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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Some weeks, it's hard to decide which questions belong in which section. There was never a week harder in that way than this one.

Current Events

A.S. in Bedford, MA, asks: Well, the Supreme Court has gone off the rails. It must be clear now to even the so-called centrists that the court needs to be reformed, voting rights need to be codified (please, for the love of country, get rid of gerrymandering) and the filibuster needs to go, so that we can have a functioning legislature. I don't even think that this is a progressive position anymore—the dysfunction and lack of democracy in the current situation is too clear. Am I missing something? How can Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and the closeted centrists hiding behind them look at the current situation and think that inaction is fine? If they are worried about Republican retaliation, how can they think that the Republicans care about the norms and rules regardless of what the Democrats do now? It feels like the Democrats brought a checkers board to a boxing match and it's gruesome to watch.

V & Z answer: For someone like Manchin (or, for that matter, Joe Biden), it's not too hard to guess what their mindset is. They were born in the 1940s. When they graduated high school, segregation was still legal, abortion was not federally protected, LGBTQ+ people were squarely in the closet, the Supreme Court was a group of nine Solomons, etc. They've already seen plenty of change in their lifetimes, and don't necessarily have fire in their bellies for more. Especially since "the system" has already worked just fine for them.

For someone like Sinema, the answer is not so easy, especially given that she began her public career as an outspoken leftist. The pressures on a United States Senator are immense—colleagues, lobbyists, donors, constituents, etc. And while presidents famously have a tendency to get ensconced within a bubble, the same can happen with senators, especially ones like Sinema, who seem to go out of their way to avoid interacting with the hoi polloi. Eventually, she's going to have to lay her cards on the table—like maybe in 2024, when she's up for reelection. Until then, she's inscrutable.

S.W. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, asks: Given that SCOTUS has effectively eviscerated the Clean Air Act as it relates to climate change, could the Democrats use a reconciliation bill to establish an agency specifically to tackle climate change? Maybe call it something like the Climate Leadership Agency and staff it up with the folks at the EPA who are currently working on emissions caps and related issues. Or, for that matter, you could dissolve and re-establish the EPA with explicit domain over climate change issues. If Joe Manchin and/or Kyrsten Sinema object to this, at least it would be clear who's side they're on.

V & Z answer: Manchin is a junior coal baron who represents a coal-loving state and has thus far scuttled any and all environmental legislation that's been put before him. It already appears to be clear what side he is on.

However, if the Democrats can get his vote (and Sinema's), or they can hold the House and add 1-2 more senators in November, then this would be doable. It would clearly have a budgetary impact, and so would survive a Byrd Bath.

G.R. in Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Canada, asks: With some states pushing to enshrine the right to abortion in their constitutions, what will happen when/if the Republicans get back the trifecta and pass an anti-abortion bill nationwide? Will that override any states that have added a constitutional guarantee of abortion access? And if it does is there any way to fight that in court?

V & Z answer: If a Republican Congress were to ban abortion nationwide, it would theoretically override state laws under the terms of the Tenth Amendment. The Congress would have to justify its authority for doing so. We ran an item this week about how that would be done in the other direction (establishing federal protections for abortion); presumably an abortion ban would be based on the same basic justifications.

There would certainly be legal angles that could be used to push back against the ban, particularly based on how it is written. For example, proponents of abortion rights could make an originalist argument, pointing out that there were no laws banning abortion when the Constitution was written. The current Supreme Court would really have to bend over backwards to explain why originalism applies to gun laws but not abortion laws.

Further, while these legal cases played out, the blue states would do anything and everything to undermine and disregard the national law. This has been happening for years, for example, with red states and abortion. Roe was not overturned until last Friday, and yet abortion had already become scarce-to-nonexistent in many red states. The federal government simply does not have the resources to strictly enforce federal law in all 50 states, especially when there is massive resistance, and especially when the states find potential loopholes to exploit.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, asks: Is it possible that Republicans outlaw abortion pills on the national level in the future? If yes, would an executive order by a future Republican president be sufficient? Or is a law needed? Or would the FDA be responsible?

V & Z answer: They could try it, but it would be very difficult to make it work in practice. To start, there's the problem outlined above, namely that blue states would work to subvert the laws. Further, abortion pills often have other uses. For example, (Z) has Mifepristone in his desk drawer. Not because of its abortifacient properties, but because his dog Flash is being treated for Cushing's disease, and it's the same drug. Similarly, Misoprostol is highly effective in treating stomach ulcers. Would it be ethical to pull a drug that has a legitimate use to cure a serious disease? And, if not, how can the government regulate one use and not the other?

In any event, this would require an act of Congress. The list of prohibited drugs is enshrined in law (specifically, 21 U.S. Code 812), and can therefore only be changed by the legislature.

M.O. in Arlington, VA, asks: Are state laws enabling abortion likely to be found in conflict with Constitution if, as the recent SCOTUS decision implies, a fertilized cell is a human being?

V & Z answer: The recent decision does not imply that; the Supremes stayed away from "when does life begin?", and based their ruling on whether or not the right to privacy does, or does not, exist. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will ever issue a decision finding that life begins at conception, as that would open many dozen cans of worms that would not be easily resolved. For example, would it be OK to imprison a pregnant woman convicted of a crime? After all, the fetus wasn't an accomplice. Would a pregnant woman who did not wear a mask and contracted COVID-19 be guilty of assault upon the fetus? How about a pregnant woman who drank too much alcohol? Would a fetus need its own passport to travel internationally? Would a fetus be a deductible dependent for income tax purposes? Could a fetus inherit property and could a court appoint a guardian or trustee to manage the property, possibly in ways the mother didn't want? Would a fetus have legal standing to sue someone? Would it fall under the "Uniform Gifts to Minors Act"? If the mother and father of a fetus got divorced, could a court grant custody to the father and what would that mean exactly? If the refrigeration at a fertility clinic fails, and dozens or hundreds of embryos are destroyed, is the management guilty of mass murder?

That said, if SCOTUS did find that life begins at conception, then all abortions—even those undertaken to save the life of the mother—would be illegal, since homicide is a federal crime.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: It's been over 9 months since the Texas vigilante anti-abortion law went into effect. Has there been a measurable uptick in the birth rate? How about in applications for WIC and other benefits available to poor women and children? This could portend the future in the other states that have banned abortion.

V & Z answer: This question is currently unanswerable. Part of the problem is that these statistics are not compiled "on the spot," and usually don't become available until year's end (or after).

The much larger part of the problem is that it is difficult to separate out the impact of a specific law or policy from other factors that might affect birth rates. The number of births is sure to increase in July/August/September anyhow, because those are the most common birth months (due to them coming nine months after the cold season and the holidays). And even if the increase is greater than in a normal summer, that could be due to other factors, like population growth, or maybe due to people spending more time at home because of the pandemic.

To tease this out, statistically, would require studying several years' worth of data (or more), not several months' worth.

S.T. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: The commentariat has many ideas on what the executive branch could do to protect abortion, from helping pregnant service members access abortion care to opening abortion clinics on federal lands, to declaring a national public health emergency and shipping abortion pills free through the mail. Wouldn't the Hyde Amendment prohibit all those steps? No federal dollars can be used for abortion counseling and services—right?

V & Z answer: This is why these policies have to be crafted in a manner that avoids the expenditure of federal funds. For example, leasing office space to Planned Parenthood in a VA hospital would bring money in, not send it out, and so would be OK. Similarly, the government isn't going to send out pills, it's going to make sure that the mail of private individuals is not interfered with. And with soldiers, the policy is/would be to guarantee leave time to any service member who needs an abortion.

It's also possible that the Democrats find a way to get rid of (or change) the Hyde Amendment. Though it may sometimes seem like it's some sort of federal law, it's not. It's legislative language that is inserted into each year's budget. That means that the actual text changes, on occasion, and also that the Amendment is renewed on an annual basis (because the Republicans insist upon it, on threat of filibustering the budget). The Democrats have tried to strip Hyde from the last couple of budgets, without success, but it could be eliminated via reconciliation with 50 votes. Of course, that would not stop the Republicans from pulling the same trick, in reverse, the next time they have the trifecta.

J.N. in Selinsgrove, PA, asks: Could Joe Biden instruct the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs to work with tribal leaders to construct clinics on native lands in states that outlaw abortion? Would Native lands be sovereign over themselves in this case? With tribal lands all across the Midwest and South, this could be an opportunity for women in those states to still have access to their rights.

V & Z answer: He could issue that instruction, but there are two huge problems (also a bunch of small ones, but we'll just cover the two big ones). First, reservations have sovereignty over their own people. They cannot excuse people who are not tribal members from following state and federal law. So, if the doctor or the patient involved in an abortion was a tribal member, they would probably be in the clear. But if either of them (or, especially, both) were not tribal members, they would still be subject to the laws of the state where the reservation is located.

The second problem is that the tribes are, on the whole, not supportive of this notion. There are conservative Native Americans and, more importantly, there are many Native American religions (like, say, the Navajo religion) that teach that life begins at conception. Beyond that, having non-natives lay claim to portions of reservations for non-native needs is just a little too colonialist for many tribal members. Also, some Native leaders are concerned that if they play ball with the Democrats on abortion, the Republicans will find ways to punish the tribes and further reduce tribal autonomy.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, asks: Given that it would be reasonable to argue that four of the conservative justices are illegitimate, whether through inappropriate confirmation, lies under oath during confirmation, or participation in an insurrection, it is easy to argue that this court is illegitimate.

I have read that the Northern states ignored the Dred Scott decision. How was that done? And what would it look like for Joe Biden to declare that he was instructing the EPA to go forward with the clean power plan anyway?

V & Z answer: The Dred Scott decision did not directly affect existing states, as it applied to laws passed by Congress that limited slavery (most obviously the Missouri Compromise). State antislavery laws remained OK, and nearly all non-slave states had banned the institution by 1857 (or would, within months of the decision being announced).

What it did affect was the territories, since they operate under Congressional auspices. And in territories that did not want to have slavery, most obviously Kansas, the territorial legislatures operated under the view that they were able to ban slavery, regardless of what the Supreme Court said. This laid the groundwork for open warfare in that territory between pro- and anti-slavery forces, known then and now as "Bleeding Kansas."

Meanwhile, what the Dred Scott decision did do in Northern states was heighten their opposition to slavery. And so, there was considerable growth in anti-slavery sentiment, and in the publication of anti-slavery works, and in support for anti-slavery candidates. The success of both Uncle Tom's Cabin and the newly formed Republican Party were very much tied to the Court's ruling.

As to the EPA, it is unlikely that Biden would order it to defy the Supreme Court. That's not his style, and polluting businesses in red states would just ignore the Agency, anyhow. What he will do is work with blue states to create stronger anti-pollution measures, thus working around the Supreme Court. This will be particularly effective if the measures make it impractical for companies that do not operate in an eco-friendly way to do business. For example, the EPA could create an optional program where businesses could apply for an "eco-friendly" label for their products, and California, New York, Illinois, Washington and Oregon could decree that it is not legal to sell products without that label within state borders.

H.M. in Murphy, TX, asks: Are Democratic-appointed Supreme Court justices more partisan than Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices?

Also, are there non-partisan metrics justifying your description of Chief Justice John Roberts as the worst, or one of worst, chief justices? I mean, from a liberal vs. conservative point of view, I am sure liberals are not liking what courts are doing and conservatives should be happy. But just because one side does not like rulings, does that make the Chief Justice bad?

V & Z answer: As to your first question, Andrew D. Martin of Washington University in St. Louis and Kevin M. Quinn of the University of Michigan have looked at all the rulings since 1935, assigned scores to each justice, and graphed how the justices shifted over time. Here's their graph:

Justices are placed on a scale of 8 (very
conservative) to -8 (very liberal). Most justices spend their careers within the range of 2 to -2, but there were a couple of liberals
in the past who went to -4 or more, and on the current Court, Clarence Thomas has spent his entire career between 3 and 4, while
Samuel Alito is creeping toward 3, and Sonia Sotomayor has jumped pretty quickly from -2 to -4

As you can see, most justices move in a liberal direction over their careers, though most also stay in a fairly narrow range, ideologically. Decades ago, there were more justices who were extreme in a liberal direction (most obviously William O. Douglas). More recently, there have been more justices who were extreme in a conservative direction (most obviously William Rehnquist). It is not always the case that the liberal-leaning justices were appointed by a Democrat (John Paul Stevens was appointed by Gerald Ford, for example) or that the conservative-leaning justices were appointed by a Republican (Fred M. Vinson was appointed by Harry S. Truman, for example). However, the lean and the party of the appointing president usually line up.

As to John Roberts, keep in mind that there have only been 17 chief justices. And seven of those served for less than a decade, so we're really only comparing 10 chief justices when it comes to "best ever" or "worst ever." There's no great way to convert 230 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence into objective numbers, but Gallup has been tracking Americans' confidence in the Court for nearly 50 years, and while it was near 50% in the 1970s and 1980s, it's down to 25% now. That's the lowest number Gallup has ever recorded, and it came before the last week's worth of decisions.

Further, there's no analogue in terms of a chief justice who publicly declared his commitment to "calling balls and strikes," over and over, but then oversaw jurisprudence that was plainly partisan. Maybe Roberts was lying about the balls and strikes, or maybe he has no influence over his colleagues. Either way, he comes up short of his predecessors, as they didn't lie about their worldview and they tended to be pretty good at herding cats in black robes.

J.H. in Boston, MA, asks: What happens in a law school classroom when they cover SCOTUS rulings that are obviously bad? That contradict themselves and existing jurisprudence, that ignore precedent without justification? Are law schools and textbooks allowed to just come out and admit that they are bad? Or do they have a duty to appear unbiased, and to respect SCOTUS rulings as the highest law of the land?

V & Z answer: Law schools (with maybe a couple of exceptions) do not exist to indoctrinate students as to the righteousness of the current state of the law. They do teach the students the current state of the law, because those students are going to need to go out into the world and practice. However, the more important task is to instruct students in the art of legal thinking. That sometimes means giving novel situations and asking students to apply what they know. And it sometimes means asking them to look critically at existing laws, precedents, and court rulings.

Handled properly, a critical analysis of a bad legal decision should be no more problematic in the classroom than a critical analysis of a shoddy presidential campaign or a badly designed scientific study or a poorly written novel.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, asks: About the Trump steering-wheel story: I don't suppose we'll ever know for sure, but is the point that TFG is very impulsive, or that he really thought he could steer his way to the Capitol? I've seen grown men have tantrums before, but not knowing even the basics of driving? No one seems to be talking about it, but you cannot drive from the back seat. I'm thinking it was more his instinctive application of chaos, thinking maybe things would go his way once they settled down, or he was out of options in his pattern of escalation. I guess the question is: Does this actually reveal intent?

V & Z answer: It turns out that he was not in a limousine when that happened, he was in an SUV. So, he might well have been able to touch the steering wheel. But anyone above the age of 5 would know that you cannot steer a vehicle in that way, not more than a few yards or so.

Whether it actually happened, or some of his staff merely believe they saw it happen, it primarily speaks to a man who had lost emotional control. That said, it does also make clear that when he was operating on pure instinct, his instinct was to wade into the mess at the Capitol. So we would say it does speak to intent, even if he could not have practically driven the vehicle.

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, asks: This is likely a trivial matter, but regarding Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony about Trumps's outburst in which he tossed a plate of food against a wall, and the incidences of pulling tablecloths off tables and smashing multiple place settings, is there a White House Staff supervisor who would have kept a logbook and inventory of items in service, including the china? A review of such records would be telling as to TFG's infantile emotional lack of control. It would be useful to have such minor details made public to reveal just how puerile an individual he truly is.

D.E. in Baltimore, MD, asks: According to Wikipedia, the Obama china set consists of 3,520 pieces over 320 settings for a cost of $367,258 (average $104/piece). Do you think TFG mainly broke dishes from Obama's china set or spread the wrath around (Hillary did select the Clinton set)? Depending on the number of broken dishes, he may have also violated "18 U.S. Code § 1361—Government property or contracts" if it totaled over $1,000. Also, it seems that Melania never got around to selecting a china set herself. Was it due to no chance of grift or just that she didn't care? And lastly, who uses catsup for the accent wall?

V & Z answer: The White House china, as a historical artifact, is indeed inventoried on a regular basis. However, it's primarily used for state dinners and other formal occasions. For everyday use, the staff and residents of the White House, including the president, use more pedestrian dishware. And that dishware is not inventoried in a way that Trump's outbursts could be separated from, say, dishwashers who dropped a plate by accident.

The White House china is not paid for by the federal government, it's paid for by outside donations. So, the fact that there is no Trump china (Trump gina?) is probably due to Melania's lack of interest, but also because the Trumps wanted all donations steered to things that benefited them, and not things they would ultimately have to leave behind.

And, as far as condiments go, at least a nice red color is better than, say, the icky (and chunky) green of pickle relish, right?

R.L. in Alameda, CA, asks: There was a moment during the Watergate hearings when Republican Congressional leaders went to President Nixon and told him he needed to resign. What would such a moment look like today? Do you think it is coming? Who in Republican leadership would do it and what do you think it would look like, given that Trump is not currently in office?

V & Z answer: Since Trump is not in office, it would presumably be someone who would go to him and show him that the polling numbers aren't there and that if he runs again, he would suffer a humiliating defeat. They would probably have to frame it as something that was not his fault, along the lines of "the lamestream media and the deep state have gotten behind Ron DeSantis, and that's unfairly hurting you."

If we assume that the person who conducts this mission must be a U.S. Senator, then the obvious candidate is Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He's enough of a Trump toady to have credibility with the former president, but enough of a party man to potentially be willing to undertake the job. However, the only people who have any real chance of getting through to Trump are his kids, particularly Ivanka (though she may be out of favor right now) or Donald Jr. (though Sr. doesn't really respect him).

I.E. in San Diego, CA, asks: How can Donald Trump be prevented from ever running for office again? He represents a huge threat to our democracy because regardless of the outcome, he will never concede. He'll once again claim massive fraud and that the election was stolen.

V & Z answer: The most viable way would for him to decline to run again, perhaps because he's been persuaded it's a bad idea, or because of ill health, or for some other reason.

Failing that, he could theoretically be impeached a third time, convicted, and disqualified from future officeholding. No one who is not currently in office has been impeached before, but it's possible.

Another way would be a court finding that he fomented insurrection against the United States, and he is therefore disqualified from running for office by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Per 8 U.S. Code 1481, it is also possible for someone to be stripped of their U.S. citizenship for "engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States." However, it is a violation of international law to leave someone stateless, so this would also require finding a country willing to give Trump instant citizenship. Russia, perhaps? If he was no longer a citizen, he would no longer be qualified to run.

And finally, speaking of Russia, there is polonium and other such measures.


K.S. in Chicago, IL, asks: Do you think Donald Trump could try to take down Ron DeSantis by persuading his supporters to not vote in the general? I would think he could live with a Democratic governor if his main rival is shown to be a "loser."

V & Z answer: You're right that Trump cares more about his own fortunes than he does about whether or not the governor is a member of the "correct" party. However, publicly declaring war against DeSantis like this would cause things to turn nasty, and would give the Governor permission to begin running against Trump. Further, if Trump were to try to pull this off, he might (and probably would) fail in high-profile fashion, at which point it would be clear that the emperor had no clothes.

More likely is trying to undermine DeSantis behind the scenes, which is exactly what Trump and his team are trying to do.

J.S. in Miami Beach, FL, asks: Would it make sense to switch party affiliations (from Democrat to Republican) in order to vote for more moderate, pro-gun-control candidates in the primaries?

I don't want to make the Republican establishment feel that its support is growing, and I'm not sure that such candidates even exist. But I'd be willing to switch over if it could help.

V & Z answer: If you are generally happy with the candidates the Democrats come up with, and you would like to try to steer the Republican Party away from its far-right turn, then it's entirely reasonable to re-register. An added benefit (?) is that you'll get a bunch of mailers from the Party and its candidates, so you'll have insight into their campaign messaging.

When it comes to the success of a party, all that matters are the results, not who is registered with which party. We'll have a piece on this sometime this week, actually.

D.S. in Havertown, PA, asks: As a fellow Howard Stern fan, I wanted to ask a question about Howard Stern for President. Ultimately, I don't think we'll see a Howard Stern (D) on the ballot for a number of reasons. But, one thing that a cast member of his show, Fred Norris (I-MARS), brought up intrigued me. He suggested that, if Trump runs again, Stern should register as a Republican and run. Not to win, just to stop Trump. Stern would likely qualify for the first few debates without needing to do any traditional campaigning, and he despises Trump. He could spend every minute of his debate time tearing Trump up one side and down the other. Question on economics? Talk about Trump's bankruptcy. Immigration? Mention his failed wall. Foreign Policy? Who cares, talk about the call to Brad Raffensperger. Continuously humiliate him. Hit 'em with the Hein, so to speak. Howard's current (and likely last) contract is up around the same time as the campaign and this would be a perfect swan song to end his extraordinary career. And talk about must see TV! Forget stocking up on popcorn, buy stock IN popcorn. Any chance you think Howard would do this? Thanks a lot, or should I say: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Ah-Ah-AH-Ah-Ah

V & Z answer: Truth be told, it all seems viable to us. Stern is capable of the sort of verbal gutter fight that most politicians aren't, and might have an impact on the votes of his fanbase. And it would certainly be an interesting final chapter to his public career. He'll have to consult with his would-be campaign manager, Robert A. Booey.


D.K. in Iowa City, IA, asks: It is increasingly clear that the current Supreme Court is a serious problem. Is it possible that the Democrats could institute a mandatory retirement age of 70 or 72? Thomas is 74, Alito is 72.

V & Z answer: Directly? Probably not. Article III of the Constitution states that "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour..." So, unless you consider aging to be "bad Behaviour," then a mandatory retirement age would be creating a new limit on officeholding and would require a constitutional amendment.

However, there may be ways to finesse the situation, as Congress is allowed to determine the structure of the Supreme Court. So, the Congress could do something like create the rank of "senior justice," and decree that anyone who reaches the age of 65 is promoted to that rank and performs only circuit court duty. In that case, the judges would keep their jobs and their salaries, but would no longer vote on SCOTUS cases.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Can a president just walk into Congress, whether in session or not, without an invitation? Or is there some sort of "invitation" mechanism in place?

V & Z answer: Yes, they can. House Rule IV and Senate rule XXIII give sitting presidents the "privilege of the floor," which means they may appear on the floor of either chamber without an invitation while Congress is in session. As an ex-president, Trump is still entitled to appear on the floor of the Senate when it is in session, but not the House.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: I think we can safely say Cassidy Hutchinson is the modern-day version of John Dean, which brings me to a question: Does the Secret Service always override the president, his family, his aides, etc. when it comes to safety issues? My thinking is that since the Secret Service has to be prepared to go in harm's way to protect a POTUS, they make all the rules in where a president can/cannot go?

V & Z answer: The Secret Service does have some very stringent rules in place. Presidents are not supposed to drive a car (even after they leave office), or open windows in the White House, or attend their kids' school functions, or eat at restaurants that have not been secured well in advance, among other limitations.

That said, the Secret Service works for the president and so is answerable to him. Consequently, a president could choose to defy them, if he so desires, and they would be forced to adapt. Rarely do presidents do so, since the Secret Service knows what they're doing and it would be, as you suggest, bad form to demand that people who are already laying their lives on the line should assume additional risks.


S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: In your item on Moore v. Harper and independent state legislature theory, you concluded by writing: "The 2022 midterms are shaping up to be some of the most consequential in American history, up there with 1862 and 1942." I have my theories about why these midterms during the Civil War and World II were consequential but I would like to hear from the staff historian. (If they are available, awake and sober.)

V & Z answer: You may be assured that the staff historian is always sober. It's the staff mathematician that's three sheets to the wind.

Both of those elections happened, as you note, right in the middle of wars. And if the party that held the White House had suffered significant setbacks, it would have made the respective wars harder to prosecute and might well have laid the groundwork for the other side to win. The 1862 election was particularly significant, as public opinion on the war was heavily divided, and if the voters had returned a Democratic Congress, it probably would have been impossible for the Lincoln administration to win the Civil War prior to the presidential election of 1864. And if Lincoln had not secured victory by then, it would have meant the election of a Democrat (George McClellan or someone else) who either would have allowed the Confederacy to go its own way or would have allowed them to rejoin with slavery intact. As it turned out, the Republicans gained seats in both chambers in 1862, thus giving Lincoln a mandate.

As to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, his war was more popular, but it also demanded more commitment in terms of money and manpower. And he had to push presidential powers to their very limits to meet the moment. Had the 1942 elections returned a Republican Congress, he would have been much more constrained, and World War II would have dragged on considerably longer than it did, possibly long enough to allow Japan to negotiate a non-surrender cease fire. As it was, the Democrats held Congress in that year, but there were enough Republicans and conservative Democrats to sometimes make FDR's life hard, such as when they abolished the National Resources Planning Board.

J.M. in Anaheim, CA, asks: I cannot help but look at the recent Supreme Court decisions and think, "Do other countries do this?" Is there something "wrong" with our Constitution where major rights, roles of government agencies, administration of elections, and other key government decisions are seemingly subjective and subject to change at a whim? Is our Judiciary "supersized" compared to other Western Democracies in terms of role? Is there a fix, or maybe more importantly, is this historically a feature and not a bug, and it's just recent decisions that I disagree with?

V & Z answer: We can speak to your historical question. As a general rule, the Supreme Court has been more conservative in its history than liberal and has restrained progress more than it has facilitated it. The Court has lined up on the side of slavery, of segregation, of union-busting, of Japanese internment, of guns, and now of restricting abortion. It would not be wrong to say that, on the whole, the Court has been a reactionary body.

As to other nations, that is somewhat outside our wheelhouse. But we have many readers who live outside the United States (or who have lived outside the United States in the past). If any of those folks would care to answer the question for those nations, say in a paragraph or two, we'd certain run a bunch of those responses.

P.B. in Spring Lake, NJ, asks: Today, we often sneer at the Clinton administration and think of the impeachment attempt, Monica Lewinsky and failed health care. He did have two huge foreign policy wins, though, in two intractable conflicts: the Oslo Accords and Good Friday Agreement. How would you rate his foreign policy chops compared with other post war presidents? I think what he did was much harder than George H.W. Bush and the Gulf War and Joe Biden and the Ukraine War.

V & Z answer: To start, Clinton was less interested in foreign policy than any recent president besides Donald Trump. And that showed, in that he didn't have much of a coherent approach to foreign affairs, instead taking things on a case-by-case basis and improvising.

Further, while he had successes, Clinton also had some pretty big missteps, most obviously getting involved in Bosnia. There are also some pretty serious cases of inaction, particularly failing to try to check China's growing influence and his passive approach to Osama bin Laden.

And all of this came when he was handed a really excellent situation when he took office, with the Soviet Union having just collapsed, North Korea in a hermit phase, apartheid over, and a generally more peaceful world than is typical.

Add it up, and we'd say he's a touch above average on foreign policy, but only a touch. The most recent major poll of presidential performance, conducted by Siena earlier this year, agrees: Clinton is ranked 18th on foreign policy, putting him just behind Ronald Reagan and the Adamses and just ahead of Barack Obama, James Madison and Joe Biden.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: Has there been a President in our history who had violent physical temper tantrums?

Has there been a President in our history who has physically assaulted one of his staff members?

And I know this is more subjective, but has there ever been a President in our history who has acted so morally bankrupt or one who was so clearly mentally unfit to hold office?

V & Z answer: Quite a few presidents were known for their behind-doors tempers, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. However, the only president we know of who physically assaulted an underling is Warren G. Harding. A visitor caught him with his hands around the neck of Director of the Veterans Bureau Charles Forbes, shouting: "You yellow rat! You double-crossing bastard! If I ever..." In fairness to Harding, this was because Forbes had stolen $2 million from his department. And, at very least, there were no condiments involved.

And your final question is very subjective, indeed. It is not easy to compare Japanese internment to looking the other way when COVID hit, or the Trail of Tears to fomenting insurrection on 1/6. The one thing you can say is that the presidents who made other problematic/immoral decisions really believed they were doing what was best for the country, or at least for the people who elected them. Trump's primary concern has always been what's best for Donald J. Trump.

As to mentally unfit to hold office, that's a different issue. Trump's apparent cognitive issues, and his very clear emotional issues, are certainly problematic. Franklin Pierce was a hopeless alcoholic who also dealt with debilitating depression after the death of his son. Calvin Coolidge wasn't alcoholic, but he too was hobbled by depression after the death of a son. Richard Nixon had serious unresolved mommy issues that led to paranoia, an inferiority complex, and a persecution complex. Those three are probably Trump's competition for "most mentally unfit."


W.F. in Orlando, FL, asks: Okay, enough about overthrowing our democracy and unwinding our civil rights. Answer the question you know we all are really concerned about: What do you think about UCLA moving to the Big Ten?

V & Z answer: This view is not universal among alumni of UCLA, but (Z) thinks it's a very shrewd move by university leadership. There will be more money for the athletic department playing in the Big 10, and more exposure, thus helping with recruiting. As long as UCLA is in the Pac-12 (i.e., one more year), the majority of their games start at 10:00 p.m. ET. That's not good in terms of national recognition.

On top of that, UCLA's football team will presumably win more games. Wisconsin? Iowa? Michigan? That's 3-0 every season, right there.

It's not clear why the Big 10 wanted USC, though. Maybe to keep UCLA from bringing up the average SAT score of the league too much.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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