The judicial appointment process has been broken for two decades. Through the first two centuries of our republic, the Senate was renowned as the world’s greatest deliberative body, the home of lawmakers and statespeople who understood not only the impact of soaring rhetoric but also the value of collaboration and compromise. Senators assiduously exercised their authority to provide advice and consent on judicial nominations. The judicial appointment process was divisive at times, but presidents and senators have historically recognized that stonewalling judicial nominees undermines the independence of the judiciary as a coequal branch of government. With 86 (one in 10) vacancies on our federal bench and with 37 vacant judgeships qualifying as judicial emergencies, the time for collaboration and compromise is now.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, America’s gun control movement was momentarily reenergized. Many reasoned voices sought solutions for such events, which unimpassioned analysis showed to mainly be a mental health issue. Gun control groups also concurred on the mental health aspect, then squandered that brief moment of collaboration by tossing their dusty legislative wish list into the political maelstrom. Knowing that their more extreme measures had little or no chance of passage – such as Dianne Feinstein’s now stalled “assault weapons” ban – they include seemingly benign and popular measures including “universal” background checks.
As with assault weapons, the public self-educated on the topic, and is now rejecting the plan. And for good reasons.
At the end of March Robert Listenbee Jr. quietly started work as the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Department of Justice, filling a post left vacant by the Obama administration for the past four years. There are many important issues that Listenbee, a respected public defender, must tackle, but he could have no better first accomplishment than successfully championing a federal ban on solitary confinement for children in federal custody.
Now that senators have returned from their recess, they must act swiftly to pass Senator Reid’s omnibus gun violence prevention bill (S.649), which requires that all gun buyers pass background checks — whether they purchase their firearms from licensed dealers or else in so-called “private” sales, such as online and at gun shows. And the bill must take the same record-keeping requirement that already applies to dealers and extend it to such private sellers. Failure to do so will deny police the critical tools we need to solve crimes. As law enforcement officers, we have spent decades watching our insufficient laws give criminals easy access to guns, with tragic results.
Thanks to Hollywood movies and nightly television crime programs like CSI, Criminal Minds and Law and Order, most people think that all it takes to find criminals in this country is the stroke of a computer key. There persists a common misconception that a universal national database, containing complete criminal information for every suspect in America, already exists and is readily accessible.
A number of competing gun-control proposals are being prepared in the Senate. While there are a few sensible provisions on the table, we should not be too optimistic any of the bills will do much to prevent tragedies like Newtown, nor lower the rate of gun violence in America. Any serious proposal for reducing gun violence must focus on the people who commit gun crimes and why, rather than on the guns used in the crimes.
Supporters of common-sense controls should continue to resist, and even filibuster, pointless and counterproductive proposals such as the so-called assault weapons ban, high-capacity magazine bans, and universal background checks. Proposals to beef-up penalties for straw purchasers and provide more mental health information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) have merit. But school safety measures should be left to the states, as a matter of both good representative government and of constitutionality.
Public demand for cameras in the court is well established. We have conducted a series of public opinion studies on the issue over the past few years and most recently found that 93 percent of likely voters say “the workings of the Supreme Court should be more open and transparent.” This sentiment spans Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. In addition, 58 percent of voters say there is “too little” news coverage of the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, the public demand for cameras in the court is rising. In June 2009, 61 percent of likely voters said the court should allow televised coverage of oral arguments. In the midst of the ACA cases last March, we found 74 percent of likely voters supporting cameras in the court. And our most recent poll found fully 75 percent of likely voters who say the Supreme Court should allow cameras inside for the oral arguments for the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.
This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the most important civil rights cases of our time – Hollingsworth v. Perry (challenging California’s Proposition 8) and United States v. Windsor (contesting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act). Both Proposition 8 and DOMA define members of the LGBT community as second-class citizens who are incapable of the same commitment as straight couples, and as a class of citizens who pose a direct threat to the American way of life.
On March 26, 2003, a lawyer stood in front of the nine Justices on the Supreme Court and argued that states should not be allowed to criminally prosecute gay and lesbian people for engaging in sexual activity. At the time, 14 states still had laws on the books that made “homosexual conduct” a crime. Flash forward exactly ten years later, and the Court was considering whether Proposition 8, (barring gay couples from marrying in California) violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. What a difference a decade makes.
As a proud gun store owner, an avid outdoorsman, and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, I know that recreational firearm use can be a safe, family-friendly activity that builds community and benefits everyone who takes part. But I also know that with our constitutional right to bear arms comes a responsibility to protect our loved ones and our neighbors from the devastating effects of gun violence.
In order to do just that, my fellow gun owners must come together to support perhaps the most logical and pragmatic gun safety measure currently under consideration in Washington: expanding the existing background check system to require criminal background checks for each and every gun sale.