Editorial Roundup: New York

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy

The New York Times

Sept. 19

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at the age of 87, will forever have two legacies.

The one Americans could be focusing on right now is the one of legal trailblazer: Justice Ginsburg, the second woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court, paved the way for women’s equality before the law, and for women’s rights to be taken seriously by the courts and by society.

As an attorney she argued, and won, multiple cases at the Supreme Court in the 1970s, eventually persuading an all-male bench to apply the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause to sex-based discrimination. On the court, she continued to point the way toward greater equality in opinions like United States v. Virginia, which held unconstitutional the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of refusing to admit women. “Inherent differences between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration,” Justice Ginsburg wrote for a 7-to-1 majority, “but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual’s opportunity.” It was sweet revenge for someone who had once been rejected for jobs at top New York law firms, and denied a clerkship on the Supreme Court, because she was a woman.

The other legacy of Justice Ginsburg’s that the country is now urgently forced to confront is the cold political reality that she died in the final weeks of a presidential campaign, at a moment when President Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, appear to be dead-set on replacing her with someone who would obliterate much of the progress she helped the country make.

The court now faces a serious crisis of legitimacy. Senate Republicans, who represent a minority of the nation, and a president elected by a minority of the nation, are now in a position to solidify their control of the third branch of government. The Supreme Court, with another Trump appointee, could stand as a conservative firewall against the expressed will of a majority of Americans on a range of crucial issues.

The cynicism of the political moment stands in sharp relief against Justice Ginsburg’s idealism. She faced down multiple bouts of cancer and other health emergencies during her tenure on the bench. Through it all, she never wavered in her commitment to the court as a vehicle for a more just and more equal America. She was a dogged, tireless fighter — it was easy to imagine she might live another 20 years, battling back whatever came at her. Of course, we knew better.

Defending her decision not to retire when President Barack Obama could have picked her replacement, she said, “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.” She never anticipated President Donald Trump, whom she called a “faker” during a 2016 interview. She shouldn’t have said it, but she was right.

Everyone who cares about the integrity of the nation’s highest court has been dreading a moment like this — the death of a justice as Americans are already casting their ballots in the most contentious and consequential presidential election in living memory. The future of the court now rests in the hands of Mr. McConnell, the man who has done more damage to the court’s standing than perhaps anyone in modern American history.

With Mr. McConnell’s help, President Trump has already filled two seats on the court with hard-right ideologues. The first, Neil Gorsuch, is a justice solely because of Mr. McConnell’s obstruction, on false pretenses, of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The second, Brett Kavanaugh, was a highly contentious nominee with a long, troubling record in government that Mr. McConnell hid from the American people. And that was before Mr. Kavanaugh faced credible allegations of sexual assault.

At least there was no question about the circumstances surrounding the vacancy that Justice Kavanaugh filled. In contrast, Justice Gorsuch’s seat is forever stained by Mr. McConnell’s outrageous ploy to deny a Democratic president an appointment. At the time, the majority leader claimed that he was holding open the seat that had been held by Justice Antonin Scalia because it was an election year, and the American people should have a “voice” in choosing the next justice.

Mr. McConnell disavowed that position almost immediately, claiming that it only applies when the presidency and the Senate are controlled by different parties. On Friday night, he said, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate” — even though the election is less than two months away. So much for the American people.

Throughout the Trump years, Republicans have shown little willingness to place principle above party, or to place the long-term interests of the nation above short-term political victories. But perhaps a few Republican senators will take the quickened pulse of the nation and consider the case to postpone resolving Justice Ginsburg’s replacement.

Justice Ginsburg, who was Jewish, died on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Fittingly, it is a day when Jews look backward and forward, reflecting on what has passed, and preparing for what is to come. Justice Ginsburg’s death marks the end of her long battle on behalf of equality for all Americans. Others must now carry that fight forward.

Online: https://nyti.ms/362CNGY

___

Arresting the cost of jails

Newsday

Sept. 20

Running the local county jail is a high-stakes challenge.

The correction responsibilities of sheriffs’ departments are enormous: They must safeguard the community from people suspected or convicted of crimes. They must shield inmates from illness and self-harm, and from each other. And they must protect correction officers. Even the most violent suspects accused of crimes by the state are housed in county jails pretrial, alng with less dangerous suspects and those sentenced to incarceration for less than a year.

It’s costly. But changing practices should mean less expense for local governments.

Since 2010, New York’s prison population and Nassau and Suffolk counties’ jail populations declined steadily, mostly due to fewer arrests. This year, those reductions deepened dramatically, thanks to bail reform that let more of the accused out, and a COVID-19-induced willingness to release more people.

From July 2019 to July 2020, the population of the Nassau County Jail declined from 1,031 to 580, a 44% reduction. In Suffolk, the jail population sank from 1,052 to 474, a 55% drop. And in both counties, jail populations had already decreased 30% to 40% over the decade prior to the bail reform that took effect in January.

There ought to be significant savings from these population reductions, and an increased ability to provide services that fight addiction, poverty and recidivism. So far, on Long Island, the jails have a good start on improving the programs, helping prisoners prepare for a return to the outside world with help on resumes, applying for Medicaid and other programs, lessons on how to be productive and law-abiding citizens, and even clothing for future job interviews.

But they have made very little headway on cutting spending.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department budget, $147 million in 2010, grew to $177 million in 2020, with about $118 million going to personnel costs for the jail. The county has about 800 correction officers, which is not a big drop from past years, and Sheriff Errol Toulon says that rules by the state Commission of Correction that set staffing regulations by beds rather than inmates, a no-layoff clause and a complex combination of three facilities serving different needs make cutting hard.

In Nassau, the numbers and challenges are similar, and although layoffs are contractually allowed, Sheriff James Dzurenda says none are planned. The total departmental budget for 2020 is $153 million, and is set to decline only 5% next year.

With state regulations and inflexible labor contracts, the arguments of both sheriffs that truly large savings can’t be realized from the reductions in populations is understandable. But that approach must change.

The state must stop demanding jails be staffed excessively when there are empty beds. No-layoff clauses have to go, because jails are not jobs programs. And the fresh eyes of outside experts need to be utilized to redesign these correction programs and facilities in a way that cuts costs and increases efficiency while continuing to provide needed services.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/33UUllW

___

Our Plea To Local Supervisors, Mayors: Let Kids Have Halloween

The Post Journal

Sept. 21

There is absolutely, positively no reason why there should not be trick-or-treating in towns, villages and cities throughout Chautauqua County this year.

Children and their parents who are comfortable trick-or-treating should do so. Those who are not should stay home.

It really is that simple.

Trick-or-treating can be done safely even in the midst of a pandemic. Parents will probably want to bring hand sanitizer out so that hands can be cleaned regularly. Parents and children should wear masks. As long as people aren’t violating the governor’s existing rules against public gatherings, what else is the government’s role here? It is no harder to have contact-free pizza delivery than it is to have candy change hands without having contact on Halloween. It’s an outdoor experience that promotes the wearing of masks.

Of course, local governments are waiting on additional guidance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, because the governor’s statement that he wouldn’t cancel Halloween can’t be enough. We have to wait for the stone tablets to be delivered from high atop Mount Cuomo with the latest set of new rules.

There are hundreds of children in Chautauqua County begging their parents for their favorite Halloween costume. Our plea to Cuomo and local mayors and supervisors — don’t put on your Grinch costume. Kids have had it rough this year. Let them have Halloween.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RTNDXC

___

On lawns in Queensbury, political messages are legal and fair

The Post-Star

Sept. 17

John Strough’s knee-jerk reaction, taking offense to a lawn banner and threatening a lawsuit over it, is both understandable and wrong-headed.

Strough, supervisor of Queensbury, is mad that a couple of residents are displaying pro-Trump banners that include a synonym for nonsense. “Trump 2020 No More Bull——,“ the banners say.

The creators could have used the word hooey or baloney or balderdash. But they went with the earthier term.

The message of the banner, depending on your point of view, could be that Trump is a no-nonsense guy who will get a lot done in a second term. Or it could be that a second-term Trump administration, empowered by re-election, will run roughshod over our country, punishing the president’s enemies and rewarding his allies.

The connotation could be inspiring or frightening, but either way, it’s not obscene.

Another political sign of the season, which has also been spotted in Queensbury, compares Donald Trump to a sexually transmitted disease.

“STD,” it says “Stop the Donald 2020 Don’t let the infection spread.”

It’s a pointed jab at a president who has spent a lifetime bragging about sexual conquests. It also seems to reference his leadership during a pandemic when “the infection has spread” to every part of the country.

It’s more vulgar than the “no-nonsense” sign, even though it contains no swear words. It would be a lot more awkward to explain the STD sign than the “no-nonsense” sign to your toddler.

Context matters. It’s not only the words you use but what they are saying that determines vulgarity and obscenity.

You do not have a First Amendment right to display just anything on a sign on your lawn.

You can’t write messages advocating violence, especially not against specific people, and you can’t accuse people of crimes or otherwise slander them.

Explicit descriptions of sex acts are also probably illegal, although you might get away with it if they had “serious literary, political or scientific value.”

Arguing over the subjective meanings of words and phrases has fattened the wallets of a lot of lawyers. There is no need for Queensbury to contribute to that waste of money.

These signs are fair. The pro-Trump sign highlights an aspect of his leadership style — his open expression of his preferences — that his supporters like. The anti-Trump sign points to an aspect of his character — his womanizing — that his detractors find distasteful. Both signs show the way many of us react to the president on a gut level, with admiration or disgust. Restraint is needed when seeking to curtail free expression, especially political expression. Not every message should be allowed, but these should be. Our outrage and our lawsuits should be reserved for signs that are, actually, outrageous or illegal.

Online: https://bit.ly/367Qwwx

___

Saranac Lake voters paying more attention

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Sept. 19

The spirit of democracy has risen again in Saranac Lake. Specifically, we are excited that voter turnout in Tuesday’s village board election was much higher than usual. We are also grateful to all four candidates or their willingness to put themselves out there, and we congratulate winners Rich Shapiro and Tom Catillaz.

Eight hundred and twenty-six people voted. On one hand, that’s not all that high — only 28% of the village’s 2,941 registered voters (numbers from village Clerk Kareen Tyler) and 16% of the total village population of 5,200 (2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate).

Still, it’s well over triple the anemic 250-voter turnout of the last village election in 2018. Granted, that one was uncontested; the last two contested village elections, in 2016 and 2014, each drew somewhere around 500 voters. That, sadly, has been a fairly typical over the past few decades.

Still, 826 is a far cry from the highest voter turnout this village has seen. More than 1,400 people voted in the 2006 election, with a Walmart hanging in the balance. The 2003 election drew 1,117, and the 1991 election drew 1,125, according to past Enterprise reports. History columnist Howard Riley recalled recently that 1,862 people voted in the 1963 village election, when he won a seat on the board (and when, it’s worth noting, the village then had significantly more residents).

One possible reason for the increase was that more people were more willing to try absentee voting due to the pandemic, which meant they could vote at their convenience without leaving home. But still, they needed motivation to request ballots and return them.

From time to time, big issues and new energy drive people to vote in higher numbers. In 2006 the issue was obvious. Democrats, who urged caution on Walmart’s plan to build a Supercenter where Aldi and Carcuzzi are now, swept to victory, and Republican candidates, who supported Walmart, bemoaned afterward that other issues had been steamrolled.

This time around there was no issue that big, but it was different to have a contest of Democrats (the now-reelected incumbents) vs. democratic socialists. The race was looking very sleepy at its original March election date. Only 18 people shoed up for a debate we hosted, and we had received only seven letters. But then some local residents formed a new progressive group, the High Peaks chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, challenging the all-Democrat board on its response to police reform, racist graffiti and the proposed Adirondack Pregnancy Center. The DSA endorsed Green Party candidate Fred Balzac and then Trevor Sussey, who joined as a write-in candidate since the ballot had been locked in months before.

These activists added a great deal of passion and energy to the race. Enterprise readers saw that every day on the Opinion page. We published dozens of letters on this race. But in the end, the DSA didn’t have the numbers to carry the day, and Saranac Lake went with the more moderate Democrats.

There were no Republicans in the running this time, but there are still many Republican voters in the village. Presumably many of them voted for Democrats this time around. A few Republicans endorsed Democrats in letters to the editor, warning against the democratic socialists’ agenda. Did aversion to socialism drive higher turnout? It’s hard to say.

We hope all that citizen engagement doesn’t go to waste. This community needs people who care enough to speak up and get involved. We hope this election shows the village board that people are paying attention to the details of what they do, and that Saranac Lakers are eager for a government that solves problems and serves the common good.

They also want a village government that is transparent. The current board is too comfortable discussing issues via email, outside of the public eye. This goes against at least the spirit of the Open Meetings Law, which begins with this declaration:

“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”

Villagers reelected incumbents this time around, but they will continue to be watchful. They only get to vote once every two years, but they have ways of making their voices heard all the time. Not only can they speak up at meetings, but they can write letters and Guest Commentaries to this newspaper, and we are happy to publish them.

Online: https://bit.ly/3kI0qsx

___