Discover more from Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance
The Week Ahead
May 29, 2023
This is how I’ve spent most of my time since last Thursday, when my oral surgeon knocked me out so he could abscond with my wisdom teeth. It’s a little bit humbling to be reduced to someone who surfaces for an hour, watches a couple of videos on Instagram, and falls back asleep.
Even our dog Fig, who is incredibly sweet, mocked me.
Experiences like this are always, ultimately, good. They serve to remind us just how fortunate we are. Despite my current puffy cheeks and sleepiness, I know how lucky I am to be here with all of you, preparing for the work ahead of us. We all know, after a week when Ron DeSantis launched his presidential campaign on a platform that can only be characterized as full-on fascist, without being resoundingly rejected by the Republican Party, that Trumpism is here to stay. It’s going to continue to be our job to be the informed electorate that stands up to efforts to pervert democracy. They are not going away, unfortunately.
Here are a few things to pay attention to as we head into the week:
First off, an American billionaire, patron of a Supreme Court Justice, refused, in a May 22 letter, to comply with a congressional subpoena for information about his relationship with that Justice—no surprises—Clarence Thomas. You can read the full letter here, written by Harlan Crow’s pricey legal counsel. His lawyers rejected the committee’s ability to subpoena their client because, in their view, Congress has no ability to impose ethics rule on the Supreme Court. They also asserted that there’s no legitimate reason for Congress to engage in oversight of the Supreme Court. I guess they missed the part of law school about checks and balances.
There are legitimate issues wrapped up in this that reasonable people might want to debate. The notion that Congress lacks the ability to subpoena Crow based on the public record of his conduct with Thomas is not one of them. The lawyers argue that there is no legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to investigate because “any” legislation they enact would be unconstitutional. It’s great that Crow’s lawyers are confident they can make that assessment in advance, but that’s not how any of this works, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is not going to go quietly into the night on this one. Plenty of people have testified before Congress on matters that resulted in legislation the Court ultimately decided was unconstitutional, but that doesn’t mean a witnesses lawyer gets to make that call in advance.
Senators Whitehouse and Durbin were the signatories on a curt letter responding to Crow’s opening salvo, advising him that his arguments “lacked merit” and giving him a June 5 deadline for compliance with the letter. We’ll watch for jockeying on the issue this week—recent precedent involving Steve Bannon suggests that wholesale ignoring of a congressional subpoena merits prosecution. If the Committee issues one, which seems to be their move if the June 5 deadline passes with no response, Crow’s lawyers will continue their efforts and things will get interesting quickly, likely in federal court. We may see some signs of that this week. Doesn’t the saying go, no man is above the law, unless he vacations with a Supreme Court Justice and his wife?
The same week that insurrectionist and leader of the Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in federal custody, another person convicted in connection with January 6 was released from custody. Jacob Angeli Chansley, popularly known as the “QAnon Shaman,” autographed mugshots and T-shirts as he spoke Sunday at the Reformed Living Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Chansley wore an American flag tie and spoke in front of one American flag with another plastered on the lectern in front of him. He was welcomed by a shofar-blowing church leader. [Update: After the originals stories ran, John Politan, the pastor of the church stepped forward to clarify that “our church had nothing to do with this event. We didn’t even know it was happening.” He explained that the church leases an auditorium for Sunday services on a large property and “Chansley spoke in a meeting hall located in a separate building that his church does not lease.”]
Chansley invited those present to post about him on social media. There was no apology for his role in the insurrection. In fact, he claimed a religious mission for himself, thanking people for their support and condemning the lies spoken about him by the federal government. “I had a lot of support on my journey,” Chansley said, commenting that God had planted him because he wanted him to grow. You can listen to him here. At his guilty plea hearing, he said, “I have no excuse. No excuses whatsoever. My behavior is indefensible.”
The idea that January 6 defendants are beginning to emerge from prison and are being welcomed home as heroes, not insurrectionists, is deeply disturbing. It is important to see it for what it is—evidence of a culture in certain segments of the country that is far from normal, and that continues to worship forces that would drive us apart.
Chansley received an unusually early release. He was sentenced to 41 months in prison but sent to a halfway house in March due, in part, to good behavior while incarcerated. Federal inmates can earn up to 54 days off for every 12 months of custody they are sentenced to. So this release seems early. NPR reported that Chansley’s lawyer said, “The U.S. Bureau of Prisons permitted its existing protocols, some of which are nuanced, to appropriately permit the release of Mr. Chansley from prison.”
Whatever those nuances might have been, more of these releases, either scheduled for those who received short prison terms or early releases like Chansley’s, are coming. As former federal prisoners, most will have some obligations to participate in post-release programming with federal probations officers under the ultimate supervision of federal judges for compliance. But whether there will be any effort or ability to prevent the deification of people who served time for participating in the insurrection remains to be seen. It is deeply concerning that people like this are being celebrated. This is worth watching carefully for long-term impacts.
In interesting news from Texas, there does appear, finally, to be a floor for bad conduct among Republicans, and Texas’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, has fallen beneath it. Paxton was indicted almost eight years ago but has not yet faced a trial. He is accused of persuading investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing that he would be compensated if they did, in a case being handled by special prosecutors in Texas. All sorts of delays, ranging from a suit filed by a Paxton contributor claiming the prosecutors were being overpaid, to changes in venue and the judge assigned to the case, have served to delay the matter for an incredibly long time. Paxton says he is innocent and that the prosecution is politically motivated.
On Saturday, that changed. After cruising along in office as the top state law-enforcement official in Texas (including winning reelection while still under indictment in 2022), the Texas House of Representatives voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton. He now faces a trial in the Texas Senate. Ted Cruz called the impeachment “a travesty,” and Donald Trump defended Paxton and threatened to “fight” if Paxton was impeached.
Paxton will be tried in the Senate on 20 articles of impeachment. Read them here. The bipartisan committee that conducted the investigation is led by a Republican. It charged Paxton with impeachable offenses including bribery, dereliction of duty, disregard of official duty, and unfitness for office. Not shamed by the criminal indictment against him, Paxton allegedly protected a wealthy donor from an FBI investigation and tried to block whistleblower complaints from his staff. The articles of impeachment are a sordid laundry list of misconduct, including the allegation Paxton benefited from a close friend’s decision to employ a woman Paxton was having an extramarital affair with. Detailed reporting from the Texas Tribune helped to both establish the early criminal charges against Paxton and to lay out the allegations in the impeachment proceedings. More here.
Apparently, the decision to launch a secret probe into Paxton’s behavior came on the heels of his request to state budget writers to allocate public money to settle a case against him by former staffers who accused him of retaliation in the neighborhood of $3.3 million. What emerged is a detailed set of articles of impeachment alleging a pattern of many years of misconduct by Paxton.
Under Texas state law, it takes a two-thirds majority of present Senate members voting to convict for the impeachment to succeed. One of those members voting will be Paxton’s wife, Angela, a state senator who has so far declined to recuse.
Angela Paxton is described as a leadership consultant and former educator. Although she and the attorney general “took a break” after allegations of his affair came to light, they appear to have reconciled. Imagine that—having your wife as one of your jurors.
Ken Paxton would be forced to leave office if convicted, but apparently he feels good about his odds in the Senate, telling Matt Gaetz on Newsmax he looked forward to the opportunity to “expose the lies of the House.” According to its website, the Texas Senate is made up of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Paxton’s impeachment trial must start no later than August 28. No word on when he will finally be called upon to face criminal charges in court.
State legislatures controlled by conservative majorities in Texas, Nebraska, and Louisiana are beginning to look for ways to overturn no-fault divorce provisions in their states. They say it’s necessary to save marriage amid rising divorce rates, but statistics don’t support their claims. Five years ago, people scoffed at the notion Roe v. Wade could be reversed. This one is worth paying attention to, even at this early stage.
Some scholars have made economic arguments against no-fault divorce, arguing it harms women, but two economists who researched the surrounding issues as no-fault laws were adopted across the U.S. argued that domestic violence and suicides among women declined significantly in states that adopted no-fault divorce. California was the first in the country to do so in 1969. New York was the last, in 2010.
Reversing course to allow courts to determine when a person’s request to dissolve a marriage should be honored is yet another way of letting a judge’s arbitrary interpretation determine people’s rights in unduly restrictive ways. It is a step backwards from laws designed to give women greater autonomy. Many judges will try to do the right thing. But subjecting people whose future depends on getting out of a marriage to the whims of judges who will behave in an arbitrary fashion based on personal ideologies, or to the difficulties of proving abuse that occurs in the home with no witnesses, is precisely why we have no-fault laws in the first place. This move is another aspect of the slippery slope of taking away women’s rights in America, post-Dobbs.
Meanwhile, a Florida man who never served in the military had this to say about Memorial Day.
Donald Trump’s ongoing work to obliterate core American values and convince people to abandon the values Republicans used to espouse continues to be deeply troubling, especially on Memorial Day. I am reminded that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Find something to love deeply—whether it’s family, friends, the opportunity to follow your passions, or this country itself, without which so many of us with immigrant heritages would not be here at all—and focus on that this week.
We’re in this together,
Civil Discourse is a reader-supported publication. I appreciate both paid and free subscribers. Your paid subscription helps me devote more time to this work.