Before I share with you the news and events of this week’s “Winning the Future,” I have to first say thanks and congratulations.
Thanks to you, in one of its final acts of the session last Friday, the Senate passed the Secure Fence Act to build 700 miles of secure fence along our Southwest border. The vote was 80 to 19, and it was your vote. You helped make it happen.
Just consider the following timeline:
September 5: In “Winning the Future,” an 11-point plan for victory in the November elections is outlined. It is the American Eleven, and action item #2 is a call for “a narrowly focused bill to ensure that the United States can control the border.”
September 13: The Secure Fence Act is introduced in the House.
September 14: The Secure Fence Act passes the House.
September 19: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) calls for a preliminary vote the next day that will end any filibuster threat and allow a final up and down vote on the bill.
September 20, 10:30 AM: A “Winning the Future” Special Alert goes out, urging supporters of border security to call their senators and urge them to vote in support.
September 20, 11:15 AM: The Senate votes unanimously to end the filibuster threat, paving the way for passage of the bill.
September 29: The Senate passes the Secure Fence Act 80 to 19.
Count them. It was only 24 days between the time the “Winning the Future” community began to call for a secure border and the final passage of the legislation. That’s what I call making a difference for America.
A Clear Choice in November: Weakness vs. Strength
Securing the border wasn’t the only thing Congress did last week of course. It also made even clearer the choice facing voters in a few weeks.
First, some Democrats showed themselves weak on securing our border (17 Democrats proved they still don’t get it by opposing the Secure Fence Act).
Then they showed themselves weak on terrorism. Thirty-two Democrats voted against legislation giving the President the power he needs to interrogate detainees and conduct military tribunals — including leaders, would-be leaders and potential leaders like Senators Ted Kennedy (Mass.), John Kerry (Mass.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Barak Obama (Ill.) and Harry Reid (Nev.).
In the House, 160 Democrats opposed President Bush’s program for detainee interrogation and military tribunals. And in a second vote, the House passed 232 to 191 the President’s program for the warrantless tracking of terrorist conversations, with 177 House Democrats opposed.
Tax Increases? ‘No Question About It’
And then the Democrats showed that they are weak on taxes. Last week, Congressman Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.) — the man who would be chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee if the House switches hands this fall — said that when it comes to tax hikes “everything has to be on the table.” When Rangel was asked by a reporter whether tax increases across all levels of income would be considered he said, “No question about it.”
Resolved: Judicial Supremacy, Pro or Con?
Putting aside politics for a moment, I was part of a remarkable panel discussion last week over the proper role of the judicial branch in our constitutional system. [view webcast]
This discussion at the Georgetown University Law Center also included former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman (R.), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) and University of Pennsylvania Law Prof. Stephen Burbank. Five Supreme Court justices were in attendance to listen to us discuss judicial independence and whether or not the judicial branch has wrongly claimed for itself judicial supremacy over the meaning of our Constitution.
You may not be surprised to hear that I did not pull any punches. I started by making this fundamental point [see hand-out]: The Founding Fathers were very clear — they believed in a balance of power among the three co-equal branches of government. After all, each of the branches — the President, the Congress and the Courts — swears to uphold the Constitution.
To fail repeatedly to recognize (as I believe many judges have) that the two political branches also have constitutional responsibilities to uphold the Constitution will inevitably lead to the two political branches’ using constitutional tools to check and balance the judicial branch and reestablish a constitutional balance.
Constitutional Face Off: Warren vs. Newt
In one memorable exchange, my friend Sen. Rudman declared that I was “dead wrong” in my assertion that the doctrine of judicial supremacy was not only false but also harmful to our constitutional system. He cited the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in the schools. “Neither the Executive Branch nor either political party had the guts to deal with separate but equal,” Sen. Rudman said. “It took the Supreme Court to tackle it.”
But I reminded Sen. Rudman that the Brown decision was necessary only because of an earlier Supreme Court decision in 1896 — Plessy v. Ferguson — which sanctioned separate but equal facilities for blacks and whites. In Brown, the court was cleaning up its past mistake.
For my part, I cited the June 26, 2002, decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that held that the words “under God” — added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 — are unconstitutional. Any court that would unilaterally invalidate a Pledge of Allegiance that is supported by 91 percent of the American people — and which was subsequently and explicitly reaffirmed by the Congress in 2002 (by a vote of 99 to 0 in the Senate and 401 to 5 in the House) — is a court that is radically out of step with America.
The failure of the Supreme Court in 2004 to explicitly overrule the Ninth Circuit on substantive grounds is a very troubling indication that the Pledge may not survive a future Supreme Court review.
My bottom line was this: An important part of what binds us together as the most multi-ethnic society in history is our belief in and respect for the law. But when the courts fail to exercise judicial restraint and insist instead on making decisions that are fundamentally at odds with where we stand as a people, they threaten our respect for the law and our respect for the independence of the courts. In such cases, the President and the Congress have not only the constitutional power but the obligation to reestablish a constitutional balance among the three branches.
After the debate, one prominent jurist came up to me and confessed that he hadn’t applauded my opening remarks, but by the end of the debate I had persuaded him enough that he was going to rethink some of his notions about the role of the courts.
Once again, not a bad week for “Winning the Future.”
P.S. — Some interesting polling data came out last week showing potentially overwhelming support for winning the war in Iraq. A Fox News poll showed 19 percent of Americans support the war under the current strategy, 33 percent want to support the war but think we need a new strategy, 20 percent say they oppose the war but could support it with a new strategy, while 25 percent say they oppose the war no matter what the strategy.
Do the math, and this means that an eloquent case for defining and implementing new strategies for victory in Iraq could potentially have the support of 72 percent of the American people. Of course it also means that a hard line, non-adapting, stay-the-same-course position could find itself isolated with only 19 percent support and 78 percent opposed. Numbers to think about.
Each week, this newsletter features questions from its readers. Have a question? Send an email to Newt at email@example.com.
Newt, how important is it to the nation to develop Alaskan oil and gas resources?
Thank you for the question, Gary. I support the development of many different domestic energy sources, including oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Because the technology for oil and gas development is so much cleaner than it was in the past, I am confident that we can have a scientifically sound and environmentally secure approach to developing domestic oil and gas reserves.
Developing more sources of energy here at home is a critical part of national security strategy for energy independence. This includes domestic exploration and development of oil and gas, advancing clean-coal technologies, as well as the development of soy-diesel, ethanol and other renewable fuels. The best energy independence strategy is an energy diversity strategy, so that shifts in the global energy marketplace for one particular source do not affect our nation’s economy and our families’ pocketbooks as much as erratic shifts in the price of oil do now.
Focusing on oil and natural gas for the moment, I believe the House made an encouraging step in June by passing a bill that would encourage more offshore domestic oil and gas exploration and development.
The Interior Department estimates that up to 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are yet to be discovered off U.S. shores. That’s 11 times the oil used by the United States in 2005 and 19 times as much gas. By comparison, ANWR is estimated to have 10.4 billion barrels of oil.
Under current law, royalties from offshore drilling go almost entirely to the federal government. The bill the House passed establishes a plan of revenue sharing with states for offshore drilling. Over 10 years, the percentage of royalties that go to states would reach as high as 75 percent. This is a great idea because it gives an individual state greater incentive to allow exploration off its shores. There is a strong environmental case for this approach as well. Oil and gas revenues accruing to the states could be used by the states for undertaking needed shore revitalization projects.