The Wavering Qualifications of a Vice President

9780700622023In a recent piece on U.S. News & World Report, Robert Schlesinger argues that “The vice presidency, it’s been paraphrased, is not worth a bucket of warm spit. But over the last couple of decades two competing and frankly unsettling trends have occurred around that position.”

Schlesinger sites author Joel Goldstein’s book The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden” to illustrate the increased expectancy of Vice Presidential candidates. He writes that, even though the role and importance of the Vice President has evolved over the past 40 years, the qualifications of the candidates may not always stack up.

“But even as the vice presidency has found its proverbial groove, the quality of candidate for the office has not kept pace, especially since George H. W. Bush,” Schlesinger writes. “He was qualified to follow Mondale, of course, but his own hand-picked successor, Dan Quayle, was famously ‘no Jack Kennedy.’ Quayle’s four years as the number two were a nothingburger (though in fairness, Goldstein says he was a “valuable legislative and political adviser and operative”), for better or worse.”


Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth

Layout 1 (Page 1)Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway blockbuster Hamilton kept Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill and has transformed this unlikely founding father into something of a celebrity. But while Hamilton is currently seen as a heroic figure, throughout much of the nation’s history he was seen as “un-American” – a closet monarchist who hated the “great beast,” the people, and a man whose dictatorial ambitions were checked by the champion of the common man, Thomas Jefferson.

It was Jefferson and his lieutenants who engaged in one of the first campaigns based on the politics of personal destruction. Jefferson believed that Hamilton favored “a monarchy bottomed on corruption” and had betrayed the spirit of 1776. Hamilton was in essence a British agent, and this cunning immigrant from the Caribbean repeatedly manipulated an aging, somewhat dim-witted President George Washington. Hamilton’s premature death in 1804 at the hands of Vice President Aaron Burr presented the Jeffersonians with a chance to “spin” the historical record and further distort Hamilton’s principles and practices. John Adams, who also despised Hamilton, partly for good reason, would later join Jefferson in crafting a narrative which portrayed Hamilton in a most unflattering light. Jefferson’s description of Hamilton as a plutocratic power-monger merged over time with Adams contempt for Hamilton’s character. Adams believed that Hamilton suffered from a “superabundance of secretions” which led him to engage in unbridled whoring. Additionally, both Jefferson and Adams were nativists, and it perturbed them that this “Creole bastard,” who was not quite “American,” held such sway over George Washington, whom they also resented.

Jefferson’s heirs in the Democratic Party, particularly Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, echoed the Sage of Monticello’s caricatured conception of Hamilton, but the Civil War and the rise of the anti-slavery Republican Party provided a brief respite from populist Hamilton-bashing. A series of Republican presidents, including James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison, all deeply admired Hamilton for his nationalism and to some extent his anti-slavery stance, which stood in stark contrast to Jefferson’s neo-secessionism.

Hamilton’s reputation peaked at the dawn of the 20th century, when Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt invoked Hamilton’s nationalism and his embrace of “energetic” government to provide a founding imprimatur for his progressive agenda.  One of Roosevelt’s less than progressive successors, Warren G. Harding, revered Hamilton, and his Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, erected a statue of the first Treasury Secretary that stands to this day outside his former cabinet department. But Harding’s and Mellon’s embrace of Hamilton was guaranteed to offend progressives and populists, and when the Great Depression came, Hamilton was held almost as culpable as Mellon and Herbert Hoover.

Other than Thomas Jefferson, no American contributed more to Hamilton’s negative image in the American mind than Franklin D. Roosevelt. The only book review FDR ever wrote was of Claude Bowers’ Jefferson and Hamilton: The Struggle for Democracy in America (1925), a sophomoric account of Jefferson’s gallant resistance to Hamilton’s plutocratic plotting. FDR loved the book, and would go on to present the same caricatured account in many speeches and letters. It was Roosevelt who elevated Jefferson into the American Pantheon with Washington and Lincoln, and it was Roosevelt who led the drive to erect the beautiful tidal basin memorial to the Sage.

Hamilton’s reputation during the Second World War sank so low that he was seen by many as Joseph Goebbels in a waistcoat and breeches. His defenders were compelled to argue that he would, in fact, have opposed the Nazis. At the height of the war one of the leading Broadway shows was The Patriots – the plot of this multiple-award winning play revolved around a cigar chomping Hamilton stomping around the stage all the while proclaiming that the American people were “drunken swine.” FDR invited the playwright to stage a command performance in Washington and to attend the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial.

This image held well into the 20th century, but began to breakdown partly in response to Hamilton’s status as the sole immigrant among the key founders. This status will likely secure his reputation in an increasingly diverse America. Hamilton’s standing has also improved due to increased scholarly appreciation of the role of race in American society. Jefferson’s role as one of the largest slave owners in Virginia stands in contrast to Hamilton’s founding membership in the New York Manumission Society. And, fair or not, it appears to be an iron law in American history that as one falls the other rises. Jefferson would have it no other way; as the Sage himself once put it, “opposed in death as in life.”

–Written by Stephen F. Knott, author of Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth

The Spirit of ’76 and Economic Inequality

9780700621736In a review of America’s Founding and the Struggle over Economic Inequality by Clement Fatovic, highlights the author’s examples from history, including a quote from Pennsylvania teacher James Cannon, “over-grown rich Men will be improper to be trusted.” as the authentic Spirit of ’76 animating the total removal of property qualifications for voting and office-holding in Pennsylvania’s new state constitution. The review goes on to point to how timely this book is at a time when the USA has a level of economic inequality that ranks among the highest in the world.

Crime Control vs. Expanding Police Power: The Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Strieff

9780700622573The  Supreme Court’s recently ended term only had a few search and seizure cases, but the decision in Utah v. Strieff provides evidence of the continuing power of the crime control narrative on the Court, and involves one of the central issues explored in The Fourth Amendment in Flux: The Roberts Court, Crime Control, and Digital Privacy, namely, the evolution or devolution of the exclusionary rule in a jurisprudence of crime control.  The case openly forgives police misconduct, by exaggerating the social costs of excluding evidence, and creating yet another rationale for permitting illegal police activity to go unchallenged.

In this case, Edward Strieff was subject to what the lower courts conceded was an illegal Terry stop, lacking reasonable suspicion. After the stop, the officer learned that Strieff had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.  Strieff was arrested and searched incident to that arrest, and incriminating evidence was found.  The question is whether that evidence is tainted by the illegality of the Terry stop.  Does the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine apply, or does the intervening act of discovering the existence of a warrant preclude the use of the exclusionary rule.

In 5-3 decision, Justice Thomas held that the existence of the warrant was sufficient to “break the causal chain between the unlawful stop and the discovery of drug-related evidence on Strieff’s person.”  Justice Sotomayor wrote a stinging dissent, exposing how the Court was diminishing Fourth Amendment rights.    Her words are worth quoting at length:

“This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens. Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more.
The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. … If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.”
The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.” At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check. And, of course, if you fail to pay bail or appear for court, a judge will issue a warrant to render you “arrestable on sight” in the future.”

While the Court in Strieff makes concessions for the need for police discretion to protect public safety, Justice Sotomayor really illustrates what is at stake for the future.  Allowing an illegal stop to stand just because of the happy accident of the existence of an outstanding warrant rewards police misconduct, rather than deterring it.  What this case does is demonstrate that the jurisprudence of crime control remains deeply embedded in the minds of many justices, and the majority of justices refuse to acknowledge, as Justice Sotomayor does, the threat that this approach presents for constitutional civil rights and liberties.   The Fourth Amendment is certainly still in flux, but the jurisprudence of crime control remains the dominant paradigm.

-Written by Craig Curtis and Michael Gizzi, authors of The Fourth Amendment in Flux

Trump Bashing from on High

9780700622719In a recent article in the Washington Post Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments on the consequences of a Trump presidency are discussed by legal scholars, including Louis J. Virelli III, author of the recently published Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution. Professor Virelli discusses what might prove to be grounds for recusal if a Trump administration takes office next year.

Will First Spouse Bill Clinton take the place of a Vice President?

9780700622023Will a Hillary Clinton administration reverse the forty year advance in influence of the vice presidency? A new article in History News Network by Saint Louis University Professor of Law Joel K. Goldstein, author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden, discusses the book’s case for the importance of the modern vice presidency and whether a former president as First Spouse might challenge its role in a new administration.