web analytics
April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Stephen Solarz: The Jewish Constituent’s Best Friend


Share Button

Congress has never seen a better friend of the observant Jewish community than Stephen Solarz, who died of esophageal cancer on the 22nd of Kislev. Yonoson Rosenblum’s recently published biography of Rabbi Moshe Sherer describes Solarz as an “invaluable ally” for many Agudath Israel projects and there are 20 references to Solarz in the book’s index.

I repeatedly witnessed Solarz’s dedication to protecting religious observance for Orthodox Jews. In 1978 – when he was still a relatively junior congressman – he initiated a call to me to brainstorm over how observant Jewish postal workers in his district could avoid using up all their annual leave for early departures on winter Fridays and taking days off for the Yomim Tovim. We drafted a Religious Observance Compensatory Time law that Solarz introduced in Congress.

Jimmy Carter’s Department of Justice first objected to the bill, claiming it created an unconstitutional preference for religion because it did not authorize compensatory time for non-religious commitments. Solarz did not cave but demanded a meeting at which the merits of his bill could be aired and discussed before representatives of all interested federal agencies.

Solarz invited me to attend this huge meeting, held at what was then the Bureau of the Budget, with him. We managed, with a forceful presentation, to swing the administration into support for the Solarz bill. It is now federal law (5 U.S.C. 5550a) and enables hundreds, possibly thousands, of federal employees to enjoy some vacation time during the summer with their families.

In 1984, a federal court of appeals ruled that an Air Force psychologist had no constitutional right to wear his yarmulke while he was in uniform seeing patients. I filed an application to the Supreme Court for review of that bad decision but I honestly had little hope the court would agree to hear the case. Solarz leaped into the breach. He called me and suggested he would introduce a bill that, regardless of whether there was a constitutional right, would require the military – as a matter of Congressional statute – to permit the wearing of “unobtrusive” religiously-motivated articles of clothing.

The colloquy on the floor of the House in May 1984 between Solarz and Congressman Wilson of Texas is priceless. Wilson wanted to know whether Texas Indians who wear war bonnets would be covered by Solarz’s law. Solarz noted that bonnets, unlike yarmulkes, were pretty obtrusive. He agreed, however, that one unobtrusive feather might qualify if worn under a hat.

Much to our surprise, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the yarmulke case, and the Solarz legislation, which had run into much greater difficulty in the Senate than in the House, was put on the shelf while the Supreme Court was considering the issue.

The court ruled 5-to-4 against a constitutional right to wear a yarmulke. Solarz promptly revived his bill with some minor modifications. With Solarz’s encouragement a yarmulke of camouflage material was distributed to senators and congressmen to prove that a yarmulke would not reduce the will or ability to be a dedicated U.S. soldier. On September 25, 1987, the Senate voted 55-42 in favor of Solarz’s yarmulke bill. .

Justice William J. Brennan had ended his strong dissent to the Supreme Court’s ruling against the yarmulke with a powerful plea that Congress enact a law protecting the right, so when the bill became law Solarz sent a thank-you letter to Brennan. He enclosed a camouflage yarmulke with the letter, and Brennan acknowledged, in a letter to Solarz (and in conversation with me), that he had put the yarmulke on his head while working at his desk and had forgotten to remove it for the entire day – until he arrived home and his wife asked him what he had on his head.

Solarz’s yarmulke bill is current federal law (10 U.S.C. 774). Military personnel may not be denied the right to wear neat and conservative articles of clothing required by their religious faith while in uniform.

Solarz again led a legislative battle for religious liberty after the Supreme Court ruled in a 1990 case involving the ingestion of peyote by American Indians in a religious ceremony that the First Amendment did not protect religious observance that violated a neutral law. This decision effectively wiped away protection for religious practice that Supreme Court majorities had articulated in the preceding quarter century.

To reverse the effect of this decision, Solarz took the lead in drafting a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” It restored the old constitutional rule as a matter of federal law. The bill was adopted unanimously by both Houses of Congress in 1993 – after Solarz had been redistricted out of his seat – but it was held unconstitutional as applicable to the states in a sharply divided 6-to-3 ruling by the Supreme Court. The law still controls the federal government, however, as a unanimous Supreme Court held a few years ago.

Solarz asked me to reserve a seat for him in the courtroom for the oral argument of the case in which the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was challenged. When we left the courtroom and it looked as if most of the justices would rule against the law, he shook his head in disbelief. “These questions,” he said, “were never seriously debated in the Congress. We thought protection of religious practice was fundamental.”

Solarz was dealt cruel blows in political infighting. His Congressional district – in which he enjoyed enormous popularity – was cold-bloodedly carved up in 1992 and he was left to run a futile race in an overwhelmingly Hispanic district. His drive for government service remained strong, however. On the very day that one of Bill Clinton’s many girlfriends publicly revealed her relationship with the then-presidential candidate, Solarz – by then a former congressman who had won an international reputation – announced his support of Clinton.

Solarz thought he was entitled to some loyalty after Clinton was elected. He knew more world leaders personally than probably any other leading Democrat, and he had his eye on either the UN ambassadorship or becoming ambassador to India. Because the press had aired a phony story concerning Solarz’s efforts to get a U.S. visa for someone who was suspected of being a Hong Kong Mafioso, the Clinton White House withdrew Solarz’s ambassadorial nomination. He would have been a phenomenal ambassador, given his personal, political, scholarly, and rhetorical skills.

Rosenblum’s book on Rabbi Sherer quotes a letter from Solarz to Sherer in which the congressman wrote: “There is nothing more important to me than saving Jewish lives.” His record of accomplishment proved that he not only saved Jewish lives but substantially enhanced Jewish life.

Nathan Lewin is a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Share Button

About the Author: Nathan Lewin is a Washington, D.C. lawyer who has argued numerous cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and teaches a seminar in Supreme Court litigation at Columbia Law School.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “Stephen Solarz: The Jewish Constituent’s Best Friend”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
FBI Wanted poster for Osama bin Laden
Pakistan Library Renamed to Honor bin Laden
Latest Indepth Stories
matza

If itis a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, then why is there no berakha attached to it?

Masked Palestinian Authority Arabs hurl blocks at Israel Police during and after "worship" at Temple Mount mosque. (archive photo)

When we are united with unconditional love, no stone will be raised against us by our enemies.

Haredim riot after draft-dodger is arrested.

The reporter simply reports the news, but it is greater to be inspired to better the situation.

Bitton-041814

The Big Bang theory marked the scientific community’s first sense of the universe having a beginning.

Freeing convicted murderers returns the status of Jewish existence to something less than sanctified.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall” describes what God had in mind for Olmert.

We, soldiers of the IDF, who stand guard over the people and the land, fulfill the hopes of the millions of Jewish people across the generations who sought freedom.

How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine?

Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.

The Haggadah is an instruction manual on how to survive as strangers in strange lands.

It’s finally happened. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported on her blog that “many readers…wrote to object to an [April 2] article…on the breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians,” claiming “[they] found the headline misleading and the article itself lacking in context.” Ms. Sullivan provided one such letter, quoted the […]

Nor did it seem relevant that according to widely circulated media reports, Rev. Sharpton was caught on an FBI surveillance video discussing possible drug sales with an FBI agent.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

When the state was established, gedolim went to Ben-Gurion and asked him not to draft women and, later, yeshiva bachrim.

More Articles from Nathan Lewin
Pesach matza cover

Federal and local laws protect your right to workplace accommodations for your religious observance.

pope

The inauguration of an American president has, since 1937, always begun with an invocation by a clergyman

The late Israeli Supreme Court judge Menachem Elon, was a pioneer of Jewish and Israeli law.

On Tuesday, February 28, it was widely reported that the basketball team of Houston’s Robert M. Beren Academy had “forfeited” its place in the semi-finals of the tournament conducted by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) because it would not play on Friday night and Saturday. But a headline in Friday’s New York Times read: “In Reversal, a Jewish School Gets to Play.”

On August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi, a member of Hamas, drove a suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem, where the bomber blew himself up, killing 15 people including Judy Greenbaum, an American citizen from New Jersey.

Editor’s Note: On July 30, the firm of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, filed in the Supreme Court its brief in Zivotofsky v. Clinton, No. 10-699, on which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in early November. The constitutional issue in the case is whether Congress had the authority to enact a law in 2002 that directs the Secretary of State to permit U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to record their place of birth in their passports as “Israel.” Because the State Department has consistently refused to recognize any part of Jerusalem as being in Israel, the government has refused to implement the 2002 law, claiming it violates the President’s constitutional authority to “recognize foreign sovereigns.” This is the Introduction to the Zivotofsky brief written by Nathan Lewin, followed by a Summary of Argument.

Congress has never seen a better friend of the observant Jewish community than Stephen Solarz, who died of esophageal cancer on the 22nd of Kislev. Yonoson Rosenblum’s recently published biography of Rabbi Moshe Sherer describes Solarz as an “invaluable ally” for many Agudath Israel projects and there are 20 references to Solarz in the book’s index.

A front-page story in The New York Timesof July 10 reported that federal immigration authorities in the Obama administration have adopted a “new strategy” to replace the military-style raids that were conducted in the Bush years to find and arrest illegal aliens.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/stephen-solarz-the-jewish-constituents-best-friend/2010/12/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: