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Posts Tagged ‘Elena Kagan’

Legal Fight against Public Prayer Dates Back to Childhood Carols

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

The need for a firm barrier between church and state is as clear now for Susan Galloway as it was in grade school, when she was expected to sing carols at the Christmas show.

Galloway grew up in McHenry, Ill., a town northwest of Chicago with few other Jews, and the carols sung in school made ample mention of Jesus. Galloway refused to take part.

“It was against everything I was taught,” Galloway told JTA.

As an adult living in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Greece, Galloway encountered a similar problem. Each town board meeting would open with a Christian prayer that mentioned Jesus. She and a friend, Linda Stephens, both became uncomfortable.

Now the effort by Galloway and Stephens to stop it has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held last week in a case that could substantially redefine the scope of acceptable prayers in public venues across the country.

“They’re asking us to bow our heads, they’re asking us to join them in the Lord’s Prayer, they’re asking us to stand — all of this is in the name of Jesus Christ,” Galloway, 51, said in an interview last week. “This one guy went on about the resurrection. We have preachers who stand there with their hands in the air.”

Galloway’s day in court is the culmination of six years of legal battles that began after she started attending board meetings regularly in a bid to save the local public access television channel. Initially she and Stephens appealed to the board supervisor, but they were relegated to subordinates who told them to get over it.

“They basically told us we could leave or put up with it,” Galloway said. “I was offended.”

They sought backing from outside groups, but many turned them away. Especially hurtful for Galloway was the deaf ear from the Rochester Board of Rabbis.

“I presented the issue, and I hoped other rabbis would see it that way,” said Rabbi Simeon Kolko, a childhood friend of Galloway who agreed to make the case on her behalf. “There was not a willingness.”

Rabbi Larry Kotok, the board president, did not respond to a request for comment.

At first, Galloway said, she and Stephens felt ostracized; then it got worse. Threatening letters came in, some signed “666,” the Christian signifier of the devil. Stephens’ home was vandalized. Galloway believes hers was spared because she lives on a busy street.

But Galloway refused to be cowed — a product, she said, of an upbringing that stressed believing in the best of others. “I wanted to believe if you have a conversation with people and you explain to them a point of view and they understand something, there’s a way to work the issue out,” she said. “But they did not want to talk or negotiate or anything.”

With the assistance of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Galloway and Stephens pressed the issue. At first the town seemed responsive, opening up the sessions to prayers of other faiths four times in 2008. But the sides couldn’t settle and the matter went to the courts.

The fact that the Supreme Court is taking the case is not necessarily good news for Galloway. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled on her behalf, but when the Supreme Court considers appeals from lower courts it mostly intends to reverse the decision.

Still, Galloway has accrued the support — from Jewish and non-Jewish groups — she felt was missing in the case’s early days. An array of major organizations — including the Reform movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on her behalf.

“It sends a message to people who are coming that maybe they don’t belong, maybe they will be treated differently,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director for the NCJW. “It creates a climate that makes folks feel like they’re not necessarily part of the political process.”

The concern going into the oral hearing was that the court would substantially expand the definition of permitted prayer in a 1983 case, Marsh v. Chambers. That decision, based on a case related to prayers in the Nebraska Legislature, has been widely interpreted as allowing nonsectarian prayer in legislative bodies.

Former Israeli Chief Justice Looms Large At Kagan Hearings

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

NEW YORK – It was an unexpected development in an otherwise relatively mundane U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process. Failed Reagan nominee Robert Bork grabbed headlines last week when he spoke out against President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the high court. At the top of his complaint list: As dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan once referred to former Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak as her “judicial hero.”

Conservative bloggers quickly ran with Bork’s complaint, painting Barak as the prototypical liberal activist judge and insisting that Kagan’s praise of the Israeli justice was grounds for rejecting her nomination. By the weekend, a few Republican lawmakers were giving voice to the concerns, albeit in less absolute terms. Next, at least two GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeffrey Sessions (R-Ala.), floated the issue in their opening statements on the first day of Kagan’s confirmation hearings.

And on Tuesday the issue took center stage, as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) put the question directly to Kagan – who then unapologetically affirmed and explained her praise of Barak, saying it was rooted in her Jewishness and admiration for Israel.

“I am troubled by the fact that you hold up Barak as a judicial role model,” Grassley said. “He’s been described as creating a degree of judicial power undreamed of by most U.S. justices.”

Grassley quoted Barak as saying that “a judge has a role” in the lawmaking process, and asked Kagan if she agreed. Kagan responded that she did not, but also noted that Barak operated in a fundamentally different system – one without a written constitution.

“Justice Barak’s philosophy is so different from anything that we would use or would want to use in the United States,” she said.

Instead, Kagan added, she admired Barak for creating an independent judiciary in a young state surrounded by enemies.

“As you know, I don’t think it’s a secret I am Jewish,” Kagan said. “The State of Israel has meant a lot to me and my family. And – and I admire Justice Barak for what he’s done for the State of Israel and ensuring an independent judiciary.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, exercised the rarely used prerogative of rebutting Grassley, quoting conservative judges who have praised Barak.

In Israel, Barak has been subject to criticism from the left and the right, both for his expansive notion of judicial powers in upholding democratic values and for deferring to national security considerations in a number of cases involving Palestinians.

“It’s typical of young lawyers going into constitutional law that they have inflated dreams of what constitutional law can do, what courts can do,” Bork said during a June 23 conference call organized by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life in an effort to rally opposition to Kagan in the U.S. Senate.

“That usually wears off as time passes and they get experience. But Ms. Kagan has not had time to develop a mature philosophy of judging. I would say her admiration for Barak, the Israeli justice, is a prime example. As I’ve said before, Barak might be the least competent judge on the planet.”

Following Bork’s comments, liberals in the United States rushed to defend Barak and Kagan by noting that the Israeli justice has received praise as well from judicial conservatives, most notably U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. A darling of conservatives, Scalia glowingly introduced Barak in March 2007 when he was honored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (with the Supreme Court’s two Jewish members, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the audience).

In its report on the introduction, the Forward paraphrased Scalia as saying that “no other living jurist has had a greater impact on his own country’s legal system – and perhaps on legal systems throughout the world.” According to the report, Scalia went on “to celebrate his fruitful and long-standing relationship with the Israeli judge, and to affirm a profound respect for the man – one that trumped their fundamental philosophical, legal and constitutional disagreements.”

Told of Scalia’s remarks, Bork dismissed them as sounding “like politeness offered on a formal occasion.”

In an e-mail to JTA, David Twersky, a veteran journalist and analyst for Jewish organizations, recalled that at a New York Sun editorial dinner at the Harvard Club he asked Scalia about Barak.

“To my great surprise, he had nothing but good things to say and said he would never second-guess Barak,” Twersky said. “So I can tell you from personal experience that Bork is wrong.”

Twersky recalled Scalia as saying, “I mean they don’t even have a constitution over there.”

The Israel-lacks-a-constitution theme has been echoed in recent days by Barak’s defenders, who argue that the different legal traditions in Israel and the United States make it difficult to read too much into Kagan’s praise of Barak.

(JTA)

(JTA’s Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.)

Quick Takes: News You May Have Missed

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

   President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, has argued that certain forms of speech that promote “racial or gender inequality” should be illegal, this column has found.
 
   In her 1993 article “Regulation of Hate Speech and Pornography After R.A.V.,” for the University of Chicago Law Review, Kagan writes: “I take it as a given that we live in a society marred by racial and gender inequality, that certain forms of speech perpetuate and promote this inequality, and that the uncoerced disappearance of such speech would be cause for great elation.”
 
   In a 1996 paper, “Private Speech, Public Purpose: The Role of Governmental Motive in First Amendment Doctrine,” Kagan argues that it may be proper to suppress speech because it is offensive to society or to the government.
 
   Kagan’s name was also on a brief, United States V. Stevens, dug up by the Washington Examiner, stating: “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”
 
   Meanwhile, in her undergraduate thesis at Princeton, Kagan laments the decline of socialism in the country as “sad” for those who still hope to “change America.”
 
   Titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933,” the paper argues that infighting caused the decline of the early socialist movement. Kagan asks why the “greatness” of socialism was not reemerging as a major political force.
 
   “In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness,” writes Kagan.
 
   “Why, in a society by no means perfect, has a radical party never attained the status of a major political force? Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation’s established parties?” she asks.
 
   In the senior thesis, Kagan, who graduated from Princeton in 1981, addresses infighting in the socialist movement.
 
   “Through its own internal feuding, then, the SP [Socialist Party] exhausted itself forever and further reduced labor radicalism in New York to the position of marginality and insignificance from which it has never recovered.
 
   “The story is a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America,” she writes. “Radicals have often succumbed to the devastating bane of sectarianism; it is easier, after all, to fight one’s fellows than it is to battle an entrenched and powerful foe. Yet if the history of Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies. In unity lies their only hope.”
 

   Her thesis was dedicated to her brother “whose involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas.”

 

Axelrod’s Communist Connection

 

   Newly uncovered correspondence quotes a purported communist activist claiming to have served as political mentor to President Obama’s Senior Adviser David Axelrod.
 
   The correspondence is highlighted in this reporter’s new book, The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and other Anti-American Extremists. The book exposes evidence of Axelrod working closely with a pair of communist activists who boasted of aiding Axelrod’s political career; it ties Obama to the same activists as well.
 
   The book also documents how Don Rose, founder of the pro-communist Hyde Park Voices and member in the 1960s of a purported Communist Party front, the Alliance to End Repression, boasted of his relationship with Axelrod:
 
   “Your dad and I ‘mentored’ and helped educate [Axelrod] politically,” Rose wrote to Marc Canter – the son of David S. Canter, who co-founded the Voices newspaper and was named as a communist in the late 1960′s by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, “which is perhaps why you may recall seeing him hanging around the house.”
 
   “I later wrote a reference letter for him [Axelrod] that helped him win an internship at the Tribune, which was the next step in his journalism career,” Rose admitted, referring to an internship Axelrod landed at the Chicago Tribune in 1977.
 
   The newspaper later hired Axelrod full-time. At the age of 27, Axelrod became the youngest Tribune writer when he served as the City Hall Bureau Chief and a political columnist for the publication. 
 
   Axelrod worked again with Rose and Canter when Obama’s future top adviser was hired in 1987 to aid in the successful reelection campaign of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. Washington himself was supported by a coalition of communist and socialist groups.
 
   Canter, a key Chicago political fixer, was reportedly instrumental in convincing Washington to first run for election in 1981.
 
   Rose and Axelrod then worked together again, running the 1992 senatorial campaign of Carol Moseley Braun, whose election was notoriously aided by a massive voter registration drive led by Obama himself at Chicago’s Project Vote.
 
   Rose was later an organizing member of Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq, the group that invited Obama to speak at its October 2, 2002, antiwar rally in Chicago – an address that propelled Obama to national attention.
 
   The rally was organized by Marxist Carl Davidson and extremist activists Marilyn Katz and Bettylu Saltzman.
 
   Davidson is a notorious far-left activist and former radical national leader in the anti-Vietnam movement. He served as national secretary for the infamous Students for a Democratic Society anti-war group, from which Ayers’ Weathermen later splintered.
 
   Davidson is also a founder of the New Party, a controversial 1990s political party that sought to elect members to public office with the aim of moving the Democratic Party far left.
 

   The Manchurian President contains new evidence, including an exclusive interview with Davidson himself, indicating that Obama was a New Party member.

 

   Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief and senior reporter for Internet giant WorldNetDaily.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York’s 770-WABC Radio, the largest talk radio station in the U.S., every Sunday between 2-4 p.m.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/quick-takes-news-you-may-have-missed-42/2010/05/12/

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