The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

Part

New York Times

God Has No Place in Supreme Court Opinions

by Linda Greenhouse

Part

The Briefing

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tags: Audio

Transcript

It's Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

History to Be Made Today in California — Will Governor Gavin Newsom Become Only 2nd Governor Recalled in History of the State? What Are the Implications for the Nation?

It's a big day in the state of California and because of the stature of California, it's a big day in the United States. It is Recall Election day today, September 14, 2021 in California. It is an extraordinary effort that is allowed by the California constitution, a recall that will decide whether or not Gavin Newsom, the Democratic Governor of California, continues in office and continues in his term. The voters of California can turn the governor out today. They can do so with a vote that is 50% of those who are voting plus one. And then the question will be who would serve out the remainder of Gavin Newsom's elected term? It's a very interesting situation, and it's loaded with worldview significance.

For one thing, the very idea of a recall, where does that come from? Well, in a constitutional form of government, the most important government officials are elected by the citizens, and here's what's important. That same constitutional form of government, having the mechanism of election, must also have some mechanism for removal. Otherwise, the citizens have elected a tyrant, if only a tyrant temporarily.

And so, as you look at these constitutional systems, just consider the United States Constitution. It has a mechanism of impeachment and removal by trial in the Senate of a President of the United States. There are mechanisms in place for removing elected officials at the national level and also at the state level in the United States, but only a few states have something like what California has. That's a recall provision.

California's Recall Provision goes back to the year 1913. It goes back to what was called the Progressivist era in the United States, and that was an era of trying to call big government and big business into accountability. The recall effort in California was in the name of citizens being able to exercise that kind of holding governors accountable by removing them from office.

But as you think about it, the numbers turn out to be very important. The recall provision has been in the California constitution for almost 110 years. Again, it goes back to 1913.

Since then, there have been 179 recall efforts for statewide elected officials, 179 in over 100 years. Only 11 of those have actually proceeded all the way to a ballot decision. And after the 11 ballots in about 110 years, you've had six statewide officials in California removed from office, but when it comes to governors, only one. There have been 55 attempts by the recall effort to recall governors of California, but it has happened only one time, and that was in 2003 when Democratic governor Gray Davis was removed from office and then California voters voting in that election put actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place serving out the remainder of his term. Schwarzenegger would go on to be elected.

But as you think about this, you recognize that the numbers are just very small in terms of actual governors recalled. In California, the number is so small it turns out to be absolutely one. Will Gavin Newsom become number two? Well, the fact is that he is in a very weak position. Gavin Newsom has lost a lot of popularity, even in his own Democratic party, and that's a spectacular fall since just a matter of months ago, Gavin Newsom was openly discussed as an almost assured eventual Democratic candidate for the office of President of the United States. But now, he is barely holding on to his own job, and that can't be just by Republican opposition. It has to be by the virtue of the fact that he's in a very weakened position in general in the state of California.

The reason for that, as we shall see, is actually very easy to explain, and it comes down to his very, very heavy-handed approach to dealing with COVID-19, an approach that has won him any number of political enemies and frankly, there are multiple issues in which he is alienated himself from at least millions of California voters.

But we need to look at that California ballot. What are Californians who go to the ballot place, what are they going to be actually facing today as a ballot? Well, it is interestingly a two-question ballot. The first question is, "Should the governor be removed from office?" All it takes, as we have said, is 50% of the voters saying yes, plus one. 50% plus one will do it. A majority, a simple majority voting yes removes the governor from office.

The second question comes down to, "Who will fill out the remainder of the governors elected term?" Now, the threshold for getting on that ballot is relatively low. Thus, there are more than 30 people on that ballot. And the one who wins is the one who gets the most votes. It is a mere plurality. Doesn't require a majority of those voting. And that means that it's conceivable that if a very small majority of California voters decide to remove the governor, you could then have, well, a very thin slice of California's population deciding who will fill out the remainder of his term.

Now, that has led many on the left who generally want to talk about how much they want to advocate for direct democracy, they've decided that now they see direct democracy looming them in the face, they don't like it so much. You have major newspapers on both sides of the country in New York City, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, and at many points in between crying out about the California Constitution. What are you crazy people thinking about having this kind of recall election put in place? But remember, it wasn't put in place 13 months ago. It was put in place in 1913.

And furthermore, it's not all that reckless. If it were reckless, you would have had numerous governors removed from office because it can be guaranteed there were numerous California governors who were on the wrong side of voters, at least at some point during their tenure in office.

But the polling in this particular recall effort has shifted a good deal just in the last several days. Some of that is rather predictable just given the cycles of how these kinds of election efforts work. But if you were to rewind history just a matter of a few weeks, the effort to remove the governor from office seemed to be surging in the polls, so much so that many Democrats in California and beyond were awakened to the fact that they actually could be facing the forced removal of a Democratic governor from office in the nation's most populous state. More recent polling indicates that Gavin Newsom has closed the gap, and indeed, many of the polls that were released over the weekend would indicate that Gavin Newsom is likely to hold onto his job.

Part

Worldview Significance of the Recall Election in California: How Can A Governor Be Recalled, And Who Can Be Voted In Replacement? The Answers To Those Questions Could Determine A Major Shift in the Political Landscape of California

But we need to look closer at this entire picture. For one thing, we need to raise the issue of polling. What is actually indicated in that polling? Well, polling requires a baseline. It requires some kind of predictability and experience. Pollsters are supposed to be collecting data and saying based upon similar situations, similar behavioral patterns, this is the likely voter response. But there is no baseline for this kind of recall election. There is no predictable pattern for pollsters to use. So no one knows that these polls have any basis in reality whatsoever.

There's another issue we need to keep in mind and that is this: when you're looking at something as a ballot initiative like a recall of an incumbent governor, those working for the recall care a great deal more about the issue than the average voter. That is to say, one of the governor's problems is the fact that those who want to remove him from office are a lot more energetic than those who want him to remain and are likely to go to the polls today.

So then, how do we explain why, in recent days, Gavin Newsom is in what's at least perceived to be a stronger political position? It is because of a successful political strategy. And let's be clear. That particular political strategy has not been intended to make Gavin Newsom look more palatable to California's voters. Rather, it has been to make the alternatives look unpalatable.

There are basically two strategies the Democrats have employed here. The first strategy is minimize Gavin Newsom. You could see the wisdom in that and emphasize the partisan issue, and that is they have sought to make the issue D versus our Democrat versus Republican, basically to scare California's enormously Democratically weighted electorate into saying, "Whatever we want, we don't want a Republican. Therefore, save the Democrat. Save any Democrat. Even save this Democrat." There's virtually no one in California, even in the Democratic party, who's saying, "The closer you look at Gavin Newsom, the more we like him." No, that isn't the case at all.

But Democratic strategists at both the national and the state level have now been very effective in saying, "This is a Democratic versus Republican issue. Crush the Republicans. Keep the Democrats in power." In the state of California, the Democrats have such a majority that the Republicans don't even come in second when it comes to party registration. No Party is actually a larger registration than the Republicans. You see something of what Republicans in California are up against.

But the second strategy that the Democrats and Gavin Newsom have deployed is to try to demonize the candidate most likely to replace him if, indeed, Gavin Newsom is recalled on question one, and that is because the candidate leading on question two is radio personality, Larry Elder, and Larry Elder has run an astoundingly more popular campaign than anyone in California would ever have predicted.

Larry Elder's an African American personality. He's well-known in the state of California. His name recognition is certainly an asset, but he is also someone with clearly identified political and moral positions. On social issues, he's more of a libertarian than a conservative, but on fiscal issues, he is decidedly conservative and decidedly conservative on many issues that have marked a distinction with Gavin Newsom and the Democratic party. The Democratic party fully recognizes that it faces a real threat in Larry Elder. Thus, it has been seeking to minimize him, to dismiss him, to caricature him and basically to act towards Larry Elder in a way that would never be considered possible or appropriate or reasonable on the part of the mainstream media if Larry Elder had a "D" rather than an "R' by his name.

One of the issues of concern that has arisen in the Democratic effort against Larry Elder is basically to question whether or not he is authentically black. They're not using that language right out loud, but that's basically what they're saying. They're questioning whether he really has much to do with the neighborhood in which he grew up, South Central in Los Angeles. They're questioning as to whether or not he is authentic in his representation of African-American identity because after all, as a political conservative, there are many who are arguing he really doesn't represent many other people with the same identity.

But it's clear that voters in the state of California today face a real choice. It is a division between two starkly different worldviews. In the main, the worldview of Gavin Newsom which is so liberal that just a matter of years ago, he would have been considered the far left of the Democratic party. This is a man who was mayor of San Francisco, performed illegal same-sex wedding ceremonies in defiance of law. This is someone who, as lieutenant governor in California, continued in a very liberal direction and as governor, has basically governed as far to the left as is politically imaginable. And this is a governor who has repressed basic liberties in the context of COVID-19, including religious liberty. This is a governor who has headed a state apparatus that has cracked down on churches and religious assemblies and the rights of Christian institutions. This is an administration that is so decidedly pro-abortion that there is no restriction it will stand, and it is even ready to violate the conscience of medical professionals, and it is ready to try to break the functioning of crisis pregnancy centers, and it is out to try to make religious hospitals, including Catholic hospitals and evangelical hospitals, perform abortions and provide other so-called reproductive health services.

But remember that ballot. There are two questions. And if the first question is answered, "No," Gavin Newsom remains in office. If the first question, against the polling evidence, is answered, "Yes," then you're looking at the question of who will fill out his term. And if it's Larry Elder, right now, the leading candidate, if it is Larry Elder the Republican, the State of California is facing a very real change.

Today, we'll tell the story.

Part

‘Who Let God Into the Legislative Chamber?’: The Secular Left’s God Problem

But next, shifting to the national level, Linda Greenhouse, veteran Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times suggests that America is in big trouble because in the words of her opinion piece that ran in Sunday's newspaper, "God Has No Place on the Supreme Court." At one point in the article, she asked the question, "Who let God into the legislative chamber?" Well, she brings two branches of government into her concern here, but the Supreme Court's at the center of her concern and of course, the background to this is the fact that several states have been legislating quite successfully in terms of defending unborn human life.

Linda Greenhouse, by the way, is a complicated figure on her own. I've discussed her on The Briefing at length. She wrote a memoir about her years serving the New York Times as its lead reporter for the Supreme Court. It turned out that she had been an activist for abortion during the time that she was covering the Supreme Court. Of course, that would have been considered something that would break judicial ethics, even by the standards of the New York Times during that era. But nonetheless, the New York Times continues to use her, and she is quite useful to the political left in the United States in making arguments.

But we really need to take a look at this argument, again, the headline, "God Has No Place on the Supreme Court." So what's at stake here? Well, Linda Greenhouse is arguing that so many of the efforts to defend human life are essentially theological efforts. Therefore, they violate the separation of church and state. Therefore, they violate the principle of secularism. Therefore, they have no place in American political life and American political discourse, whether in the legislative chamber or in the Supreme Court or other federal courts. She complains about the fact that in May of this year, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and signing into law the Texas bill limiting abortion on a Senate Bill 8. She complains that the governor said, "Our Creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet, millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion in Texas," said the governor. "We worked to save those lives."

What was the governor's grave error in Linda Greenhouse's judgment? He mentioned God. He suggested that our right to life is given to us by our Creator. Now, hold that thought. The obvious question is where does she think the governor got that? It would be called the Declaration of Independence. She complains that a Republican state senator in Arkansas, Jason Rapert, declared his support for a ban on abortions saying, "There's six things God hates and one of those is people who shed innocent blood." Again, what was the legislator's error? Mentioning God.

Linda Greenhouse warns that a theocracy is replacing America's constitutional order. She writes, "I could go on, but these examples are sufficient to raise the question for those of us not on board with the theocratizing of America. Who let God into the legislative chamber?" She actually makes that statement and then asks that question. She answers the question she asks, "Who let God into the legislative chamber?" Her answer, "The answer is that we did. Our silence has turned us into enablers of those who are now foisting their religious beliefs on a country founded on opposition to an established church."

And of course, it's not just legislators and governors. That would be now two branches of government that would be Greenhouse's concern. She's predominantly concerned with the Supreme Court. That's that third branch of government. She's very concerned about Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett has also run afoul of Linda Greenhouse's playbook. Why? It is because, and here's the interesting thing, back when she was a law professor at Notre Dame, argues Greenhouse, "The university's Faculty for Life, of which she was a member, unanimously denounced the university's decision to honor then Vice President, Joe Biden, a Catholic, with an award recognizing outstanding service to church and society." Greenhouse continues, "The group's objection was to his support for the right to abortion."

The statement from the Faculty for Life group said, "Saying that Mr. Biden rejects church teaching could make it sound like he is merely disobeying the rules of his religious group, but the church's teachings," said the statement, "bout the sanctity of life is true." So that's the offense: claiming that the sanctity of human life is based upon the fact that it is true. And you'll notice the Faculty for Life statement that was so offensive didn't even, at least as quoted in this article, mention God. It just mentions that the sanctity of human life is true.

Greenhouse then writes, "Justice Barrett's personal religious views are, of course, her personal business, but her support of this aggressive public intervention into a matter of public concern was fair game for questions or should have been. It remained, however, far under the radar during the unseemly sprint to her Supreme Court confirmation."

Greenhouse expresses her frustration in this section, "Religion is American society's last taboo. We can talk about sexual identity, gender nonconformity, and all manner of topics once considered too intimate for open discussion, but we have yet to find deft and effective ways to question the role of religion and a public official's political or judicial agenda without opening ourselves to accusations of being anti-religious."

Well, we can simply answer Linda Greenhouse by saying the reason it is impossible to want such a tax without being considered anti-religious is because you are being anti-religious. Greenhouse's heroes are basically Roman Catholics who oppose the teaching of the Roman Catholic church or at least do not intend to apply the moral teaching of their own most basic religious convictions. She heralds John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign for saying that he's a candidate who happens to be Catholic, insisting that his Catholic identity would basically have nothing to do with his politics. Now, that was in 1960, 13 years before the Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion. Of course, there was no response from President Kennedy to the abortion issue, but there was from New York Democratic governor, Mario Cuomo, who went to the University of Notre Dame in 1984 and basically argued for the role of a Catholic politician who would operate in violation of Catholic conscience on these issues.

But again, one of the questions that Linda Greenhouse asked is, "Who let God in the legislature?" Well, just go look at the United States Capitol and you will find Christian references in the artwork, even in the architecture, in the artistry of that building. Go to most state capitals, you're going to find something very similar. And when it comes to the Supreme Court of the United States, go to the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. You will not find just one representation of Moses and the 10 Commandments. You will find multiple references, both in the interior and the exterior of that famed building in Washington, DC.

And when you ask based on the American experiment, "Who let God in," well, basically, the founders of this country did, even in their most basic statement, the Declaration of Independence, which spoke of those rights that are endowed by the Creator, those unalienable rights. They don't come from nowhere, said the American founders. They come from the Creator.

Linda Greenhouse is worried about a lurch into theocracy. As a theologian, I have to say that is certainly not much of a real danger in an increasingly secular United States of America, but it does show you that the media elite and the political left in the United States see theocracy with any vestige of theology. And by the way, the Creator who endowed us with an inalienable rights, as referenced in the Declaration of Independence, is not an anonymous Creator. No one would have believed that in 1776. No one who's intellectually honest can suggest that now.

It's also extremely important that we ask the fundamental question: if God is excluded from this equation, if there is no Creator allowed in the discussion, then where exactly do we ground human rights? From where, from whom did those rights come? And furthermore, understand that it is impossible, in purely secular terms, to ground human rights in anything other than thin air. If those rights are not endowed by our Creator, then they're granted by some government or they don't exist at all, or they're just there for some legislature or some judiciary to make up. But that, quite frankly, is exactly where the secular left now stands with rights existing only in thin air for so long as they exist for now.

And notice that the culture of death in the form of legal abortion goes hand in hand with this process of secularization, and Christians understand that isn't. It can't be an accident.

Part

Activists Are Calling for ‘Shark Attacks’ to Be Renamed ‘Shark Encounters’ — But if a Shark Bites Me, I’m Calling it an Attack

But finally, for today's edition of The Briefing, we try routinely to follow changes in the language or proposed changes in the language for an understanding of what's really going on here. It turns out that some animal rights activists and scientists, for that matter, want to deny the reality of shark attacks. "Shark attacks" as a term, they say, is prejudicial towards sharks. It is likely to harden attitudes towards sharks who, after all, are the ones who are doing the attacking in a shark attack.

Adam Newhaus, writing for the New York Times, tells us that the effort on the part of some is to redefine shark attacks that, to be clear, is a situation in which a shark bites a human being to redefine them as either shark encounters or shark human interactions. Some of the scientists cited in the report argue that the term "shark attacks" is just too sensational, that these shark encounters are actually relatively rare and that there are very few sharks that actually seek to feed upon human beings.

Christopher Pepin-Neff, identified as a lecturer in public policy, University of Sydney in Australia said that, "A shark attack is a story of intent," and he says that's not fair because the sharks' lack the intent to specifically target a human being. Well, the change in the language is always significant. This is an effort, supposedly, to change the public perception of sharks into a more favorable perception.

I have found sharks fascinating ever since I was a boy in Florida. I wrote scientific reports on sharks. I saw sharks in the wild, but let me tell you something. If a shark ever has an encounter with me that involves a bite, I'm going to tell you, I'm going to insist it was a shark attack, and he meant it.

There are so many efforts to change the language that actually are, often lamentably successful, sometimes happily successful, but in this case, I predict a lack of success because I just don't see any way, at any time the human beings are going to say, "Oh, let's not call them shark attacks. Let's call them encounters." Good luck with that on the big screen or in real life.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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