Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time to Eliminate DACA

On Thursday, the Supreme Court stopped President Trump’s move to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a policy announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. Reflecting a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court ruling only said the Trump administration acted improperly when it terminated the program, by not adhering to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the court considered “only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action” and concluded it failed to do so. This ruling, while positive, leaves the door open for the Department of Homeland Security to resume its effort by beefing up the argument for rescinding DACA.

A permanent resolution to the DACA limbo lies with Congress passing legislation — assuming the president signs it or Congress overrides a veto — providing permanent legal residence and a path to citizenship for those in the DACA program. As the House passed legislation last June (the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019), the responsibility falls to the Senate.

To encourage Senate action, I sent the following letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and a slightly modified version to Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Mitt Romney (Utah).

Subject: Legal Status and Path to Citizenship for DACA Participants

While the Supreme Court’s ruling this week provides a reprieve for those who have enrolled in the DACA program, the decision does not provide a permanent solution for the children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and grew up here —most now strengthening American society.

It’s time for Congress to pass legislation to provide those participating in DACA with legal residency and a path to U.S. citizenship, ending their Kafkaesque limbo.

As you know, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act last June, one year ago. The Senate must now act — and do so before President Trump marshals a renewed effort to address the Supreme Court’s concerns and rescind DACA. In your role as Majority Leader, you have the responsibility to put this on the Senate’s agenda.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Words Not Frozen in Time

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that firing someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, as is any such discrimination occurring in the workplace. Surprisingly, six of the nine justices supported the ruling — including Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts, whose views are typically conservative — and Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.

This ruling comes as a positive and much-needed sign amidst a long discouraging political climate, particularly the Trump administration’s pushback against transgender rights. While this case only applies to workplace discrimination, it does affirm LGBTQ rights, advancing them with this as precedent for the next case.

What I find fascinating about this case was how the court assessed the core question. The justices were asked to decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to gay and transgender people. Title VII of that law prohibits workplace discrimination for race, religion, national origin or sex. The court’s ruling says “sex,” as used in the law, does apply to gay and transgender workers.

Justice Gorsuch’s argument and logic make sense:

An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex… It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito argued that in 1964, when the law was passed,

Discrimination “because of sex” was not understood as having anything to do with discrimination because of sexual orientation or transgender status… Any such notion would have clashed in spectacular fashion with the societal norms of the day.”

I find this to be true, certainly his statement about the societal norms in 1964. It’s highly unlikely anyone in Congress was thinking of advancing gay or transgender rights when the bill was drafted and passed. If any were, they were prophetic.

What’s amazing is this ruling shows, once again, that language is not frozen in time. While its meaning may not literally change, the meaning adapts to the time. While virtually no one in 1964 thought Title VII encompassed sexual orientation or gender identity, Gorsuch’s logic is convincing: the language does apply.

Just as the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence apply to all, even as the nation’s founders excluded slaves when writing those words arguing for independence from Britain.

The brilliance of this irony is that our words often mean more than we realize. With time and grace, we can live into them.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Lesson in Humility

My urge to write about the times we’re living in seems constantly thwarted by the ongoing cascade of events, each triggering my anger and increasing despair over the state of American society and those who govern us. Yet before I collect my thoughts to write a blog post, another event erupts on the news, dominating the news cycle and fueling the social media fires. President Trump is usually at the center of my anguish, if not originating the conflagration, then aligning with it, and critiquing what used to be the norm for behavior as just being politically correct.

Timber Hawkeye is one of the people who inspires me. I find insight in applying Buddhist principles to life, particularly its teachings about the self and our unity with the universe. Timber Hawkeye articulately distills these principles into a secular frame, and I find his perspective helpful in refining my own philosophy of living a constructive and contributory life.

Tying these two apparently unrelated threads together, Timber Hawkeye (TH) held a live chat session today, inviting participants to submit questions. One of the exchanges was an aha moment for me:

Question: Can you explain the lessons we are to learn by having someone like Trump as our president?

TH: Well, he didn’t get there by himself; he has the support of millions of people, so let’s not project all of your dismay onto one individual and look at the whole picture and what concerns you, which, if I understand correctly, is the fact that half the population doesn’t see the world the way you do. And that upsets you?

Response: He is divisive and mean with his tweets and not a role model for school-age kids — comes across as a bully, in my opinion.

TH: I suggest you add the words “according to me” to each of your statements in order to keep your own ego at bay. When you say “he is being divisive,” add the words “according to me” at the end, because according to half the population, he is trying to unite everyone.

Do you see the benefit of adding the words “according to me” to the end of everything you say, and perhaps asking “according to whom” when you hear someone else’s statement (don’t do this out loud, necessarily, but pause and think of the source)?

Anther person: So changing the wording, you’re answering for yourself and not assuming for others?

TH: It’s bigger than “not assuming for others.” It’s knowing that your viewpoint is yours alone, that there’s no Universal Truth, and that if you believe there is, notice how it’s always conveniently your own.

Another person: Adding “in my opinion” puts the accountability for the thought onto the person versus the source.

TH: Yes, it’s something I try to remind myself all the time: never speak from a place of knowing, always from a place of learning.

The moral of this story: never assume nor claim my truth is universal. When I speak my truth, clarify that my words are just mine, my viewpoint open to discussion and learning.