The Briefing 11-08-17
Tags: ACLU, Audio, Jeff Hoover, Kentucky, Matt Bevin, Paradise Papers
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 8, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
It turns out that the controversy over an abortion for a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant isn't over, we’ll see what the story tells us about the real fanaticism on the issue of abortion; we’ll see moral clarity on one question in Kentucky, and on yet another question in what are known as the Paradise Papers.
Misconduct of ACLU lawyers in abortion case reveals fanaticism of pro-abortion movement
Elections in the United States come in those big four year cycles of presidential elections and then what are defined as the off year elections, and so as we’re looking to the year 2018, we know that there's going to be a huge congressional election along with several governorships at stake, but many Americans fail to understand that even in the intervening years, for example 2017, there are also some important elections. Two of them took place yesterday in the states of New Jersey and Virginia, two governorships open, both of them very important. You're talking about two East Coast states that are both very politically potent. But in terms of telling us where we are, in terms of worldview analysis, it’s going to be the governorship in Virginia that will tell the biggest story. The reason for that is simple: Virginia is often referred to as a bellwether state. It is indicative of patterns throughout the rest of the nation. Transitions and transformations that have taken place over the last several decades in Virginia make it actually more like a composite picture of the United States, but Virginia has another political tradition and that is that its elections tend to be very close and the final numbers tend to come in very late. So in the interest of accuracy, we will defer the analysis of that election until tomorrow's edition of The Briefing.
Meanwhile, big stories on other fronts. One of the most important stories in recent days has to do with an issue of controversy that the cultural left, and especially the pro-abortion movement, believed was basically over. Now old news, it has to do with what we discussed on The Briefing and what troubled the nation in many ways, and that was the story of a 17-year-old girl, an undocumented immigrant to the United States in the custody of US authorities, who was known to be pregnant and to demand an abortion. What we saw then was the amazing argument made by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU) demanding that this 17-year-old girl, a minor, a minor who is not a citizen of the United States and is actually in the custody of the United States government, that she had a constitutional right to an abortion. The Trump Administration, especially through its Department of Justice, responded with the argument that complicity in the obtaining of an abortion for this young girl by agents of the federal government would put the taxpayers of the United States in the place of actually participating, being complicit in, the abortion. Furthermore, the Justice Department pushed back on the argument of the ACLU and pro-abortion groups that basically any pregnant woman who gets to the United States, in terms of setting foot on American territory, has a constitutional right to an abortion. But as the story unfolded, and it's a very complicated story, it turned out that the administration was going to allow a third party to act as the so-called legal sponsor of the 17-year-old girl in order that she would be able to obtain the abortion, but without the direct involvement of US authorities, and you’ll remember this came before the federal courts, as so many issues do, and that court ruled that the young woman did have a constitutional right to an abortion. And so, as it turned out, she had the abortion, almost immediately after the court's decision, and that's why the pro-abortion movement assumed that the story was over, they chalked it up as a victory. But it's not over, and the reason it’s not over, well, it just gets even more interesting.
Here's the headline in the Washington Post,
“Government Asked Supreme Court to Vacate Abortion Order.”
So now you have the Solicitor General of the United States, more him in just a moment; you have the Justice Department of the United States asking the Supreme Court to vacate an order that, well let's think about this, has already been accomplished. Why would the Justice Department go to such links? Why would the Solicitor General of the United States make this an issue now?
Well, in order to understand this we need to remind ourselves that the Solicitor General of the United States, one of the most important constitutional figures in the Department of Justice, is the nation's attorney in terms of making arguments before the courts, and most particularly the Supreme Court of the United States. His title, Solicitor General, means that he is the chief attorney in representing the interests of the United States of America before the courts. That's why it is the Solicitor General making an issue here before the Supreme Court, asking the court to vacate an order when many people just assume the story is over. Why would the Solicitor General press this argument? Well, it turns out there's not only one reason, there are two reasons. The first reason comes immediately to mind: The Justice Department is very concerned about the precedential value of this case. That means that the Department of Justice is concerned that this sets a precedent, a very dangerous precedent, that is not only directly injurious of the sanctity and dignity of unborn life, but is also a precedent that is very injurious in terms of our understanding of citizenship, in terms of the entire picture. But the second reason is far more personal and it’s far more case specific, and what we now learn is that the Solicitor General of the United States is asking the United States Supreme Court not only to vacate the appeals court ruling, but also to sanction the ACLU lawyers at the center of the case.
Reporters Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow of the Washington Post, tell us, and I quote,
“The Trump administration told the Supreme Court Friday it should consider disciplining lawyers for an undocumented teenage immigrant seeking an abortion, alleging they misrepresented her situation in a way that kept the government from asking the high court to intervene.”
As the reporters continue,
“In a highly unusual filing reflecting the stakes of abortion politics, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco called out ACLU lawyers representing the girl, identified in court papers as Jane Doe. The document said the girl’s lawyers knew the Justice Department planned to ask the Supreme Court on Oct. 25 to review a lower court decision saying the 17-year-old had a right to an abortion while in government custody.”
Well, as the story continues, it turns out that the ACLU misrepresented the facts of the case to the US Department of Justice, and they did so in such a way that they intentionally sought to mislead the Justice Department so that the Department of Justice could not file an appeal before the Supreme Court before the young woman had the abortion. The Solicitor General’s filing before the Supreme Court includes these words,
“The government recognizes that respondent’s counsel have a duty to zealously advocate on behalf of their client, but they also have duties to this court and to the bar. … It appears under the circumstances that those duties may have been violated, and that disciplinary action may therefore be warranted. At the least,”
said the Solicitor General,
“this court may wish to seek an explanation from counsel regarding this highly unusual chain of events.”
A parallel story in the New York Times had this headline,
“Justice Department Accuses A.C.L.U. of Misconduct in Immigrant’s Abortion Case.”
This is an unfolding story, it’s going to be interesting as every fold unfolds, but what's really important right now is to understand what is so unusual about the present moment, unusual about the Solicitor General of the United States asking the Supreme Court to discipline the opposing counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union for misleading the Department of Justice in such a matter. It’s not only a breach of judicial ethics and etiquette, it is also a breach of the practice of the court and the responsibility of members of the bar, but it also tells us something even more fundamentally important and that is this: It tells us about the fanaticism of the pro-abortion movement, a fanaticism that takes the argument all the way from the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 to an undocumented immigrant in American custody, a 17-year-old minor, in 2017. It's also important for us to recognize that the lawyers for this 17-year-old girl were from the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, what makes that important is that the ACLU had been established in order to advocate for and to protect in court a broad range, a comprehensive range of rights, but you'll notice how those rights are now being constricted and how the issue of abortion becomes the right that trumps all other rights. You will often hear those on the left say that conservatives in America, Christians in America, have a hang up when it comes to abortion, an absolute fascination with the question of the sanctity of human life. Now, that accusation aside, let's just state that we should never apologize for contending for the unborn and for making abortion, the scandal of abortion, a major issue before the American conscience. Here we are reminded of the absolute, unconditional fanaticism of the pro-abortion movement in the United States, a movement that is not only now in defense of abortion as a so-called right in the U.S. Constitution, but abortion as a moral good and abortion as the symbolic right that legitimizes the entire platform of the sexual revolution. It is clearly too late to stop this abortion from taking place; it's already happened. But the right kind of legal action and leadership in this case could prevent this same logic from being extended to other unborn babies who might also be aborted. But furthermore, it is also really important to recognize that here we have the Solicitor General of the United States willing to go to the Supreme Court not only to ask that the lower court's order be vacated, but to ask the Supreme Court of the United States to bring disciplinary action and sanctions against the lawyers for this young woman, ACLU lawyers, who acted irresponsibly and unethically in terms of their relationship and their duty to inform the Justice Department of their intentions.
As sexual harassment scandal engulfs statehouse, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin displays moral clarity
But next, we shift to the state of Kentucky where we find a very different story, a very sad story. In the aftermath of the controversy over sexual harassment centered on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, there can be no question that there have been reverberations all across the country, indeed, even in other countries, and there have also been reverberations that have extended to entirely different fields of enterprise, not just Hollywood and entertainment, but now politics in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The particular controversy was focused on the Speaker of the House in Kentucky, Jeff Hoover, and the accusation was that in the last several months he had secretly arranged for a settlement, a sexual harassment settlement, with someone who had been involved with his office. Confronted with the allegations, the speaker said that he would not resign, though, in just a matter of days under enormous pressure, he did resign. He has stayed on as a state representative saying that he will serve the remainder of his term, but he stepped down as speaker. By the way, Speaker Hoover had played a very important and historic role within the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the first Republican speaker of the house in modern political history. But what makes this story all the more important was the fact that, in what was described as a hastily called news conference in the Capitol rotunda, the governor of the state of Kentucky, Governor Matt Bevin, made very clear statements, indeed unexpected statements. He said this, and I quote,
“These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable. Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately.”
The governor said,
“The people of Kentucky deserve better. We appropriately demand a high level of integrity from our leaders, and will tolerate nothing less in our state.”
Then the governor said this,
“You either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior.”
Now, one of the reasons the governor spoke in the plural in terms of these accusations is that there have been very clear rumors that it’s not just the speaker but several other prominent members of the house including chairman of house committees who may be involved in similar kinds of misconduct, having settled similar kinds of claims about sexual harassment. The governor's moral clarity and candor on this issue stands out not only in the state of Kentucky, but frankly in the entire national conversation for the fact that it is so laserlike in terms of its moral clarity. The governor said there are only two alternatives:
“You either condemn or you condone, [publicly so,] this kind of behavior.”
There is no middle ground. Furthermore, in this case, the Republican governor spoke with the background of the charges against the Republican speaker of the house and stated without equivocation that any public servant who is found to have settled one of these sexual harassment claims should immediately resign, having lost moral credibility. We should be thankful for that kind of moral clarity, but there is another issue of clarity that was embedded in the governor’s statement. You’ll recall that in his opening words he said,
“These alleged actions, which haven’t been denied, are reprehensible, indefensible and unacceptable.”
The crucial words that many people haven't noticed, are the words,
“which have not been denied.”
Those words underline one of the most interesting developments in terms of this kind of moral controversy in recent days. When these charges are brought against any kind of figure, if that figure does not deny them, well morally speaking, that's something of an admission that there is it least something to the charges, and even as just about anyone leadership understands there are legal issues involved when it comes to the moral issues involved if one is not guilty of this kind of charge, then one should state that emphatically and publicly and openly invite the investigation into whether or not the charges are substantiated and genuine or not. You'll notice the governor didn't say that anyone who is charged with this kind of behavior should immediately resign, he said anyone who is charged with this kind of behavior and doesn't deny the behavior and the charges or is found to have settled, in terms of a lawsuit or legal settlement, with someone who had made this kind of allegation.
There are so many moral lessons in the headlines not only here in Kentucky but around the world, and certainly coming out of Hollywood about these kinds of charges, but I deeply appreciate the clarity found in those two particular constructions offered by the governor of Kentucky. First of all, making very clear that it really matters that the allegations have not been denied, and also making very clear that there are only two patterns of response: either the pattern of condoning or condemning this kind of behavior. But we also simply have to note the larger context here, a reminder of what is also made clear in Scripture: Eventually this kind of news will come out. Anyone who thinks that these kinds of charges, or even these kinds of settlements, might be kept quiet, even by means of confidentiality requirements, well they’re fooling themselves if they think that this kind of news won't get out. One way or another, one day or another, it will.
As Paradise Papers expose the powerful, increasingly powerful role of journalists also raises red flag
Next, we shift to another profound demonstration of the same truth, but this time the issue at stake, the sin at stake, doesn't have to do with sex so much as money. You’ll recall that back in 2015 and 2016 there was international attention directed to the leak of millions of documents that became known as the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers revealed that many people in many different countries, even some political leaders, for example in Iceland, were involved in channeling money through offshore accounts in order to avoid detection and, perhaps most importantly, to avoid questions and to avoid taxes. In the last several days there has been a second massive leak of files, in this case 13.4 million files in what are now known as the Paradise Papers. As The Guardian of London reported,
“The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed … in a major new investigation. The details,”
said the Guardian,
“come from a leak of 13.4m files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth.”
But as it turns out, that lead that mentions corporations should be expanded to individuals. Individuals including the Queen of England, individuals including major figures in entertainment and music, who are now known individually to have sheltered this kind of money in offshore accounts. The analysis in the New York Times had the headline,
“How Business Titans, Pop Stars and Royals Hide Their Wealth.”
One paragraph inside the article said, and I quote,
“The ranks of the superrich are growing fast, fueled by legitimate fortunes in finance, trade and technology — as well as drugs, embezzlement and bribery. And the offshore finance industry has grown alongside its customers’ accounts.”
Just one of the firms cited had 31,000 American clients, identified as the most common nationality by far, I quote here,
“The firm’s files include a who’s who of the nation’s wealthiest citizens: prominent Democrats like George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, and Penny Pritzker, commerce secretary in the Obama administration; and high-profile Republican supporters of President Trump, including Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, and Carl Icahn, the private equity investor.”
But the article then continued identifying the current reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II, as sheltering millions of dollars in one of these offshore accounts, presumably beyond the reach of tax authorities in Great Britain. But the story also makes clear that in an age of digital records, just about anything can one day be known. As the article says,
“The leaked files reveal Madonna’s shares in a medical supplies firm, Bono’s investment in a Lithuanian shopping center and the Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s yacht and submarines.”
The documents indicate these kinds of offshore investments by no less than three former prime ministers of Canada, the Dowager Queen of Jordan, and at least five members of the ruling family of Qatari.
But yesterday the New York Times ran yet another related article on the Paradise Papers controversy, in which the New York Times declares,
“With the offshore world so expansive and so in need of transparency, it often falls to journalists and those with access to leaked data to shine light on these secret dealings. Privacy,”
says the paper,
“is not an absolute right when the public interest is at stake. And so, journalists must face a difficult question before seeking to publish information that comes from hackers or other unauthorized leaks: Does this information directly affect the well-being of society?”
That New York Times article is by Jake Bernstein, but what makes it really, really important is that it affirms the fact that when it comes to dealing with so much of this data, the huge decisions that have to be made, these decisions are not being made by the FBI or Scotland Yard, not by international legal authorities or even interval, these decisions are over and over again being made by journalists.
One of the key sentences in the paragraph was this,
“Privacy is not an absolute right when the public interest is at stake.”
That's arguably an almost undeniable statement, but it also affirms the fact, in the context of this article, that it is journalists who are now making the decision as to whether or not the public interest demands the invasion of privacy. That analysis actually might come close to defining the current situation rather accurately, but it should also set off alarm bells because even as we do not want to be ruled by an elite of economists or sociologists or criminologists or politicians or, for that matter, anyone else, we also don't want to be ruled by an elite of journalists, who are the ones now making the decision as to when and when not our privacy should be sacrificed for the public interest.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.