15 Apr Our Voices: April 2022
Commentary from Sagadahoc Democrats
According to a familiar theory of jurisprudence, “Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done.” The implication here is that judges have an obligation not only to be fair in their rulings, but to conduct themselves so as to earn the public’s trust in their fairness. By this standard, Justice Clarence Thomas’ involvement in the recent Supreme Court case regarding the release of email messages related to the January 6 insurrection reveals a stunning dereliction of duty on his part.
Many of the most damning of these emails, after all, were written by his wife, radical right-wing activist and D.C. gadfly Virginia Thomas, who was herself a participant in the infamous rally that preceded the attempted coup. Her husband’s refusal to recuse himself in the face of these facts raised immediate alarms about his impartiality. His vote to block congressional access to the emails removed all doubt about the matter, giving evidence of his own corrupt partisanship.
Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise. Many observers of the current scandal will recall Thomas’ 1991 Senate confirmation hearings, in which Anita Hill, a former co-worker in the Department of Education, described conduct on his part that would spark a national conversation on sexual harassment. His response was to refer to the televised proceedings as a “high-tech lynching,” casting himself as a victim of racism, and invoking partisan conspiracy theories in his defense. Despite the unseemly optics of his performance, he won confirmation and has nursed bitter resentments ever since, earning a reputation as the Supreme Court’s most reliably sullen member.
Meanwhile, shortly after becoming the lone voice in support of blocking the insurrection emails, Justice Thomas disappeared from public view. According to initial reports, he was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, but subsequent accounts have cast doubt on what, if anything, was ailing him. It is also worth noting that his disappearance came at a politically expedient moment, enabling him to remain incommunicado for several weeks, a hiatus that ended only with the revelation of his wife’s emails.
Since then, the January 6 committee has announced its intention to call Virginia Thomas to testify about her role as a January 6 conspirator, which testimony will likely bear on her husband’s role in seeking to defeat the pursuit of justice in a matter of close personal interest. Under the circumstances, compelling Justice Thomas to recuse himself from all upcoming January 6 cases represents the least of available remedies to the damage he has done—and continues to pose—to the high court’s credibility. While a lack of sufficient regulation of the court makes his impeachment a difficult prospect, he deserves nothing less.
At this point, it seems, the public’s only solace lies in another old saying: “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.” After more than thirty years spent in the gristmill of partisan politics, Justice Thomas’ fractious tenure may at last be coming to an end.
Reproductive Health in Maine
In March, Dr. Julia Kahrl was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor. For more than six decades, Dr. Kahrl has supported women’s reproductive health in the United States and in Asia, Africa, and South America. Several years ago, Dr. Kahrl founded GRR, Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, a “kitchen table” movement that has expanded nationwide. Dr. Kahrl recognized that the assaults on Roe vs Wade were rapidly gaining traction and believed that women who’d grown up in the era before abortion was legalized would have powerful stories to share with younger generations.
Last September, the Supreme Court voted to allow the radical Texas law regarding abortions to stand. Janet Mills described this as “a dog whistle to extremists that they can and should push forward their anti-choice agenda in statehouses across the country.” Since January, 519 abortion restrictions have been introduced in forty-one states, and in the last year, an “unprecedented” number of anti-choice bills were put forward by Maine Republican legislators. This, despite the fact that, according to a recent Pew survey, 64% of Mainers support a woman’s right to make reproductive decisions appropriate for herself and for her family’s wellbeing.
In response, a number of states have created legislation that would solidify protection under state law. Janet Mills is clear in her stance. “As long as I am governor, I will stand to protect the rights of women and I will fight every and any threat to undermine, roll back, or outright eliminate access to reproductive health care services.” Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden are equally clear, voting for Senator King’s co-sponsored Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed in the House and failed in the Senate.
Maine’s anti-choice Republican candidates, however, recognize the unpopularity of their position and are responding to direct questions in vague terms. While governor, Paul LePage frequently attended anti-abortion rallies but now side-steps the question, stating only that he would do whatever he could as governor to “further promote adoption.” Though Bruce Poliquin is not publicizing his anti-choice position, while in Congress he voted in 2015 to ban abortion; he also voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have defunded Planned Parenthood, which currently provides routine health care for more than 10,000 Mainers.
Though in the minority, the anti-abortion forces in Maine are strong and well-organized, and especially effective with social media. As we witness what’s happening in Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi, we must recognize that it could happen here in Maine. Let’s widen the discussion, moreover, to remind voters of the implications of the loss of reproductive choice. Dr. Kahrl was honored by the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame not only for her work with reproductive rights but also for her support for local and international conservation efforts. She’d be the first to say that reproductive choice is inextricably linked with education, poverty, and climate change. Women’s reproductive health is not a women’s issue, it affects everyone. As always, we must beat the drum: every vote counts, now, more than ever.
Bruce Poliquin: A Pattern of Evasion
This November Maine voters will once again find Bruce Poliquin on the ballot for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, a seat he held from 2015 to 2019, now held by Democrat Jared Golden. A quick refresher on Poliquin’s legislative career reveals why we must prevent him from retaking this seat.
Environment: The National Environmental Scorecard gave Poliquin a lifetime score of 16% on the basis of his no votes for initiatives on climate change, wildlife, and clean water, all critical issues for our ecological future.
Healthcare: In May, 2017, Poliquin voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (and later denied having done so on a television broadcast on WMTW).
Tourism: Poliquin opposed the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument despite the initiative’s significant local support and potential economic impact. Following its passage in 2021, the new national park attracted 41,000 visitors, who spent $2.7 million in nearby communities.
- August 25, 2017: The Maine People’s Alliance shared a recording of Poliquin saying: “It would be stupid for me to engage the national media to give them and everybody else the ammunition they need, and we would lose this seat… but I get it.”
- August 2018: Slate’s Jim Newell reported that Republican leaders claimed they were close to getting votes to pass the Affordable Care Act. When asked if he had made a decision on the matter, Poliquin said nothing and suddenly headed for the restroom. When he emerged several minutes later, he was wearing earbuds and scurried away.
- October 12, 2018: The Kennebec Journal reported that Poliquin sent a letter to constituents implying that the shuttered Madison Paper mill was to be reopened. The taxpayer-funded letter, dated Sept. 20, 2018, cited an International Trade Commission ruling in 2015 allowing for continued duties on Canadian paper imports as key to “saving more than 200 jobs at Madison Paper and keeping the facility operating and producing their quality product.” In fact, the Somerset County mill closed in May 2016, laying off some 215 people, increasing property taxes in Madison and adding to the loss of paper industry jobs in Maine. The letter, signed by Poliquin, came weeks before he stood for re-election and made no mention of the mill closure or the job losses. “The constituent mailing was in fact sent in error,” said Brenda Conley, a spokesperson for Poliquin.
In addition to what these highlights convey about Mr. Poliquin’s policy decisions, they suggest a pattern of evasion we have seen far too often from members of his party, and which clearly do not warrant his reelection.
A Great Shame
I was outraged, no, horrified, to watch many Republican senators during the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson. They bullied her, badgered her, and verbally beat her up. This is no way to treat a Supreme Court nominee, or address a federal judge with her history and qualifications, it’s no way to treat a woman, and ultimately no way to treat a fellow human being. One senator repeatedly asked her questions she had already answered, then yelled rudely over her without permitting her to answer. He, and many other Republican senators, seemed to use the hearings only to overwhelm the airways with their own sick agenda and demonstrate that they were against her simply because the Democrats were for her. Common decency, respect, fairness–all were forgotten. So many Republicans, with some exceptions, possibly including Susan Collins, were behaving like thugs, without even the self-respect to be embarrassed by their own behavior.