JSPAN Represented Before the PA Bar Association Constitutional Review Commission

JSPAN Newsletter - May 6, 2011

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
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Newsletter: May 6, 2011
JSPAN Represented Before the Pennsylvania Bar Association Constitutional Review Commission
On May 4, 2011, Judge Phyllis Whitman Beck and Jeffrey Albert, Esq. appeared on behalf of JSPAN before Subcommittees of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Constitutional Review Commission, Judge Beck in support of merit selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania, and Mr. Albert dealing with legislative reapportionment. Judge Beck was accompanied by JSPAN President Brian Gralnick. The following are excerpts from Judge Beck’s written submission. Members of the Judiciary subcomittee, I speak on behalf of JSPAN, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. JSPAN is a non-profit, non-political civic organization. Among other activities JSPAN lawyers prepare and file amicus briefs in First Amendment cases pending in appellate courts throughout the nation. Over a year ago, following a debate on the subject in which I participated, that organization endorsed the merit selection of appellate judges in Pennsylvania "through a process that does away with the need for political endorsements, campaigning, or major fund-raising by candidates."

Aspiring to membership on a Pennsylvania appellate court is a daunting and expensive process. Candidates appear at caucuses to seek party nominations in sixty-seven counties, and give stump speeches at every conceivable event that can provide a forum, placing huge burdens of time and energy on the candidate. The candidate must raise significant funds to undertake a lengthy race for office. In the last election for Supreme Court Justice it is reported that over $3 million dollars were spent by the candidates’ committees.



The main source of funding in the last appellate court race was -- and in future races will doubtless continue to be -- lawyers. Inevitably these include some who will appear before the successful candidate after the election.

Candidates who must seek endorsements from the political parties in each Pennsylvania county, and must also seek donations that often come from lawyers who may appear before them after they are elected, inevitably lose the appearance of impartiality.

Well qualified lawyers, academic lawyers, and lower court judges, facing the financial and physical tolls of a judicial race, and perceiving the compromising aspects of the effort, are discouraged from becoming candidates. This robs Pennsylvania of an important source of highly qualified candidates.



Finally, notwithstanding the political endorsements and the spending and campaigning, when all is said and done almost no voters other than lawyers -- and only a small percentage of lawyers at that -- know enough about the legal skill, experience, temperament, independence and reputation of the individual candidates to be able to choose among them. In a statewide judicial race, the ballot box is simply not an effective way to choose among candidates.

The federal judiciary and many other state judiciaries are recruited by merit identified in screening and nominating processes. I urge you to support and work to establish such a process here in Pennsylvania.


Was it Right to Kill Bin Laden?
Amid the celebrations over the death of al-Qaida's leader, Art Caplan weighs in on the ethics of assassination
By Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.
msnbc.com 2011-05-02

When Osama bin Laden’s death was announced there was no doubt how Americans felt about his passing. Joy erupted all across the country. People ran into the streets to celebrate. Cheers broke out at sporting events. The families of those murdered in the 9/11 attacks stated their relief.

Politicians took quiet pride in his killing. President Barack Obama declared, in a curt phrase that may well become the signature statement of his presidency, “justice has been done.”

Yet, there are ethical questions that some are quietly asking on the occasion of the killing of the world’s most notorious terrorist: Do we condone killing without a trial? Is assassination ever an ethical act?

While it is tough to raise these questions about the demise of a despised figure like bin Laden, I think his killing was ethical. If any terrorist was ever a candidate to be deliberately wiped out, Osama bin Laden is surely that person.


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San Francisco Male Circumcision Ban has Enough Signatures for Ballot, Backers Say
By: Joshua Sabatini 04/25/11
San Francisco Examiner Staff Writer

San Francisco residents may be voting on banning male circumcision in November. Backers of a November ballot measure that would ban circumcision of males under 18 years old in San Francisco say they have enough signatures to bring the proposal to voters.

Needing at least 7,168 valid signatures by today’s 5 p.m. deadline, San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield, who is the lead proponent of the measure, said Monday he has 12,250 valid signatures.

“It’s in excess of what we need to qualify for the ballot,” Schofield said.

He plans to submit the signatures to the Department of Elections today. The department has 30-days to review and determine whether it officially qualifies for the Nov. 8 election.

The measure has gained nationwide attention since it was first reported six months ago, and is the latest much-talked about ban proposal to come out of San Francisco — since the Board of Supervisors banned toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals backed in November.


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Blacks’ Migration to Suburbs Will Have Big Impact on Congressional Redistricting
By Aaron Blake, Thursday, April 21, 9:34 PM (Washington Post)

Louisiana’s newly designed 2nd Congressional District doesn’t look like it makes much sense — one end of it starts in a tip just north of Baton Rouge, and from there it juts and jags its way more than 70 miles south and east past New Orleans, seemingly picking up random communities along the way. Most of the people who live in those communities are African Americans, joined together partly by design and partly by law. By looping African Americans into one district, lawmakers increased the number of Republicans in surrounding districts, virtually ensuring that the GOP will hold a major advantage in five of the state’s six congressional districts for the next decade.

As lawmakers across the nation begin the once-a-decade process of redrawing their congressional boundaries, a significant migration of blacks from cities to suburbs is having a widespread political impact.

According to newly released census numbers, eight of the nation’s top majority-black districts lost an average of more than 10 percent of their African American populations. That will provide an opportunity for Republican lawmakers, who control an increasing number of statehouses following last fall’s elections, to reshape districts in suburban swing areas of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere.


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Latino Vote Hits a Record in 2010
By Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press (April 27, 2011)

WASHINGTON - More Latinos than ever voted in the November 2010 election as a relatively young population reached voting age, a fresh sign that the fastest-growing U.S. minority is a formidable force in electoral politics.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 6.6 million Latinos, who mainly choose Democrats, voted in 2010, up from the 5.6 million who voted in 2006. As a share of the electorate, Latinos made up 6.9 percent of the 96 million voters in 2010, up from 5.8 percent of the 96.1 million voters four years earlier. The center released its report Tuesday.

Among those record voters were 600,000 Latinos who turned 18 each year between 2006 and 2010 as well as 1.4 million foreign-born adult Latinos who became U.S. citizens and therefore eligible to vote, the center said.

"A lot of that growth is driven by U.S.-born young people who are coming of age and now [are] eligible to vote," said Mark Lopez, Pew Hispanic Center associate director.

Republicans and Democrats are certain to factor the voting numbers in any political calculation as they look to the presidency in 2012, control of Congress, and elections for decades to come. Strong Hispanic growth in the Southwest and West may make some states more friendly for Democrats.


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With Budget Cuts Set, Medicare Battle Begins
April 27, 2011 - Ron Kampeas, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

In the showdown over the 2012 U.S. budget, Jewish organizations clearly fall on one particular side of the partisan divide: the Democratic one. But as the battle between Republicans and Democrats over spending gets under way, the trick the organizations are trying to pull off is appealing to both parties. For now, the organizations -- which include groups whose boards boast major Republican givers -- are strategizing on how best to protect medical subsidies they fear will be wiped out under Republican plans.

They are warning that even if just some of the proposals touted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, make it into a final compromise budget, that would constitute a doomsday scenario.

"We're very concerned about whatever elements in the Medicare and Medicaid parts of the Ryan proposal make it into the discussions," said Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy for B'nai B'rith International, which runs the largest network of Jewish homes for the elderly in the United States.

Medicare is the federal program providing health coverage for those 65 and older. Medicaid covers the poor.

Such apprehensions have led 17 national Jewish groups and more than 100 local groups to make their concerns clear in an unusually blunt letter to every member of Congress. The letter rejects the restructuring Ryan has proposed.

"Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs," reads the April 14 letter, initiated jointly by two Jewish umbrella groups, Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

"We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program," it continued.

The letter was notable in that its signatories came from every major religious stream -- Reform, Orthodox, Conservative and Reconstructionist -- as well as an array of Jewish service groups.


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Our Divisive Discourse
By Sivan Zakai
Published April 20, 2011, issue of April 29, 2011 (The Forward).

“You say you’re pro-Israel, but you’re really not.”

These words may sound reminiscent of the recent Knesset hearing about J Street. But they’re from an entirely different source: a high school junior we will call “Isaac.”

Long before the Knesset questioned J Street’s activities, Isaac and his 11th-grade classmates were debating what it means to be pro-Israel. At Isaac’s community Jewish day school, where I spent six months observing and interviewing students, Israel was a central pillar of Jewish education. Students and teachers agreed that the school was — and should be — staunchly “pro-Israel.” They disagreed, however, about what being “pro-Israel” meant.

On one side of the spectrum were the students who believed that a pro-Israel school must support the Israeli government no matter its policies. In one teacher’s words, “Either you support everything Israel does or you don’t support Israel.” Others adhered to the belief that as American Jews they had the right to question the tactics of the Israeli government. One of these students explained: “I think that the only viewpoint that’s necessary for being considered pro-Israel is acknowledging that Israel has the right to exist. Beyond that is up for negotiation.”

Upon first glance, it would be possible to mistake students’ disagreements for the kind of enthusiastic engagement that educators hope to foster. After all, Israel was a frequent source of conversation at the school, and lessons often focused on Israeli history, politics and culture. But upon closer look, the constant disagreements about the definition of “pro-Israel” revealed a much more destructive reality.

At first, classmates engaged in verbal battles over how to define commitment to Israel. Rather than accepting the “pro-Israel” credentials of others at the school, there was a culture in which students and teachers were criticized, even ostracized, for their positions about how to express their support. As one high school senior explained, “People will talk about you behind your back because you’re not pro-Israel in the same way they’re pro-Israel.”


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Different Sides, Same Questions (Book Review)
Two new books explore the increasingly fraught relationship between American Jews and Israel.
By Anshel Pfeffer (Haaretz, April 22, 2011)

"Why don't Israelis take any interest in what the Jews in America think or do?" In almost four years of writing about Israel and Diaspora affairs, I long ago lost count of the number of times this question has come up in conversations with concerned, well-meaning Jewish-American leaders. It echoed in my ears continuously while reading two new books that address the complex and frustrating relationship between the two most successful Jewish communities in history.

Though I doubt either author would agree, there is a clear symmetry between the two books. One is by a seasoned political operator, the other by a veteran journalist; one in Hebrew and targeted at an Israeli audience, the other in English for Americans.

Jeremy Ben-Ami has long been a member of the "Democratic wing" of American Jewry. On the other hand, as a journalist Shmuel Rosner has never nailed his colors to any political mast, but he is perceived by many of his readers - and certainly his critics - as being somewhat right-of-center. But they both address the same central issue from different sides of the divide.

But what I found intriguing while reading Rosner's "Shtetl, Bagel, Baseball," essentially a user's manual of American Jewry for Israeli readers (not to say, American Jews for Dummies ) and Ben-Ami's "A New Voice for Israel," the impassioned case for J Street by the organization's founder and president, is that while Rosner gives a generally sympathetic hearing to J Street's critics in his book, both writers essentially seem to agree on the bottom line: That there has been a fundamental shift in the way a new Jewish American generation relates to Israel and that the landscape between the two communities, separated by an ocean and a continent, has changed, perhaps forever.


[read more]


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Vice President

Judah Labovitz
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