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Three letters, and the exercise of power
The Chief Justice of the United States, the Oklahoma Attorney General, and the Montana House Republican leaders.
It is a very long week.
“How is it only Wednesday morning?” long.
Three letters from this week really pull together for me why this week is feeling interminably long.
They each feature powerful people making choices about how and when they will exercise their power in high-stakes situations — and against or for whom they will exercise it.
The why can almost always be bullshitted. But the action, that can almost always be examined on its own.
I think it would almost never hurt to think about that when we see officials exercising — or not exercising — power.
First: A letter from John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, Roberts wrote that he “must respectfully decline the invitation” to appear at the Judiciary Committee court ethics hearing scheduled for May 2.
That’s not believable on its face, and the rest of the letter just makes it worse.
The letter is dismissive of the torrent of ethics concerns being raised about the Roberts Court on a nearly daily basis in recent weeks — I had to ask myself when reading it, “I wonder if he sent this before he read the Politico story about Justice Neil Gorsuch’s sale of property to the head of a law firm.”
The letter also does nothing to explain the alleged “separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence” that a hearing about the Supreme Court’s lack of ethics rules has on judicial independence, all the while ignoring the very precedent it cites of chief justices testifying in the past.
Durbin must take further, aggressive action to deal with this. That means subpoenas. (And, enough with the excuses. He’s been in Congress for more than half of his 78 years; he can figure it out.) And if he doesn’t, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer must take action — or, I suppose, he can deputize Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Finance Committee, to find a way to do so, since Wyden actually seems to be open to taking action on these questions.
The ethics of the justices of the Supreme Court deserve scrutiny and — particularly given what less than a month of reporting since the original Pro Publica article about Justice Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow’s relationship has shown us — the justices themselves must be held accountable.
And yet, Roberts will be taking the bench at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, to oversee the last scheduled oral arguments of the term — a case, ultimately, about governmental power and how different governments are allowed to use that power.
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Second: A letter from Gentner Drummond, the attorney general of Oklahoma.
In a letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Drummond, a Republican elected to the post last fall, takes a position that he believes is a first for an attorney general in Oklahoma: “I urge you to vote in favor of clemency for Richard Glossip.”
While it may be a first, it echoes Drummond’s position in court — which was ignored by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals last week when it refused to toss Glossip’s conviction despite the agreement between Glossip’s lawyers and the attorney general that the conviction cannot stand.
Glossip’s case has been in limbo for years, as more and more people — from all political affiliations — have questioned his trial. Glossip has maintained his innocence throughout. Last summer, Lara Bazelon detailed the case against the case against Glossip for New York magazine. Even Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has been attempting to hurry the state through more than two dozen executions, has issued repeated reprieves of execution for Glossip given all of the questions.
On Wednesday morning, at 9:30 a.m. CT, the parole board will meet to consider Richard Glossip’s clemency application — a meeting that is to be livestreamed here and could be one of the last, best chances to get Glossip off death row.
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Third: A letter from Matt Regier, speaker of the Montana House; Rhonda Knudsen, speaker pro tem; and Sue Vinton, majority leader.
In a letter to Democratic Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr, Montana House Democratic Minority Leader Kim Abbott, and the rest of the members of the Montana House, the House Republican leaders announced that Rep. Zephyr could face “disciplinary consequences” for her support for her constituents on Monday when they protested her being refused the chance to speak on the floor for a third day.
On Twitter, Zephyr — the first out transgender woman lawmaker in the state — wrote that she expects “a motion to either censure or expel me” to be made.
The gallery, where the public normally can view their lawmakers acting on their behalf, will be closed to that public. The Republican leaders do not want the public to be present for their actions.
In a year when the ACLU legislative tracker currently identifies nearly 40 anti-LGBTQ bills already having become law this year, including more than 10 limiting gender-affirming medical care, Zephyr spoke out against Montana lawmaker’s efforts to do the same — saying last week that there would be “blood on [their] hands” if they did.
Since then, she has not been allowed to speak on the floor. On Monday — the third day of Zephyr being silenced on the floor — supporters packed the gallery and when the House voted against allowing Zephyr to speak (yes, as Erin Reed highlighted, they truly held a vote and voted against letting their colleague speak) cries of “Let her speak!” erupted from the gallery as Zephyr stood with her microphone in the air.
The protest ended with the gallery being cleared and a handful of arrests.
Here’s what Reed wrote about this early Tuesday.
On Tuesday, however, the House session was unexpectedly canceled.
On Wednesday, though, the House is scheduled to meet again, at 1 p.m. MT (3 p.m. ET). And while Zephyr’s constituents won’t be allowed in the gallery, the eyes of the nation will be on the Montana House.
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