Saturday, May 06, 2023

In Shocking Twist, Republicans Consider Expelling Legislator For Actual Misconduct

We're all by now familiar with the scandals in Tennessee and Montana, where Republican-controlled legislatures sought to expel or otherwise silence Democratic colleagues for the crimes of having opinions while Black and trans (respectively). Now there's news of another proposed expulsion coming from a red state -- but in a shocking twist, Republicans are experimenting with using it to address actual misconduct!

A House committee has recommended the expulsion of Republican state Rep. Bryan Slaton after finding he had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with an aide, then acted to thwart an investigation into the matter.

A scathing report by the House General Investigating Committee, distributed to House shortly after noon Saturday, found Slaton did not dispute allegations that he had sex with the 19-year-old woman and provided alcohol to her, nor did he express regret or remorse for his conduct. Instead, the report said, Slaton’s lawyer argued the complaints should be dismissed because the behavior occurred in Slaton’s Austin residence, not the workplace.

That summary barely scratches the surface -- the report strongly suggests that Rep. Slaton raped his aide (the aide was reportedly sufficiently intoxicated that she "could not effectively consent to intercourse and could not indicate whether [Slaton’s conduct] was welcome or unwelcome" -- the word for that is rape) and then threatened her (showing her a message reading "nothing would happen as long as her and her friends keep quiet").

Rep. Slaton entered office after ousting a more moderate Republican with backing from a pair of far-right petro billionaires. And what was his signature issue? You'll absolutely guess:

Last year, he called for a blanket ban on minors at drag shows, saying it was necessary to protect children from “perverted adults.”

Of course.

Anyway, kudos to Texas Republicans for considering using expulsion as a tool to punish actual misconduct as opposed to as a political stunt to disenfranchise minorities.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Making the Grade Roundup

It's grading season at Lewis & Clark. I have the entire 1L day class this semester across two sections of Con Law I, so it's a bit of a bear. But I'm almost halfway done!

You get a roundup.

* * *

As a professor, I cannot fathom the hubris it takes to see one of your papers rejected from a journal -- the most normal possible experience for an academic -- and decide to parlay it into an entire New York Times column decrying "wokeness".

Florida is set to legalize kidnapping trans children from their families. But don't worry -- they'll only do it if the families love their kids and provide them with healthcare. Family courts in other states better start boning up on asylum law, because the phrase "well-founded fear of persecution" is going to become increasingly germane in cases where there's a possibility of the child being sent to Florida.

Local elections in the UK are seeing the Tories getting absolutely stomped. Over a thousand seats lost by the party, most of which are going to Labour and a healthy chunk of which are going to the LibDems and Greens. It's amazing what Labour can do when it isn't being led by a wildly unpopular antisemitic extremist!

Princeton under fire for hiring prominent BDS activist to a fellowship position. The twist? The activist is a member of the Israeli far-right. But the BDS thing is real -- he supported a divestment campaign against Ben Gurion University in retaliation for its allegedly "anti-Zionist" tilt.

The UAW has new leadership (I had half an eyeball on this, since I technically was a UAW member in my capacity as a UC-Berkeley graduate student instructor), and they're playing hardball against the Biden administration demanding compensation for how new electric vehicles may reduce the number of autoworker jobs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

A Local Shooting in SW Portland

Two people are dead after a reported shooting at a SW Portland strip mall approximately five minutes from my house.

I've been to this strip mall. I've eaten at the cafe where the bodies were reportedly found. The UPS store across the street is where we go when we need to send a package. This part of Portland is in my normal orbit.

Contrary to what you've heard, Portland is actually a relatively safe city. Our crime rates are remarkably unremarkable -- a recent survey ranked us 21st out of 40 major cities when it came to violent crime. And my neighborhood is almost certainly safe than the city as a whole. This shooting is not, I think, reflective of any trends. If anything, it is in defiance of a national downward trend in violent crime.

Nonetheless, it's sickening that this is even a tertiary part of my -- or anyone else's -- life. And it's infuriating that the Supreme Court has essentially decided that people like me must, as a matter of inviolable constitutional law, live under the scourge of infinitely proliferating guns forever. It's terrible to know that if my elected representatives ever tried to do anything substantial to stem the tide of gun proliferation, the Supreme Court would be on the case to wag a finger and say no.

By the same token, the Republican Party's response to gun violence is, of course, to promote more guns (and to teach eight-year olds battlefield trauma techniques). "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". When you strip away all the window dressing, what this boils down to is saying the solution is getting into a shootout. But I don't want to get into a shootout! I don't want to shoot anyone, and I should be able to get a cheese omelet at a local diner without committing to reliving the OK Corral. That's not a solution, that's a capitulation -- gun violence accepted as a forever-scourge, and you're either dishing it out or you're the victim.

It doesn't have to be that way. In most developed countries, it isn't that way. That it is that way here is not an inevitability. It is a policy choice, imposed by a radical judiciary whose contempt for the people it rules is becoming increasingly more brazen.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

The Intolerance of Being Unhappy When Extremists Succeed

There's an emergent line I'm seeing from the nationalist-conservative right, complaining about how, as their practical power increases, they and their ideas are no longer looked upon with the same degree of affability as when they were fringe activists chirping at the margins. Adam Mortara put it as follows after he and Jonathan Mitchell, architect of Texas' SB8 and some of the most radical anti-abortion pushes in the country, received an (allegedly) chilly reception by a liberal former mentor.*

“It was hurtful . . . and eye-opening,” Mortara said. “You’re fine when you’re just a yappy little dog that can’t bite. But, if you grow up to be a big dog that can actually do stuff, then you’re probably going to be put down.”

Justice Alito said something similar in his whine-terview in the Wall Street Journal last week -- he alleged that he's really no different than Antonin Scalia, but Scalia was tolerated by liberal elites because he was mostly in dissent. Now that Justice Alito commands a majority, things hit different.

"When you're in dissent," Justice Alito observes, "well, his ideas were amusing and interesting. He spoke at a lot of law schools and he was honored at law schools, but he wasn't a threat, because those views were not prevailing on issues that really hit home."

This line is presented as some sort of gotcha to the liberals. "Oh, you tolerated us when our ideas were basically just fascinating thought experiments, but now that we're winning it's dangerous." To which I say: yes! That's how it works! 

The whole point of liberal free speech commitments is that there is a sizeable gap between "views one is willing to consider and debate" and "views which it would be good, or even acceptable, to prevail in political life." We don't limit our consideration only to those positions which we're willing to endorse on-the-merits; which means that there is no conflict between engaging in such consideration in the abstract and being appalled when certain views actually start winning the day in "real" politics. The "gotcha" completely misunderstands the point of what liberal tolerance in the context of an abstract intellectual discussion is supposed to signify, or commit to.

For example, it is entirely plausible that one might assign, in a political theory class, works by Lenin, and consider/debate them in the classroom context. That's perfectly appropriate. But if the Leninists actually start seizing political power and instituting the purges, that would be bad! And if they said, "Oh, it was fine to debate our ideas in the classroom, but now that we're actually in charge and establishing gulags you have a problem with it," well, yeah, I do! Clearly! And I can think the same thing of compulsory pregnancy and forced childbirth. As a professor, it is important to debate these questions. But the actual political reality of it is catastrophic, and it's fine to say so.

It is not a failure of liberal tolerance to be unhappy when illiberal authoritarianism is on the march. A willingness to debate and consider these views as abstract intellectual exercises does not make said unhappiness hypocrisy. This isn't that complicated.

* Full disclosure: the mentor in question was David Strauss, who was my mentor in law school as well. I also got to know Mitchell when I was a law student, and can attest that he is a personally very pleasant person to interact with in addition to possessing a formidable intellect. Anyone who knows Professor Strauss is well aware of his commitment to nurturing and supporting law students from a range of different ideological backgrounds, and so I have no doubt he is genuine in feeling hurt that Mitchell has used his prodigious legal talents in service of dangerous, even lawless, public initiatives.