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Higher Ground through Civil Discourse

The Alturas Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing American Democracy. We promote the Constitution, civic education, gender equality and equal protection of the law. It is our core belief that an informed citizenry is essential to the health, maintenance and integrity of the Republic. Alturas Institute works independently and collaboratively to facilitate broader understanding, deeper knowledge and bridges to consensus.


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Dr. David Adler

Trump’s Actions Easily Justify Impeachment Inquiry

The facts are indisputable and more than sufficient to justify the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry.

As the whole world knows by now, President Donald Trump, in a July 25 phone conversation with Ukranian President Volodmyr Zelensky, pressured Zelensky to investigate one of his principal political opponents—Joe Biden-- in return for releasing congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine and a presidential meeting in the White House. Those who doubt it can take the word of several current and former Trump aides, including Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Soundland.

Trump was flagrantly abusing the power of his office while deploying the full force and weight of the United States to obtain from a foreign government in desperate need of military assistance interference in the 2020 presidential election to promote his own reelection chances. In other words, Trump abused power for his own corrupt purposes-- personal gain--a demonstrable quid pro quo, and an act in of itself, worthy of an impeachment inquiry. In addition, Trump violated federal law, which declares that it is illegal for “a person to solicit, accept, or receive” anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a United States election.

Trump’s shakedown of Zelensky is not the first time he has sought foreign interference in an American election. Days after news broke about his pressure on Zelensky, Trump, in front of television cameras, invited China to conduct its own investigation of Biden. Trump’s brazen violation of constitutional limits, federal law and disregard of the hallowed American principle of free and fair elections-- of, by and for Americans-- has become a predictable pattern. Everyone remembers, for instance, his nationally televised appeal to the Russians in the 2016 election—“Russia, are you listening?”

The July 25 phone conversation, revealed in an edited transcript released by the White House in a failed effort to disguise Trump’s illicit demands, is reminiscent of the “smoking gun” tape that defined Watergate, the infamous conversation that convinced Americans that President Richard Nixon was, indeed, a crook. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on the firmest of foundations in opening an impeachment inquiry. In fact, the unfolding story of Trump’s efforts to block testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, by current and former administration officials, are acts of obstruction of justice of a coequal branch of government-- also worthy of an impeachment inquiry. If Speaker Pelosi wishes, she could task House committees to investigate Trump’s previous misconduct, the many attempts to obstruct justice documented by special counsel Robert Mueller. Those acts more than merit an impeachment inquiry.

To be clear, there would be no merit to an impeachment inquiry grounded on Trump’s assertion that he is a “stable genius,” enjoys “unlimited” power under Article 2 of the Constitution, and possesses “great and unmatched wisdom.” Nor would there be justification because of his crude and vulgar attacks on those who criticize him: “Mitt Romney is a pompous ass,” or that Joe Biden was “a good vice-president because he kissed Obama’s ass,” or in his dismissal of the House inquiry as “bullshit impeachment.” Descriptions of his critics as engaging in “treason” don’t provide grounds for an impeachment inquiry, either.

What, then, might constitute an impeachable offense? The Framers of the Constitution recognized the need for the mechanism of impeachment, possibly for the removal of a president before another election, for without it, as Benjamin Franklin told fellow delegates in the Constitutional Convention, “there would be no recourse but to assassination.” Impeachment was preferable, the Framers decided.

For starters, a criminal act committed by a president was not a necessary condition. We could surmise that the House might find such an act—shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, for example—worthy of impeachment, but crimes were left to the criminal justice system. Impeachable offenses, the Convention determined, involved grave political offenses that undermine the Constitution.

The Framers did not provide an exhaustive list of what constitutes an impeachable offense. The Constitution lists treason, bribery and “other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” “Treason,” a heinous act, is the lone offense defined in the Constitution. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason as specific acts: “levying War against” the United States, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” The offense of bribery is familiar. The latter category—“high crimes and misdemeanors,” is the broadest of the impeachment categories, and subject to more debate than the others.

Among other acts, the Framers’ laundry list of high crimes and misdemeanors included corruption, abuse of power, violation of foreign affairs powers, usurpation of power, subversion of the Constitution, negligence, perfidy, a scheme of peculation or oppression, and serious misconduct.

The House is surely correct to recognize the relevance of those impeachable offenses—corruption and abuse of power, at a minimum-- in President Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian president. Others hit close to home and more than warrant the current impeachment inquiry. In the Convention, Gouverneur Morris spoke for his colleagues when he declared that a president should be impeached for “betrayal of his trust to a foreign power.”


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Teton Toyota wins Gender Equality Award

Teton Toyota has been named the winner of the Alturas Institute’s 2019 Susan B. Anthony Award for its promotion of gender equality. The Susan B.Anthony Award, named for the iconic champion of women’s rights, honors an organization in Idaho for its programs and policies advancing the careers of women and the cause of gender equality.

Teton Toyota was hailed by the Alturas Institute President, Dr. David Adler, for its “genuine commitment to promoting women to management and leadership positions within its company, and for fostering an environment for the professional growth and careers of women in an industry historically dominated by men.” Adler added, “Mario Hernandez, the owner of Teton Toyota, in both his personal and professional life, has long been a proponent of leveling the field to facilitate the pursuit of gender equality. His commitment to that goal is exemplary, and he stands out as a leader whose management methods are truly worthy of emulation.” Teton Toyota was distinguished among other finalists by its promotion of women to top leadership positions, its generous family leave program and its program to reimburse parents (often single women) for the cost of their child’s tuition at colleges and universities.


Trump’s Defiance of Congressional Subpoenas Threatens Rule of Law

President Trump’s defiance of congressional subpoenas— “to fight them all”—represents a profound and unprecedented threat to constitutional government and the rule of law. Trump’s contumacy, if successful, would create a moat around the White House, rendering the president inaccessible and unaccountable to the first branch of government, and shackling the legislature’s constitutional powers of investigation and oversight, bringing executive power to an authoritarian pitch.

Thus far, federal courts, called on to adjudicate this standoff, have rightly upheld the far-reaching power of congressional committees to investigate the executive branch, including presidential abuse of power.  Courts in New York and Washington, D.C. have rejected Trump’s efforts to block subpoenas, designed to disclose the president’s financial records. 

But we cannot rely on the judiciary alone to rein in the administration; after all, courts are limited to review of claims on a case-by-case basis. Judicial review of the mounting acts of defiance of subpoenas to administration officials, and former aides and advisors, could take many months, perhaps years, precisely what President Trump is counting on, as he pursues a strategy of slow-walking the legal process, well into the 2020 election.

Trump’s attacks on, and contempt for, America’s independent judiciary, a much admired institution among scholars and commentators across the world, may presage a deepening constitutional crisis. After all, we have no guaranteed that Trump would comply with a court order to turn over records subpoenaed by the House of Representatives. 

It is for that reason, in addition to defending its own institutional integrity, checks and balances, the rule of law and the compelling national need to move forward with investigations, that the House must exercise its foundational power to enforce its subpoenas and contempt citations. Congress, in short, Congress must resort to self-preservation by tasking its sergeant-at-arms to arrest those held in contempt by Congress.

In 1821, in Anderson v. Dunn, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, to order the Sergeant-at-Arms to arrest a citizen who had had been held in contempt for violating the rules of the House by attempting to bribe a member of Congress. The House, the Court held, possessed the authority to protect its institution and rules.  The contemnor, duly arrested, despite groundless assertions of assault and battery, and false imprisonment, was brought to the bar of the House, found guilty, reprimanded, and released from custody.

The House of Representatives need not await judicial rulings weighing in on those whom it holds in contempt. Its contempt power is owed the same respect paid to judicial findings of contempt.  Congress has the undoubted authority to punish contempt actions by the simple process, upheld by the courts, of ordering the Sergeant-at-Arms to seize the offender and place him in the District of Columbia common jail or the guardroom of the capitol police.  

Is that harsh? Not at all, not in our time. The Department of Justice is led by an Attorney General, William Barr, who has become an  apologist for President Trump and is unlikely to heed a congressional request to take a contemnor into custody. And the courts, however dutifully they perform their responsibilities, are likely to be slow-walked by an administration that has demonstrated its disinterest in the rule of law.

An order to the Sergeant-at Arms by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, like her predecessor, Henry Clay, to take into custody those current and former members of the Trump Administration who refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas, will sound a resounding message: this is what is necessary in the Trump Era to defend constitutional government and the rule of law.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

BY KAREN BOSSICK

When Wood River Valley women pencil in their votes on their ballots today, they will be taking part in a time-honored ritual that was only granted to women 100 years ago.

“We’ve traveled a long way in the last 100 years with 10 million more Americans becoming eligible to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in June 1919,” says Constitutional Scholar David Adler. “But why did it take so long? It’s because women were dealt their cards from the bottom of the deck.”

The centennial of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote is near and dear to Adler’s heart.

The United States’ European allies gave women the right to vote before this country did. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The United States’ European allies gave women the right to vote before this country did. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

He discussed the fascinating tale of how women got the vote--a story punctuated with intrigue--at a presentation at Ketchum’s Community Library. And he talked about it during the annual Conversations with Exceptional Women conference held by the Alturas Institute in September.

American women could not buy or sell property during the nation’s infancy. They were “under the cover” of their husbands, thanks to old English law.

“The thinking was that women didn’t need to speak for themselves—their husbands could,” Adler said. “A woman’s place was to have children and keep hearth and home. Politics were considered too dirty for fragile women.”

Women didn’t necessarily agree.

None other than Abigail Adams told her husband John, the second president of the United States, “Don’t forget the ladies,” as he headed out to craft a new nation at the Continental Congress.

He—and others—did forget, or dismiss, the ladies. And 70-some years later in 1848 women rallied to hold the first national convention to promote women’s rights at Seneca Falls, N.Y. “A few good men” also attended, including Frederick Douglass, the former slave-turned-abolitionist, noted Adler. 

They penned something resembling the Declaration of Independence, saying that all men AND women are created equal and that women should have the right to vote.

That, too, was ignored by the men in power. But Susan B. Anthony managed to turn the tables when she convinced U.S. Sen. Aaron Sargent (R-Calif.) to introduce women’s suffrage to Congress during a long train ride from California to Washington, D.C., in 1872. But, again, white males had no interest in passing the Susan B. Anthony amendment when it was finally introduced in 1878.

Out west it was a different matter. The first territorial legislature of the Wyoming Territory granted women suffrage in 1869, with a Laramie woman becoming the first to cast a vote in September 1870. Colorado followed suit in 1893 and Utah and Idaho in 1896.

“The men outnumbered the women 2-1 in the state of Wyoming in the late 19th century. And they thought giving women the right to vote might attract more women to the state,” Adler said.

By the 1916 election, 16 states had given women the right to vote, prompting Woodrow Wilson to realize that he and others could be defeated if they did not support it.

In 1918 he delivered a speech noting that women had filled the jobs of men who had gone to war, their  performance critical to the nation’s security, and so they deserved the right to vote. Moreover, he added, women—not men—had given birth to those serving in the army.

Congress passed the amendment but it needed 36 states to ratify it. With 35 states saying “Aye,” all eyes turned to Tennessee. as the only one left that could take a vote that year.

Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida refused to consider the resolution. And the rest of the Deep South was entrenched against it.

The Tennessee governor called a special session and armies of suffragettes and anti-suffragette lobbyists invaded the Volunteer State. The War of the Roses erupted as lobbyists from Jack Daniels showed up, pouring plenty of liquid bribes against the amendment for fear women would continue prohibition if they got the right to vote.

In fact, bribes to vote against the amendment became so prolific that suffragettes were placed at railroad stations to turn back anyone approaching an amendment supporter with a suitcase.

“Those against felt the passage of the 14th amendment giving black Americans the right to vote had put them under the subjugation of blacks,” Adler said. “We will not let Tennessee be terrorized by women, especially black woman, they said. Let’s not let down our southern neighbors, they said. Women have a place—it’s in the home. If they vote who’s going o be at home to raise the children?”

At one point, the governor thought he had the vote only to have the speaker of the House change his mind after being offered the promise of governorship if he would keep the amendment from being passed.

On the eve of the vote, anti-suffragettes sent fake telegrams to amendment supporters telling them, they needed to return home because their wife or child was on their death beds.

When one amendment supporter received a telegram that his wife was dying, the House minority  leader arranged for a wealthy man to charter a private train so the legislator could get home and, if his wife was okay, return in time for the vote.

When another received a telegram that his baby was dying, another private train was chartered for him so he could sneak out at night, rush home and rush back.

 As the vote neared its conclusion, it was tied 48-48, despite lobbyists who had been allowed to come forward, Jack Daniels in hand and money in their pockets.

The tiebreaker was a 24-year-old named Harry Burns, who had been the youngest ever elected to the legislature.

He wore a red rose on his lapel signifying his opposition to ratifying the amendment. And he had voted against it twice during earlier roll calls.

But, when it came his time to vote this time, he blurted out a quick “Aye.” And with that the 70-year battle for suffrage came to a close

“In his suit pocket was a letter from his mother Febb E. Burn in which she asked him to ‘be a good boy’ and vote for the amendment,” Adler said. “She wrote, ‘As you know, I’m an advocate for the 19th amendment. I hope you will do the right thing and vote for America.’ ”