Public defenders are the bedrock of our legal system. How Tom Cotton damaged that

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 04: U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for a meeting with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on Capitol Hill, April 04. Jackson was confirmed Thursday in a 53-47 vote. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Since it seems to have become something of a thing of late, here’s what the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says about the right to an attorney and the right to a fair and speedy trial:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

You will note that the nation’s foundational document does not say you get to “have the assistance of counsel” for your defense unless you’re an accused terrorist, or a Nazi, or, even if you’re Attila the Hun and you’re fresh off sacking some far-flung province of the Roman Empire.

Nope. You have the right to an attorney. Period. And, as further case law dictates, if you “cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” It’s legal chapter and verse that every American, raised on a steady diet of Law & Order reruns, knows by heart.

Unless, of course, you’re U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a 2002 graduate of Harvard Law School, who took Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to task on the Senate floor earlier this week for her previous work as a federal public defender.

As a refresher, the Biden White House’s Supreme Court pick represented Guantánamo detainees — which, as a federal public defender, is something her job required her to do under the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Then, Cotton, a “no” vote on Jackson’s nomination, who almost certainly knows better, but wasn’t above a bit of posturing for the cameras, went one better, and brought up the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served on the court from 1941 until his death in 1954.

“You know, the last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg to prosecute the case against the Nazis,” Cotton appallingly said, according to the Washington Post. “This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Jackson won confirmation to the high court with a 53-47 vote on Thursday afternoon. She will be the first Black woman to serve on the court.

Cotton was half right, according to the Post. The late Justice Jackson did step away from the high court to prosecute Nazis for war crimes at the Nuremberg tribunals. But he not only also supported the defendants’ right to counsel, he also played a key role in helping to enshrine the right to a defense lawyer into international law, the newspaper reported. Read more

Republicans denounce Putin’s war on facts, but are silent on the one at home

KYIV, UKRAINE – MARCH 08: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire after a chemical warehouse was hit by Russian shelling on the eastern frontline near Kalynivka village on March 08, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Russia continues assault on Ukraine’s major cities, including the capital Kyiv, after launching a large-scale invasion of the country on February 24. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

There’s a lot that’s terrible about Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s brutal attempt to erase Ukraine from the map of Europe.

From the incalculable humanitarian disaster that has seen millions of Ukrainians flee their home country, to the appalling carnage on the streets of Mariupol that was devastatingly humanized with the death of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, the costs of Putin’s unjustified war of conquest will be with us for decades to come.

But the truth also has become collateral damage these last weeks, as Putin has twisted language beyond meaning to justify his atrocities. Russian officials and conspiracy theorists have, for instance, promoted the baseless claim that the attack on the maternity hospital in Mariupol was “staged,” USA Today reported.

This week, Russian television news producer Marina Ovsyannikova was detained and fined for interrupting a broadcast, and accurately describing Putin’s action for what it is: A war. She could be imprisoned for saying what’s obvious to the entire planet.

As I wrote last week, Republicans, suddenly realizing that democracy is worth defending, have stepped up to denounce Putin and defend the same democratic institutions they tried to undermine on Jan. 6.

Speaking at a closed-door fundraiser last week, former Vice President Mike Pence said there was “no room” in the GOP for “Putin apologists,” NBC News reported. And while he didn’t mention his old boss, former President Donald Trump, by name, it was hard to escape who he was was talking about, NBC News noted.

Trump has yet to explicitly condemn Putin, saying at a recent rally in South Carolina that Putin “happens to be a man that is just driven, he’s driven to put it together,” NBC News reported.

But by failing to step up to denounce Trump, and by failing to condemn the violence perpetrated at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Republicans are abetting the same war on truth at home that they’re rightfully slamming Putin for conducting abroad.

And with their silence, they are allowing a pernicious rewriting of history to take root.

I didn’t have to look further than my own inbox for proof. Read more

With Ukraine War, Republicans suddenly get religion on democracy

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, (R-PA-10), speaking at a Capitol news conference last summer (C-Span screen capture)

Some attempted violent overthrows of democratically elected governments just hit differently, it seems

[Editor’s note: For a somewhat different take on this same subject, check out this morning’s edition of the NC Policy Watch Weekly Briefing.]

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who once advised President Donald Trump’s White House on undermining the 2020 election results, and who was a target of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, has now found a democracy worth defending.

It’s in Kyiv.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, Perry, R-10th District, one of seven Pennsylvania Republicans who asked the U.S. Supreme Court to effectively topple the election results in his home state, denounced Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as a “murderous thug” who’s “targeting civilians [and] committing war crimes” as his forces try to shatter the eastern European nation.

“Congress must stand united to demand [Putin] and his thug regime are brought to justice,” thundered Perry, a veteran, who played a “key role” in Trump’s abortive plot two years ago to oust his acting attorney general and replace him with one more sympathetic to Trump’s fact-free and debunked claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

Perry isn’t alone, of course.

Other Republicans, apparently immune to the epic cognitive dissonance it takes to simultaneously condemn Russia and stand in solidarity with Ukraine, even as they retain membership in a political party that dismisses the sacking of the Capitol as an exercise in “legitimate political discourse,” also are bravely and unironically stepping into the breach.

Take U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, for instance.

During a recent appearance on Fox & Friends, the chamber’s top Republican criticized President Joe Biden for dragging his feet on providing military assistance to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government, according to Rolling Stone.

“The challenge that we have is, it’s the actions that we could have done before from this administration to make sure today wasn’t happening,” McCarthy told the network, according to Rolling Stone. “We could have supplied the weapons to Ukraine. They’re not asking for American troops, they’re just asking for the ability to fight.”

McCarthy also noted that Ukraine has been “outgunned” by Russia and said that “we could have deterred this from ever happening,” Rolling Stone reported.

McCarthy had no such reservations, however, about Trump, as journalist Aaron Rupar notes. The GOP House leader, who’s been working diligently to purge his conference of all Trump apostates “staunchly opposed Trump’s impeachment for using military aide [sic] to extort Ukraine,” Rupar recently observed on Twitter. Read more

Bullies understand one language. The U.S., West must speak with one voice

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 24: A Ukrainian demonstrator protests outside Downing Street against the recent invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in London, England. Overnight, Russia began a large-scale attack on Ukraine, with explosions reported in multiple cities and far outside the restive eastern regions held by Russian-backed rebels. European governments reacted with widespread condemnation and vows of more sanctions. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

There are days when big news events just swallow up your entire schedule. Thursday was one of those days.

As was the case at the onset of the pandemic, and again with the 2020 election and its aftermath, and the violence of Jan. 6, it felt like the only thing we could do as a news organization was to burrow into the violent conflict taking place half a world away, explain to our readers how their elected leaders were responding to it, and try to tell them how it will affect their lives in both the near- and long-term.

If this were an ordinary column, this would be the part where I’d offer some neat prescription or exhort policymakers to take action on the solution that’s staring them in the face.

But the truth of it is that I don’t have a pithy solution or a soundbite-sized call to action as the United States and the west confront a humanitarian disaster in the making.

And that’s because there are no easy answers. The fact that we are even in this place to begin with is the fruit of two decades of failures and missteps, across presidential administrations, to bring Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to heel.

I do, however, know one thing: There is only one language that a bully and murderous thug such as Putin understands. And if our nation and elected leaders truly are serious about defending liberal democracy in Ukraine and around the world , they have to speak loudly, and with one voice, and tell Putin he can go no further.

I realize this is far easier said than done. It’s hard enough for the United States to speak with one voice at home on the most basic of issues.

It is a problem exacerbated by our polarized politics and the sad reality that there’s a whole segment of one of the major political parties that has proven, through its actions on Jan. 6 and beyond, that it has little to no interest in democratic norms. It can appallingly dismiss the carnage of that horrible day as an exercise in legitimate political discourse, and actively try to erase from its ranks those who think otherwise.

I am also painfully aware of the kind of reality distortion field that must be erected to decry Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine, even as the specter of three decades of American misadventures in the Persian Gulf and a war of choice in Iraq glares over our collective shoulder.

But it’s clear that every tool in the international community’s arsenal, short of direct force, has to be deployed as Putin tries to reset the international order that traces its origins to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the former Soviet Union that followed just a few years later. Make no mistake, that is his goal – a resurgent Russia that stands above the west. Read more

3 poll numbers that should scare Democrats. And 3 that should give some hope

President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House last August. (Adam Schultz/Official White House Photo)

They are 56, 61, and 62 – and why they’re a big deal for the 2022 midterm elections

If the central argument for President Joe Biden’s election in 2020 was his competence and decades of experience in Washington, three numbers in a new nationwide Quinnipiac University poll are a warning shot for the White House and Democrats as they look to hold their majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

Here they are: 56, 61, and 62. And how Democrats respond to those numbers could make all the difference in the world this November.

Let’s take that first number first: It’s the percentage of the poll’s registered voter respondents who said they disapprove of Biden’s job performance. Barely a third of those more plugged-in respondents, 37 percent, said they approved, while 7 percent said they had no opinion.

That’s effectively unchanged from January’s 35-54 percent result for Biden, where 11 percent did not offer an opinion.

There’s only one reason for that swing among the latter number, as more Americans feel the pain at the pump and the pinch at the produce counter, their opinions inevitably are going to harden.

Now for that second number, 61 percent: It’s the percentage of respondents who say they disapprove of Biden’s management of the economy. As NPR reports, that’s a problem for Biden, but not for the reason you’d think.

Despite empty shelves and rising prices, the economy is actually humming along at a pretty good clip.

During Biden’s first year in office, the economy created 6.6 million new jobs, the president noted during a press conference last week on the January jobs report.

“If you can’t remember another year when so many people went to work in this country, there’s a reason: It never happened,” Biden said, urging journalists to review economic statistics dating back to the Reagan administration. “History has been made here,” he said, according to NPR. Read more