Friday, October 16, 2020

Packing the Court


 

If you watched the debates or have listened to the news recently, you probably heard questions posed to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris about whether or not they would pack the court if they were elected. I have gotten the feeling that many people do not really understand what that phrase means, so I wanted to discuss it. 

 

First, let me remind you that I try very hard to refrain from weighing in on political matters. As a pastor, there is a fine line between speaking about issues of morality and endorsing parties or candidates. With the exception of the time when I ran for office myself, I have never publicly endorsed a candidate, and I am not doing that now. Please do not hear this as pro-Trump, pro-RNC, or even anti-Biden/Harris or DNC. This is simply an attempt to explain what packing the court is, and why this should be a major issue. 

 

Because the media has been accusing Trump of trying to “pack the court” by nominating Amy Coney Barrett, many may be left with the conclusion that Biden packing the court would just refer to him having the opportunity to replace a Supreme Court justice if elected. That is not the case. 

 

Packing the court refers to adding seats to the Supreme Court. Because the Constitution does not set a number of seats on the bench, Congress has full control over that number. In 1837 Congress added two seats, allowing President Andrew Jackson to nominate two justices. At the conclusion of the Civil War, Congress reduced the number back to seven, and only three years later returned the Court to nine, allowing President Ulysses S. Grant to add two justices. Since 1869–more than 150 years—the number of justices has been frozen at nine. 

 

The only attempt to pack the court was in 1937 by President FDR, who was himself very socialistic. What was his reason for trying to pack the Court? They handed down a unanimous decision against FDR. Because he could not get his agenda through the current Court, his plan was to add enough extra judges—at his choosing—that would legislate from the bench and green light his socialist agenda. What happened to his court packing scheme? The Democrat controlled Senate—his own party—shut him down. 

 

Enter the 2020 race and the discussions involving SCOTUS. I understand the Democrats’ frustration that President Obama’s nominee was not confirmed by the Republican Senate, the very Senate now set to confirm President Trump’s. The reality is, the same Constitution that vaguely says Congress shall establish “one supreme Court” also vaguely says, “and [the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and…” The Appointments Clause, as it is called, mandates that the President nominate a person; both Obama and Trump did that. It also says the Senate gives advice and consent. The President has a mandate to nominate; the Senate gets to decide if they choose to consent. While the Republicans certainly played politics with the Merrick Garland nomination in 2016, they acted within the accepted interpretation of the Constitution. 

 

That is a bitter pill to swallow for many Democrats. Their solution, then, is to make up for the perceived injustice by changing the rules and packing the court. 

 

Both Biden and Harris were asked multiple times whether or not they would pack the courts, and they refused to answer one way or the other. There is a difference between a dodge and a refusal to answer, and they refused to answer. The only logical inference for voters is to decide that they fully intend to pack the court; they know their base wants them to, but they also know how that should terrify Americans, regardless of party. Ergo, they refuse to answer because it will hurt their chances of winning. 

 

Why does this matter? The results would be monumental. 

 

I keep hearing the number of justices Biden would add would be six, taking the number to fifteen. If one President gets to add six justices for no reason other than changing the rules in protest, the separation of powers would be forever decimated in this country. There would be no difference between the three branches of government. To pack the court Biden would need his party to take the Senate; that would mean they would control the Executive and Legislative Branches; after packing the Court, they would also hold the Judicial Branch. Here is the problem: Biden could tell Congress to pass a law, and once they do, the Court would affirm the law as written. This is how tyranny works. 

 

This is hypothetical and extreme, but imagine Biden wants to make it illegal to own a Bible. Congress writes the bill, and he signs it. That violates our first amendment., but to whom do we appeal? If Biden has packed the court with activist, radical judges, they will gladly side with him. The job of the court is to act as the final check on the other branches. If an executive order or piece of legislation violates the Constitution, the court strikes it down. Biden essentially wants to create a court that will rubber stamp his radical agenda. 

 

That is exactly what FDR tried to do. The court unanimously told him he was violating the Constitution, so he tried to pack it with robed radicals that would pass whatever he wanted. 

 

Now think about what we know about the Biden/Harris ticket. When she was running for President herself, Harris said she favored a mandatory gun buyback program, in clear violation of the second amendment (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/kamala-harris-supports-mandatory-buyback-of-assault-weapons?fbclid=IwAR0OIE1qw4GwaxAw5II4LxM6ccU_06S3290Y-AWYt_QENx-nXQVmvaaWu2Y). 

 

She also said she favors repealing a statute that criminalizes illegal border crossings, essentially making us a country without borders (https://www.politico.com/2020-election/candidates-views-on-the-issues/immigration-reform/illegal-entry/?fbclid=IwAR2kcKrKbpqWbdzoZkn27AeI_OT_hDOZeQs4YH4Q_XZdQP1YK2MQukihdes). Those articles are from Bloomberg and Politico, liberal organizations.

 

Even if Biden and Harris do not have any sinister plans to change the country, packing the court with radicals is still dangerous. Since COVID, Governor Gavin Newsom of California has cracked down on churches. He has allowed large protests, including riots and looting, but has banned many church gatherings, and banned singing in churches that are small enough to meet. Several pastors have faced legal repercussions for meeting in defiance of Newsom. Governor Chris Cuomo of New York told Jews in his state, “If you are not willing to live with these rules, I will have to close the synagogues…You are right on the line of government intrusion.” (https://www.jewishpress.com/news/jewish-news/cuomo-threatens-to-shutter-synagogues-ahead-of-meeting-with-chassidim-on-covid-spike/2020/10/06/

 

Never in America did we think people of faith would be threatened and punished by their governors just for going to church. These draconian lockdowns will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court if they continue. It is not too unrealistic to think that in a few years a packed court could be ruling on whether or not Bibles can be read, or if pastors can preach certain passages, or if people can own guns, or if we can have a free press, or if we are allowed to criticize or disagree with our leaders. The radicals that Biden would pack the court with would strip away our fundamental rights. 

 

There are two types of judges: those that adhere to the Constitution as written (conservative), and those that view the document as in flux, changing with whatever is current or trendy (liberal). The conservatives, called strict constructionists or originalists, vote in favor of what is written in the Constitution. The loose constructionists often vote in favor of what they wish was written in the Constitution. They typically “legislate from the bench,” creating laws where there are none, instead of letting the Legislative Branch write them. For years Democrats have relied on the courts to enact laws that they cannot pass through Congress or win with at the ballot box. The ruling on gay marriage is a prime example. Five justices invented a law not found in the Constitution. Strict constructionists would have put the onus on the Legislative Branch to write a law, but they didn’t. Now we say gay marriage is the law of the land, when in reality, the Supreme Court did not even write a law (because they can’t). Take my state of South Carolina for example. If gay marriage was on the ballot here, it would never pass. Radical liberals rely on the Court to do what they cannot do at the ballot box. That is why they want to pack the Court. 

 

Because votes matter and elections have consequences, people can choose the candidates they want to nominate and confirm the kind of justices they want. If people choose radicals because they want radical justices, fine. My fear is that people think they are getting a moderate with Joe Biden, who will in turn pack the court with radical, activist, loose constructionists. 

 

Again, this is not a pro-Trump post. If you don’t like him, don’t vote for him. There are four names on the ballot, and writing in a name is an option as well. But I would strongly caution anyone not to vote for Biden until he is willing to say that he will not pack the court (or end the filibuster; another question he refused to answer). Our country can survive four years of any President; we have been doing that for 250 years. But lifetime appointments to the highest court in the land would fundamentally change this country, which is a phrase radicals like to use.   

 

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Acting Out


Do you know the story about how the church began? The book of Acts begins with Jesus going to heaven, but first promising the disciples that the Holy Spirit was coming to give them power, and that they would go around the world carrying the message that Jesus was alive.
Jesus called His followers to be witnesses, not to keep the good news to themselves, but to act out for His name.
Come follow the Apostles on this 30-part study of Acts, and see how God is calling you to continue to Act Out for the sake of the gospel.
This book is available wherever books are sold, as well as here. It retails for $14.42, but our price is only $14.00 and free shipping. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Trump, Kavanaugh, and Roe



President Donald Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has caused the national conversation to turn once again to Roe v. Wade. Supporters of abortion are nervous that this right might be taken away, while those of us who rightly believe that abortion kills an unborn child would love to see this slaughter brought to a halt.

In my book which was released last Friday (Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery, 2nd Edition) I included a new chapter that deals with why the Judicial and Legislative Branches need to act. I analyze the majority opinion in Roe, highlighting Justice Blackmun’s conclusion that the Court disagreed with any notion that a woman should be able to have an abortion at any time and for any reason, and how women should have a consultation from a responsible doctor before having an abortion. The abortion business has taken us light years away from that decision.

Most people think the Supreme Court waded knee-deep in science and expert opinions before issuing its ruling; the reality is there was no settled science, nor was there a consensus among religious institutions. What the Supreme Court called for was an agreement from the religious community, for scientific data, and for legislation from lawmakers. Now 45 years later, the science could not be clearer, and the faith-based communities could not be more in agreement that life begins at conception. Now it is time for the law to change.

Many think the Supreme Court saw a woman’s right to kill her baby in the Constitution, but again, the majority opinion shows us otherwise. Blackmun conceded that the unborn child’s right to life would trump the mother’s right to privacy, but in 1973 there was no way to prove that the unborn child was alive. Now we know they are alive, and by Blackmun’s own words, the baby’s right to live should trump the mother’s “my body, my choice” mantra.

To read the full analysis of this topic, or to read about all the other topics covered, please check out the new expanded 2nd Edition of Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery. The book is available wherever books are sold, including at the links below:








Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Language of James



The author of the epistle of James, who I believe to have been the half-brother of Jesus, was quite the wordsmith. There are at least a dozen words or phrases in his short letter that appear nowhere else in the New Testament (two of those words he used twice), and it is possible that one of those words is one he invented. Additionally, there are at least three other words used by James that only appear one other time in Scripture.

1.     Double-minded (1:8, 4:8)
Literally “double-souled,” (dipsuchos) James uses this word first to apply to those who pray for wisdom, but lack faith when they pray. The double-minded man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. The second usage appears in the back half of a Hebraic parallel, an ancient form of Hebrew literature in which the same thing is said twice, but the second time is more specific than the first. In 4:8, James says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Just as purifying the heart is more important than cleansing the hands, calling someone double-minded exposes the greater problem than simply being sinners. James is speaking to the root of the problem, and showing them how to repent. 

2.     Ought Not (3:10)
This stern warning comes on the heels of addressing the hypocrisy of the tongue. The tongue is a fire, James says; something small that can cause major problems. From the same mouth they were pronouncing blessings and curses, something that ought not (ou chre) be found in the life of a Christian. This is an emphatic way of saying, “Absolutely not!”

3.     Understanding (3:13)
James associated understanding (epistemon) with wisdom. The Greek word is akin to having a specialty, someone who learns a specific job as opposed to a jack-of-all-trades. The nature of this passage seems to indicate that many in the audience were boasting in their skills, but James told them to prove it with their actions, not their words. Wisdom from above naturally manifests good works.

4.     Unwavering or Impartial (3:17)
Going along with number three, the wisdom from above is a pure wisdom; it will lead the Christian to actions that are peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, full of good fruits, sincere, and unwavering (adiakritos). The Greek word means to not be divided, and James used it to show that Christians should not show partiality in how they treat each other.

5.     Friendship (4:4)
Friendship comes from the common word for love, phileo. Many have heard this word for brotherly love contrasted with agape, two verbs that describe different ways of showing love. James is the only one to use a noun form of phileo (philia). If he had used the verb, it would literally say something like, “brotherly-loving the world is enmity with God.” (John used the verb form in 1 John 2:15—“Love not the world.”) Either way, James is teaching that whoever chooses the sinful system of the world (cosmos) is by default choosing to be an enemy of God.

6.     Be Miserable (4:9)
In four of James’ “10 Imperatives (4:7-10),” he gives the unusual commands to (1) be miserable, (2) mourn, (3) weep, and (4) let your laughter be turned to mourning and joy be turned to gloom (another Hebraic parallelism). Be miserable (talaiporeo) is used in its noun form a few times in the New Testament, but only James uses it as a verb. As a command, it means to feel deep regret and remorse over a person’s actions. The four imperatives in 4:9 together show unbelievers how to turn from their sin and turn to God for salvation.

7.     Lawgiver (4:12)
The Lawgiver (nomothetes) is clearly God, although that is an inference from the text. Lawgiver is used in conjunction with Judge, showing that it is not the believer’s job to pass condemnation on others; we neither wrote the law nor judge the accused. “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” does not mean that we should not use discretion and evaluate people; it means we are not to pass condemnation on a person’s eternal fate. We leave that up to God. 

8.     Come Now (4:13, 5:1)
Come now (age nun) is used here to call the listeners’ attention back to James. It is similar to saying “Listen up!” James used the phrase in these passages because he was addressing different groups of people (“you who say” in 4:13, “you rich” in 5:1). 

9.     Howl (5:1)
Howl (ololuzo) is another imperative, joined together with weep. Together, these words command the listeners to mourn and cry out in despair due to the punishment that is coming their way. They made their bed, and James is telling them to lay in it. Their great offense was mistreating the poor. They had been hiring day laborers, but at the end of the shift they were refusing to pay either any or the full amount. The poor laborers had no way to represent themselves in court, and the rich knew how to take advantage of them. James knew they would soon be howling in misery.

10. Rotted (5:2)
The riches accumulated by the rich would not do them any good. They stockpiled their stuff instead of sharing. Their extra garments became moth-eaten, and their coins were corroded. Rotted (sepo) is used in extra-biblical writings to refer to spoiled food and rotten wood, so James must be referring to what they had hoarded. Their stockpiled food rotted before they could eat it, but they refused to give it to the less fortunate. What is the point of hoarding things that can never be used? James indicts them for their refusal to help the poor.

11. Lived Luxuriously (5:5)
Continuing his soliloquy against the rich, James points out how they have lived in luxury (truphao) and self-indulgence. They had everything they wanted, yet never lifted a finger to help others. In a prophet-like judgment, James says they fattened their hearts (a term used to refer to intentionally fattening an animal to sell or eat) in a day of slaughter. Just as a cow would be fattened for the slaughter, so their fattened hearts from a life of luxury would end in their own slaughter. 

12. Full of Compassion (5:11)
The rich man had no compassion, but James points out one who had extra compassion. Referring to Jesus as literally “many-boweled” (polusplagchnos), a word James probably made up himself, James contrasts the man with no compassion in his bowels with the Lord whose bowels were full of compassion. Bowels was an idiomatic expression in their time that referred to the inner parts of a person, similar to how we say, “she has a big heart.” We are not referring to the organ, but to the love and compassion she shows. James’ use of the term bowels referred to the compassion of a person, and his coined phrase “many-boweled” shows that Jesus is full of compassion.

The three words James used that have only one other usage in the New Testament are:

1.     Miseries (5:1, Romans 3:16)
2.     Self-indulgence (5:5, 1 Timothy 5:6)
3.     Sick (5:14, Hebrews 12:3)

I find James to be a fascinating man. In many ways he comes across as an Old Testament prophet. He called out social injustice; used multiple forms of poetry, metaphors, and idioms; spoke in paradox; loudly called his readers to attention; personified inanimate objects; composed his letter in a chiasm; and boldly called people to make a choice, leaving no room for middle ground. The next time you read James, pay attention to his choice of words, notice the color in his language, and most importantly, see if there is something in your life you need to change.

“Therefore, whoever knows the right thing to do, and fails to do it, to him it is sin.”

James 4:17