Heroes, the Secret Service, and Biscuits (column)

by David Schleicher

In a time when political gamesmanship rules the day, it’s refreshing to know that heroes still walk among us. Take a Secret Service agent I will refer to as “B.” When I last saw B, I had stopped momentarily by his traffic booth in front of the White House to let him know his recommendation a few days earlier for nearby breakfast biscuits (WTF—Woodward Takeout Food) had made my morning. He patted his stomach and assured me he knew his biscuits.

He promptly returned to the tasks at hand, checking a truck that was seeking entrance to the White House. As I walked on to my next meeting, his unassuming yet professional, firm but good-natured, manner left me feeling the security of those around me was being well served.

Moving forward 11 weeks, the government had shut down. Pay was being cut off to his household, but as an employee deemed “essential” he was expected to report to work, paycheck or not. And on Oct. 3, he was at his duty station, still carefully stopping traffic seeking to enter the White House. Suddenly a vehicle crashed into the security checkpoint. Without drawing his gun or using other force, B motioned the driver to stop.

The driver aimed the car at him and gunned the engine, crashing into B, knocking him in the air, rolling him over the hood and windshield, then finally on to the pavement, where his head was narrowly missed by her tires. The driver fled the White House area and headed toward the Capitol at a high speed, putting pedestrians in danger and breaching another security zone. The driver rammed a Secret Service vehicle at the Capitol and ignored the handful of \officers with drawn weapons who attempted to stop the car.

The driver backed up, nearly hitting Capitol Police officers, and sped away, resulting in officers opening fire. Encountering another barrier, the driver ran into a guard house not far from the Supreme Court. During the chase, a Capitol Police officer was reported injured when his car struck a barricade. Eventually more shots were fired by the police and the driver was killed.

Police then learned the driver had her 1-year-old with her — thankfully unharmed. Though it was certainly capable of killing, her car turned out to have been her only weapon. We now know the driver had a history of mental illness.

Critics have questioned whether excessive force was used by the officers who fired at the driver. Had the driver been in a car packed with explosives that was run past barriers into tourist-filled areas, causing countless deaths, you can be sure the same critics would have demanded to know why the same officers did not do more to stop the car.

Being second-guessed at everything you do and having the worst of motives attributed to you is often the price of public service anywhere; this is truer than ever in Washington these days. Moreover, never slowed by facts, conspiracy theorists prove themselves to be nature’s most reliable source of endless renewable energy. Every tragedy is another chance to prove a plot.

In this tragedy, the driver’s actions sent B to the hospital and left the rest of us very grateful he was alive. B’s response was not anger at the woman but a wish he had been able to do something to help her when they encountered each other. We all would wish society could have helped keep the driver from reaching the point that her mental issues would cause her to drive in a manner that led law enforcement to believe she was the sort of threat people like B are trained to stop. The driver’s willingness to subject her child to such dangers reflected her desperate mental state.

In a week he was working without pay, B to his great detriment risked his own safety in an attempt to resolve the situation without force, coming close to laying down his life for others. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill gave a standing ovation to the law enforcement response to the incident. But they apparently were not moved enough to ensure B and the Capitol Police officer who suffered injuries would get their paychecks before the shutdown ends.

Physical condition permitting, you can be sure both officers will plan to be back at their jobs, paychecks or not, protecting those they serve without regard to the insanity that so often goes on around them.

Many these days enjoy vilifying federal employees. Those like B would assure us they are not heroes, but then that is the sort of thing a real hero would say. Including one who knows his biscuits.

There is no disputing the incident was a true tragedy. But perhaps we can suspend the second-guessing and conspiracy theories that are their own breed of mental illness. Instead, let’s pause to thank our heroes.

David Schleicher is an attorney whose work includes representing federal employees. He chairs the McLennan County Democratic Party.

from Waco-Tribune Herald – October 13, 2013 – Page A10 – http://www.WacoTrib.com

The Day Politics Stood Still

David Schleicher editorial from April 28, 2013 Waco Tribune-Herald       

Obama at West memorial service                        

Some doubt the Old Testament account of a battle in which the “sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.” I had greater doubt it would be possible to set aside political differences so we could come together to honor our fallen heroes at the West memorial service Thursday.Imagine Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn sharing a platform with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. In any other setting, this would surely have generated some political sparks. It was earlier this same month that Obama had called the Senate’s failure to pass gun-purchase background-check legislation shameful. Cornyn responded that calling the Senate shameful was itself shameful.

As I made my way to the Ferrell Center, my dread over the grief about to be experienced en masse was compounded by my concern that the ceremonies would be marred by someone shouting something rude at the president, or worse. Given that happens at a State of the Union address these days, I could only hope a memorial service was a last refuge for mutual respect.

Earlier in the week, someone local posted to our McLennan County Democratic Party Facebook page that she hoped to see Obama in a parade in Dallas. Whether this was a reference to President Kennedy’s death or merely a genuine desire to see the president was resolved when this same person sent an email informing us that she thought “Obama makes Hitler look like a fair and reasonable man.” Also recently in Waco, the Texas attorney general remarked that a Democratic attempt to turn the state from red to blue was more of a threat than a nuclear-armed North Korea.

A review of comments on nearly any political website or story will confirm that nastiness, name-calling and negativity are all in high fashion, from multiple places on the political spectrum. I held my breath hoping that the gravity of the events in West was sufficient that at least this one day our common bonds as neighbors and citizens would prevail over the political allegiances that so often divide us. I hoped for a day that we would share with the world the strength of the ties that bind us.

Surrounded by thousands of firefighters who every day offer to give their lives for others and the flag-draped coffins of those who had, something magical happened.

President Obama was greeted with a standing ovation. Gov. Perry paused his remarks to thank the Obamas for taking the time to be with us. Sen. Cornyn then introduced the president. The president wove together a message of comfort and hope, using a verse from the book of Psalms, tying in tragedies elsewhere in the country, and assuring us that the entire nation considered themselves our neighbors. No one shouted “liar!” as in the State of the Union speech nor attempted any other rude interruption. There were, however, seven or more times that his message was interrupted by applause.

Near the end of his speech, after acknowledging the love and devotion in videotaped testimonials about the dead and the strong presence of thousands of firefighters and first responders, he said: “All across America, people are praying for you and thinking of you. And when they see the faces of those families, they understand that these are not strangers — these are neighbors. And that’s why we know that we will get through this.”

In that moment, I came to believe it was true, for those attending and those on the platform had conducted themselves like neighbors, not people desperate to score a political point or too blinded by hate to recognize a fellow human.

I left emotionally exhausted but grateful the focus had been on the first responders who gave their lives and on those who must try to live their lives without them. It was a day when politics stood still.

Justice Scalia: Foe (and Friend) of Judicial Activism

Board of Contributors editorial from March 10, 2013 Waco Tribune-Herald, by David R. Schleicher

Imagine you are a U.S. Supreme Court justice ruling on a law outlawing homosexual conduct. Do you uphold the law because such matters are better left to the discretion of legislatures? Or find the law an unconstitutional interference with liberty and an invasion of the right to privacy? Justice Antonin Scalia was on the losing side in that 2003 case and displeased with what he saw as the majority’s judicial activism.

Scalia wrote that our system was designed so the people (through their elected officials) made such calls instead of having judgments “imposed by a governing caste that knows best.” In other words, since federal judges are not elected, they should not be legislating from the bench. In a close call, they should trust the judgment of those who are elected, even if the judges might have made a different law had they been serving in a state legislature or in Congress. Chief Justice John Roberts has put it this way: “My job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

Many were stunned that Chief Justice Roberts — widely regarded as very conservative — stood by this principle even though it meant upholding much of the Obamacare law in a 2012 decision. He wrote for the majority in concluding that the health insurance mandate was constitutional because it was done through a tax on those who opted out: “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

His approach was in line with the 2008 national Republican Party platform describing “judicial activism” as a “grave threat,” with “unaccountable federal judges” “usurping democracy,” “ignoring the Constitution” and “imposing their personal opinions upon the public.”

Different view

Back to 2013. The Supreme Court is again facing a question of whether a law is unconstitutional. This time it’s the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires certain parts of the country to get advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice for even what may seem to be minor changes in voting practices such as combining polling locations. Great progress has been made from the days when different standards were openly applied to those seeking to vote, based entirely on the color of their skin. The law has continued to be re-enacted, most recently in 2006 under President George W. Bush, set to endure for the next 25 years. Congress held numerous hearings and entered findings that the law was still justified by examples of voting rights being hindered on the basis of race and color.

The law originally passed with roughly 20 percent of Congress against it. This was at a period in history when a Southern senator would not hesitate to publicly condemn the Civil Rights Act from the prior year as something to be resisted “to the bitter end” for encouraging “social equality and the intermingling” of the races. But by the time of the 2006 vote, as Justice Scalia noted in recent oral arguments, “not a single vote in the Senate (was) against it. And the House is pretty much the same.”

However, just a few years later, Shelby County, Alabama, now argues the time for treating Southern states more strictly than Northern ones has passed — that it was an unconstitutional federal infringement on states rights to require that some states undergo pre-clearance when the blatant racism once shown by election officials is a relic of the past.

2 camps

As often happens, the justices split into two camps, one arguing that deference should be shown to Congress in coming up with the (admittedly imperfect) solution it did. The other camp argued that the very fact Congress acted near-unanimously a few years ago was a sign it could not be trusted to have made a reasoned judgment. Imagine the president or Congress disregarding unanimous Supreme Court decisions on the basis that surely the Court hadn’t put much effort into those.

One justice even had the audacity to say that “it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a questions you can leave to Congress.” This justice may have forgotten that the 15th Amendment not only outlawed denying the right to vote based on race or color, it also directed that Congress had the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” A judge who is a “constitutionalist” and who loathes judicial activism surely would not substitute his or her personal judgments for these 2006 in-depth findings of a near-unanimous Congress.

‘Grave threat’

At this point, if you’re not enough of a political junkie to have listened to the oral arguments on C-SPAN, you may well be thinking that Justice Scalia was surely up on his high horse, leading the charge against a “governing caste that knows best.” Against what Justice Roberts might call a judge who tries to bat or pitch instead of merely calling balls or strikes. Or what the 2008 Republican platform would label as the “grave threat” of “unaccountable federal judges” who “impose their personal opinions.” We might assume that Justice Scalia would be the one to demand the lawyer before the court answer: “But who gets to make that judgment really? Is it you, is it the Court or is it Congress?”

If so, you assumed wrong, forgetting that the Supreme Court is stocked entirely with humans, a species that has a very poor record of applying their principles when they lead to an outcome they want to avoid. Even when Congress almost unanimously agrees on the best means of achieving a goal it is specifically authorized by the Constitution to undertake, that is not enough to keep some judges from assuming they know better than you and your elected officials.

Justice Scalia spoke with disdain of the motives of Congress, implying the name of the legislation (“Voting Rights Act”) would leave them too cowardly to vote against it. But the very next day the Texas congressional delegation cast more “no” votes than any other state’s lawmakers against reauthorization of a law named for preventing “Violence Against Women.”

“Legislating from the bench,” Scalia teaches us, is only offensive when it means overturning something as run of the mill as, say, a law permitting the arrest of someone for being gay.


Internet’s 10 Best Broken Political Policy Links

From TheContranym.com, its our 2013 list of favorite broken links on today’s hot topics:

10. Facebook brings partisans together.

9. Voting improvements passed for 2016.

8. Risks of apocalypse rise in 2013.

7. Western states promote national harmony.

6. States devise healthcare solutions.

5. Congressional successes in 2012.

4. Pat Robertson offers New Year’s hope.

3. The future of science.

2. Climate change resolved.

1. Texas as a model state.

Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on about our future, it is that we will see more of these in the new year:

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