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Coronavirus, and a courageous Judge speaks out

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Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area, where since midnight we’ve been living under the tightest restrictions in the country, due to coronavirus.

Six counties, numbering seven million people, have been ordered to “shelter in place.” This is a concept the Bay Area is used to, because of the vast oil refineries that line northern San Francisco Bay. Every once in a while, there’s an accident; people in the vicinity are told to “shelter in place.” But this is the first time that a shelter order has been imposed on the Bay Area as a whole.

We actually have few cases of coronavirus in the East Bay, where I live (Oakland/Berkeley), but there’s a big cluster of cases to the south, in Silicon Valley, and that was enough to convince the county health directors to band together and shut down the six counties. This morning, the freeways are empty, an odd site, because normally they’d be jammed.

We don’t know how long this will last; the initial order is for three weeks but, of course, if things are bad by the second week in April, no doubt the order will be extended, and maybe expanded. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, here in Oakland the police were under orders to arrest anyone not wearing a gauze face mask (Oakland’s mayor, who refused, was actually brought into custody!). The police are not yet cruising the streets arresting pedestrians—so far as I know. I will shortly leave my house to do a little food shopping, and I hope I don’t get busted!

Anyhow, this is the new normal. It’s very scary and frustrating—worse than an earthquake, really, because earthquakes are over pretty quick, and then you pick up the pieces and get back to living. This pandemic won’t be over pretty quick. It will undoubtedly get worse. Nobody can tell us how much worse. I’ve emailed Gov. Newsom to tell him we, the people, more than ever need trusted leaders, to whom we can look for information and reassurance. I hope the Governor will go on T.V. and address the people of California…not just once, but repeatedly, the way FDR gave his fireside chats.

And now, on another front. Readers: I hope you take a moment to read this letter from James Dannenberg, one of the nation’s top judges, to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Dannenberg just resigned from the Supreme Court Bar, one of the most prestigious legal seats in the country; membership is required for lawyers who wish to argue before the Supreme Court. In his letter, Dannenberg issued a scathing accusation against Roberts, personally, and against the other Republicans who currently serve on the court: Kavanaugh, Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch.

Dannenberg’s language is extraordinary. “You are doing far more— and far worse– than ‘calling balls and strikes”” he tells the Chief Justice. “You are allowing the Court to become an ‘errand boy’ for an administration that has little respect for the rule of law.”

There’s much more: “The Court, under your leadership and with your votes, has wantonly flouted established precedent. Your ‘conservative’ majority has cynically undermined basic freedoms by hypocritically weaponizing others.” And, in a sideswipe at the court’s Christian bias: “The ideas of free speech and religious liberty have been transmogrified to allow officially sanctioned bigotry and discrimination, as well as to elevate the grossest forms of political bribery beyond the ability of the federal government or states to rationally regulate it.”

What Dannenberg is saying, in essence, is that Roberts, under Trump’s prompting, has allowed the Supreme Court to become what the Nazi courts became in Germany during Hitler’s 12-year Reich: star chambers, beholden to Himmler’s security forces, which existed for the sole reason to glorify “Der Fuehrer” and to punish his “enemies,” who included anyone thought to oppose the Nazi regime.

Roberts, and the other Republican Justices, no doubt will read Dannenberg’s letter. Will they care about it? Probably not. They have not shown the slightest inclination to respect legal precedent, or the rule of law, or the Constitution, or our American values, so far. It’s unlikely that a mere letter will now convince them otherwise. Roberts is said to worry about his legacy, his position in history. If he is so concerned, he’ll begin siding with the four Democrats on the court, and will speak out against the very excesses Dannenberg is warning him about.

But Roberts, who as a Roman Catholic has to obey, not only his sworn allegiance to the Constitution but also the Vatican’s theocratic views, with its homophobia, anti-scientism and misogyny, may be too far gone into radical conservatism to reverse course, or even to understand how un-American he and the court have become. As for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, we know they’ve been in the pocket of the rightwing Federalist Society all their careers. They’ve made no secret of whom their masters are: the neo-fascist billionaires who got them on the court. And then there’s Clarence Thomas, who molested Anita Hill, never apologized for it, and has consistently opposed any and all legislation designed to help his fellow Black Americans. In many respects—I firmly believe this—Clarence Thomas will be recorded as the worst Supreme Court justice in history.

So thank you, Judge Dannenberg, for speaking truth to power. I wish that every judge in America would similarly speak up and tell Roberts and his gang at SCOTUS that they’re insults to American jurisprudence.

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