Tag Archives: Politics

GOP’s Pappas warns that judges see themselves as ‘gods’

By Fatima Rivera Gomez

McFarland, CA

When Anthony Pappas, the Republican candidate for Congress in New York’s 14th congressional district, appeared at a press conference at Fordham University on Wednesday, journalists initially spoke over him because they did not realize he was the candidate they were waiting for.

Pappas is running against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is expected to win the election this November in the heavily Democratic district, which covers parts of the Bronx and Queens. Wearing an untucked, button-front short-sleeve shirt and tattered khaki pants, Pappas—an economics professor at St. John’s University—began the press conference by asking the reporters how they would have felt if they had been sterilized. He then wrote a few words on the whiteboard including: “tubal ligation,” “fallopian tubes,” and “testicles.”

In the midst of some confusion in the room, Pappas explained Stump v. Sparkman, a 1978 case in which a woman sued the judge who ordered her to undergo a non-consensual tubal ligation when she was 15 years old. On the verge of tears, he pulled a towel from his bag in reference to a book about the case, The Blanket She Carried. The towel symbolized the baby the woman could not have, he said.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which set an important precedent by ruling that judges are immune from being sued. In a packet handed out during the press conference, Pappas wrote “OVERTURN STUMP V. SPARKMAN, the worst decision in the 20th century by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Pappas’ congressional platform centers on criminal and justice reform and an end to judges being immune from prosecution. “Judges are above the law. They can make decisions that are retaliatory, against the law, against the facts, deliberately false and they cannot be sued,” Pappas said.

He also believes that he is a victim of the court system himself, after a divorce in which his wife accused him of domestic abuse—an accusation he denies. A court decision Pappas distributed showed he had spent more than $592,000 on his divorce.

At one point, Pappas described himself as a Theodore Roosevelt figure for Republicans. When asked about his opponent, Pappas said that Ocasio-Cortez is an energetic and sincere person, adding that he expects that she will win the election.

In thesis, Mueller stressed rule of law

By Ngan Chiem

Pennsauken, NJ 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been preparing for the Russia investigation for more than 50 years.

Mueller is currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by President Donald Trump’s campaign, but 52 years ago, when Mueller was an undergraduate at Princeton, he was fixated on another question.

The future FBI director, then 22, was thinking about Africa.    

In 1966, the International Court of Justice, the judicial branch of the United Nations, ruled on a case deciding whether South Africa had the right to expand apartheid—a system of racial segregation—to nearby Southwest Africa, now known as Namibia. At the time, South Africa had authority over the area, which came with the condition that South Africa would govern humanely and promote peace. It was this promise that encouraged Ethiopia and Liberia to bring the case to the United Nations, claiming apartheid was unethical.

Mueller’s thesis focused on one question: Did the International Court of Justice—or, the World Court —even have the right to rule on the case? The majority opinion at the time was that the Court did.

Historically, the World Court was designed to be a place where sovereign states could request the legal opinion of the United Nations. But the dissent argued that South Africa was completely within its rights under an agreement signed after South Africa took the territory after World War I.

In his thesis, Mueller recognized the legal strength of the dissenting judges’ opinion that the Court had no right to interfere with South Africa. But he also argued that the Court’s ethical responsibility to intervene was written into its mandate. In the face of strong legal arguments on both sides, Mueller turned his attention to the moral issue at the heart of the case: apartheid.

“He’s really saying, when the law is ambiguous, you should do the ethnically right thing,” said Mueller’s thesis adviser Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “That’s an issue that many lawyers don’t understand. And he understood it and at a very early age.”

In the end, Mueller concluded that despite the strength of the argument denying the court’s authority to rule on the issue, it was outweighed by the court’s ethical obligation to preserve human rights. The Court’s decision to take South Africa’s case, he wrote, “was a positive contribution … to the ultimate goal of a world peace founded upon a rule of law.”

Now, more than 50 years later, Mueller stands on the precipice of a decision in the Russia investigation, which is how to handle any potential misconduct by the President of the United States and his campaign. To predict a man’s judgement based on his writing from decades ago can be precarious, especially considering the high stakes. But at least during his undergraduate days, Mueller saw flexibility in the law. “What he wrote as a Princeton senior,” Falk said, remains “quite interesting—and relevant.”

At Princeton, Mueller tackled rule of law issues in thesis

By Prettystar Lopez

Bronx, NY 

During his final year at Princeton University, in 1966, Robert Mueller wrote a senior thesis about the role of the law in a dramatic international crisis. Half a century later, as Special Counsel for the Russia investigation, Mueller finds himself at the center of another complex legal fight, fraught with political and ethical questions. It’s hard not to see parallels between the cases.

Mueller’s thesis concerned a narrow case with global implications. The World Court, or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), was called to rule on a legal complaint against South Africa’s extension of apartheid—the country’s brutal segregationist policy—to neighboring South West Africa (now Namibia). The Court was split on whether it even had the right to rule on the matter. Mueller, too, was conflicted. But he ultimately argued that the court’s job was not just to rule on narrow legal disputes, but large-scale moral questions, like apartheid.

Professor Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Mueller’s thesis advisor at the time, thinks Mueller’s conclusion may shed light on his handling of the Russia investigation. “What he does is examine these legal arguments carefully and then he said, ‘This court is not just interested in legal analysis, it’s also a court set up to contribute to a more peaceful world, and to help with the promotion of human rights,’” Falk said. “The underlying question [of the Russia investigation] is, did [Trump] or did he not, do things that were subversive to the constitutional democracy? If [Mueller] was consistent with the way he handled his thesis, he would say, ‘We hold president Trump accountable for what he did because it’s very damaging to the quality of democracy.’”

But what if American democracy has bigger problems than Russia? While meddling in the 2016 election is antithetical to the democratic process, it is of little relevance to those who find themselves entangled with problems in their own communities. America isn’t an apartheid state, like South Africa was. Nor is it as racially segregated as when Mueller attended Princeton. But the rise of Donald Trump—with or without Russian help —has inflamed racial divisions that persist from that era.

Mueller built his thesis on the idea that legal bodies have moral responsibilities. And he may well apply those principles in his investigation. Yet, as a nation we face internal dilemmas around race and poverty that have barely been mitigated with the passing of time. To argue that our democracy is suddenly at stake, and that Mueller can save it, our country would have had to be doing well before. And it certainly wasn’t. Whatever Mueller concludes in the Russia investigation, there are broader societal problems he is unlikely to solve.

GOP candidate Kipnis strikes moderate tone

By Cristofer Urías

New Brunswick, NJ

Daryl Kipnis, a Republican candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 12th district, promised earlier this month to welcome immigrant families to a better life in the United States while also securing the border.

Kipnis, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, said in a press conference that he supports a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers.” An attorney who has worked on immigration cases, he lamented the high fees required to become a citizen, and said he wanted to reduce those costs.

Unlike the president, he also opposes the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. “There needs to be a more practical way,’’ Kipnis said. But he did not provide specifics about his plan for the “safety of our borders.”

Kipnis also criticized the clash between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, decrying the “adversarial” culture of American politics. The lack of cooperation between the two parties, he said, is an “animosity contest.’’ Kipnis said this dissonance affected any possible solution on immigration.

“Even the President wants a reform,’’ he said. But he ultimately blamed the impasse on Democrats’ refusal to cooperate, admitting that a resolution seemed very far from happening.

Kipnis, a self-proclaimed moderator of parties, said that his purpose on immigration proposals was to keep the “bad” immigrants out and allow the “good” to remain in the country.

He also said he does not favor overturning Roe v. Wade, unlike most Republicans currently in Congress. While he made clear that he personally opposes abortion, “as a champion of individual liberty it is not my place to tell people what to do,” he said.

Kipnis also said he would be “open to” raising the minimum wage, though, as with immigration, he did not provide a specific plan. He suggested some economic hardship could be relieved by a “rainy-day fund” that would not be taxed. “My focus is what’s going on in your life and how I can help you,” he said.

Coleman challenger says he is ‘open to anything’

By Tammie Clark

Detroit, MI

New Jersey Republican congressional candidate Daryl Kipnis is “open to anything” to help people who are in need. In his race in the 12th Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold, he’s emphasizing his moderate platform in an effort to appeal to both liberal and conservative voters.

Kipnis said in a news conference at Princeton University earlier this month that the district’s current representative, Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, blindly votes against any policies proposed by Republicans without considering what would be best for New Jersey residents. When asked about his qualifications that would set him apart from Coleman, he only continued to discredit Coleman’s credentials.

Kipnis also discussed the high cost of living in New Jersey and proposed creating a “rainy day” account that could help residents undergoing various financial hardships, like losing your job, or car trouble. “My focus is what’s going on in your life and how I can help you,” he said.

While he was not immediately open to raising the minimum wage, he did not seem entirely opposed to the idea.

“If the minimum wage is just too low,” he said, “then a conversation can be held to see where it could go.” He repeated that he was “open to anything” because he could see how an underprivileged family might suffer from applying to his “rainy day” account if their income and saved funds were too low.

Unlike a typical Republican, Kipnis tread lightly on the issue of immigration to appeal to Democrats. He said he was open to immigration, and doesn’t believe in mass deportation.

“The ceremony of becoming a citizen is amazing,” he said.

Kipnis said that the cost of obtaining documents for the legalization process should be reduced because it could cost more than $700 for the application fee and background check to cover the application for naturalization. However, Kipnis was not open to accepting all immigrants, going as far as categorizing some immigrants as “good” or “bad.” 

“It’s not my place to tell people what to do,” said Kipnis with regard to abortion. Kipnis added that he would not let his personal views or religion get in the way of deciding how to handle the issue.

Trump’s rhetoric is harmful, reporters say

By Kayla Ricumstrict

Detroit, MI

Though journalists are facing higher levels of mistrust and physical intimidation, two journalists say their work feels more important than ever.

In talks at The Princeton Summer Journalism Program, Gabriel Debenedetti of New York Magazine and Megan Garber of The Atlantic spoke to a small group of student journalists about the problems facing journalists in the age of Trump.

Criticism is a part of the job for journalists, but Trump’s words have made it worse. “The failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories, even on very positive achievements,” the president wrote in a recent tweet, “and they will never change!”

For some reporters, this mistrust has turned into intimidation—and even violence. At a recent Trump rally, a woman gave CNN reporters the finger. Verbal attacks and offensive gestures are only two of a number of issues journalists have to face. “I know a lot of political writers who’ve felt under physical threat,” said Debenedetti, who covers politics for New York. “That is not something we should get used to, and we should not just say ‘that’s just okay, that’s just what it is.’ We shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

Garber, the Atlantic staff writer, agreed. “There is a feeling of fear, I have to say, among journalists,” she said. “People will feel entitled to send me all kinds of terrible feedback, and I think that’s a very common experience for women. I’m pretty sure it’s worse for women of color.”

Intolerance for women and people of color is also a problem within the newsroom, said Garber. That has weakened the public’s trust in journalists because many people don’t see their stories represented. “Journalism has been a profession dominated by white men,” said Garber. “I think people now are responding to that narrowness by resenting journalism overall, but I don’t think that’s fair.” Despite that, Garber is excited to see more diversity. “We are getting more and more people into journalism, more and more voices,” she said. Those people are “able to share their own experiences to tell the stories of people whose stories weren’t always told before.”

Underdog congressional candidate demands reform of judiciary

By Emiliano Davalos

Chicago, IL

Republican Congressional candidate Anthony Pappas—who is running against Democratic rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district—showed up to his very first press conference with documents of his divorce along with a towel in his bag.

To start the press conference, he quietly lectured 40 student journalists from The Princeton Summer Journal about a case in which a young person was sterilized, scribbling the words “fallopian tubes” and “testicles” on the chalkboard behind him. He then argued that judges were allowing such tragedies to happen. He held out his towel to depict how a mother might hold up a child, and explained a court case in which a woman, at the age of 15, had been unknowingly sterilized—while being falsely told that the surgery was to remove her appendix. “Judges are above the law,” he said, explaining that he was fixated on reforming the judicial system.

In a district where Democrats hold a 6-to-1 majority, Pappas is running without much support from the local or national Republican party. He devoted the majority of his press conference to discussing his 2009 divorce and arguing that the judiciary system is corrupt. At one point in the press conference, Pappas asked someone in the room to validate the legitimacy of documents from his divorce proceeding. These documents alleged that he had committed domestic violence, resulting in the need for reconstructive surgery for his wife.

Although Pappas believes that not all judges are corrupt, he sees his divorce as part of a systemic problem. “We are gods, you can’t question us,” he said, characterizing the attitude of judges. He alleged that the judge on the case had “threatened retaliation on me” and “hallucinated that I committed a major crime.”

Not all people who win elections are experienced politicians, so why, you might ask, can’t an eccentric-seeming candidate who has just held his first press conference manage to become a congressman? Then again, in a heavily Democratic district, Pappas faces long odds, and his opponent’s campaign appears confident. Ocasio-Cortez’s senior advisor, Saikat Chakrabarti—who held a press conference with The Princeton Summer Journal following Pappas’s appearance—put it this way: “I think she is going to win.”