to overturn the federal government’s ban on the sale of bump stocks.  Those stocks are the shortened term for devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.  It is not difficult to understand why that item is most undesirable, and why the ban was implemented. The ban was one of the very few policy moves from the one term of Donald Trump with which I could voice strong agreement.

The only way to report this story is from the perspective of the safety factor as the ban is a way to stem the furthering of gun violence this nation faces daily. The action of the court in their rejection of the cases is a significant victory for gun control advocates and supports the role our government has undertaken–though far too timidly–with efforts to regulate very dangerous weapons.

Why these cases being shunted out the Court door matters is that knuckle-draggers who sought to undo the ban tried to suggest the government did not have authority to ban bump stocks under the National Firearms Act, a law enacted in 1934 to regulate machine guns. In 1968, the Gun Control Act expanded the definition of a machine gun to include accessories “for use in converting a weapon” into a machine gun, and the ATF concluded under the Trump Administration, when it issued the ban, that bump stocks meet that definition. I found fault with the ATF under the Obama administration when that agency ruled bump stocks should not be classified as a “machinegun” and therefore should not be banned under federal law. 

Bump stocks are accessories for semi-automatic rifles, such as the popular AR-15-style weapons that have been used in a plethora of mass shootings in our country. They use the recoil energy of a trigger pull to enable the user to fire up to hundreds of rounds a minute. That is simply insanity that needed to be curbed. It took the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead before the ATF acted during Trump’s time in office, and credit needs to be given where it is due. After all, what more needs to happen to show the bump stock ban was necessary. The Vegas shooter used assault-style rifles to fire more than 1,000 rounds in 11 minutes into the crowd of 22,000 music fans.

For rational and common-sense people in the nation who fully understand and desire that logical regulations be placed on the sale of guns and their “particular attributes”, today was a solid win. Not a bad way to start a Monday morning or the first day of a new session of the Court.

Good Day For America’s Checks And Balances Continues With Strong Rebuke To Donald Trump Wednesday Evening

Late Wednesday evening we witnessed another sign that our nation’s checks and balances continue to work. I take note of such events as they are lifting moments in our troubling times when we witness fascism rising while an autocrat makes threats about violence being unleashed in the nation if he is brought to justice.  

Throughout the day we saw the efforts of law and order rise up and make a clarion statement that this nation does not kneel to such blackmail. New York Attorney General Letitia James took action to bar Donald Trump and his children from ever again running a business in New York State. She filed a lawsuit that claims the Trump family and their business overvalued assets by billions of dollars and with the proof of Trump’s annual financial statements showcased at least a decade of absurd myth-making while defrauding banks and insurance companies.  

Late in the evening, a federal appeals court handed down a blistering ruling that unleashed the Justice Department so to rightly resume using documents marked as classified that were seized from Donald Trump in the FBI search. In so doing, the ruling undoes a lower court’s order that had strictly limited the investigation into Trump’s handling of highly classified government materials.  The 11th Circuit set aside key parts of an earlier order by a Florida federal judge that had kept the department from using about 100 files that Trump illegally retained. 

The three-judge panel wrote in their opinion, “For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings.” 

What strikes me of great interest is that the panel in this ruling found particularly unpersuasive the repeated suggestions by Trump’s legal team that he may have declassified the documents. But note that when earlier pressed by the special master, Raymond Dearie, those lawyers would not say very much in court if Trump had acted to declassify the materials in question.  They know better than to lie during a court proceeding.  

So tonight, the federal court lowered the boom on Trump.  “Plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, Plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents,” the panel wrote. “In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal.” 

We have come to a point in our nation where the legal process and the application of the rule of law will be required to be used energetically to ensure the nation remains a democracy.  This blog has often opined on the drift away from our nation’s ideals and the Framers’ construct during the Trump term—our nation’s most embarrassing fiasco since the days of Richard Nixon. (And let us be frank and term Dick a piker in comparison.) Today, however, was a fine example of what the law can and will do to right the ship that has drifted and tilted dangerously.  In so doing, it allows us a strong ray of hope about the future of this country.

Here Is Why Anthony Hamilton Is Worthy Of Your Vote For Dane County Sheriff

When it comes to public safety, I have continually opted for the course that best meets the needs of keeping society secure and follows the process of law and order. Even before the past 24 hours, or so, I was already a voter who was planning to cast a November vote for Anthony Hamilton as our next Dane County Sheriff. That decision was based on the clear need for more officers to be hired in the department, and what I consider a stodgy hiring strategy at a time when a public desire for safety increases.

Following news reports this week of a search warrant process that was not carried out in a fashion that we must demand from law enforcement, was just additional evidence as to why a change at the top of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department must take place at the ballot box.

Going into this election I have heard and talked with officers who have spoken about the feeling of being stretched thin with overtime and fewer fellow deputies to meet, at times, the needs of the county. That to me is the central and core issue of this race, and the topic that meets the voters at their home or their place of business.  The citizenry has a rightful expectation to know that law enforcement is staffed to meet the current array of problems that might require their involvement.

We know this summer that Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett stated the staffing situation is such that the department is short 40 deputies.  Though safety reasons were the leading cause for the closing of part of the outdated jail there was also a shortage of staff that aided in making that decision. While arguments can be made about the ways to recruit and hire new deputies, the fact there is such a shortage in the first place is enough concern to drive a voter to make a change in the leadership of the sheriff’s office.

Then the news from yesterday landed with a most embarrassing thud for the county.

Republican Dane County sheriff’s candidate and detective Anthony Hamilton has sued the Sheriff’s Office in federal court alleging that officials conspired to remove him from the SWAT team for raising concerns about a search at a hotel in March 2021 he considered illegal.

Hamilton’s removal from the SWAT team stemmed from an armed standoff at the Magnuson Grand Hotel in Madison where Hamilton and other law enforcement agents searched a hotel room, the lawsuit said. During the search, Hamilton voiced concerns that the search was probably illegal, the lawsuit said.

Sheriff’s officials later lied in their reports about the incident, with Sgt. Mark Schroeder, who participated in the search, saying that he had ordered Hamilton to obtain a warrant, according to the lawsuit.

Law enforcement at the scene first said they had received permission from the hotel’s manager to search the room because no one had been living there. In an interview on Tuesday, Hamilton said he later learned that the hotel had been renting the room off the books, which technically made the search illegal.

The reason this finds me exercised today is that over and over on this blog I have pressed how the process of governing needs to be transparent, and made clear for those who follow the proceedings, so that win or lose, all can state honestly that the rules were known and applied.  The process must not be tainted or altered to get the desired end. From the antics of my local neighborhood association to the pure lunacy of the Donald Trump White House, there is no escaping that process matters. As it was required to do so with the law enforcement matter in which Hamilton was engaged.  What we are again witnessing is a fact. When an established process is tossed aside for expediency it makes for harsh consequences.

For the record, I have not met or talked with either of the contenders for the sheriff’s office this fall.  But I am aware of the distrust that falls upon the shoulders of the men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform, and how that translates into our politics and social tensions.  Dane County simply must have a rational hiring process so a full department can be ready to serve the public, and once hired officers must go about their business of not only serving and protecting, but also burnishing a better image for the public.  I believe our sheriff’s department must do better but can only achieve what is desired with new leadership. 

A new sheriff. 

Anthony Hamilton.

Build 6-Story Dane County Jail, As Too Many Wish To Reside There

The local conversation has not been as elongated as that which surrounded the downtown Judge Doyle Square development, but the numerous ideas and dialogue about the new Dane County jail seem akin to it.  Last week, the County Board was unable to pass any of its three options for moving forward with the jail consolidation project.  On the chopping block was a plan that lacked credibility as it scaled back the structure by one floor and reduced bed space for inmates. Data proves more space, not less space will be required.

As the news was reported in the Wisconsin State Journal about the lack of securing the needed votes on the Board for any new jail plan, came another sad example of why this ongoing planning must be pushed forward. Three 18-year-olds were charged in Madison with attempted first-degree intentional homicide.  Two of the adults got out of a car driven by the third man and started shooting at another man who was walking and then running away from the vehicle. The victim had broken bones in his pelvis.

As we know from data, Black men are arrested and charged for crimes at a far higher rate than their white counterparts. Reform-minded advocates have stated their belief that inequities in housing, education, social services, and other factors are the reasons for crimes. It can also be documented that Blacks face inequalities in the sentencing they receive for crimes.  While all that can be proven so can the abundant programming and ever-growing funding from the City of Madison, Dane County, the State of Wisconsin, and Congress at the federal level to combat the reasons for arrests. 

Clearly, something is not working.

Whatever propels young adults to pursue someone, shoot numerous rounds, and then when their home is searched a handgun and large extended magazine in a freezer are found does cause the average citizen to ask what part of the social system is broken.  Is the cause the taxpayer who does pay for social programming and truly desires for it to show results in the communities where it is used and needed?  Is the cause due to family structures that are so fragmented and dysfunctional that basic concepts of right and wrong are as foreign as metaphysics?  Whatever the cause may be the result is that those who can not or will not conduct themselves in accordance with societal norms must pay a price for their actions.

Would I like to see all the money needed for a new jail appropriated somewhere else?  Of course.  But that is not our reality. As long as there are so many among us who wish to reside in the Dane County jail based on the absurdity of their actions then we will need to house them, keeping them separate from the ones who do live between the guard rails of law and order.

I am not sure how the current impasse will resolve itself in deliberations over the jail among Board members.  But I am certain the end result will be a needed 6-floor development project.  Sadly, almost every edition of the newspaper underscores its necessity.

Threats Of Civil War By Angry White Males Fostered By GOP During Donald Trump Years

It was less than an hour after I posted on my Caffeinated Politics Facebook page about the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Florida home when a white male reader commented that the action meant “civil war” upon the nation. This week Ricky W. Shiffer posted messages on Trump’s social media platform recommending that “patriots” go to Florida and kill federal agents.  After he tried to break into the F.B.I.’s Cincinnati office his fate was sealed when he thought it wise to engage in a gun battle on an interstate with law enforcement.  Shiffer was shot dead.

It is very clear from the national chatter that extremists, low on IQ and book learning, but loaded with crazy thoughts and deadly guns are intent on creating violence in the nation following the law-and-order process the FBI undertook this week in Florida.  When a deranged personality was outside the home of a current member of the Supreme Court this summer, a hue and cry rightfully arose about the safety of the judiciary.  The backlash, however, from conservatives this week about the violence and threats from angry white males in the nation, like Shiffer, were hardly registered.  Transactional politics when it comes to the safety of our police and law enforcement officers is nothing short of repugnant.

If one listens and reads the crazy lingo from those white males who are engaged in right-wing militancy it is soon apparent, that they are again aggrieved—their favorite pastime when not stroking their weapons.  They huffed and puffed and made threats this week of ‘locking and loading’ in their zeal to defend their cult leader, Donald Trump.  Our nation, it needs all to be reminded, did not just arrive at such a moment; rather the GOP helped to create this situation.

The animus the Republican Party has fostered and yes, stoked, within their ranks against law enforcement and the rule of law-and-order is highly troubling and unsightly. We watched the GOP fall for Trump starting in 2015, and then over his term in office followed the disregard he had for the FBI, wanting to use the Attorney General as his own personal lawyer, and striving mightily to undercut the Constitution. The Republican Party stood by and watched and even started to mimic and repeat his false claims and further the erosion of respect for folks who put on a robe or a badge when they head to their job.

The outcome of Trump’s corrosive actions, and the spinless reaction from the GOP, is now playing out with the vile and threatening rhetoric and actions by the basest lowlifes in the conservative tent.  In 2018, I wrote a post about the disregard Trump had for the judiciary.

What troubled me….and cuts to the core as to why Trump is viewed as dangerous to democracy–concerns his disdain for laws and our Constitution.  To have our system work requires we acknowledge the rule of law.  The public needs to respect the judgments of those who sit on the courts.  The public needs to obey the laws and abide by the decisions of judges.  To then have a person in the Oval Office lashing out with personal attacks on judges and the court system–as Trump does continually–sends a most disturbing message to the nation.

There is also the added danger that judges should never have to consider any fear of personal attacks, or venom from the citizenry when rendering a decision. Having an autocratic person in the White House should not in some way taint the decision-making process in a court of law.  It is imperative that Trump show the proper respect for not only the law but those who decide the cases and shape laws.

The federal judge who signed the search warrant after being presented with facts as to what classified documents were strongly believed to be in Trump’s Florida home, and even where the documents that should not be anywhere except in a government building were located, should not be the target of terrorist threats by Trump’s flying monkeys.  Yet the judge has been placed under law enforcement protection based on the threats of violence.

This is the second time in just a matter of weeks that I feel the need to write about the growing trend in the nation that views violence as an acceptable path forward in our nation. A poll finds that Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified, that result being the largest share to feel that way in more than two decades. The percentage of Americans who say violent action against the government is justified at times stands at 34 percent, which is considerably higher than in past polls by major news organizations dating back more than two decades. Again, the view is partisan: The new survey finds 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 23 percent of Democrats saying violence is sometimes justified.

Our nation has been placed in a truly contentious and troubling place due to the Republican Party caving to the very thing the Founding Fathers feared.  It was my clear favorite of those men, Alexander Hamilton, who worried about the populace being swayed by a charlatan or one with low character. He knew of the Donald Trump types, as Hamilton had read books about the nature of mankind. He was also most aware of the threat of unlearned people being easily led, and led woefully astray, as the Trump base within the Republican Party has continually demonstrated.

The angry white males that are now threatening and seeking to intimidate the majority of the nation are precisely what Hamilton was worried about in his days of pondering the larger questions about our then-young nation. We join him in his justified worries.

Wisconsin Justice Brian Hagedorn Correct: “The Business Of Courts Is Public Business”

The ruling Friday from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court was direct and to the point. The request from those bringing suit against the Madison School District to remain anonymous was denied in a case dealing with a gender identity policy. They must disclose their identities to attorneys arguing the case. The court did allow them to proceed using pseudonyms publicly.

There are many perspectives that can be had about the policy and its implications on both transgender youth, and parents or guardians of those children. I will not wade into that fight, but rather wish to write about the process of open and transparent government that must be adhered to if all are to be treated and viewed fairly.

If our system of government is to be open and transparent there can be no justification for keeping the names of those seeking redress through the court system secret.  As Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion, “While we protect certain vulnerable legal participants, such as children and crime victims, the business of courts is public business, and as such is presumed to remain open and available to the public.”

If one can not stand in the light of day to their convictions when seeking a remedy in the court system then perhaps there is a problem with the position that they are privately taking. 

It should be remembered John Hancock used a large bold script when signing the Declaration of Independence, so large in fact that ”…fat George can read it without his spectacles.”  That should be the model of our convictions today.  If people can not publically stand by their views as expressed in court proceedings and are ashamed of having their names made known in the press or seen in the public square, we need to ask why they seek cover?

When one lobbies in any fashion for the government to take any action it should be public knowledge.  The consequences of using a conservative law practice to attempt, through the court process, to hide and harbor those who bring a suit when perhaps they are not even living in the school district or have students in our Madison schools run counter to the openness that our government should always strive to maintain.  (The same holds true for the individual who signs a petition concerning a heated issue.)

This issue of anonymity should not be a conservative vs. liberal issue but instead viewed as one of strict adherence to higher ideals. A good government issue. A process concern about how to proceed when our judicial system operates.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a favorite of conservatives, spoke to this issue in oral arguments regarding individuals seeking anonymity for signing a petition to get policy matters on the ballot. The oral argument was in John Doe # 1, et al., v. Reed, et al. (09-559)

Declaring that the rough-and-tumble of democracy is not for the faint-hearted, what Scalia referred to as the “touchy, feely” sensitivity of some political activists, the Justice said “you can’t run a democracy” with political activity behind a First Amendment shroud.  “You are asking us to enter into a whole new field,” Scalia told James Bopp Jr., the lawyer for Washington State signers of an anti-gay rights petition.  Politics, the Justice went on, “takes a certain amount of civic courage.  The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.” 

Scalia was most correct with that point.

Let me be most direct. The higher ideals of our state and the judicial process can not be made hostage to the fears of retaliation.  If that had been the case at the beginning of our national story Thomas Jefferson would never have set quill to parchment.

Would it not be great if, in the face of this needless court case concerning Madison schools, brought by people who may not even have any direct connection to the district, we could fully recognize the need for openness and transparency about how our court system must continually operate?

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