MA Chief Justice Had to Be Thinking 'Trump!' When He Wrote this Speech

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

On February 15, Ralph D. Gants, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center to deliver what he called “a very brief secular sermon” at the conclusion of the mosque’s midday prayer service.  This was the fourth consecutive year that Justice Gants made such a visit and gave such an address.

“I come each year because it is the clearest way I know how to communicate the continued commitment of the judiciary to protect your constitutional rights, and the rights of every resident in this Commonwealth, citizen and non-citizen, regardless of religion, skin color, or national origin,” Gants said
Passionately, he continued as follows:

“I want to speak to you today about the constitution of a powerful nation -- a constitution that guarantees the rights of all citizens, regardless of nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, cultural, social, and political life; guarantees freedom of religious worship and freedom from anti-religious propaganda; and guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
“The constitution I have described is the constitution of the former Soviet Union, established in 1936 under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party. All of you who know your history know that this constitution was a travesty, a litany of empty promises; all of those guarantees meant nothing to a repressive state that routinely violated each of those rights. 

“I speak of the Soviet constitution to prove a point: without an independent judiciary that has the authority and the courage to speak truth to power and to ensure the rule of law, constitutional rights are merely words on paper. The freedoms all of us enjoy that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Rights in the Massachusetts Constitution depend on the authority of our judiciary to uphold those freedoms and, when it is necessary, to declare laws and government conduct unconstitutional.
“And they depend on the expectation that those rulings will be obeyed. 

“So, when you hear those in power attempt to intimidate judges in the hope of influencing their decisions, or seek to remove judges for decisions they do not like, or discuss the possibility of ignoring court orders, what is threatened is not only the independence of the judiciary. What is threatened is the rule of law itself, and all of the rights granted by those laws.”
Gants did not identify the person (or persons) he was referring to when speaking of “those in power” who “attempt to intimidate judges…”

Judge-bashing is not an isolated phenomenon these days – think of how the entire West Virginia Supreme Court was recently impeached by a vote of that state’s legislature – but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone other than Donald Trump was uppermost in Gants’s mind at that moment.
This past November, our president, in perhaps his most fearsome attack on the judiciary to date, raged against the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit -- calling it “a disgrace” -- because the court had dared to order his administration to resume processing claims for asylum from migrants, regardless of how they entered the country. 

Trump complained that the particular judge who authored the ruling, Jon S. Tigar, was “an Obama judge,” eliciting an unusual public reaction from John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, shortly thereafter. Roberts put out a statement rebuking Trump and defending Tigar.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Justice Roberts said.  “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.  That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Our president, thankful only when circumstances evolve to his personal benefit, gives oath-taking a bad name.  He swore to preserve, protect and defend the constitution.  It has not occurred to him that defending means respecting -- even standing up for – the duly appointed and confirmed experts who interpret that precious document.
To use a favorite Trump word: Sad.

FOOTNOTE: Gants may be a Democrat but any fair observer would be hard-pressed to stick a political label on him.  He was first appointed to the Superior Court by Republican Gov. William Weld in 1997.  Democrat Deval Patrick named him an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 2009, and then promoted him to Chief Justice upon the retirement of Roderick Ireland in 2014.   

House Chaplain's Words Shine a Light on the Righteous Angelina Grimke Weld

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The number of women legislators on Beacon Hill is at a record high following the elections of this past November.  Women occupy 46 of the 200 legislative seats (28.5%): 11 in the Senate, 35 in the House.

Until that hoped-for day in a hoped-for-not-too-distant future, when the legislature is evenly divided between men and women, there's no reason to pause long for self-congratulation.  The battle for equality is long and never ending, and almost any look into Massachusetts history reveals a milestone telling us how slowly our society has been moving toward an egalitarian ideal.  Take February 21 as an example. 

On that date in 1838, a woman addressed a legislative body in the U.S. for the first time.  Ever.  This happened sixty-two years after the Declaration of Independence and two hundred and eighteen years after the Pilgrims, refugees from persecution turned persecutors, landed in Plymouth.

The speaker was Angelina Grimke (later to become in marriage Angelina Grimke Weld), an advocate for the abolition of slavery.  She was in the company that day of her sister, Sarah.  Both had been raised on a plantation in South Carolina that operated on the scarred backs of enslaved African Americans.

In revulsion to the horrors they had witnessed, the Grimke sisters converted to the Quaker faith and joined the burgeoning crusade for abolition, which climaxed in the Civil War.  They traversed northern states, giving speeches in which they agitated not only for freeing the slaves but also for total racial and gender equality.  A demand such as this, the National Women's History Museum states, was "highly radical for the times."

The museum also states that lectures by the Grimke sisters about their first-hand knowledge of slavery's evils -- especially to mixed male and female audiences -- "provoked rebuke from ministers for their 'unwomanly behavior.' " 

Women telling hard truths was offensive.  How much have things really changed? 

This past Thursday was February 21.  In honor of the occasion, the Rev. Rick Walsh of Boston's Paulist Center, chaplain of the Massachusetts House, delivered a session-opening prayer that summarized the significance of Angelina Grimke's appearance at the State House and of the words she spoke that day before the Massachusetts Senate. 

"Today we give thanks for a legacy in Massachusetts on the struggle for human rights," Father Walsh said.  "On this day in 1838, a woman addressed a legislative body in the United States for the first time.  Angelina and Sarah Grimke were daughters of South Carolina slave owners who had moved north to pursue their Quaker faith.  In the Massachusetts Senate chamber on Feb. 21, 1838, Angelina Grimke spoke out against slavery, saying it affected American women as a moral, religious and political issue.  We pray today for the women in Massachusetts who serve in ways the Grimke sisters could only dream of." 

I mentioned that Angelinia Grimke married a Weld.  That would be Theodore Dwight Weld, a native of Connecticut who is considered one of the architects of the American abolitionist movement.  Mr. Weld co-authored the book American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, one of the sources used by Harriett Beecher Stowe when writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, the book that Abraham Lincoln said helped bring on the Civil War. 

Wondering if Mr. Weld was related to our former governor, William F. Weld, I did a little research and quickly discovered that he is, indeed, in the governor's family tree, albeit in a branch distant from the governor's. 

In an unforeseen complement to the Civil War aspect of this post, I happened also upon an illustrious Union Army veteran who's much closer on the tree to the governor's family: Stephen Minot Weld, Jr., of Boston (1842-1920).  This Weld left Harvard Law School at war's outbreak to enlist in the army.  Commissioned a second lieutenant, he fought bravely in the Second Battle of Bull Run and in the battles at Antietam and Gettysburg.  By the end of the war, he had achieved the rank of colonel and was commanding the 56th Massachusetts Regiment. Stephen Minot Weld is Governor Weld's first cousin, twice removed.

We're Witnessing in Weld the Genuine Idealist, Long Obscured

Monday, February 18, 2019

According to the latest polls, Donald Trump is viewed favorably by 79% of Republican voters, the simplest indication that former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who has formed a committee to explore a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2020, does not have a chance of beating Trump in the primaries.  Weld, the opposite of stupid, understands that and will likely challenge Trump anyway.  The question is why.

He could be doing it as a lark, which is what his last campaign, as the Libertarian Party nominee for vice president of the United States in 2016, seemed to be.  (Weld only abandoned Libertarianism officially on January 17 when he re-registered as a Republican.  "I'm rejoining the party not of the Know Nothings," he said, "but rather the party of Lincoln.")

He could be doing it because he's bored and needs the excitement and ego-kick of a Republican presidential nomination battle, where he'd be constantly in the spotlight, trading insults with Trump.  What great copy.

He could be doing it because he's honestly terrified of the damage Trump is doing, and could do, to the country and he believes that he can prevent some of it by standing in Trump's way.  "Our country is in grave peril," he avers.

He could be doing it because his personal brand, which has, in recent years, been anchored to the government relations practice of ML Strategies, the lobbying arm of the Boston law firm of Mintz Levin, needs a refresh.  A multi-state campaign will bring publicity he could never afford.

Or, he could be doing it purely out of a sense of civic duty, as articulated this past Friday morning in a speech before a New Hampshire group convened by the New England Council.  He concluded that speech, an address flowing over with policy details, thusly:

"We cannot sit passively as our precious democracy slips quietly into darkness.  Congress must do its duty, and as citizens we must do every country, there comes a time when patriotic men and women must stand up and speak out to protect their own individual rights and the overall health of the nation.  In our country, this is such a time.  It is time for all people of goodwill  -- and our country is filled with people of goodwill -- to take a stand and plant a flag.  Abraham Lincoln might have called it the flag of the union.  Today we call it the flag of the United -- yes, United! -- States of America."

Earlier in the speech, Weld, vigorous and sharp at 73, called the president out for his "compulsive irrational behaviors," and, in a line that I, as a former newspaper reporter, particularly liked, he complained that Trump "has virtually spit on the idea that we have a free press."

He also said, "...we have a president whose priorities are skewed toward the promotion of himself rather than toward the good of the country...To compound matters, our president is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office -- which include the specific duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed -- in a competent and professional manner.  He is simply in the wrong place.

"They say the president has captured the Republican Party in Washington.  Sad.  But even sadder is that many Republicans exhibit all the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with their captor."

It's easy to dismiss our former governor as an eccentric -- Who can forget his resigning as governor to pursue the ambassadorship to Mexico? -- or as a gadfly who can dazzle you in one breath propounding upon the analgesic powers of marijuana and on the injustices of the estate tax in the next -- or as a sell-out trading in his senior years on the name he earned in public offices (Watergate committee counsel, U.S. attorney and governor) during his prime.

I don't see Bill Weld as any more divided than any other member of our species.  The weaknesses and strengths, the flaw and virtues, are all there in equal potency.  He's never done anything so bad, so selfish or so greedy that he's lost communication with the better angels of his nature. 

Those angels, I believe, are telling him now that he has a duty to fight, the odds be damned, a man who happens to be  the antithesis of the New England branch of the Republican Party from which Weld sprang. 

That branch is dead and is not coming back to life.  Bill Weld, though he can bloody Trump, cannot beat him. 

As late-in-life exploits go, this is a gallant one.

FOOTNOTE: In the speech announcing his exploratory committee, Governor Weld spoke of the duties we have as citizens.  If you care about politics, I think you have a duty to read the complete text of that not-hard-to-find-online speech.  Just google, "Bill Weld's Feb. 15 speech in New Hampshire."  As I hinted above, Weld, besides laying hard into Trump, lays out numerous, solid policy prescriptions for what ails America.

It's Always Fun to Flip the Pages of the Book on New MA Legislators

Saturday, February 2, 2019

On Tuesday, January 2, the 200 members of the Massachusetts legislature -- 40 senators and 160 representatives -- were sworn into office for the 2019-20 session.

The 200 included 5 new senators and 25 new reps, although I'm stretching the word "new" in the case of Senator Barry Finegold of Andover, who was returning to the Senate after a four-year absence. 

You may recall that Finegold gave up this Second Essex and Middlesex District seat to run unsuccessfully in the Democrat primary for state treasurer in 2014, a race won by Deborah Goldberg of Brookline, who was just elected to a second term as treasurer. You have likely forgotten that former Wayland representative Tom Conroy, the ever commendable Tom Conroy, came in third, and last, in that primary.

I should note that Senator Diana DiZoglio of Methuen is also not really new to the legislature.  She has represented her community in the House for the past four years, and before that she was a legislative aide.

The 30 (mostly) new legislators who took their oaths on January 2 are evenly divided by gender: 15 are female and 15 male. It happens that 3 of the 5 new senators are women, while 12 of the 25 new reps are.

This group of 30 reflects the continuing ill fortune of the Massachusetts Republican Party.  Only 3 of them are members of the GOP; all three are in the lower branch:

Rep. Norm Orrall of Lakeville, who succeeded his wife, Kiki Orrall, who had given up the seat to run unsuccessfully for state treasurer; Alyson Sullivan of Abington, who won the seat vacated by Geoff Diehl, who walked away from the legislature to try to oust Senator Elizabeth Warren; and Michael Soter of Bellingham, a sales manager in the food industry, who replaced fellow Republican Kevin Kuros, who ran unsuccessfully for Worcester County register of deeds. 

Aside: Kuros lost the Republican primary for register of deeds to Rep. Kate Campanale, who then lost the final to first-time political candidate Kathryn Toomey, a Democrat, a real estate attorney and a daughter of the late Judge Daniel F. Toomey of the Worcester Superior Court.  Register of deeds pays $129,000 a year, which may explain why two reps were willing to give up their jobs on Beacon Hill to quest for it.  Such plums do not often become attainable but Anthony J. Vigliotti, the incumbent register who had the job for 46 years, made it so by retiring.

I can become fascinated by a close look at any collection of 30 human beings.  And that is especially so when the subset is composed entirely of public servants, those hearty souls who have submitted themselves to the judgment of their peers at the ballot box and been found sufficient.

Thus did I have much fun combing through and ruminating upon the backgrounds of the (mostly) new senators and reps, as compiled by the legislative tracking service we have used for years, MassTrac.

I found, for example, that Barry Finegold and Senator Jo Comerford of Florence, way out in the Berkshires, both graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Comerford is a member of the Franklin and Marshall Class of 1985.  She has worked as a campaign director for Move-On, a progressive public policy advocacy group and political action committee, and as an adjunct professor at Smith College.  (Move-On's big in the campaign to make Senator Warren the next president of the United States.)  Finegold, an attorney with service in both the House (1997-2010) and Senate, graduated from Franklin and Marshall in 1993 (and from the Massachusetts College of Law in 1998).

Franklin and Marshall had never registered on my consciousness, which tells you more about my lack of knowledge than the standing of this institution.  Looking online, I found that Franklin and Marshall is a gem of a liberal arts college that's been around since 1787. It's as old as our country!

Franklin and Marshall alumni include the late Bowie Kuhn, once commissioner of baseball; Ken Duberstein, who was chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and 1989; and actors Roy Scheider of "Jaws" fame and Richard Treat Williams of "Once Upon a Time in America" fame.  (How do you not love a guy named Treat?)

Aside: Richard Treat Williams is descended, on his mother's side, from Robert Treat Paine, a Massachusetts Bay Colony clergyman, lawyer and signatory to the Declaration of Independence.)

Speaking of colleges, I found that Senator DiZoglio (Class of 2010) and two of the new reps, Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton (Class of 2002) and Liz Miranda of Boston (Class of 2002) are all graduates of Wellesley, and that two other new reps, Maria Robinson of Framingham (Class of 2009) and Nika Elugardo of Boston (Class of 1995), are graduates of MIT.

I even found one Harvard grad in the bunch, Rep. David LeBoeuf of Worcester (Class of 2013), an associate at Urban Business Initiatives. (LeBoeuf replaces former rep Campanale.)

The new legislators include six attorneys: the aforementioned Finegold; Senator Becca Rausch of Needham, a Democrat who defeated a longtime Republican incumbent, Richard Ross, in the Norfolk, Bristol & Middlesex District; Rep. Chris Hendricks of New Bedford, who defeated longtime incumbent Robert Koczera; Rep. Tran Nguyen of Andover, a Democrat who beat one of the most conservative members of the legislature, Republican Jim Lyons; Rep. Dan Carey of Easthampton, who won the 2nd Hampshire District seat vacated by the retiring John Scibak; Rep. David Biele of South Boston, who won the seat left open by Nick Collins when he was elected to the Senate (replacing Linda Dorcena Forry); and Rep. Niki Elugardo of Boston, who defeated incumbent Jeff Sanchez, the House Ways & Means chair, in a major upset.

Aside: Lyons wasn't out of work for long.  In January, he won a contested election for chair of the state Republican Party, where, it is predicted, he will inevitably become a pebble in the sneaker of Governor Charlie Baker, the ultimate centrist.

I found some other, dare I say more interesting occupations in this group.  Rep. Patrick Kearney of Scituate, for example, is a charter fishing boat captain; Rep. Peter Capano of Lynn, is an employee of the big General Electric plant in his hometown and served as president of Local 201 of the IUE/CWA, the union formally known as the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried Machinists and Furniture Workers/Communication Workers of America; Senator Ed Kennedy of Lowell is a commercial real estate appraiser; and Framingham's Rep Robinson is the director of wholesale markets for Advanced Energy Economy.

There are also three doctors in this group.  Rep. Tommy Vitolo of Brookline has a Ph.D. in systems engineering from Boston University and works as a senior associate at Synapse Energy Economics.  Rep. Jon Santiago is a graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine and is employed as  an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center.  Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton earned a Ph.D. in public health at Boston University and is the project director at ReThink Health.  [Note: I am not counting the lawyers with juris doctor degrees in this category.]

Santiago is one of the three in this batch of legislative newbies who has military experience:  he is a captain in the Army Reserve.  The others are Capano, who served in the Army, and Kearney, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Navy veteran.

Two of the new reps have backgrounds as Congressional aides.  Rep. Natalie Blais of Sunderland has served on the staffs of former Massachusetts Congressman John Olver and current Congressman Jim McGovern.  Rep. Mindy Domb of Amherst worked for the late Ted Weiss, who represented a west side Manhattan district in the U.S. House (1977-92).

Not surprisingly, many, many of the new legislators have served or are serving in local government.

Senator Kennedy, for example, was a member of the Lowell City Council before capturing the position formerly held by Lowell City Manager Eileen Donoghue; Rep. Richard Haggerty of Woburn was most recently the president of the Woburn City Council; Rep. Soter was chair of the Bellingham Board of Selectmen; Rep. Carey was an Easthampton city councilor; Rep. Michelle Ciccolo was a member of the Lexington Select Board; and Rep. Orrall served as Lakeville Town Moderator.

I'll wrap up with some of the achievements by these folks that merit inclusion in the category of Interesting Facts About Your Legislators, if such a thing existed:

Rep. David Robertson of Tewksbury is an Eagle Scout; Senator Kennedy is a member of both the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club; Rep. Orrall is the owner/operator of Norm's Natural Farm in Lakeville; and Rep. Sabadosa has a master's degree in translation studies from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.