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Court Packing

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historically speaking

In the pantheon of great American presidents, a few are always at the top. Lincoln usually comes to mind, then Washington, and Jefferson. In the 20th century, the president who makes every list is Franklin Roosevelt. What makes FDR interesting is that, unlike Lincoln, FDR was beloved in his own time. Because of the way he handled the Depression, it was not uncommon to see FDR’s picture hanging in homes in a place of honor. Don’t get me wrong. Some people had issues with this president, but most appreciated his efforts to relieve the nation’s pains. Yet there was one episode where he did receive rebuke from both sides of the political aisle and the population at large and that was his effort to pack the Supreme Court.

Here was the situation. When FDR took over the nation in 1932, we were in the midst of the greatest depression in our history. The president wanted to tackle as many problems as he could in his first 100 days (starting a precedent that has lasted till today). Many of his proposals became part of his alphabet programs like the WPA, AAA, TVA, and the CCC. One of his first and, it turned out, most controversial was the National Recovery Administration. The NRA, in an effort to reduce competition, created codes that did things like set prices. The problem for FDR was that in 1935 the Supreme Court ruled the NRA unconstitutional.

FDR, worried that more of his New Deal plans would be rejected by the courts, came up with a plan to get the courts on his side. He proposed adding a new judge for every member of the Court over the age of 70, which meant adding six new justices to the bench, enough to turn the tide of the court in his favor. He claimed the court was overworked and suggested the new justices could relieve some pressure. The problem was that most Americans and both sides of Congress saw it for what it really was, a power grab. Even though the Democrats held the majority in both houses of Congress, a vote for FDR’s measure failed. The failure was partly because one judge had begun voting for FDR’s programs, but also because the courts were seen as sacred and people feared FDR’s plan could destroy the separation of powers.

Constitutionally, FDR had the power to propose this court-packing scheme. As with many things, the Constitution is silent on the number of judges to the high court, simply saying in Article 3, Section 1: “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which set up the Court with six judges. John Adams dropped it down to five, but then Jefferson brought it back to six and then later, when the Federalist judges did not die fast enough, he moved it to seven. Later Jackson added two more as the population grew and more judicial districts were needed. The Civil War saw some jumbling as Lincoln moved the number to ten, only to be reduced to seven by Andrew Johnson. Finally, under Grant the number was put to nine and since 1869 it has remained that way.

Now, in 2021 President Joe Biden is considering legislation to increase the number of justices for the first time since FDR. The president’s reasoning is that the Republicans have gained an unfair advantage with Trump’s three new justices. Democrats are still understandably upset at Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett after Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in his last year. However, though understandable, what the Republicans did was legal, if not morally, correct. What Biden is trying to do is no different than FDR, who wanted to make sure the courts agreed with him. If Clinton had won in 2016 and liberal-leaning judges controlled the court, there would be no call for equality in the court coming from Democratic camps.

I normally try to explain history, not solutions, but this is one area where I believe the Founders failed. Not that their system failed, but they could never have foreseen how partisan we have become.

Judges are supposed to follow the law, not a party. I would propose a new amendment to the Constitution that goes back to the original number, six, or maybe eight. With an even number, the new law would allow Republicans to choose four and the Democrats to choose four. If a judge dies, then the party of that judge gets to choose the new one. I know this sounds crazy, but with an even number justices will have to compromise over the law and not political leanings.

If Biden decided to, he might be able to pull off increasing the number of judges. Historically Speaking, however, he would need to be extremely careful. FDR won his second election by carrying all but two states before he tried something so daring. Biden does not have that same type of support. FDR, who was beloved, was seen as going for a power grab. Biden, who is nowhere nearly as loved, may not be able to survive the hit.


Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.

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Response to ‘Open Letter to Warren County voters…’

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The writers assert the reason for the relatively high percentage of private and home-schooled children in the community are generally failing standards in state and this county’s public school systems. This assertion ignores the impact of a half century of location of private, Catholic educational institutions into this community, prominent among those Christendom College, Chelsea Academy and Seton Home School. Those institutions, among others like Human Life International, have been followed into this community by an expanding Catholic population of a generally conservative outlook, an outlook that might blur the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state for some.

Many families within that community have their own preference for a religiously based education for their children, regardless of the quality of the public school system here. Add the even longer-standing private school option of Air Force Junior ROTC and Methodist-sponsored Randolph-Macon Academy, now at the middle and high school levels, and you have an even greater private school alternative to public education in this community that predates current debates over educational and social policies and standards.

Whether one receives a better quality education publicly, privately, or in the home is matter of opinion and debate that will reflect the perspectives – religious, social and political – of the involved parties, as Mr. Waller’s and Lundberg’s letter illustrates. But leaving relevant facts out of the debate to promote one’s opinion as factual analysis is too often a symptom of advocacy, as opposed to objective exploration of the topic under scrutiny.

Roger Bianchini
Royal Examiner Editorial Board member

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Setting the Record Straight Re: School Budgets

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On October 19, the Royal Examiner published an open letter from two concerned citizens regarding their opinion that the entire Warren County School Board needs to be replaced. Many things were said in that letter to which a person might choose to respond, but one thing, in particular, stood out to me: “…it costs $64 million annually to educate 4,958 students in the Warren County Public School (WCPS).  That means Warren County taxpayers are paying almost $13,000 to educate one public school student a year.  That seems excessive!”

Is $13,000 per student excessive? I decided to compare some numbers to find out.

Firstly, as reported by the Royal Examiner on May 6 of this year, the budget approved for 2021-22 was $63,944,829. Divided across 4,958 students, that would be $12,897 per student.

The national average for public school spending is $12,612 per student. This is a difference of $285. Put another way, Warren County spends 2.25% more per student than the national average.

Excessive, indeed.

Ah, but excess is not determined solely by the grand total. We could spend a fraction of this budget, and if it was allocated poorly (spent frivolously to paint fences, perhaps) then it could still be considered excessive. The website for Warren County Public Schools helpfully has a link to the full budget; on page three, we can see that 76.31% of the budget ($48.8 million) is explicitly allocated for instruction.

Is that excessive?

Also interesting to note, near the end of the Warren County Public Schools budget (on page 38), the School Board has helpfully compared Warren County’s per-student spending to the state average. Since 2017, Warren County Public Schools has consistently spent almost $2,000 less per student than Virginia’s average.

Is it excessive to have a budget in line with the national average, a budget BELOW the state average, with almost all of the budgeted funds being explicitly directed to educating our children?

I suppose we will learn what the people think on November 2.

Joe Plemmons
Front Royal, Virginia

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Grateful classroom grandparents endorse Melanie Salins, Stephanie Short and Al Gunn for Warren County School Board

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As grandparents and residents of Warren County, we are grateful to have Melanie Salins (North River District), Stephanie Short (Happy Creek), and Al Gunn (write-in candidate Fork District) running for the Warren County School Board.

They are all parents, and teachers with varied teaching experience who genuinely care about students’ welfare, what is being taught to school age children, and all that pertains to what is in their best interest.

These individuals are strong supporters and advocates for parental involvement in their children’s education. A primary heart-felt desire of theirs is to listen to, empower, and engage parents in discussions addressing curriculum concerns.

These candidates understand that parents know their children the best, and are the first and primary educators of their children.

We strongly encourage you to cast your votes on November 2nd for Melanie Salins, Stephanie Short and Al Gunn.

Sincerely,

Tim and Jean Hart
Warren County, Virginia

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An open-letter to Warren County voters: Elect an entirely new school board as soon as possible

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Dear Warren County voters:

We, the two undersigned members of Front Royal, want a clean sweep of the Warren County School Board members as soon as possible.  We desperately need new ideas on the board — from individuals willing to stand up and fight against:

  • “Critical race theory” is being taught in our public schools.
  • Current transgendered-bathroom and locker room policies.
  • Attempts to eliminate gifted programs by stressing “equity” in public education.
  • Inappropriate sexual material in library books.
  • An inflated school budget
  • The failure to recognize parents as the “primary educators of children” — not the State Board of Education or teachers unions.

The current school board seems unable to deal effectively with these problems.

Warren County parents are shocked when they learn that it costs $64 million annually to educate 4,958 students in the Warren County Public School (WCPS).  That means Warren County taxpayers are paying almost $13,000 to educate one public school student a year.  That seems excessive!

Warren County parents are also shocked when they learn the high percentage of school-age children in Warren County that are attending — not public schools — but home schools, private schools, or religious schools.  The figure is about 23 percent.   That means that almost a quarter of the school-age children in Warren County have been pulled from public schools by their parents.  Parents say the primary reasons they have taken this action are:

  • Falling academic standards — especially the ability to read, write, and think logically.
  • State mandates
  • Classroom discipline problems.
  • Failure of local schools to recognize that parents are the primary educators of children — not the State Board of Education or teachers unions.

Parents tell us they simply are not satisfied with the product local public schools are producing.  Reading and math scores are simply unacceptable.

Warren County voters will go to the polls on November 2nd to elect three new school board members.  To learn more about the candidates running for the three seats, we strongly recommend you watch the Royal-Examiner-filmed forum, held at St. John’s Catholic Church on October 1st, which is available online.

Click here to get to the filmed forum.

The candidates who attended the forum said it was a very fair, bipartisan, and well-organized event.

Two candidates — both of them endorsed by the education establishment — dropped out of the forum at the last minute after initially telling the Catholic organizers of the event they would be pleased to participate.  Their empty seats were noted by many of the 250 people who attended the forum.

In summary, we strongly encourage all Warren County citizens to vote on November 2nd — but not for a candidate endorsed by the education establishment.  We don’t need any more “education insiders” — like Terry McAuliffe — representing Warren County parents and taxpayers on our school board.

Remember what McAuliffe said on September 28th in a debate with his GOP opponent for governor, Glenn Youngkin: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” 

McAuliffe could not have been more wrong.

He obviously doesn’t realize that the state is not the primary educator of children — parents are!

Sincerely,

Ralph Waller, local business owner
Colonel John Lundberg, U.S. Army (retired), Front Royal resident

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Political ideology or educational background and common sense for North River School Board seat?

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Despite other candidates, and their preferred party falsehoods and tactics being pilfered, in apparent desperate attempts for votes to their failing campaigns, I continue to be thankful for the conservative, independent, classy and coherent approach which Angela Robinson continues to apply towards her campaign for School Board for the North River District of Warren County, VA.

Angela is a true educator, with a college degree (in education at that), a mother, wife, former local public school educator, current public school administrator, all while maintaining her strong conservative fiscal, social and common sense approach to education.

Angela, truly, understands the frustrations of Richmond and Washington.  She has the understanding and means (that are, actually, legal and practical) in how to address Supreme Court decisions on public education, as opposed to wasting taxpayer time and money on certain lawsuit failures, further disrupting the free and appropriate public education that all children are entitled to.

Angela trusts our teachers and administrators to do their jobs, while not shying away from asking, NOR ANSWERING, tough questions, and demanding accountability.  She won’t “block” you for asking her a tough question, or for disagreeing with her.  She will graciously seek to understand you, your thoughts and concerns.

Despite her conservative and Christian values, Angela understands the constitution, how it applies to education, and will maintain a common sense approach, to ensure that “all” children in Warren County (to include our most impoverished) will be treated with the same dignity and respect that she would desire for herself.

You will never hear Angela refer to children she has never met as “confused and misguided”.  Angela will, actually, get to know the young people of her district, and our county, as opposed to tossing out ignorant, confused and misguided statements, just to make a political establishment and their cultist juice drinkers happy.

In the end, if being conservative matters to you, Angela Robinson is your best bet.  If having someone with the proper education and credentials to insist on success, and actually possess the credentials to make it happen, Angela Robinson is your best bet.  Finally, if you want someone who will truly look out for the educational, emotional and social needs of your child, as opposed to seemingly trying to gain some form of political power, only to put our county on the road to lawsuits and failure, Angela Robinson is the clear choice for the North River District of Warren County, Virginia School Board.

Brought to you by an Independent Conservative resident, who thinks for himself, applies common sense to the realities of life, and refuses to drink the juice of a local political Cult.

Michael S. Williams
North River District Resident
Lifelong Advocate for Youth
Town of Front Royal, VA

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A grateful classroom parent endorses Angie Robinson’s bid for the Warren County School Board

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When my daughter went into fourth grade, I was recovering from cancer. After five treasured years spent homeschooling, our family needed to change plans. I was extremely nervous about putting my sweet girl into public school with all of the social challenges and my perception of how things would look for her as a dyslexic learner – already disadvantaged in the classroom.

We are forever grateful that her 4th-grade teacher was Angie Robinson. Angie is an extremely gifted teacher. She was able to set my child at ease, understand her learning style, and most importantly, Angie was able to communicate with me, the parent, with understanding, kindness, and respect.

Educating our children right now is a big job. One that is mired in social and health issues, while the actual business of educating seems to take a back seat. As a parent I can say truthfully that I do not care about the noise — I want my children well-loved and well-educated.

Angie Robinson is the kind of educator who can restore trust between families and teachers in our public education system; the kind of communicator who can speak with knowledge about the kind of resources needed in the classroom while leaving the partisan politicking in the parking lot, and the kind of advocate who can see Warren County schools and students thrive.

Angie has the experience to know that what matters to families is that children learn to read, and aspire to great heights in their lives, wherever their educational journey takes them. As a grateful classroom parent and now as a friend, I am proud to endorse Angie Robinson’s bid for the Warren County School Board.

Natalie Erdossy
Warren County

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