Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Jan. 31

The Washington Post on Trump's firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates:

AMERICA'S HISTORY of orderly freedom reflects the strength of our Constitution and laws. Yet it also demonstrates the power of unwritten rules — norms of civility and decency — that are often hard to define but always crucial to respect, lest social trust disappear and instability spread. As Judge Learned Hand famously remarked: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it."

Unwritten rules lie at the heart of the conflict over President Trump's firing of the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, a caretaker left over from the Obama administration. Ms. Yates felt she was honoring a vital unwritten rule — the Justice Department's political independence — by refusing to defend the president's executive order restricting refugees and others from seven majority-Muslim countries. Ms. Yates was absolutely right that Mr.?Trump's order is neither wise nor just, as she said in a letter made public Monday. Less certain is that the appropriate response was to remain at her post, blocking legal defenses of the order — "unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate" to change course, as she also wrote.

The order's legality, or lack thereof, is an unsettled issue; much of Mr. Trump's decree, alas, may be permissible under the wide discretion that immigration statutes grant the president. Significantly, Ms.?Yates herself did not state flatly that the order was unlawful, only that she was not yet convinced of its lawfulness. Given all that, she could have resigned in protest and let Mr. Trump appoint someone who could, in good conscience, defend his policy.

Mr. Trump was, accordingly, within his rights to oust her. Characteristically, however, the new president took power he legitimately possesses on paper and abused it in practice. The White House statement announcing Ms. Yates's firing could have expressed respectful disagreement or thanked her for her long service to the government. Instead, it hurled politicized insults — "weak on borders" — at Ms. Yates and, more shockingly, accused her of having "betrayed" her department.

Among the unwritten rules that make democracy possible, none is more important than resisting the impulse to demonize political opponents. The fledgling Trump administration, like the Trump campaign before it, has violated this norm with zest. Before the White House's ugly response to Ms. Yates, press secretary Sean Spicer told dissenters within the Foreign Service that "they should either get with the program or they can go." Such rhetoric is having its predictable radicalizing effect on Democrats, including over-the-top tactics such as Tuesday's boycott of Senate committee meetings on the confirmation of Mr. Trump's Cabinet picks.

Hand gave his "Spirit of Liberty" address in 1944, before administering the oath of citizenship to immigrants assembled in Manhattan's Central Park. In a world at war, these new Americans heard his words and looked forward to new lives in a stable political community — flawed by deep social ills but blessed by democratic processes for addressing them.

Every participant in politics today could benefit from reflecting on Hand's message — Mr. Trump most of all.




Feb. 1

The Orange County Register on Trump administration and Iran:

Iran is offering the Trump administration its first foreign policy crisis. In a provocative act likely intended to take advantage of U.S. political turmoil, Tehran tested a ballistic missile understood by leading Western allies to be a violation of the recent nuclear deal brokered under the Obama administration.

Hawks in America and elsewhere had already begun to push Trump to tear up the Iran agreement, with doves warning even an imperfect deal offered a much better chance at peace and stability than any more forceful alternative. Given the political climate he faces at home, Trump must use international support to apply pressure to the mullahs without risking a degree of escalation he can no longer control.

Without doubt, Iran's plan is to press for advantages now, figuring out how much it can get away with while attention is focused or scattered elsewhere. In addition to the missile test, which it refuses to confirm or deny, the regime has ratcheted up conflict with America's Persian Gulf allies. Using shoulder-fired rockets supplied by Tehran, Houthi rebels in Yemen crippled and nearly sank a UAE auxiliary ship that had previously been contracted to the United States.

Sensing opportunity in a fluid situation, the mullahs likely presume that the Trump administration will struggle to mount a concentrated response — or back off in the interest of closer relations with Moscow.

Trump should surprise them. Although Russia has indeed denied that the missile test amounts to a violation of the international agreement, Britain and Israel share the U.S. assessment that it has. Countries with a stake in the dispute should be made to go on record about where they stand and what subsequent action they support or oppose.

Even a Security Council resolution that draws a Russian veto, or offers only watered-down language, affords the Trump administration a starting point for negotiations and coalition-building.

Russia's behavior will help reveal just how committed to Iran Putin has become, while European reactions can be used to help gauge appetites for a broader adjustment of priorities regarding Russia from the Baltic Sea to Syria.

This episode will prompt the first of many judgment calls from the new administration on Middle Eastern affairs. Trump's opponents and allies alike share little appetite for an unpredictable wider war in the Mideast theater. At the same time, no one will benefit from a lax or inconsistent approach to Iranian aggression and provocation. President Obama does bear substantial responsibility for the current state of play, but America's best interests are not served by Trump simply doing the opposite of what Obama has done.

The key is to quickly and effectively connect a potent, immediate response up to a broader strategy that preserves the basic balance of the international order short of war. Too many enemies and adversaries could pile on and hope to make the best of a chaotic situation. And too many friends and allies could falter in that environment.

To prevent that sort of meltdown, the Trump administration needs to mobilize adequate international support for serious but limited consequences against Iran's recent acts — then swiftly begin the hard work of restoring a durable, predictable order along the blurry edge of the Western world.




Jan. 31

Minneapolis Star Tribune on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines:

President Trump's first week in office included executive orders to revive two controversial pipeline proposals halted during former President Barack Obama's administration. Trump's move on Keystone XL, which will deliver heavy crude from Canada to U.S. refineries, is sensible and will boost public safety in Minnesota.

His decision on the other, the Dakota Access pipeline spurring protests near a North Dakota Indian reservation, was premature. Trump should have first wielded his deal-making skills to defuse still-close-to-boiling-over tensions between the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, the pipeline company and local law enforcement. Without intervention by a coolheaded authority, violence as the pipeline construction resumes is a distinct possibility.

Citing concerns about the safety of other methods of oil transport, the Star Tribune Editorial Board previously backed Keystone's completion, putting it at odds with climate change activists whose political clout spurred Obama's rejection of the pipeline. This nation still relies on crude oil, which typically needs to be transported vast distances to refineries. There is no risk-free method, and pipelines, though imperfect, are safer than rail, truck and ship.

Minnesota more than most states had a stake in this debate. Rail lines crisscross the state. Trains pulling 100 or more tankers have become "rolling pipelines" passing through cities large and small and along rivers such as the Mississippi that supply drinking water for the metro. Railroads have made safety improvements, such as slowing train speed or upgrading tanker cars to sturdier models. Still, fiery explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec, and Casselton, North Dakota, illustrate the danger of rail transport.

A Keystone spur line would help relieve the oil train traffic coming through Minnesota. Supporting it is logical and conscientious, particularly with federal analysis showing that blocking the pipeline would do little to slow the development of Canadian oil sands and, by extension, global warming. The reason: The oil would just be transported a different way.

The Dakota Access pipeline will cross under the Missouri River near North Dakota's Standing Rock reservation. The tribe has raised concerns about pipeline leaks contaminating drinking water and disturbing burial grounds and other culturally sensitive locations. Three federal agencies have also raised concerns about the quality of the environmental and cultural reviews that have taken place. Those issues should not be shrugged off as federal agencies move forward after Trump's executive order.

The volatility of the ongoing protest also warrants caution. The encampment near the pipeline's proposed river crossing drew thousands of protesters last year. Clashes between them and North Dakota law enforcement were frequent and sometimes violent. Tensions are only going to escalate with the rapid resumption of construction, further sapping the resources of already fatigued North Dakota law enforcement.

More images of unrest from this Great Plains standoff would be shared around the world, casting further doubt on Trump's leadership and his claims of popular support. The president, already the focus of widespread protests elsewhere over travel restrictions, doesn't need another global PR mess to mar his first weeks in office.

Caution by the agencies charged with carrying out the Dakota Access pipeline executive order would best serve the nation and reflect positively on the fledgling Trump administration.




Jan. 31

The New York Times on Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch:

It's been almost a year since Senate Republicans took an empty Supreme Court seat hostage, discarding a constitutional duty that both parties have honored throughout American history and hobbling an entire branch of government for partisan gain.

President Trump had a great opportunity to repair some of that damage by nominating a moderate candidate for the vacancy, which was created when Justice Antonin Scalia died last February. Instead, he chose Neil Gorsuch, a very conservative judge from the federal Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit whose jurisprudence and writing style are often compared to those of Justice Scalia.

If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, the court will once again have a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, as it has for nearly half a century. For starters, that spells big trouble for public-sector labor unions, environmental regulations and women's access to contraception. If Trump gets the chance to name another justice, the consequences could be much more dire.

In normal times, Judge Gorsuch — a widely respected and, at 49, relatively young judge with a reliably conservative voting record — would be an obvious choice for a Republican president.

These are not normal times.

The seat Judge Gorsuch hopes to sit in should have been filled, months ago, by Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, whom President Barack Obama nominated to the court last March. Judge Garland, a former federal prosecutor and 20-year veteran of the nation's most important federal appeals court, is both more moderate and more qualified than Judge Gorsuch.

That meant nothing to Senate Republicans, who abused their power as the majority party and, within hours of Justice Scalia's death, shut down the confirmation process for the remainder of Mr. Obama's presidency. There would be no negotiations to release this hostage; the sole object was to hold on to the court's conservative majority. The outrageousness of the ploy was matched only by the unlikelihood that it would succeed — until, to virtually everyone's shock, it did.

The destructive lesson Senate Republicans taught is that obstruction pays off. Yet they seem to have short memories. After Senate Democrats refused to attend votes on two of Mr. Trump's cabinet picks on Tuesday, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said, "We did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama." Even absent such dishonesty, any Democratic impulse to mimic the Republican blockade by filibustering Judge Gorsuch would be understandable. But Senate Democrats should be wary of stooping to the Republicans' level, especially because any such effort is likely to prove futile, since Republicans have the votes to simply eliminate the use of the filibuster against Supreme Court nominees. The hearings should, however, present Democrats with an opportunity to probe Judge Gorsuch's views.

So what might a Justice Gorsuch mean for the court? Like Justice Scalia, he is an originalist, meaning he interprets the Constitution's language to mean what it was understood to mean when it was written — an approach that has led both men to consistently conservative results.

Judge Gorsuch's similarities to Justice Scalia extend into several areas of the law. Since his appointment in 2006, by President George W. Bush, he has voted consistently in favor of religious-liberty claims, such as requests for exemptions for private companies and religious nonprofits that oppose the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

He is even more conservative than Justice Scalia in at least one area — calling for an end to the deference courts traditionally show to administrative agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, that are charged with implementing complex and important federal laws.

Given the events of recent days, senators should press Judge Gorsuch on how he would approach constitutional questions that have already arisen out of Mr. Trump's actions as president, like his order barring refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, or his alleged violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

While Judge Gorsuch's views on abortion are not known, he has written extensively about assisted suicide and euthanasia. In his book on the topic, he wrote that "human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong." By himself, Judge Gorsuch would not upset the court's balance on abortion rights or affirmative action, but if one of the more liberal justices or Justice Anthony Kennedy step down during Mr. Trump's presidency, a solidly right-wing majority could quickly overturn those precedents.

Supreme Court nominations are among the most important decisions a president makes, and certainly the most enduring: A nominee like Judge Gorsuch could sit on the court for more than three decades. At a rally last summer Mr. Trump said: "Even if you can't stand Donald Trump, you think Donald Trump is the worst, you're going to vote for me. You know why? Justices of the Supreme Court." That may have played well on the campaign trail, but Mr. Trump's failure to choose a more moderate candidate is the latest example of his refusal to acknowledge his historic unpopularity and his nearly three-million-vote loss to Hillary Clinton. A wiser president faced with such circumstances would govern with humility and a respect for the views of all Americans.




Jan. 31

Dallas Morning News on false testimony in Emmett Till case:

It's been more than 60 years since Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black teen from Chicago, was brutally beaten and lynched after flirting with a white woman while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta.

Now comes welcome news, in a book coming out this week, that his accuser has recanted the most incendiary parts of her claims against him. Carolyn Bryant Donham told author Timothy B. Tyson that her long-ago allegations that Emmett grabbed her and was menacing and sexually crude toward her, "that part is not true."

How a woman at the center of one of the nation's most heinous tragedies, which helped propel the civil rights movement, could withhold this vital information for so long is beyond us. She's 82 now. Maybe she was trying to relieve her conscience.

Whatever the reason, Donham's recanting all these years later is important.

This photo provided by his family shows Emmett Till in Chicago, about six months before he was killed. The Associated Press

This photo provided by his family shows Emmett Till in Chicago, about six months before he was killed. The Associated Press

"I think until you break the silence, there is still that implied consent to the false narrative set forth in 1955," Patrick Weems, project coordinator at the Emmett Till museum in Sumner, Mississippi, said in The New York Times.

Donham confirmed what so many of us already believed. Even had the claims been true, no sane person today could think they merited serious punishment, much less death.

Still, her admission holds lessons in the roots of why perceptions of our justice system differ so starkly between white and black people. The case helps us understand the persistent belief by some in our community that there is a disparity in how justice is meted out based on race.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, in this 1955 photo, was at the center of the Emmett Till case. She has acknowledged that she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats, according to a new book by Timothy B. Tyson. The Associated Press

Carolyn Bryant Donham, in this 1955 photo, was at the center of the Emmett Till case. She has acknowledged that she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats, according to a new book by Timothy B. Tyson. The Associated Press

Many of Emmett's contemporaries are in their 70s now, still living among us. Such memories are still fresh in the minds of many. Experiences like these have shaped relations between whites and black for generations.

Emmett Till's was a watershed case.

The teenager was days into his visit to Mississippi when he spoke to Carolyn Bryant, 21, in a store owned by Bryant and her husband, Roy. Days later, he was kidnapped from his uncle's house, tortured, and shot in the head before his body was sunk into the Tallahatchie River.

His mother insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket to show the world the brutality of the killing, galvanizing the black community across the nation. It's impossible to forget the picture of his mutilated body that first ran in Jet magazine.

Roy Bryant and his half brother, J. W. Milam, were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. They later admitted the murder in a Look magazine interview but could not be retried because of double jeopardy.

We're glad Donham finally came clean. But this goes beyond setting history straight. It helps explain the lingering effects of this country's painful past.




Jan. 30

The Montreal Gazette on deadly shooting at Quebec mosque:

A stunned Quebec is in mourning. Flags are at half mast, vigils are being held, and expressions of solidarity with the Muslim community are flowing in from all quarters.

Sunday night's outrageous, murderous attack on innocent worshippers, which has taken at least six lives, seriously injured several more people and left many children fatherless, is getting the vehement condemnation it deserves.

Ordinary Quebecers of all faiths and none have recoiled at the violence and its heartbreaking toll.

In the wake of the attack, many questions have yet to be answered. But what is already far too clear is that innocent people were killed simply for who they were: Muslims. This massacre, all the more offensive because it targeted a house of prayer, by all appearances was a hate crime.

It was as pointless as it was tragic. What warped objectives did the gunman or gunmen think they were going to achieve?

Was the aim to drive Muslims from Quebec? Was it to stoke divisions within Quebec society? Was it nothing more complicated than an expression of hatred pure and simple?

It's disconcerting to think that discourse painting Muslims as people to be feared might have been one of the factors behind this attack. There has been far too much dog whistle politics in recent years, both in Quebec and by those who made niqabs an issue in the last federal election. If so, that would be a particularly bitter irony. Assault weapons are not to be found under burkas, it seems, but in the hands of those who would do innocent Muslims harm. Who has reason to fear whom?

Was the attack influenced by the current discourse south of the border? Was it merely a coincidence that it was committed the same weekend that U.S. President Donald Trump enacted entry prohibitions on citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries? The president's defenders were quick to say this was not a "Muslim ban," and that citizens of many other Muslim countries were not affected, but in the context of Trump's statements on the campaign trail, it would be hard to see it otherwise.

Or were there other twisted motives?

Regardless of what motives may have been at play, however, the attack on innocent worshippers was an attack on all of us. And therefore it is incumbent on all to show solidarity in the face of this horror. In due course, the accused will have to answer in court. In the meantime, the unity of our condemnation must be the only response to these repugnant actions.