Joanne Freeman on Federalist No. 76 and the Whitaker Lawsuit

Trump and Whitaker

A group of Senate Democrats–Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii)–has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration.  The suit challenges the constitutionality of the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.

The suit invokes the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and references Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 76:

The Constitution’s Appointments Clause requires that the Senate confirm high-level federal government officials, including the Attorney General, before they exercise the duties of the office. The Framers included this requirement to ensure that senior administration officials receive scrutiny by the American people’s representatives in Congress. The Appointments Clause is also meant to prevent the President, in the words of Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 76, from appointing officers with “no other merit than that of…possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.”

“Installing Matthew Whitaker so flagrantly defies constitutional law that any viewer of School House Rock would recognize it. Americans prize a system of checks and balances, which President Trump’s dictatorial appointment betrays,” Blumenthal said. “President Trump is denying Senators our constitutional obligation and opportunity to do our job: scrutinizing the nomination of our nation’s top law enforcement official. The reason is simple: Whitaker would never pass the advice and consent test. In selecting a so-called “constitutional nobody” and thwarting every Senator’s constitutional duty, Trump leaves us no choice but to seek recourse through the courts.”

On Twitter, Yale historian Joanne Freeman provides some context:

A Conservative on Why Matthew Whitaker is Unfit to be Attorney General

Whittaker

Bruce Fein was associate deputy attorney general and general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission under Ronald Reagan.  In a recent piece at The American Conservative, he explains why Trump’s appointment as acting U.S. attorney general is unfit.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Article VI, section 1, clause 3 of the Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

In the Christian conservative Family Leader debate in 2014, as he was campaigning to capture the Senate nomination in Iowa, Mr. Whitaker elaborated that in assisting the confirmation of judges:

“I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them.  Are they people of faith?  Do they have a [New Testament] biblical view of justice?—which I think is very important.  And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge.  And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

The First Amendment also protects the free exercise of religion. In Torcasco v. Watkins (1961), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a requirement that persons declare a belief in the existence of God as a condition of holding public office.

Mr. Whitaker, however, has declared that judicial nominees should be vetted based on whether they have a New Testament biblical view of justice.

In sum, he is no more fit to serve as acting attorney general as would be an atheist to serve as the Pope.   

Read the entire piece here.

Scott Pruitt on “Providence” and “Blessings”

Pruitt

Scott Pruitt has resigned as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Trump announced the resignation via Twitter.

Here is his letter of resignation:

Mr. President, it has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA. Truly, your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration. Your courage, steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people, both with regard to improved environmental outcomes as well as historical regulatory reform, is in fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping achieve those ends.

That is why is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6. It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.

My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.

                          Your Faithful Friend,

                           Scott Pruitt

As this letter makes clear, Pruitt is an evangelical Christian.  He is a former deacon of First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and served on the Board of Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  If you just change a few words in this letter it could pass for his resignation letter as a church deacon.

His appeal to God’s providence should not surprise us.  This is pretty common evangelical language and Pruitt sees little difference between the church and the government.  I am assuming that Pruitt means that God specifically chose Donald Trump to deliver His “chosen nation” from the hands of the Obama-Clinton threat.  I assume he means that God brought him to the EPA to prevent climate-change advocates from actually doing something about climate change.  He is sincere about all of this.  This is what he believes.  I have no doubt that he thinks that he was doing God’s will for a divinely-appointed POTUS.  These appeals to providence, coupled with regular Bible studies that no doubt use the Bible to endorse GOP politics, is what passes for evangelical political engagement today among Christian Right politicians.

The satirist Ambrose Bierce described “providence” as an idea that is “unexpectedly and consciously beneficial to the person so describing it.”

The use of the phrase “bless” or “blessing” (used four times in the short letter) is also pretty common in evangelical circles.  When evangelicals do something to encourage another Christian they are “being a blessing” to that person.  It is a pretty common way of talking about showing Christian love to a neighbor or friend.   When I was a teenager, I often listened to “Walk with the King,” the radio of show of The Kings College president and National Association of Evangelical president Robert A. Cook.  He used to end every broadcast by saying “Until I meet you once again by way of radio, walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

Pruitt no doubt believes that he was a “blessing” to Donald Trump.  He was serving God’s anointed.

He also apparently  received his own “blessings” by working for the EPA.  I don’t think the prosperity gospel is popular in Southern Baptist circles, but in the context of this resignation letter it sure seems like Pruitt believed God was blessing him when he

  • rented a bedroom near Capitol Hill from a lobbyist for $50.00 a night.
  • tried to use his role at the EPA to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.
  • spent over $3.5 million on his security detail.
  • asked an aide to get him a used mattress from a Trump hotel.
  • paid $1560 for 12 fountain pens.
  • lied about asking for a 24/7 security detail
  • flew first class to avoid “lashing out from passengers.”
  • spent $5700 for biometric locks.
  • installed a $43,000 phone booth in his office.
  • told his motorcade to use flashing lights and sirens in order to get to brunch on time.
  • went $60,000 over budget on an EPA trip to Morocco.
  • sent his security detail to buy him lotions and pick-up his dry cleaning.
  • takes a personal security detail on family trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.
  • spent $120,000 for opposition research on the media.
  • hired a coal lobbyist to be his deputy EPA administrator.

I am glad Pruitt is gone for two reasons:

  1. The GOP will spin Pruitt’s resignation by saying that they agreed with his policies as EPA director, but disagreed with the ethics violations.  This position fails to take seriously the Christian responsibility to care for the creation.  Government must play a role in this work.  Having said that, I am guessing Trump will replace him with someone else who believes that climate change is a hoax.
  2. Pruitt’s ethical violations reveal that he is unfit for this cabinet position or any cabinet position.  The fact that he would make appeals to evangelical words like “providence” and “blessing” in his resignation letter is appalling.

And let’s not forget that many evangelicals have defended this guy.

The Greatest Cabinet of All Time?

cabinet

On two different occasions today Donald Trump said that he has the smartest cabinet (in terms of IQ) of “any cabinet ever assembled.”  Of course there is no way to prove this.  But “ever assembled” is a historical statement.  So let’s compare Trump’s nominees (none of them, I might add, have been confirmed yet) with two other presidential cabinets:

President George Washington had  John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, and Henry Knox in his cabinet.

President Abraham Lincoln had the so called “Team of Rivals”: Salmon Chase, William Seward, Simon Cameron, and Edwin Stanton.

Of course we could name other cabinets as well, but I imagine that the names will be less familiar to our readers.

I’ll let you decide if Trump’s statement about his cabinet is correct.

To give Trump the benefit of the doubt, I think he made his comments about the cabinet in jest. Having said that, Trump’s statement that he has assembled one of the greatest cabinets in American history reminds me of what Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said in a recent column: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”

Will Trump Choose Jerry Falwell Jr. as Secretary of Education?

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

He has probably been vetted.  Here is a taste of an article in today’s Washington Post:

“I met with the president-elect and several of his top advisers to discuss what role I might be able to play with regard to education,” Falwell said Monday. “It was a very good discussion.” Falwell said he could not elaborate.

But in general, Falwell added, he takes a skeptical view of regulators at the Education Department. “It’s troubling to see how much they’re micromanaging colleges and universities, using their power, through financial aid and student loan programs,” Falwell said. “That’s been a concern of mine for a long time.”

During the campaign, Falwell took some criticism from within the Liberty community for his backing of Trump. Some students said they could not support the Republican nominee because they had doubts about his character and values.

Falwell’s is one of several names that have become associated with Trump’s education transition. The president-elect also has met in recent days with former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and with school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos. When Trump will announce a nominee for education secretary is unknown.

Read the entire piece here.

And here is a taste of a piece at Alternet:

Falwell Jr. confirmed to the Associated Press on Friday that he had met with Trump at Trump Tower. Falwell told Virginia’s Richmond Times-Dispatch last week that he’s let the administration know that “one of my passions is reforming higher education and education in general.” When pressed by other outlets, including the Associated Press, whether that role would be as Secretary of Education, Falwell would not, “confirm or deny whether he was being vetted as secretary of education, but says he will ‘definitely play a role’ in the administration.'”

 

The President’s Cabinet: Some Historical Perspective

cabinetAs Donald Trump selects the members of his cabinet it is worth putting this group of presidential advisers into some historical context.  Lindsay Chervinsky, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Davis, is finishing her dissertation on George Washington’s cabinet–the first cabinet in the United States.

Here is a taste of her recent piece at Quill: “Advising the President.”

…After his inauguration on April 30, 1789, President George Washington utilized the options provided by the Constitution. On August 22, 1789, Washington visited the Senate to discuss an upcoming summit between representatives from the federal government, the Carolinas, and the Cherokee and Creek nations. Prior to the meeting, he submitted the current treaties with other Native nations for the Senate’s review. On August 22, Washington delivered a statement and then presented questions for the Senate to answer. The Senators sat in uncomfortable silence for several minutes before recommending that the issue be referred to a committee for further discussion. Accustomed to efficient councils of war during the Revolution, Washington was furious. He protested that the delay defeated the purpose of his visit—to obtain prompt, meaningful advice. Washington did return a few days later for the Senate’s recommendation, but he concluded that the legislative body was too large to provide the timely advice needed in diplomacy.

Washington also requested written opinions from the department secretaries almost immediately after taking office. He quickly discovered, however, that many of the issues facing the government could not be dispatched through correspondence and required in-person conversation. In April 1793, war between England and France threatened to engulf the United States. Faced with unprecedented foreign policy decisions, Washington summoned frequent cabinet meetings for the first time. After establishing a policy of neutrality, Washington embraced the cabinet as a central component of the executive branch and continued to convene regular meetings. The creation of the cabinet in 1793 effectively marked Washington’s rejection of the advisory options outlined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Read the entire piece here.