A Visit With Vince

Trillions - - Table Of Contents -

An in­ter­view with Con­sti­tu­tional at­tor­ney Vin­cent War­ren.

An ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Vin­cent War­ren, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights

The Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights (CCR), founded fifty years ago in 1966 by at­tor­neys who de­fended civil rights move­ments in the south­ern U.S., was cre­ated as a non-profit lit­i­ga­tion, ad­vo­cacy, and ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. Through­out its his­tory it has stood as one of the pri­mary av­enues of de­fense to fight for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights for those with the fewest pro­tec­tions and with is­sues rep­re­sent­ing some of the most im­por­tant Hu­man Rights is­sues of our times.

Some of the cur­rent is­sues of fo­cus for the Cen­ter in­clude deal­ing with Abu­sive Im­mi­gra­tion Prac­tices, Cor­po­rate Hu­man Rights Abuses, Crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Dis­sent, Dis­crim­i­na­tory Po­lice Prac­tices, Guan­tanamo, Racial In­jus­tice, and Sex­ual and Gen­der-based Vi­o­lence.

Vin­cent War­ren has served as the Cen­ter’s Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor since 2006 and was a mem­ber of its Board be­fore that. He over­sees all the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ad­vo­cacy and lit­i­ga­tion work. He is also one of its most prom­i­nent public spokesper­sons as well, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances in­clud­ing the Melissa Har­ris Perry Show on MSNBC, The Reid Re­port, Up with Chris Hayes, Moy­ers and Com­pany, and Democ­racy Now!

Prior to join­ing CCR, Mr. War­ren was a na­tional se­nior staff at­tor­ney at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, where he lit­i­gated mul­ti­ple civil rights cases in the ar­eas of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, racial pro­fil­ing and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. He is a grad­u­ate of Haver­ford Col­lege and Rut­gers School of Law.

Tril­lions in­ter­viewed Mr. War­ren at the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights’ New York City of­fices on June 20, 2016.

Tril­lions: The Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights is one of the more im­por­tant hu­man rights lit­i­ga­tion and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions in the United States, and has been so go­ing back to its found­ing in 1966. What brought you to the Cen­ter and your cur­rent role as its Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor?

Vince War­ren: I am a lawyer and I have been prac­tic­ing for close to 25 years at this point. When I was in col­lege in the mid-1980s, I was very in­volved in my lo­cal col­lege’s di­vest­ment cam­paign, look­ing to get my school to di­vest from busi­ness and cor­po­ra­tions that were sup­port­ing the apartheid regime in South Africa. That was my first po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing.

Dur­ing that work, I be­came aware of the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights, which had a re­ally great rep­u­ta­tion for tak­ing on cut­ting-edge is­sues in the In­ter­na­tional Hu­man Rights arena. They were go­ing af­ter dic­ta­tors. They were go­ing af­ter the U.S. gov­ern­ment for med­dling in the af­fairs of Cen­tral Amer­ica in the 1970s. So I first be­came aware of them as a le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion that was do­ing great work.

When I was in col­lege, I [al­ready] had the gen­eral sense that I wanted to be­come a lawyer, and af­ter work­ing for five years, I ended up go­ing to Rut­gers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. One of the founders of the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights, his name was Arthur Ki­noy, was a law pro­fes­sor there.

I be­gan to un­der­stand a lit­tle bit about his phi­los­o­phy,

and the dif­fer­ent take on the Con­sti­tu­tion that CCR was go­ing af­ter. Serendip­i­tously, I think it was the spring of 1991, I at­tended a com­mu­nity fo­rum in New York City, where I’m from. One of the speak­ers was Bill Kuntsler, an­other one of the founders of CCR. Af­ter hear­ing him speak, I de­cided that that’s the place I re­ally wanted to work.

So I ap­plied for a sum­mer in­tern­ship. I did that in 1992, and it re­ally helped to cat­a­pult me to­wards a ca­reer in civil rights and, ul­ti­mately, hu­man rights work.

When I grad­u­ated from law school, my first job was work­ing as a public de­fender in the Le­gal Aid So­ci­ety in Brook­lyn. I did that for five years. I loved the work, but af­ter five years I thought I wanted my lawyer­ing to make a slightly big­ger im­pact. So I left for a year worked in a Fed­eral clerk­ship for a judge here in Man­hat­tan.

From that clerk­ship I went to the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, ACLU, at the na­tional of­fice, where I worked on crim­i­nal jus­tice and racial jus­tice is­sues, which were re­ally what I’m about. While I was at the ACLU, I was asked to be on the Board of CCR, which I gladly ac­cepted. Then in 2005 the Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor for CCR left. There was a re­cruit­ment process, and I ended up get­ting the job. And so I’ve been here; this will be my tenth year in Septem­ber.

One thing that I think is kind of key for me is that in 1997, I had an op­por­tu­nity to go to South Africa to mon­i­tor the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Hear­ings that were go­ing on, af­ter apartheid was over, af­ter Nel­son Man­dela was Pres­i­dent. It was my first foray into the sphere of In­ter­na­tional Rights. And the com­bi­na­tion of work­ing on Con­sti­tu­tional Is­sues as a Public De­fender, hav­ing that in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, and work­ing on larger Con­sti­tu­tional Is­sues in the United States, I re­ally for­mu­lated my world view. It kept me pro­pelled to try to do good work, not just do­mes­ti­cally, but also in the in­ter­na­tional con­text.

So that’s the short ver­sion of my past and how I got here.

Tril­lions: How do you see the pri­mary role of the Cen­ter and how it dif­fers from things like the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and other Hu­man Rights or­ga­ni­za­tions that are also le­gally-based?

Vin­cent War­ren: We are a le­gal and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, like some of the others. But we’re also much smaller. Sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than the ACLU or even the NAACP, both in terms of staffing and in terms of bud­get. What that re­quires us to do is to make sure that we are mov­ing for­ward on is­sues that other or­ga­ni­za­tions gen­er­ally do not.

Our role in the field is to do two things. One is to fight power, par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic forms of power that end up con­sti­tut­ing il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, whether that be from the U.S. gov­ern­ment or from in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions or other ac­tors. And then the sec­ond role is to build power. And this ‘build power’ is what sep­a­rates us from a num­ber of other or­ga­ni­za­tions. What I mean by build power is, our the­ory of the way the in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights and do­mes­tic con­sti­tu­tional law and civil rights should op­er­ate is: that the peo­ple who are the most af­fected by the prob­lems that we’re chal­leng­ing need to have a very clear con­crete lead­er­ship role in the type of change that they want to see.

Most lawyers in most le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tions will ap­proach cases from an is­sues-based per­spec­tive. So the ACLU works on First Amend­ment cases, Free­dom of Speech cases, Free­dom of Reli­gion cases, re­gard­less of who is as­sert­ing them. The NAACP will work on cases and is­sues that tra­di­tion­ally have been a chal­lenge for the African-amer­i­can com­mu­nity in the United States, like vot­ing rights and the death penalty and dif­fer­ent things like that.

What our or­ga­ni­za­tion does is that we will look for the type of piv­otal cases that other or­ga­ni­za­tions are afraid to take on. Be­cause in the le­gal frame­work, if you take on a new is­sue [and do not win your case], you can end up cre­at­ing bad law for ev­ery­body else. And that has a lim­it­ing ef­fect on the abil­ity to in­no­vate in le­gal ju­rispru­dence. But if ev­ery­body is afraid to take on the hard case, be­cause if they lose it they make things worse for folks, that means the hard cases don’t get taken on. So our or­ga­ni­za­tion’s role is to take on the hard cases, the big cases. Even as a small shop, we try to be very nim­ble in find­ing out where these is­sues are, and [then], in ad­di­tion to find­ing the is­sue, we look to part­ner with the com­mu­nity or group that is most com­pletely im­pacted by it, us­ing their voices as part of the so­lu­tion in the le­gal and ad­vo­cacy frame­work.

Tril­lions: Your point about the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing bad law – and prece­dent – is an im­por­tant one for our read­ers to un­der­stand more fully, I think. One of the is­sues that I re­mem­ber the cur­rent Chief Jus­tice, Jus­tice Roberts, say­ing dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear-

ings for the Supreme Court was that there are cases he con­sid­ers ‘set­tled law’. Whether he agrees with it or not, whether or not he would have made the same de­ci­sion doesn’t mat­ter. It’s done, it’s been de­cided, and it’s over.

So one of the things that the aver­age per­son in the Amer­i­can public doesn’t un­der­stand how pow­er­ful that is. When there is a le­gal prece­dent that has been de­cided, even though nine dif­fer­ent peo­ple might de­cide dif­fer­ently on the Supreme Court at a fu­ture time if it was a brand new item, if it’s al­ready been de­cided, they won’t look at it again. Am I stat­ing that right? For our read­ers it might be some­thing good to clar­ify why it’s so im­por­tant that you don’t screw it up when you take on one of these big cases.

Vin­cent War­ren: You’re stat­ing it well. Yes, ab­so­lutely, the role of prece­dent in the le­gal sphere is some­thing that peo­ple need to un­der­stand. And that, at some level, the Supreme Court is [of­ten] look­ing for a new is­sue or go­ing more deeply into an is­sue that lower courts are split over, with dif­fer­ent opin­ions. They’re look­ing to pro­vide the last pro­nounce­ment on that par­tic­u­lar set of le­gal is­sues.

[On the is­sue of prece­dent], I tend to think that there are cir­cum­stances where the court has made a pro­nounce­ment as to what the law is. Courts are as sus­cep­ti­ble to the tur­moil of any par­tic­u­lar time as the rest of us are. And so you can look through his­tory and see how courts have de­ter­mined cases [in the con­text of the time]. For ex­am­ple, look­ing at the Ja­panese in­tern­ment in World War II, the Supreme Court es­sen­tially found that there was no con­sti­tu­tional prob­lem with it. [Yet] you would like to think that if the cir­cum­stances arose to­day, that the court would look at it dif­fer­ently.

So where Jus­tice Roberts and I dis­agree is that ‘the past is not al­ways the past’. And in fact in a thriv­ing democ­racy we will –and should – con­stantly be re­vis­it­ing is­sues that we have vis­ited in the past, in light of evolv­ing stan­dards, of evolv­ing cul­ture within the United States, [and] evolv­ing stan­dards of law that we’re de­vel­op­ing, so that we don’t ‘dou­ble down’ on mis­takes that we made in the past and have that be the fu­ture that we’re fac­ing. And I think about the Kore­matsu Case [the Ja­panese in­tern­ment case dur­ing World War II] as a great ex­am­ple. What I would say there is that we – and this re­lates to the ques­tion of democ­racy that you’re writ­ing about [in this is­sue of your mag­a­zine] –is that the law should be a demo- cratic touch­stone but it shouldn’t be some­thing that pins down how we looked at an is­sue 50, 60, 100 years ago [and can never look at it again]. Be­cause then that means the law is out of step with evolv­ing demo­cratic prin­ci­ples.

You find these kinds of chal­lenges when you have ide­o­log­i­cal splits on the court [that are very much tied to the cur­rent times]. So if you think about how you think this court would [have dealt] with the is­sue of gay mar­riage -- de­cid­edly rightly in my view -- if that case had come up 30 years ago, we might have had a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion.

So the law that CCR is here to do is to nar­row the gap be­tween what the law says and what jus­tice ac­tu­ally means. It can be a very con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion in the field of law, but it’s one of those things where we look ahead 50 to 100 years and say, what are the things that we’re do­ing now that seem to fit within a so­ci­etal and con­sti­tu­tional frame­work that says, these things are okay, but when we look at them 100 years from now we’ll say, we can­not be­lieve that we ever did any­thing like that.

Amongst those things I see [from the past where de­ci­sions have been made in­volve] things like slav­ery, things like seg­re­ga­tion, things like women not be­ing al­lowed to vote, things like Ja­panese in­tern­ment, gay mar­riage. Those are things that, look­ing at the long view, we don’t want to live in a so­ci­ety where the law ends up lim­it­ing rights – demo­cratic rights – and con­sti­tu­tional rights of peo­ple who are mi­nori­ties in the demo­cratic con­text in terms of not be­ing full play­ers in our so­ci­ety. So it’s a con­stantly evolv­ing sce­nario.

In terms of how we move into those spa­ces at CCR, there are a cou­ple of ex­am­ples that other folks wouldn’t take on that are worth tak­ing on, such as when we filed the first cases in­volv­ing the first men who were sent to Guan­tanamo. At the time, the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive was that these men were the worst of the worst, and that we get to sus­pend vir­tu­ally all of our con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples in or­der to keep them out­side of the law, be­cause the law was only go­ing to screw it up. Over the last 15 years, of course, we’ve been able to show that the vast ma­jor­ity of the men that were brought to Guan­tanamo were far from be­ing the worst of the worst. A lot of them were to­tally in­no­cent. [We also were able to demon­strate] that hav­ing ju­di­cial re­view of the men in Guan­tanamo was not ac­tu­ally a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. [Not hav­ing] it was ac­tu­ally a larger threat to our demo­cratic and con­sti­tu­tional rights.

So that’s an ex­am­ple where no one wanted to rep­re­sent those men, and we had to go it alone.

Other ex­am­ples, not so stark, would be chal­leng­ing the ‘stop and frisk’ pro­gram here in New York City, against the New York City po­lice de­part­ment. While it was far from the first racial pro­fil­ing case and the ACLU had been do­ing it for a long time, [we picked the case in part be­cause] the New York City po­lice de­part­ment is the largest po­lice de­part­ment, I be­lieve, in the world, with 35,000 peo­ple. The idea was that that bat­tle needed to be fought in New York City, be­cause a change in New York City pol­icy would have a rip­ple ef­fect around the coun­try. And we were able to, af­ter a nine-week trial, get a ju­di­cial find­ing that the New York City po­lice de­part­ment prac­tice of ‘stop and frisk’ was un­con­sti­tu­tional. It did have that rip­ple ef­fect, and de­terred other po­lice de­part­ments around the coun­try from us­ing race as the dom­i­nant fac­tor in terms of de­ter­min­ing whether to ‘stop and frisk’.

And then I guess lastly, an­other more re­cently ex­am­ple is in the chal­lenge to soli­tary con­fine­ment in Cali- for­nia. Cal­i­for­nia had the most peo­ple in soli­tary con­fine­ment of any state in the coun­try. In 1985, there had been a law­suit that was mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful, but didn’t an­swer the ques­tion of long-term soli­tary con­fine­ment and what we do about peo­ple who had been in soli­tary for ten to twenty years, 23 hours a day on lock­down with no hu­man con­tact. So look­ing at it, we de­cided to move into that space be­cause Cal­i­for­nia had the largest pro­gram. Peo­ple had been in soli­tary for decades. It was time for the courts to look again at that prac­tice, which we de­fined as tor­ture – and which med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als [also] de­fine as tor­ture. So you ask the ques­tion, is this how we should be treat­ing the peo­ple we are in­car­cer­at­ing? Of course the an­swer to that from our view is ‘no’. The state of Cal­i­for­nia agreed, but they wouldn’t have agreed un­less we had en­ter­tained to take on that law­suit. Soli­tary con­fine­ment cell. Photo: Dan Lee / Shut­ter­stock.com

Tril­lions: Those are ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples of what you do, what’s dif­fer­ent and where it touches on ar­eas no one else would typ­i­cally touch. Guan­tanamo at the time that you were in­volved in it was one where

I think the ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can public was prob­a­bly scratch­ing their heads and say­ing, ‘Why are you wast­ing your time with these hor­ri­ble peo­ple?’. Yet at the same time no­body had given them a chance to de­fend their right on any is­sue. The ‘in­no­cent un­til proven guilty’ thing was stand­ing on its head at least from a public stand­point, and was ef­fec­tive op­er­at­ing as ‘guilty un­til proven in­no­cent’. With us as an Amer­i­can public say­ing, ‘Oh, and by the way we’ll leave you in Guan­tanamo un­til we fig­ure it out.’

But one of the things that does come to mind about what you are do­ing in such things is some­thing that used to be in the press more a few years ago than re­cently, but it’s still pre­sent. It’s the re­frain of, ‘That may have been an im­por­tant de­ci­sion, but the courts re­ally shouldn’t be in the po­si­tion of ‘mak­ing law’, right? They should only be in­ter­pret­ing law.’ How do you re­spond to that? Be­cause the na­ture of the de­ci­sions you are look­ing to­wards ef­fec­tively at least re­di­rect the law, or they clar­ify the law in a new way. But for some it’s as if they’ve ac­tu­ally changed the law.

Vin­cent War­ren: Yes, that’s a big re­frain. And I do agree that Congress and not the Courts should be in the busi­ness of mak­ing law. But there are cir­cum­stances – and these come up par­tic­u­larly around times of great strife and tur­moil – where there are times when one branch of gov­ern­ment de­cides that they’re go­ing to over­step their bound­aries. In the last 15 years, and cer­tainly since Ge­orge Bush’s Pres­i­dency, we’ve seen the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch over­step­ping their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity, in or­der to ad­dress the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism phe­nom­e­non. And I think, gen­er­ally speak­ing, I think cit­i­zens – peo­ple – are in­clined to give the Ex­ec­u­tive the ben­e­fit of the doubt and some lee­way, if they feel that it makes them safer.

So at some level what that means is that we fig­ure out our ‘bal­ance of pow­ers’ in fa­vor of the Ex­ec­u­tive in times of war and in times of fear. And if we look back, even in the United States, go­ing back to the Viet­nam war, we would be hard-pressed to find a time where the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch was not iden­ti­fy­ing some ex­ter­nal threat to the United States, against which it sought to in­crease its power. So you can go back to the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war, you can go back to Viet­nam, [and you see the same thing]. [To­day] we look at this un­der a ter­ror­ism frame­work. [But all] of these have been op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­pand Ex­ec­u­tive Power.

When that hap­pens, the Leg­isla­tive Branch will very of­ten de­fer to the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch, [es­pe­cially] dur- ing times of war and great fear. And very of­ten the Courts will [also] de­fer to the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch. So the ques­tion isn’t so much whether the courts are mak­ing new law. The ques­tion is re­ally whether the Courts are hold­ing the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch in­side the con­sti­tu­tional box that the Con­sti­tu­tion cre­ated.

Al­ter­na­tively, we will see now, when we think about the ter­ri­ble shoot­ing in Or­lando, the shoot­ing in San Bernardino, things like that, we’ll see there are times when the Leg­isla­tive Branch – well, they won’t [ever] ex­ceed their author­ity be­cause they can make what­ever laws they want – but they will very of­ten move into cre­at­ing leg­is­la­tion that re­sponds to the ques­tion of the day but will [also] con­tra­vene the Con­sti­tu­tion. In those mo­ments, we need the ju­di­ciary to re­view these laws that are com­ing out of Congress to de­ter­mine whether they com­ply with the Con­sti­tu­tion or not.

So I would say, in an­swer to your ques­tion, that, I think if you look back through­out – cer­tainly over the last 50 years – we’ve seen more that the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch and the Leg­isla­tive Branch have sought to move into the space of lead­er­ship, some­times at the ex­pense of the Con­sti­tu­tional anal­y­sis, and that the Courts are one of the key bod­ies that are sup­posed to keep ev­ery­body in the Con­sti­tu­tional box. It’s a dif­fi­cult role for the Courts, and some­times I think that peo­ple will in­ter­pret that role that the Courts have as ‘mak­ing law’, par­tic­u­larly if they dis­agree with the Court’s anal­y­sis.

Go­ing back be­yond to the 1960s and the War­ren Court, there’s a nar­ra­tive about how the War­ren Court was an ac­tivist Court that made all these rules and laws that were not specif­i­cally writ­ten down in the Con­sti­tu­tion. In the 1970s you can make the same ar­gu­ment about the Rehn­quist Court. But ul­ti­mately what the Courts were do­ing was, they were ‘suss­ing out’ in that pe­riod, what were the fun­da­men­tal demo­cratic due process is­sues that were be­ing ap­plied dur­ing those pe­ri­ods of strife. So in the late 1960s, a lot of the is­sues were crim­i­nal jus­tice is­sues and that’s when the Fifth Amend­ment rule against self-in­crim­i­na­tion be­came a na­tional im­per­a­tive. That’s where the Fourth Amend­ment rule against un­law­ful searches and seizures be­came key. That’s where in the 1970s, there was a real dis­cus­sion about the death penalty as ‘cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment’.

And so it’s our view – and my view – that Courts should not sit ac­tively by and pre­tend that the world isn’t chang­ing. What they need to do is they need to en­gage in facts, and also the im­pact on the com­muni-

ties that are sub­ject to some of these un­just rules and un­just pro­ce­dures, and to ame­lio­rate them. Oth­er­wise, we have a le­gal frame­work that is separate from what we might con­sider jus­tice. And that’s one of the big­gest threats that we have.

Tril­lions: And there’s also the para­dox that an­other role for the Courts is also to re­mind us that, when we do get un­der stress as a na­tion, some­times we be­gin lean­ing to­ward giv­ing up some of our rights, be­cause – as you said be­fore – we think it makes us safer. But ac­tu­ally it is at those times when it may be most crit­i­cal for the courts to put their feet down and say, ‘No, that’s not what the Con­sti­tu­tion is all about’. In fact, when things are at their tough­est is when you need to make sure you know what your val­ues are and what the fun­da­men­tal rights are that this coun­try was built on.

Vin­cent War­ren: Ex­actly. I would fol­low up by say­ing that, what we do at the Cen­ter is we try to take a more vi­sion­ary ap­proach, to be at­ten­dant to the val­ues that un­der­lie our democ­racy. We do that at those times of great peril, with the un­der­stand­ing that [some of what we do] will be very un­pop­u­lar, with the un­der­stand­ing that we as an or­ga­ni­za­tion may re­ceive death threats, af­ter Guan­tanamo and some of the other cases. But [we need to do this] also un­der­stand­ing that, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, our job is to make sure that the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions re­main as strong and ro­bust as pos­si­ble. Be­cause we will all down the road rue the day that we watered down our demo­cratic rights in one con­text. Be­cause there will be an­other con­text down the road in which we will re­ally need them. And they won’t be there un­less we’re vig­i­lant about it.

Tril­lions: That very point leads to one of my last ques­tions. A lot of peo­ple worry about the state of democ­racy these days, es­pe­cially af­ter the last 16 years, as you had said it, as the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch has ex­panded its author­ity in a lot of the things it does. As time has passed and rights seem be­ing chal­lenged ev­ery­where, peo­ple won­der, is the Con­sti­tu­tion fun­da­men­tally flawed, is democ­racy some­thing that has a fault line run­ning through it that is even­tu­ally go­ing to give and de­stroy ev­ery­thing? What do you see as the state of democ­racy in the United States these days?

Vin­cent War­ren: I see where we are now as a piv­otal point in de­ter­min­ing whether we want to ad­here to the val­ues that we had at the time when those val­ues don’t seem to be as ex­pe­di­ent as we might need them to be. What I see as some of the trou­ble spots are par­tic­u­larly over the last 16 years, be­cause the level of fear was so high. Quite hon­estly, I think that both the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch and the Leg­isla­tive Branch stoke and fo­ment a lot of that fear. But be­cause that fear ex­ists, the ten­dency is for peo­ple to sac­ri­fice their core demo­cratic rights in or­der to feel safer. That’s what I’m see­ing.

But what I’m en­cour­aged by is, there is still a lively de­bate in our so­ci­ety about the very ques­tion that you raised. Which is, if there is a fault line in our democ­racy, what might that be? And how have we nav­i­gated those faults over the last 250 years in this coun­try? Have we come to the right de­ci­sion all of the time? Can we be­lieve that we can come to the right de­ci­sion as we be­gin to move for­ward?

I see no fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge when ad­her­ing to our demo­cratic val­ues in this time as we’re mov­ing for­ward. The chal­lenge that I do see is that, in the emo­tions of the day, peo­ple don’t al­ways see how those fun­da­men­tal val­ues ac­tu­ally sup­port what­ever po­lit­i­cal views they hap­pen to have at the mo­ment. Even when those po­lit­i­cal views are things that try to dam­age our democ­racy. They’re re­ally two sides of that frame­work. Be­cause of the demo­cratic val­ues and prin­ci­ples that we have, it al­lows peo­ple to either fur­ther try to di­min­ish the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples, or it al­lows peo­ple to fur­ther en­hance them.

And that is the na­ture of the de­bate that’s hap­pen­ing. And we shouldn’t pre­tend that it’s hap­pen­ing out­side of the con­text of those core demo­cratic val­ues to be­gin with. So for ex­am­ple whether you are a Trump sup­porter or a Hil­lary Clin­ton sup­porter, or whether you be­lieve in either one of the poli­cies that they’re mov­ing for­ward on their plat­forms, what sup­ports our abil­ity to push for one or the other is that it’s a demo­crat­i­cally safe space for us to move for­ward in either di­rec­tion. And that’s what gives me con­fi­dence.

Our job at CCR is to main­tain the buoy­ancy of that fun­da­men­tal demo­cratic plat­form, so that we can con­tinue to have these kinds of de­bates. Fur­ther to that, our job is to chal­lenge the Courts out of com­pla­cency, chal­lenge them into look­ing in a vi­sion­ary way about some of the is­sues that we’re con­fronting to­day, and pre­serve those demo­cratic val­ues and prin­ci­ples for the next gen­er­a­tion.

Suf­fragette putting up posters for the right to vote. 1910-1915

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