Adam Cohens Constitutional Wrongs - August 19, 2003

Times Watch for August 19, 2003

Adam Cohens Constitutional Wrongs

Cheering On the March of Constitutional Progress for as Long as It Lasts, a signed editorial by board member Adam Cohen, uses a tour of Philadelphias new Constitution museum to accuse conservative Supreme Court justices of depriving Americans of constitutional rights.

Mondays editorial by Cohen warns: If the museum were not scrupulously nonpartisan (its advisory board includes both Stephen Breyer, the liberal Supreme Court justice, and the conservative Antonin Scalia) it might have offered an instructive exhibit asking visitors to match the constitutional rights they have just learned about with the views of Bush administration judicial nominees.

But Cohens list of horrors is rather unconvincing: One Bush choice for the courts, Michael McConnell, now a federal appeals court judge, has argued that the Supreme Court was wrong to rule that the equal protection clause required legislative districts with roughly equal numbers of people. Jay Bybee, also now an appeals court judge, has argued, incredibly, that the 17th Amendment should be repealed, and United States senators once again selected by state legislators. William Pryor, a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, urged Congress to repeal an important part of the Voting Rights Act.

(In 1997 Congressional testimony, Pryor termed a Voting Rights Act provision requiring Justice Department pre-approval for changes in voting procedures or jurisdictions an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness.)

Times Watch is hard-pressed to find the denial of constitutional rights Cohen thinks is so obvious. The one judge who dislikes a constitutional amendment properly calls for its repeal (unlike a liberal court, which would simply make up, say, a constitutional right to abortion that has no purchase in the actual document).

Cohen then attacks two conservative Supreme Court justices: President Bush has said he wants to appoint judges like Clarence Thomas and Justice Scalia, both embarked on campaigns to undo years of constitutional progress. When Cohen praises constitutional progress, he owns up to belief in the living document philosophy of constitutional interpretation, wherein the constitution changes with the times to encompass activist federal government.

Cohen concludes by warning: But many Bush nominees are not conservatives but radicals. If they take over the federal courts-and in a second Bush administration they might-the scope of our constitutional rights could be very different. The National Constitution Center might be forced to reorganize its main hall in a U shape, so visitors can turn around and say goodbye to the rights that were taken away. If these are the most dire threats Cohen can conjure up, America can rest easy.

Incidentally, the Times has set up a webpage profiling the 15 members of the editorial board. An extract from Cohens entry reveals his liberal background: Prior to entering journalism, [Cohen] was an education-reform lawyer, and a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. (The latest SPLC report is on how ideas that originated on the radical rightare increasingly penetrating mainstream society.)

Cohens not the only Times editor with a liberal or Democratic background. Carolyn Curiel, who joined the editorial board in 2002, served as special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter in President Clinton's first term, focusing on race relations. Dorothy Samuels served as executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the largest affiliate of the national A.C.L.U. There were no identifiable conservatives among the 15 board members.

For the rest of Adam Cohens editorial on Bushs anti-Constitutional judges, click here.

George W. Bush | Adam Cohen | Constitution | Editorial | Judiciary | Antonin Scalia | Clarence Thomas

Christianity in a Positive Light? Now Thats Offensive

Mondays Arts section contains a Bruce Weber review of some of the outr offerings of the New York City Fringe Festival, and one show offended his sensibilities so much he walked out during Act II.

There are over a hundred shows in the Festival. Which one offended Weber? Was it Elephant Titus-General Titus Adronicus returns to Rome with a hideous disfiguring disease, and hes just nuts about it. Or was it Daddy Kathryn, a comedy about a gay son's wacky relationship with his newly outed transvestite father.

No, it was Discordant Duets, the one avowedly pro-Christian work in the festival. For Weber, a pro-Christian message trumps any number of oddly placed piercings for shock value: I did get to probably the most anomalous of the festival's presentations: Discordant Duets, a play with an evangelical Christian bent about two young couples that begin in the same unholy place and proceed in different directions. It's a professional production with a cast of obvious training, directed earnestly by Mark Todd Bruner and written with sincere, or at least fervent, purpose by Mr. Bruner and his wife, Michelle. It is, however, quite a terrible play for a very simple reason: it presumes that life's problems have one unambiguous solution.

Weber then suggests it might work better with the born-again crowd who might like the simple-minded drama. He sniffs: This may be the secret of effective preaching (though I doubt it), and perhaps this kind of storytelling is useful as a recruitment tool for the born-again crowd. But it makes for simple-minded drama, and unless you are already converted or wish to be, you might run out of patience, as I did; I left midway through the second act, after a couple of suggestions that offended me, namely that if you are not willing to accept Jesus as your savior, you are bound to become a belligerent drunk. And that the difference between a Christian counselor and a secular therapist is that the former is devoted to keeping families together and the latter is more concerned with making excuses for their coming apart. No matter how didactic the play might be, it does seem strange for a reviewer to brag about leaving a play because it offended him. By doing so, Weber seems more akin to a stereotypical conservative prude than an open-minded theatre critic.

Weber did like a drama critical of the Catholic Church: A much better, much more realistic play is Acts of Contrition, a drama by Timothy Nolan that doesn't flinch as it addresses the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. To those who object to my favoring the astringent view of the church over the saccharine, please hold the indignant e-mail messages and letters. I simply prefer theater that probes the complexities of conflict to theater that pretends they don't exist.

For the rest of Webers Fringe review, click here.

Arts | Catholicism | Christianity | Fringe Festival | Religion | Bruce Weber

The Naked News

After pushing so hard (and successfully) for U.S. troops, has the Times lost interest in Liberia?

After its work on both the news and editorial pages, the Times oddly buries on page 9 Tim Weiners surprisingly entertaining story on the Liberia peace deal between the government and rebels. Both the Washington Post and the maligned McPaper USA Today find the deal sufficiently newsworthy for its front page.

Instead, the Times reserves the bottom swath of Tuesdays front page for this bit of streaking, er, breaking news: Lizette Alvarez story, Clad in Resolve, Nude Hiker Defies the British Body Image, about the nude hiker making a trek from the southern tip of Britain to the northern end of Scotland. Perhaps the Times is still unloading stories from the blackout: This one is datelined August 12, a full week ago. Note to blackout victims-throw out refrigerated leftovers (or at least tuck them on an inside page)!

For the rest of Tim Weiners story from Monrovia, click here.

Gaffes | Liberia | Tim Weiner

Run, Andrew, Run!

As well as pushing Democratic efforts in Kentucky and South Carolina, the Times is also scouring around for good Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia. Mondays profile by David Halbfinger of former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young boasts of Youngs long resume (the headline even reads Young May Try to Add Senator to Resume.)

Halbfinger writes: Thirteen years after he last held elective office, Andrew J. Young Jr.-the former pastor, civil rights leader, congressman, mayor and ambassador, to pick a few lines from his rsum-is eyeing a new title: United States senator. He is 71 now, overweight, and hobbles on two bad knees. But because the Democratic incumbent, Senator Zell Miller, is stepping down next year and the Democratic Party can find no one more capable of trying to retain his seat, and because Mr. Young, ever the internationalist, is increasingly concerned about America's place in the world and eager to do something about it, he is considering ending his political retirement.

The Times barely hidden plea: Run, Andrew, Run!

Halbfinger warns theres danger ahead for Young; Georgias become only more conservative in the years hes been off the scene. Like much of the South, Georgia has become only more conservative: last fall, Gov. Roy Barnes and Senator Max Cleland, both Democrats, were ousted by lesser-known, conservative Republicans. And two popular conservative representatives, Johnny Isakson and Mac Collins, are already running and raising money for the Republican primary for the Senate. But Mr. Young, and many Democrats both here and in Washington, say that if any Democrat can win this election, it is he. Andrew Young is not labeled.

For the rest of Halbfingers story on Andrew Youngs possible Senate candidacy, click here.