Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
May her Memory be a Blessing
The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Left me shaken, numb, grasping for air.
I thought she was indomitable.
She had beaten cancer four times.
She was an icon, a hero, a legend.
Her brilliance was staggering,
Her compassion endless.
In her tiny fragile frame lay all of our hopes and dreams.
Yet I, with misplaced confidence in all that is good,
Ridiculously believed her fierce desire to live
And to make our country a land of equality and justice for all
Somehow had the power to conquer death itself
For at least for a few more months.
I was sadly, terribly wrong.
The Notorious RBG is gone.
She took her last breaths
At the very last moments
Of the Jewish Year 5780,
A truly dreadful year.
That year, thank God, is over.
And her legacy remains with us
As we enter 5781.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg taught men at the highest levels of power – and they were all men in the days she began her crusade – that gender, like race, is a construct. That the differences between men and women had been magnified by culture and centuries of unquestioned belief into ridiculous stereotypes. That gender roles confined women and men into prisons of conformity and put hurdles in the way of our individual pursuits of happiness. That women could be the best lawyers and have the finest legal minds. That men could be the kindest parents and caregivers. That the government had no business forcibly assigning us into designated slots. That we are all human. That those who would forcibly delineate male or female roles for us were as damaging to human freedom as the radical authoritarian states that would choose our professions for us.
RBG gave us freedom, the power to be ourselves. It is impossible to imagine the world we now live in without her. A world where women are taken seriously. Where we have a female Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Where I – as an openly gay man – am regularly criticized (as I should be!) for my thoughts, my words, and my deeds but virtually never any longer for my sexual orientation. Where my colleague Delegate Danica Roem serves well and ably and with the gender of her birth an afterthought. Where people with different physical and mental abilities are valued for their humanity; not their differences. Where the fact that I posted Hebrew at the top of this page, in knowing reverence to both Justice Ginsburg's religious faith and my own, would not be seen as a barrier to our success but an honor to our connected affinity – a recognition that people of various religions, along with atheists and agnostics, have a lot more in common than the beliefs which divide us.
I realize we are not quite there yet. We still face gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic inequities. Under the current President, this inequality has been magnified. He openly attacks those who have been traditionally disparaged – women, minorities, immigrants, those with disabilities – with a passion and fervor not seen since Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her career in the 1950's, since she was first in her class but unemployable, because no one wanted a "lady lawyer."
Our world is shaken.
But we must act with resolve and with confidence.
There is no time to despair.
There is work to be done.
Would the Notorious RBG have tolerated a bunch of us moping at her loss?
Not for a moment:
This Justice who issued a Supreme Court ruling from the bench
The very day after losing the love of her life, Marty Ginsburg,
A man who sincerely believed in gender equality long before it became a commonplace notion.
Yes, she was indomitable.
Few of us have the mental or physical fortitude
Of this tiny giant.
I don't call on us to mirror her brilliance, her strength, her greatness.
With few exceptions (Thurgood Marshall comes to mind), that's impossible.
We can't come close to matching that.
Nevertheless, some ancient Talmudic wisdom comes to mind.
Our rabbis wrote thousands of years ago:
It is not your responsibility
To complete the work
Of perfecting our world.
But you are required.
To do your part.
(That's worth rereading a few times.)
Let us all resolve
In her name,
In her honor,
In her legacy, and
In her blessed memory
To redouble our efforts
To finish the job she set out to do.
She gave us a fantastic head start.
But now she is gone.
The baton is at our feet.
Pick it up.
On the steps of the United States Supreme Court
The night Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.
You can start by voting.
Early voting has begun in Virginia, and we're seeing record turnout!
Making it easier to vote was a priority of the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
There is no longer any excuse or witness required to vote absentee.
Early in-person voting lasts through October 31.
Access your Virginia voter record to update your registration, apply to vote absentee, and view your polling place, election district, absentee ballot status, and voting history.
Important Dates for the Election:
Who and What Will You Vote For?
Well, you'll vote for Joe Biden, of course
And Mark Warner
And Don Beyer.
I'm confident that you don't need explained to you why you should vote for any of these fine men. In the extremely rare chance that you do not intend to vote for any or all of them, I fully understand that I have no power to persuade you otherwise.
In Arlington, I ask you to vote for the Democratic nominees:
Libby Garvey for County Board
And Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy for School Board
And I generally support bond issues and the second Constitutional Amendment to give a small tax rebate to disabled veterans and their spouses, although I concede that this amendment seems to me more about politics than significant tax relief. If you believe local government should make these decisions rather than putting such a measure in the Virginia Constitution, I wouldn't quibble with you too much for voting no. But on balance, Amendment 2 does little harm, and I want to honor our veterans. So I'll be voting yes for all of these.
VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1
My real concern, as you know if you're a frequent reader of my newsletter is with Constitutional Amendment 1. This is a deceptive measure, touted by its supporters as "reform," but which actually makes it easier for legislative leaders -- and in particular, Republicans -- to politically gerrymander Virginia to oblivion.
It's a giant step backward for Virginia and very dangerous.
I've written about it at length in many places, in op-eds, in my annual mailing, in letters to the editor, in dozens of debates and speeches, in the Virginia General Assembly, locally and across Virginia, and most famously in this very newsletter where my Primer on Gerrymandering is still passed around.
But I was asked by the Richmond Times Dispatch to boil down my argument into fewer than 800 words. And so, with Delegate Lamont Bagby (Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus), I did.
Please share this op-ed widely, as there is a lot of misinformation going around about Amendment 1, and it is vital Virginia voters hear the NO point of view before voting.
(Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on September 12)
Vote NO: Amendment 1
Would Enshrine Gerrymandering
in the Virginia Constitution
Do you know what’s on your ballot this fall? After voting for president and members of Congress, you will see two proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution. For Amendment 1, you will be asked a complicated question that masks an even more convoluted proposal.
Have you read the full amendment? Very few Virginians have. But before you make a permanent change to the foundational structure of Virginia law, you should. As a recent lawsuit explained, the question on the ballot does not come close to adequately explaining it.
Simply put, Amendment 1 enshrines the odious practice of gerrymandering into our Constitution and makes it virtually impossible to remove.
Gerrymandering — drawing district lines to favor a particular political party — is as old as the republic. Patrick Henry tried and failed to gerrymander James Madison out of the first Congress. District boundaries were designed to prevent descendants of enslaved Virginians from casting ballots for representatives of their choice. And just last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled federal courts have no power to stop it.
But states can stop gerrymandering. The recipe is clear. We must change two things: “how” you draw district lines and “who” draws those lines.
First, the “how.” We need rules that ensure fairness; protect racial/ethnic minorities and other communities of interest; require compact and contiguous districts; and, above all, not unduly favor any political party.
Second, the “who.” We need a nonpartisan commission, independent of the Virginia legislature, drawing the lines. Voters should choose who represents them; not the other way around.
By these two measures, Amendment 1 is a giant step backward. First of all, it allows unlimited gerrymandering. You would think a so-called “reform” measure would at least bar line drawers from overwhelmingly favoring a single political party. Not this one. Amendment 1 allows 60% of Virginia’s population to be represented by a minority of legislative seats. That alone should cause you to scratch your head. Furthermore, there are scant protections for racial and ethnic minorities.
That’s not even the worst part. Even worse than the “how” is the “who.” The amendment expressly gives the four legislative party leaders power to populate the entire commission with their own appointees, including close friends and family members. Independents and third parties would have zero representation.
And if just two legislators object, the entire process is thrown to a panel of judges appointed by the very legislature whose district lines they are designing. One judge could draw district lines for her own brother, a sitting senator. See a conflict here? We do.
It might seem strange to hear two legislators argue the case against legislative gerrymandering, but we both have long been fighting for nonpartisan redistricting reform. And we just don’t think letting legislators draw their own districts without guardrails is reform. Some so-called reformists (and the Texas billionaires who’ve spent millions to fund them) say this flawed proposal is the best Virginia can get. But we know we can do better.
The good news is we already have. In fact, we are halfway there.
This year with little fanfare, the Virginia General Assembly did something extraordinary. We banned gerrymandering. On a party-line vote, we became the first legislature in the nation to solve the “how” problem completely. House Bill 1255 and Senate Bill 717 fully protect communities of interest and racial and ethnic minorities.
Most importantly, the new law prohibits the drawing of district lines from unduly favoring any political party. And this is already the law for the 2021 redistricting, unless it is overruled by Virginia voters deceived into voting for Amendment 1.
But that’s not all, folks. We can solve the “who” problem, too. Today, the vast majority of Democrats in the General Assembly are on record, committed to enacting a true independent redistricting commission in 2021: one where voters pick legislators and not the other way around. We are not your parents’ Democratic party.
And the best news is — if Amendment 1 is defeated — Republicans will have to join us. Faced with the prospect of redistricting by either (a) a fair independent commission or (b) majority Democrats, we are confident the GOP will join us in preferring option (a).
Amendment 1 was designed at the 11th hour on the last day of the 2019 session to put a finger on the GOP scale in the face of impending Democratic majorities. But once Amendment 1 is off the table, the independent commission we have long dreamed of can finally become a bipartisan reality.
We can do this. But only if we don’t enshrine gerrymandering permanently in the Virginia Constitution. When you cast your ballot, go beyond the convoluted ballot question. Don’t believe the hype. Read Amendment 1 carefully. Understand it fully. See how it keeps party leaders in control and allows unlimited gerrymandering. Then vote “no.”
Why would any Progressive support this "Trash"?
She, like me, supports an independent citizens' commission.
She wants a "seat at the table" for Black Virginians.
Click her picture below and listen a bit to her point of view before you vote.
I will sadly vote NO on the Amendment this November.
I believe that the current Amendment
is not a partial victory
that still must come in the years ahead."
If you're still unsure, please read Linda Perriello's account as well.
Linda led OneVirginia2021 when it was a Virginia grassroots organization opposed to gerrymandering and before it became a multi-million-dollar out-of-state-financed professional lobby willing to accept the gerrymandering it used to fight against. She distanced herself from OneVirginia2021 when it sold out on the cause and agreed to allow unlimited gerrymandering and a legislatively-controlled commission as part of Amendment 1.
What do supporters say?
Even supporters of the Amendment concede the proposal is flawed because it:
Allows unlimited political gerrymandering without the possibility of review;
Institutes an advisory commission chosen entirely by Four Party Leaders; and
Allows just two Republican legislators to unilaterally draw the lines through the "poison pill" pass to the Republicans they appointed on the Virginia Supreme Court.
So why do they support it?
"Trust judges," the yes on 1 folk say.
"Trust Republicans not to gerrymander."
"But you can't trust your Democratic legislators."
The main argument for Amendment 1 appears to be that partisan Republicans on the Virginia Supreme Court (chosen by the past Republican illegally-racially-gerrymandered legislative majority) will always be fair, even though the Amendment provides zero legal requirements or guardrails whatsoever to prevent them from strongly gerrymandering Virginia to favor the Republican Party.
And lots of editorial writers of major newspapers seem to agree that just because Republicans gerrymandered Virginia for decades (and Democrats did so forty years ago), all of Virginia's current Democratic anti-gerrymandering reformers will necessarily act the same way. Their cynicism is disheartening. The Democrats of today are progressive reformers. The Democrats of yesteryear were part of the racist Byrd Machine. That was then. This is now.
But, supporters say, they trust Republicans and only Republicans to do the right thing. So far, 80-90% of Democrats aren't falling for this ruse and oppose the amendment. But sadly, about 10-20% of Democrats have been buying into this.
But if you routinely trust Republicans more than Democrats, why would you even be a Democrat?
If I – or any other Democratic representative – cease to support an independent commission, you can and should find someone to primary me. You have power over us. You have no power over the Republican minority leaders and even less power should Amendment 1 put them back in control.
Unlike supporters of Amendment 1, I trust Republican leaders in Virginia about as much as I trust Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. Except McConnell and Graham are a wee bit more trustworthy. After all, federal Republican Senate leaders at least promised not rush a nominee through in the last year of a Presidency. So, if and when they do so, they will have to go back on their word.
But Virginia's Republican leaders have not promised they won't use Amendment 1 to gerrymander. They're consistenly on record as supporting gerrymandering and believe Amendment 1 is their path to power!
Don't vote for the Amendment in the hopes that maybe, this time, Republicans won't act like Lucy does when she pulls the football away from Charlie Brown. If you vote for it and we lose our progressive majorities, you'll have to live with your conscience. And since the court can design the very legislature that will choose the members of that same court, it will be extremely difficult to ever return Virginia to majority rule.
Aren't you tired of a double standard? Where Trump asks Russians directly to rig our election but Hillary Clinton was excoriated for deleting some private emails on a private server? Don't you see that the double standard exists precisely because Democrats strive to be fair while Trumpist Republicans strive to escape the rule of law and checks and balances entirely?
This is particularly true when it comes to elections. In a nation:
- Where Republican judges stopped Florida from counting votes to install Bush over Gore, decimated the Voting Rights Act, re-instituted poll taxes in Florida, and routinely upheld barriers to keep poor and Black and young and ex-felon Americans from voting,
- and in Virginia, where Republican judges put artificial restrictions on the Governor's power to restore voting rights to ex-felons, denied the right of more than a hundred people to vote through no fault of their own in an election whose margin was half the number of those disenfranchised (Josh Cole race), allowed a vote rejected by both parties to be counted that was critical in giving Republicans control of the Virginia House in 2017 (Shelly Simonds race),
- where Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans and Trump promise to ram through a right-wing justice to replace RBG in complete hypocrisy contradicting the unprecedented the way they denied Obama even a hearing for his appointee Merrick Garland, and
- where Republicans in state legislatures purge voting rolls, reduce polling places and election machines in minority neighborhoods, and consistently gerrymander
why would anyone seeking fairness ever vote to constitutionally give Republicans a permanent thumb on the scale in Virginia? All we ask for is a fair election with line that favor neither party. And if you vote for Amendment 1, you would deny us even that.
I believe in democracy.
I believe the People should decide their representatives.
I oppose rigged elections where a minority stays in control, despite the will of the majority.
That's why I detest gerrymandering, the electoral college, and all barriers to legitimate voting.
It doesn't matter which party it helps: rigged elections are wrong!
RBG believed in fairness, too. Quoting colonial feminist and abolitionist Sarah Grimke, she asked "no favors for my sex....All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."
Today, Democrats ask for no favors. We don't want to gerrymander.
We passed a law to ban gerrymandering.
We voted to ban gerrymandering this year, despite being in the majority.
Republicans voted to keep it legal this year, despite being in the minority.
Shouldn't that alone inform editorial writers that, despite what they think, most Democrats, at least, have some principles?
Colonial feminist Sarah Grimke:"All we ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."
All Democrats ask for is an equal chance to win elections fairly.
All we ask is that Republicans play by the same rules we agree to play by and take their feet off our necks.
Don't let the last gasp of Virginia's Republican Party forever pollute our Constitution, bring back gerrymandering, and put an end to majority rule.
In RBG's memory, I pray you will be as wise and as careful as she was. And maybe even, like her, I hope you'll be somewhat cynical of the motives of those who have a long history of unfairness.
Don't be deceived.
Read Amendment 1 carefully.
Understand it fully.
See how it keeps party leaders in control and allows unlimited gerrymandering.
Then Vote No on Amendment 1
FIND OUT MORE
If you want to know more about Amendment 1 TODAY, there are several ways to find out virtually:
Come to Mark's Monthly Meetup TODAY (Sunday) from 1 to 2:45 pm. Details below.
Ask me directly any question you like.
Click here to join.
Want to hear both sides presented?
Come TODAY (Sunday) from 3 pm to 4:30 pm
Come watch me debate Delegate Ken Plum.
I have tremendous respect for Delegate Plum, but I think he's wrong on this.
It's moderated by Virginia journalist Michael Pope.
So you know we'll both be asked tough questions.
Want to help the cause in Alexandria?
Already convinced? Don't need more info as to WHY you should vote NO but want to know what you can help us to do to convince others to vote NO? Come to an organizational meeting for No on 1 Alexandria!
TODAY at noon.
Click here to join us.
All the Democratic Parties around Alexandria (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William) – like most Democratic Parties across the Commonwealth, as well as the Democratic Party of Virginia – will be putting NO on the sample ballot.
Between 80% and 90% of Democrats in these jurisdictions urge you to vote NO.
Unfortunately, Alexandria, due to COVID and some archaic by-laws, was unable to meet and decide what should go on the ballot in time. So we need your help to get the message out in Alexandria. Please join us!
If you want to contribute to FairDistrictsVA, which is working hard to oppose the Amendment against massive Republican interests from out-of-state that are bankrolling the Amendment, click here.
Happy Rosh Hashanah
It's been a tough 5780 and ended with the death of our American hero.
Let's all pray for a healthier, happier 5781!
L'Shana Tovah ("To a Good Year")
V'tikatevu ("May you be Inscribed in the Book of Life")
Mark's Monthly Meetup
TODAY (Sunday, September 20)
1 - 3 pm
I am hosting Mark's Monthly Meetup TODAY! Click here to join.
I will again be hosting it via Zoom. We will discuss the Special Session and Amendment 1.
Join the conversation by clicking here.
(Join and download Zoom for FREE by clicking here.)
If you don't have access to Zoom, you can also call in to join the discussion: (929) 205-6099
Meeting ID: 891 0392 1612
I thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving you.
Delegate Mark Levine
Proudly serving Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax
in the Virginia House of Delegates