Author & Speaker

Archive for April 2008

The Punishment of Scalia

On Sunday, I caught the interview with Justice Antonin Scalia on Sixty Minutes. I was particularly bemused by the Justice’s discussion of whether torture — say, of the detainees at Guantanamo — might violate the ban against “cruel and unusual punishment” in the Eighth Amendment. Scalia started off cleanly. He is not in favor of…

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The Five Finger Discount for Alaska

In my current project on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, I am now in the phase of chopping out those parts of the story that — though entertaining to me — get in the way. It can be a painful process to decide that some nugget of information, purchased at the cost of considerable…

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"After the first death, there is no other"

The quote comes from Dylan Thomas, from “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London,” in Under Milkwood. The subject comes up with the death penalty, that canker sore of American jurisprudence that generates endless litigation and appalling decisions. A few days ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Baze v.…

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Happy Birthday, Thad!

It’s more than two weeks late, but I do want to offer belated 216th birthday greetings to Thaddeus Stevens of Lancaster, PA. He plays a pivotal role in the book I’m writing about he impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and one of my goals is to reintroduce “Old Thad” to American readers. Stevens…

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The Presidential Campaigns And The Constitution

The major parties use a somewhat bemusing array of electoral mechanisms to choose their presidential candidates: winner-take-all primaries, caucuses, “open primaries” (any voter can vote in any party primary), “closed primaries” (only registered party members can vote), and “superdelegates.” So what, some folks ask, does the Constitution have to say about all this? Not much.…

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Five Best Political Novels

In writing about Henry Adams recently, I was intrigued by a perennial conversation as to what are the best political novels. The project begins with defining what is a political novel. Surely it cannot be limited to fictions about the elctoral process. All human society has political content, and novels have to be embedded in…

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Original Intent, But Only If You Can Figure It Out

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is at it again, peddling his notion that the Constitution must have a fixed meaning as of September 1787. In remarks printed in the Washington Post, Scalia offers the novel thought that but for his fealty to original intent, his judicial decisions would be really conservative. Oh, my. Rather than…

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Electoral College Mumbo-Jumbo

The electoral college is a barnacle on American democracy. I argued this point in The Summer of 1787, and in a piece in the Los Angeles Times last year. The delegates to the Philadephia Convention liked the electoral college for the reason I don’t: it defeats democracy. They hoped that the electors would be wise…

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The Other Adams

Actually, there are a zillion Adamses, many of them interesting, but the one I want to talk about is Henry Adams (1838-1918), great-grandson of the President John Adams, grandson of President John Quincy Adams. This Adams was a total intellectual. He had money so he did not need to work, and mostly didn’t. He was…

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