Banana republic watch

Yes, I know, I’m just being hysterical:

President Donald Trump’s order to his secretary of state to declassify thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails, along with his insistence that his attorney general issue indictments against Barack Obama and Joe Biden, takes his presidency into new territory — until now, occupied by leaders with names like Putin, Xi and Erdogan.

Trump has long demanded — quite publicly, often on Twitter — that his most senior cabinet members use the power of their office to pursue political enemies. But his appeals this week, as he trailed badly in the polls and was desperate to turn the national conversation away from the coronavirus, were so blatant that one had to look to authoritarian nations to make comparisons.

He took a step even Richard Nixon avoided in his most desperate days: openly ordering direct immediate government action against specific opponents, timed to serve his reelection campaign.

BTW, the Democratic Party’s flirtation with court-packing is also banana republicanism. But the unique awfulness of Trump has overshadowed that scandal. (And yes, the GOP is partly to blame–they behaved disgracefully in holding up a nomination in 2016.)

PS. Go Jaime Harrison!

Off topic: I took the NYT language/location test, and this is where they predicted I’m from:

Correct answer is Madison. But then just one of the 25 questions could have produced this map. Can you guess which one?



66 Responses to “Banana republic watch”

  1. Gravatar of xu xu
    11. October 2020 at 15:31

    You finally managed to write a nonpartisan piece, and one that even criticized your all time favorite President – President Xi. You even managed to criticize the Communist Democratic Party of America, run by your nepotistic friend Joe Biden.


  2. Gravatar of Russ Abbott Russ Abbott
    11. October 2020 at 15:52

    What is your opinion about what’s called constitutional hardball–taking unprecedented and norm-defying actions that are legal and constitutional?

    McConnell did it when he blocked votes on many Obama court nominees, including but not limited to Garland. Democrats may do it if they expand the number of judges on various federal benches–and then fill those additional seats.

    Do you think tit-for-tat is appropriate? If not, what is the alternative other than just letting the other side get away with an unfair tactic?

    Is there a “grand bargain” that may resolve this issue for the future?

  3. Gravatar of bill bill
    11. October 2020 at 16:03

    Rs also speculated openly in 2016 on reducing the court size to 8 if Hillary won.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. October 2020 at 16:37

    Russ, You asked:

    “What is your opinion about what’s called constitutional hardball–taking unprecedented and norm-defying actions that are legal and constitutional?”

    Totally opposed.

    “Do you think tit-for-tat is appropriate?”


    “If not, what is the alternative other than just letting the other side get away with an unfair tactic?”


    Bill, Yup, both sides…

  5. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    11. October 2020 at 16:58

    Bubbler?? Btw, the most progressive way to refer to a group of people is “y’all”…and it’s a contraction so it is not bad grammar to use what amounts to a more fluid way of saying “you all” or a superior way to refer to a group than simply saying “you” which can also refer to a group.

  6. Gravatar of cove77 cove77
    11. October 2020 at 17:09

    i don’t think Biden/Harris are seriously contemplating court packing rather they are trying to keep leftist base (Sanders/Warren) fired up for 11/3. If Biden suggested that he had no interest in court packing it could hamper Dem turnout/enthusiasm.

  7. Gravatar of Russ Abbott Russ Abbott
    11. October 2020 at 17:16

    Even though I was born in NYC and raised in the suburbs, the test said that I am LA. I’ve been here more than half my life, and I agree with that decision.

  8. Gravatar of David Henderson David Henderson
    11. October 2020 at 17:59

    No, I can’t guess which question. Which?
    I did the test and it had me in North Dakota, which is just south of where I grew up. I went back and forth, though, between what I call things now and what I called them then. I went with what I called them then: e.g., pop, a word I grew up with but never use vs. soda, the word I always use. I went with pop.

  9. Gravatar of Dale Doback Dale Doback
    11. October 2020 at 18:04


  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    11. October 2020 at 18:50

    Gene, Yes, bubbler. I didn’t know there was another word for it until grad school.

    Cove77, That’s possible.

    Russ, Yes, I wish I’d moved to California 50 years earlier. I wanted to when I was 11.

    David, Bubbler.

    Yes, I answered using terms I used when young. Like “pop”.

    Dale, Perhaps, I did use that term when young.

  11. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    11. October 2020 at 20:44

    @Gene F:

    Absolutely, y’all is a fantastic word and should be standard English.


    Nailed it, totally agree.

  12. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    11. October 2020 at 20:50

    Forgot, “bubbler”…that’s awesome

    I wonder if there’s any other one like that, where one answer puts you directly in one specific place. Maybe “yinz”?

  13. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    12. October 2020 at 04:10


    We’ve obviously been living in an era of considerable gridlock and political stalemate at the federal level, and should this continue, simply relying on elections doesn’t solve the problems with norm breaking regarding the Supreme Court. How many swings in control of the Senate, House, and White House have we had since 1980? It’s grown more pronounced, particularly since the 2006 midterms. It’s no longer uncommon for control of both houses of Congress to change within 2-4 years.

    Tit-for-tat, or at least the credible threat of it, is likely necessary to cut a deal that will specify some new rules governing Supreme Court appointments going forward.

    One idea is to expand the Court by 2 Justices, one of the Democrat’s choosing. Then, set up a bipartisan committee, with an even number of Senators of each of party to select the next Justice, and every new Justice going forward.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    12. October 2020 at 08:08

    I love dialect maps (and tests) so much. Only yesterday I learnt that my region emphasizes the German word BH (which means “bra”) in complete contrast to all other states in Germany. We emphasize it like the Swiss, at the beginning, which, of course, makes much more sense. =)

    No, seriously, you are totally shocked, because you never imagined how anyone would pronounce it differently ever, and then, one moment later, you realize that your whole life was a lie, and that you are the absolute exception and not the rule.

    In the past, these tests could even be used to determine the village you came from. But the dialects, and their speakers, are dying out more and more, so it is hardly possible today. But cities and regions is still possible.

    I took the NYT test too, and they correctly placed me in New York, which is correct, because when I visited the US, 90% of my time was spent in New York and the surrounding area.

    “Bubbler” is not entirely specific. It seems to be used in New England as well. As far as I have seen, the following dialect terms could be quite specific to Wisconsin:

    Fleet Farm.

    I love Couple-Two-Three, Up-North, Uff-Dah, Start with me last. And ofc: Stop-and-go-lights.

    I watched a long dialect example of a woman from Wisconsin on youtube, the sound on my device is currently really poor, but could it be that, of all American dialects, the dialect of Wisconsin sounds closest to Norwegian (or other Scandinavian languages)? It would even make sense because of the history of immigration. Quite awesome.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. October 2020 at 08:19

    Michael, If we can’t rely on elections then all hope is lost. I’d rather keep trying, rather than throw in the towel and become a banana republic.

    BTW, the very fact that the Dems think the Supreme Court is super important is itself a part of the problem. Only 30% of Americans want to ban abortion, why does the Democratic Party not believe they can win on this issue at the ballot box?

    I’m sticking with democracy, even if it doesn’t always produce the results I prefer.

  16. Gravatar of Big Al Big Al
    12. October 2020 at 08:40

    So I think a part of the problem is that the stakes for the Supreme Court are simply too high. We need to end life time appointments. In my opinion, 10 years are enough at each level of the federal court. Folks should be appointed at the end of a career in the law.

  17. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    12. October 2020 at 09:09


    “Uff da” is a Norwegian expletive similar to “oy vey” in Yiddish

    There’s lots of Norwegians in Wisconsin, but that phrase is used wherever they settled in the US: Minnesota, Iowa, N and S Dakota, etc.

  18. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    12. October 2020 at 09:18

    Apparently, Californian counter-intelligence operatives could have identified me as a New York area mole just by asking me for a word to to describe a time when it’s raining but the sun is shining.
    I’m completely with you on stopping the tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye behavior. Our allegiance should be to the rule of law, not a party.

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. October 2020 at 10:51

    Big Al, We should go back to having the legislative branch make laws and let the Supreme Court interpret laws.

    Have 18 year terms, and appoint a new justice every 2 years.

    msgkings, My grandma used to say uff da. I was told it means “my God!” but I’m not certain.

  20. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    12. October 2020 at 11:03


    The importance of the Supreme Court matters to both sides for reasons going well beyond abortion. I agree with many liberals and some conservatives that the Citizens United decision was disastrous, even if the importance of money in elections is often overstated. Many members of Congress spend the majority of their time fundraising. I think the ruling’s effect on public confidence in government was considerably worse than its actual direct effect on governance.

    Likewise, the gutting of protections for minority voting rights has aided Republicans in vote suppression efforts.

    More fundamentally though, a decades long campaign to de-legitimize the Democratic Party and liberal movement succeeded brilliantly among many conservatives. This is to the point of conspiracy theories taking the place of actual information as currency within the Republican Party. Likewise, confidence in our very form of government has been similarly de-legitimized by the same forces.

    I think your purest approach to process in the case of the Supreme Court appointment process is decades out of date, and offers no solution that both sides will accept. We are in fact in a banana republic in many respects and it takes more than one side to compromise and recognize the rule of law.

  21. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    12. October 2020 at 11:11

    Some of the questions are really tough – they don’t always give you the choice you want. E.g. I for frontage/access/service road I would have chosen “all three” if I could. Maybe that answer’s just not helpful.

    After taking the test, I scrolled back through the questions trying to guess the Sumner Heat Map question and saw the “potato bug” (or sow bug) question, which I didn’t get when I took the test. Why would anyone call them millipedes or centipedes? My initial impulse would be to cast these areas out of the Union, but I guess it’s no weirder than some of the others.

  22. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. October 2020 at 12:30

    Trump is such a bad Banana-President that he is even causing Covid-19 infection rates to Skyrocket to All Time Records in Great Britain, France, and parts of Spain.

  23. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    12. October 2020 at 13:10


    I looked up “my God” and it’s “min Gud”

    “da” means “there” and I think “uff” is just a placeholder syllable like “yeesh” or “hey”

    I was just replying to Christian that it’s not Wisconsin specific.

  24. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    12. October 2020 at 16:46

    What’s your opinion for banana republic watch for these things (which both seem to have some truth)
    1. Joe Biden’s son getting a lot of money from Ukraine while he was in office. That looks like defacto bribery to me
    2. Hillary Clinton faking the Russian scandals – which admittedly I can’t tell what is true and false in that whole thing. And Obama being briefed on it.

  25. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    12. October 2020 at 17:14

    I was born and raised in Washington, DC but the NY Times placed me, like Christian List, in Buffalo NY. All these Northerners in northern Virginny I guess…

    As for Sumner’s column, what is he raving about? Trump has a 10% chance of winning. The only way he will win is if enough voters think the election is already won for Biden and fail to vote (apparently happened with Truman and one California election).

  26. Gravatar of Nick S Nick S
    12. October 2020 at 17:36


    What’s wrong with Trump ordering the declassification of these documents?

    Excessive government classification protects government officials who are guilty of breaking the law from being prosecuted in a just manner. For example, bad acting government officials, such as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama, who are aware of evidence that would implicate them in a crime, can simply order that said evidence become classified. Once said evidence is deemed classified, the crimes committed become virtually unprovable in a court of law.

    A possible counterbalance to this system, is the ability of an insider whistleblower to divulge the exculpatory evidence. However, whistleblowers are highly disincentivized to blow their proverbial whistles given the risk of their likely prosecution under the espionage act (I.e. Ed Snowden).

    Trump’s order to declassify this information is part of his agenda to drain the corruption of the democrat swamp creatures. There is a clear trail of evidence in which Hillary Clinton willingly engaged in election interference, covered up via the systematic problem of classification.

    This includes the fabrication of “fake” evidence (I.e. the Russian Dossier) that was used to obtain permission to spy on Trump’s campaign, all with the intention of being deemed a “legal” activity under the unconstitutional “FISA” act. One provision of this act states that the act…

    ”Allows the government to conduct surveillance of “a U.S. person located outside of the U.S. with probable cause they are an agent of a foreign power.”

    What better way to spy on Trump than to purchase a fabricated dossier that makes Trump look like an “agent of a foreign power?”

    In conclusion, the declassification of these docs are actually a counter to the “Banana Republic” that the Democrats have slowly been creating.

    Would be happy to hear your thoughts Scott.

  27. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. October 2020 at 17:50

    Is the GOP engaging on vote fraud? Social media in California say so. From NextDoor:

    “Caution: Unauthorized Ballot Boxes. In their wider effort to suppress the vote, California Republican operatives are illegally installing unauthorized ballot boxes in strategic locations across the state, and then marking them as “Official”, even though they are not. The intent here seems to be to trick unsuspecting voters into depositing their completed ballots, in effect harvesting them, a frequent complaint CA GOP makes of CA voting laws. Of course the lingering question here is, once collected, what would happen with completed ballots? It seems, the perpetrators are committing voter fraud to prove voter fraud exists.”


    John Cochrane, as linked to by Scott Sumner, posits we may see armed mobs, guns blazing, in the streets after Nov. 3.

    Trump says election results are not to be trusted.


    “Joe Biden’s presidential campaign says it is amassing an unprecedented army of attorneys for an expected legal brawl over whether ballots will count in the weeks after the election.”


    Um. That is Biden-speak for “We do not trust election results.”

    Provision yourselves accordingly! Buy lots of bananas!

  28. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    12. October 2020 at 18:54

    I grew up and live in Melbourne, Australia, and I came out as New York City. Apparently that’s due to me pronouncing Mary, merry and marry three different ways.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. October 2020 at 19:24

    Sean, There’s no doubt that Biden’s son got the job because they thought it would influence Obama administration policy. Did it? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It does say that Ukraine is a banana republic.

    I’m not aware of Hillary faking any Russian scandals. I am aware that on national TV Trump encouraged the Russians to try to sabotage Hillary’s campaign.

    Nick, You said:

    “Trump’s order to declassify this information is part of his agenda to drain the corruption of the democrat swamp creatures.”

    LOL, politics is a helluva drug.

    Rajat, I pronounce all three the same, and don’t ever remember hearing any other pronunciation for any of the three.

  30. Gravatar of Nick S Nick S
    12. October 2020 at 19:43

    Scott – you didn’t address the merits of any of my points on the use of classification to protect politicians from being prosecuted from committing illegal acts. Whenever you don’t have a counter to valid points you pull the “LOL” line, as if you are “above” considering any counter to your propaganda. Typical…

  31. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    12. October 2020 at 21:25

    Scott, my step-aunt from Phoenix (I *think* she grew up there) introduced her daughter to us as ‘terror’ (t-eRR-ah), which gave me a start until I realised she meant ‘Tara’ (t-Ar-a).

  32. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    12. October 2020 at 21:44

    It appears that Republicans have been trying, and in some cases succeeding, in packing state supreme courts for years:

    While I agree that court packing is a banana republic type solution, unilateral disarmament is rarely a good idea. It’s certainly isn’t a good idea in the case of the escalating violation of norms concerning Supreme Court appointments.

  33. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. October 2020 at 21:45

    Nick, Your comment was so absurd that I saw no reason to respond. If you want a response, then don’t write nonsense.

    Rajat, Yes, I’ve heard that both ways, but not Mary.

  34. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. October 2020 at 21:47

    Michael, Even if you believe in tit-for-tat, that’s not an argument for escalation. At best it’s an argument for doing the same thing. (And even that is an infantile argument.)

  35. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    12. October 2020 at 21:55

    Under that condition that hunter was hired as an attempt to influence Biden – while Biden can’t block his son from taking the job it seems perfectly reasonable to me that he should heavily encouraged his son not to take the job or once aware that his son took the job he could have told Ukraine to order his son fired. Maybe the job didn’t lead to influence on the administration but normal people recuse themselves from those conflicts of interests.

  36. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    12. October 2020 at 22:32


    Would you apply an insulting description like “infantile” to tit-for-tat in evolutionary psychology, or game theory? Tit-for-tat evolved naturally as one strategy for a reason.

    Or, more likely, this is just an “infantile” application?

    Unless I missed it, you haven’t provided an alternative, other than “elections”. Well, you’re likely aware that Republicans have been suppressing Democratic votes for decades in many states. How does one deal with, what is often essentially election rigging?

    I’m open to being convinced that there’s a better solution, but you haven’t offered one, unless I missed it. I also think you’re overreacting, as my approach is with the aim of cutting a deal to establish a new, fair norm with regard to appointing Supreme Court judges.

  37. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    12. October 2020 at 23:51


    Perhaps you could make your concerns more explicit. What is the way by which packing the court as part of seeking a deal make things worse? Is it by making some more cynical, reducing resistance to more banana republican behavior?

    If the Democratic threat to both win the control necessary to pack the Court, and the willingness to do so were sufficiently credible, then McConnell would understand that the current effort to rush another convervstive justice

  38. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    12. October 2020 at 23:59

    “Trump Is The Most Crooked President in American History. That Should Matter.”

  39. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    13. October 2020 at 00:03

    ‘Hunter Biden: Republicans release report on Joe Biden’s son
    Hunter Biden’s lucrative work at a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice-president was “problematic”, a report by Republican senators says.’
    But it found no evidence that US foreign policy was influenced by it.”

  40. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    13. October 2020 at 00:08

    onto the court would be in vain. There would then be only the possible political benefit, which would be to motivate voters during the election.

    But, if the Republican voters are sufficiently rational, and thought they would lose the White House and Senate, and trust the court packing threat is credible, they shouldn’t care to have a conservative judge rushed onto the Court either.

    It is rational to believe the Democrats have somewhere near a 50% chance of taking the Senate and White House, at least. Trending numbers suggest the odds are increasingly better than that.

    So, Republican voters could be mistaken about the election odds, Democrats’ willingness to pack the Court, or both. Or, they could be correct that Democrats are bluffing.

    I think packing the Court will make everyone realize that these games over Supreme Court and lower court appointments are pointless, and we can replace the old, ignored unwritten norms with formal legislation to specify a fair, non-partisan process for selecting federal judges.

  41. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    13. October 2020 at 00:18

    To be even more explicit, the goal with this tit-for-tat is to mutually neutralize any advantages to continuing the banana republican behavior. Assuming we continue to have a very evenly divided electorate, both sides would have ample opportunity to pack courts, neutralizing any sustainable advantage, leaving only the undesirable side effects.

    Again, the whole point, is to leave no alternative, but to cut a permanent deal.

  42. Gravatar of Nick S Nick S
    13. October 2020 at 03:26

    Scott – Please enlighten me with the so called “absurdity” of my comment… or do you not have an answer?

  43. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. October 2020 at 05:34

    Map game was fun. It nailed it for me. I have lived within 30 miles or closer to NYC for 90% of my life including now. So it is not surprising that is the darkest red. I have light yellow for where I went to undergrad in upstate NY. I lived a year in Williamsburg VA, but it is blue. But NC and SC are light yellow. I have spent more time in those states outside of my own state. But also have light yellow in La., Al, and MS. I assume they sound like NC and SC. The rest of the country is basically all blue.

    RE: banana republic topics.

    Supreme Court——Not sure what “problem” you are solving. If you think you are reducing randomness of which party chooses, I would think again. It is a neat smoothing structure but not sure what it accomplishes. Why 18 versus Any other number? I could understand an age limit, but I never recall age being something that was considered a problem.

    Not sure why declassifying documents is banana republic. I know this view is not designed against Trump—-but still don’t see why president cannot do this.

    Yes, forcing DOJ to indict is like a banana republic action. Except, Trump is not doing that. He is saying he wants them to do that. It is a political statement—-if he forces Barr and Durham, I will change my view——but he won’t.

  44. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. October 2020 at 05:42

    Question on map game for Scott

    Do you know if the answer (for example, I am dark yellow/red for NYC) is an “absolute” measure, or a relative measure? For example, on each individual answer, very few were that color—-so if 24 of my answers were Nowhere, and 1 was in NY would the color be the same as if 25 of my answers were in NY?

  45. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. October 2020 at 05:48

    More Supreme Court

    Also, people do not die on schedule

  46. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    13. October 2020 at 07:52

    OT – WSJ reports negative interest rates are currently dead as an idea, since banks are shown to actually lend less with negative interest rates than lend more. What does Sumner think of negative interest rates? From a blog post from August 2019 Sumner says: “here’s nothing wrong with central banks paying negative interest rates on bank reserves.” What a surprise, Sumner is wrong.

  47. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. October 2020 at 08:32

    Sean, Perhaps he did discourage his son. In any case, it seems like a pretty minor issue to me. I’d focus on the Trump administration, where lots of actual policy decisions favored people that poured money into Trump’s business empire. That Ukrainian utility is small potatoes, and there were no specific accusations of corruption. But yes, there is the appearance of impropriety on Hunter’s part.

    Michael Sandifer, Yes, I think it’s infantile to argue that because someone else took a corrupt step, a person should respond with an even more corrupt step. I don’t even favor responding in kind, but that’s at least defensible.

    Nick, You said Trump was trying to reduce corruption, whereas he is by far the most corrupt president in history.

    Michael Rulle, I don’t know.

    Ray, LOL. You go advise the ECB to raise interest rates up to zero. Tell them that it will give a boost to the stock markets, promote recovery.

  48. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    13. October 2020 at 09:21

    Re Court packing, here’s an interesting take from 538

    Basically the thesis is that the Court has institutional capital that they rarely risk by being too out of step with the public. Which is why Roberts has become a swing vote who often votes with the liberals on the court.

    Also, just the threat of Court packing FDR made got justices to start voting more in line with what he and the public preferred at the time. So maybe the Dems can just threaten to pack it and the justices will adjust accordingly.

    I suspect even if they do get the WH and Senate, they won’t immediately try to pack it. They’ll see how the Court votes on key issues before unveiling the threat.

  49. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    13. October 2020 at 09:36


    Your idea of 18 year terms with a new justice voted in every 2 years is outstanding. Clears up pretty much this entire problem.

    So it’ll of course never happen, too reasonable.

  50. Gravatar of Dale Doback Dale Doback
    13. October 2020 at 09:47

    An apolitical judiciary is probably a good thing and used to be the norm. One of the parties decided to break that norm and apply ideological tests to screen/block nominees. Court packing is essentially the same thing, but done over a shorter time frame and requiring both chambers and the presidency, instead of just the presidency and the Senate. To get back to a nonpartisan judiciary we need reform, such as rotating term limits or a completely new nomination process. Court packing, or the threat of, is a step toward initiating compromise reform. Saying the Dems should do nothing and just accept the state of things reminds me of commentators that say the Fed should stop doing “unconventional” monetary policy like QE and should just accept that they are out of ammo. We cannot rely on norms; we need reform.

  51. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. October 2020 at 09:57

    Dale, You said:

    “One of the parties decided to break that norm”

    One?!?!? Don’t you mean both?

    You said:

    “Saying the Dems should do nothing and just accept the state of things”

    I never said they should do nothing.

  52. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    13. October 2020 at 10:36

    Scott, you suggested elections as the cure for the Republicans Supreme Court actions. A good idea, but the problem with that is the court is already acting to make it harder for elections to be effective.

    For example, gutting the Voting Rights Act, allowing extreme gerrymandering, upholding Florida’s effectively disenfranchising former felons (Fla voters restored the vote to felons by a large majority, the Fla legislature effectively nullified that, the Supreme Court upheld the nullification).

    The Electoral College and Senate structure gives small states disproportionate power. The Republicans currently control the Presidency and Senate despite millions more people voting for Democrats. Layer in the Supreme Court voiding legislation to protect voting and allowing states to mess with voting rights (gerrymandering, limiting polling places in Democratic strongholds, etc., etc.) and elections become much harder. Trump is openly talking about the Supreme Court stopping vote counts so he will win, whatever the voters might want.

    Given more time for states to mess with voting rights and a Supreme Court upholding those action, majority rule could easily become a distant memory.

  53. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    13. October 2020 at 10:39

    I’ll add, do you remember why FDR threatened to pack the Court? It wasn’t because the Court was allowing those who won elections to pass legislation.

  54. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    13. October 2020 at 11:00


    Okay, well if your goal was to convince supporters of packing the Court that they’re wrong, do you think you’ve achieved that goal?

    If control of the White House and Senate continue to change party control frequently, Democrats should just follow the old norms and allow Republicans to make more appointments to the Supreme Court than otherwise
    as a result?

    I can only guess that you’re not trying to convince anyone, in which case I’m the fool for wasting my time in the comments on this post.

  55. Gravatar of Nick S Nick S
    13. October 2020 at 12:32

    Scott – in response to why my prior comment was “absurd” and not deserving of a response, you said “Nick, You said Trump was trying to reduce corruption, whereas he is by far the most corrupt president in history.”

    This logically makes zero sense. For arguments sake, let us assume Trump is corrupt… this does not imply that he is incapable of taking action, such as declassification, intended to reduce corruption. This is like saying “Bob is a thief, therefore, he cannot take action to prevent further theft.”

    You AGAIN refuse to address the point that a policy of declassification is capable of exposing past corruption and inhibiting future potential corruption, regardless of who is ordering the declassification.

  56. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. October 2020 at 16:10

    foosion, Yes, I know all about why FDR wanted to pack the court; it’s the Democratic pundits that seem ignorant of history. FDR’s proposal was one of the most shameful actions of his administration, along with the internment of Japanese-Americans. Fortunately, even the Dems in Congress couldn’t stomach it. I believe Biden’s got enough common sense to avoid this mistake.

    And you don’t have to convince me of how evil the GOP is, I’ve been saying the same thing for 4 years.

    Michael, Court packing is a disgrace, and I’m not going to waste a lot of time on the issue. I did a post on it a while back, and have little more to add. If Trump were court packing you’d be saying it’s evil. If an action is wrong for one party, it’s also wrong for the other.

    Nick, Trump has spent 4 years hiding information from the public, often in blatant violation of the law. And now you say he’s trying to be transparent? LOL.

  57. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    13. October 2020 at 22:57


    Trump has publicly said he’ll pack the Court if he wins, and court packing has already been a Republican approach for years in some states.

    Your assumption that I have some bias that means I’d be inconsistent on the Court packing issue due to partisanship is utterly without merit. Point to the evidence for such a bias if you disagree.

    You seem to be completely ignoring the fact that I’ve repeatedly said that I support packing the Supreme Court in this single instance as a means to an end, not as an end itself. It is toward the end of ensuring a stalemate by neutralizing the advantages of further norm breaking, thus creating incentives for Republicans to agree to a deal. The idea is to have a fair, bipartisan method, enshrined in formal written Senate rules, for approving future nominees.

    Given your reactions to my comments, I’m tempted to conclude that you’re not reading my comments in their entirety, and/or are not reading them carefully.

    It’s fine to disagree, but to be so dismissive of a perspective while throwing out completely unsupported allegations of bias is worse than lazy. It’s uncivil and it’s arguing in bad faith, even if somewhat inadvertently.

    You get so frustrated when people misread you or fail to take your comments in their proper context. Well, it doesn’t feel good to the rest of us either.

    The fact is, I can post plenty of links here to arguments by legal scholars who specialize in this area and support Democrats packing the Court. Many do so, even in absence of seeking a deal to establish more functional norms going forward. To be so dismissive of such arguments within a field in which you’re not expert is arrogant, to put it mildly.

    And you still haven’t answered the question, unless I missed it, of how to invent Republicans to come to the table and agree to end the escalation of norm violations without neutralizing the advantage of such behavior?

  58. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    14. October 2020 at 05:07

    Scott, again, you suggest elections are the answer at a time when the Supreme Court is limiting voting rights and supporting the ability of voting minorities to achieve and maintain political control.

  59. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. October 2020 at 08:46

    Michael, You said:

    “To be so dismissive of such arguments within a field in which you’re not expert is arrogant, to put it mildly.”

    Who has more expertise on court packing than I do? What does it mean to be an expert on court packing? How doe sone acquire such expertise? Are you an expert? If not, why such strong views?

    You said:

    “And you still haven’t answered the question, unless I missed it, of how to invent Republicans to come to the table and agree to end the escalation of norm violations without neutralizing the advantage of such behavior?”

    I don’t have solutions to America’s problems, other than that the entire country should stop acting like a bunch of assholes. And that’s not likely to happen. But not having solutions doesn’t mean I have to support proposals that would make the problems even worse. If Biden makes the threat, he’ll have to carry out the threat. The GOP is not going to stop this train before the election.

    foosion. I meant Senate elections. The Senate is not gerrymandered, unless you consider the Constitution to be gerrymandering. And the Supreme Court has nothing to say about that. So I don’t see your point.

    You say elections are a hopeless solution. That’s sort of an odd claim to make 20 days before an election that both polls and betting market suggest will be a blue wave. I’m not saying it will be, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

    My view is that both parties are nominating bad people to the Supreme Court, biased people. Judges should be impartial, and not let their personal policy preferences determine their votes. So I don’t view the GOP as uniquely evil on this issue.

    And why is RBG viewed as such a great person? She selfishly refused to retire when Obama was president, despite health problems and old age. A party can overcome only so much incompetence. If the Dems keep shooting themselves in the foot, then the court will trend to the right.

  60. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    14. October 2020 at 13:23


    You replied:

    “Who has more expertise on court packing than I do? What does it mean to be an expert on court packing? How doe sone acquire such expertise? Are you an expert? If not, why such strong views?”

    Experts include historians, legal/Constitutional scholars, and political scientists who’ve formally focused research on court packing or similar issues.

    For example, here’s a paper by a legal scholar who argues that the fact the Constitution allows for court packing is a feature intended by the founders, not a bug:

    Also, here’s a recent article in The Atlantic arguing for Democrats packing the Supreme Court, both of whom write for Lawfare:

    And then there are empirical studies by political scientists who study phenomena such as court packing and related issues from an international/historical perspective.

    I don’t recall you referencing a literature review on the topic, so to be so dismissive as to refer to an idea such as mine as “infantile” really displays a lack of thoughtfulness on your part that’s disappointing, because it is typically rare.

    You also replied:

    “I don’t have solutions to America’s problems, other than that the entire country should stop acting like a bunch of assholes. And that’s not likely to happen. But not having solutions doesn’t mean I have to support proposals that would make the problems even worse. If Biden makes the threat, he’ll have to carry out the threat. The GOP is not going to stop this train before the election.”

    Much wisdom in the old saying “Good fences makes for good neighbors.” is also present in tit-for-tat arguments, when applied properly, in appropriate contexts. The point of my proposal is not tit-for-tat, but to neutralize norm breaking for political advantage when it comes to appointing judges. However, I think the Democrats should more generally engage in tit-for-tat, in order to help keep Republicans in line and maintain more even political competition.

    And contrary to your untrue statement about me, if Democrats in the Senate had denied a Republican President a judicial appointment, I would favor Republicans packing the Court to put an end to that kind of behavior. I actually want political competition. I remember what the Democratic Party became before 1994, when they were the dominate party going back to FDR. It wasn’t pretty.

  61. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    14. October 2020 at 14:22


    how can one be so blind and so biased. Scott has basically already explained it. Court packing would completely dismantle the Supreme Court. The US would no longer have three different branches.

    This is not comparable to the hard political battles that have been fought so far. It would have a completely new quality. It would indeed be an action like in a banana republic.

    Not to mention that it makes no strategic sense whatsoever, because as soon as this taboo is broken, the opposite side will act in exactly the same way. Not only are you blind and biased, you are also strategically unwise.

    Or as a famous Frenchman once said: What you propose in your blindness is worse than a crime, it is a strategic mistake.


    what is your problem, seriously. The US is facing a blue wave like hardly ever before and you talk about elections that can’t be won. That’s exactly what’s wrong in the US: Each side is without any respect, insatiable in its quest for power, and even if you guys control Congress, Senate, and the Presidency, it’s still not enough for you.

    Why don’t you just enshrine it into law, that your favorite side must control all three branches for the next 1000 years, and then forever. Just stop elections altogether. Why the effort? Why the pretense? If this blue wave is not enough for you, then nothing ever will be.

  62. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    14. October 2020 at 15:28

    Christian List,

    You don’t seem to understand my proposal.

    And it doesn’t matter that packing the court would be a banana republic move. It would also be a banana republic move for the military to restore democratic government in Venezuela. Would that make it undesirable? Would it have been undesirable for the military to have stepped in and prevented Maduro from usurping the properly elected legislature in the first place?

  63. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    14. October 2020 at 16:30


    There isn’t going to be a blue wave, partly due to Republican voter suppression.

  64. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. October 2020 at 09:05

    Michael, I looked at the first paper you linked to, and it’s basically useless. The Constitution allows for court packing? Who knew?

    If you have some experts who have studied whether court packing is wise, by all means send me the research. I am well aware that it is legal.

    An actual expert would be interested in how court packing was used in other countries as a way of moving toward a more authoritarian government. The paper you link to only looks at US history.

  65. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    16. October 2020 at 11:54

    @Christian: I was going to say bubbler as well but others beat me to it. Also a lot of divides, your Wisconsin one a great example, have to do with immigration pushes as well hence you will see a rural/urban divide as the new folk move out to the countryside. I grew up in Milwaukee and have never heard a single one of your “Wisconsin” sayings out “Fleet Farm” but that is more because it’s a local retail chain (i.e. Rite Aid v. Walgreens), ditto the geographic references every local has such as “West side, Out West, Up North, etc”.

    That said there is def, to your Scandinavian point, a divide the farther north and west you go towards Minnesota / Canada. The Milwaukee to Madison axis is much more German/Polish (i.e. S/SE Wisconsin) whereas my relatives once you hit Appleton to me sound like Fargo. I assume a similar thing between Seattle and Washington far east or how NYC sounds different than, well the rest of NY.

    @Scott: I know you and Nick are going at it but his point stands generally speaking as in what is your objection to “openly ordering direct immediate government action against specific opponents”. All politics is that except it’s usually done in the cloak room. As far as I can tell (not saying you but I think you lean this way) the thing people hate about Trump the most isn’t his behavior as in actions but simply the fact he doesn’t do it tactfully or behind closed doors. Your local county prosecutor is making decisions on which cases to prosecute for example based on political considerations about elections, budgets, etc. Should he not prosecute his opponent for spousal abuse simply because they might have a tight election at some point? Don’t like discretion, fix that.

    Because the inverse here is what we are saying is “political opponents are free to engage in crimes because prosecuting them would be undemocratic”. I think our prisons systems are chalked full already of politicians wielding politically power for personal gain via arbitrary use of discretion, just against those that can’t fight back. Is what bothers you really that the gilded class is also being targeted? I was bothered Obama didn’t imprison large parts of the previous administration and I was bothered Trump didn’t do the same to Obama’s administration. Ditto Clinton, Bush, Reagon, etc. The world would be a better place if each new administration spend the first year jailing criminals who held power in the previous administration complete with permanent bars to future Federal employment plus using the full weight of that power to go after their existing political rivals. To quote the old point Arnold Klink said about legamorons, you fix bad laws via absolute enforcement and legal abuse of discretion.

  66. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    19. October 2020 at 22:45


    I haven’t been able to find much research on the topic vis-a-vis actual banana republics, because studying the judiciaries in such countries seems to be a relatively new field, with complicated questions.

    The real point though is that I didn’t belittle your perspective. If you’re going to belittle a perspective, I think it’s reasonable to at least have expertise in the subject. If the expertise isn’t highly developed yet, that would seem to be a reason for some humility, at least to me.

    But again, the mistake here is mine, because I just realized that some of these political posts are just rants, and that rational discussion isn’t really the goal. I didn’t take your warnings about reading these posts literal enough.

Leave a Reply