It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on ten years of Constitution Thursday…
September 17th is, of course, Constitution Day, the day that the framers signed the proposed Constitution of the United States. It is also the birthday of one John Rutledge, a member of the Convention that proposed the new Constitution. He would go on to be one of the original Associate Justices of the Supreme Court but left to become the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court. A few years later, after Jay resigned as Chief Justice to become the Governor of New York, President Washington used the Recess Appointment Claus of the new Constitution to appoint Justice Rutledge back to the Court, this time as the Chief Justice. As the Senate would not be back in session until December, the new Chief Justice took his oath and then did something that virtually no other Chief Justice has ever done – he gave a very public speech in which he suggested something that in today’s Social Media world would have gotten him instantly fired. After, of course, numerous apologetic tweets and the de rigueur screaming from chat Radio talking heads, like myself, who would alternately explain what he did or did not mean by what he said.
The Senate, which finally came back in December, was not impressed. And the first Recess Appointment to the Supreme Court discovered that the People of the United States will always have the final say, even over George Washington…
President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon on this day in 1974 generated a national controversy, but in recent years, some of the pardon’s biggest critics have changed their tunes on the unprecedented move.
Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward had vehemently opposed the pardon after Ford went on national television on September 8, 1974, to announce it. But in recent years, the former Washington Post journalists have approved of Ford’s move to absolve Nixon of any criminal charges related to the Watergate break-in and its cover-up.
In a July 2014 panel hosted by the Post, Woodward called the pardon “an act of courage.” He had talked with Ford decades after the pardon and said the former President made a “very compelling argument” for his actions based on national security and economic needs.
The late Senator Ted Kennedy said in 2001 that while he initially opposed the pardon, he had come to accept it as the best move for the country. And Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor and a Democrat, wrote about the pardon shortly after Ford’s passing in 2006.
“Did Ford make the right decision in pardoning his predecessor? The answer to that question is more nuanced than either the howls of outrage that greeted the pardon three decades ago or the general acceptance with which it is viewed now,” Ben-Veniste said in a commentary for the Post.
“The decision to pardon Nixon was a political judgment properly within the bounds of Ford’s constitutional authority,” he argued. “Jerry Ford acted in accord with what he sincerely felt were the best interests of the country; that there was no secret quid pro quo with Nixon for a pardon in return for resignation; and that Ford, a compassionate man, was moved by the palpable suffering of a man who had lost so much.”
But in the months after the pardon back in 1974, most Americans didn’t approve of Ford’s move. In a Gallup poll taken 43 years ago, 53 percent of those polled disapproved of the pardon. However, in a 1986 Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans said they now approved of the presidential pardon.
Ford appeared in front of a House judiciary committee in October 1974 to explain the pardon.
“I was absolutely convinced then as I am now that if we had had [an] indictment, a trial, a conviction, and anything else that transpired after this that the attention of the President, the Congress and the American people would have been diverted from the problems that we have to solve. And that was the principle reason for my granting of the pardon,” he told Representative Elizabeth Holtzman.
At a 2014 panel discussion, Ford’s lawyer during that period, Benton Becker, explained an additional element that influenced Ford’s decision to issue a presidential pardon: a 1915 Supreme Court decision. In Burdick v. United States, the Court ruled that a pardon carried an “imputation of guilt” and accepting a pardon was “an admission of guilt.”. Thus, this decision implied that Nixon accepted his guilt in the Watergate controversy by also accepting Ford’s pardon.
Prior to Ford’s issuance of the pardon, Becker was tasked with the difficult job of mediating the negotiations between Ford and Nixon. Becker said he took copies of the Burdick decision to California when he met with former President Nixon, and under Ford’s instructions, walked through the decision with Nixon.
Becker said the discussion with Nixon was very difficult, and the former President kept trying to change the subject way from Burdick. Finally, Nixon acknowledged Becker’s argument about what the Supreme Court decision meant.
After he left the White House, Ford carried part of the Burdick decision with him in his wallet in case someone brought up the pardon. In a later interview with Woodward for Caroline Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage for Our Time,” Ford pulled out the dog-eared decision and read the key parts of it to Woodward.
I was asked the other day about comparing the study of Torah to the study of the Constitution. Most of you know that I once went to Seminary. It was a huge mistake, but I did learn a few things when I was there. One of which was how NOT to study scripture.
The really hard part though is dropping all of your preconceived ideas, all of your already decided beliefs and approaching things with an open mind. You will find that you are right about some things. And you will find that you were wildly wrong about some others.
That said, these are my ideas for how to study Torah… I mean the Constitution…