One of the big must-pass bills of the end-of-year legislative rush is likely to pass in the House Thursday, and will stand as a testament to shoddy legislating and bad deals. The National Defense Authorization Act is annual legislation that specifies the budget and spending programs for the Department of Defense. Since there’s always bipartisan agreement in these programs—many in individual members’ districts—and because it’s always done at the end of the year in a huge rush, the bill becomes a magnet for add-ons.
The House expected to bring it to the floor on Wednesday, but the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) delayed it, withholding their support in the first procedural vote in a bid to try to get a critical amendment, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. CBC Chair Joyce Beatty explained in a memo to colleagues that this was the last chance to save the Voting Rights Act from the U.S. Supreme Court, pointing out that as the NDAA was ready to hit the floor, the court was hearing Moore v. Harper, the case that would throw power over all federal elections to state legislatures. Between that and the Merrill v. Milligan case, a gerrymandering case the court will decide this term, Beatty told her colleagues, “[W]e face the real potential the VRA will go from being on life support to being killed.”
The House Rules Committee and leadership figured out a procedural way to work around the CBC by using a special motion that they’ll bring up under suspension of the rules. The mechanism isn’t important—the denial of any kind of vote for voting rights is. In large part, it’s because they know including it would mean a big fight in the Senate, and they aren’t willing to play chicken there on a bloated defense bill to protect voting rights. What the Congress is willing to do in this defense bill is equally frustrating: Shield Ginni Thomas’ employment information (and that of all judicial spouses) in the name of security.
The roots of the measure come from a valid place, Sen. Sen. Bob Menendez’s of New Jersey’s efforts over the last few years to protect the families of federal judges following the murder of the 20-year-old son of a New Jersey judge at the family home. Judge Ester Salas’ 20-year-old son, Daniel Anderl, was killed by an assailant, a disgruntled attorney who was attempting to assassinate the judge.
The text of the provision in question shields, along with information about where children go to school or day care and their schedule, “information regarding the employment location of an at-risk individual, including the name or address of the employer, employment schedules, or routes then to or from the employer by an at-risk individual.”
That all is perfectly valid at the surface level of physical safety of prominent federal judges and their family members. But when it comes to the Supreme Court, it means that the public does not get to know when a close family member of a sitting justice is getting paid by organizations, say, advocating the overthrow of the government.
Here’s a fix for that: Also include a provision requiring that Supreme Court justices abide by a code of ethics that at the very least requires they recuse themselves from cases their family members are involved in. Like overthrowing the government. Barring the inclusion of that, the whole provision should be scrapped. At least for the purposes of this bill. They can always bring it back.
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