Local Candidate Information Guides

Resources–Positive and Negative–for filling out your Primary Ballot this weekend.

Your Washington State Primary Election ballot must be put in a Drop Box or postmarked by 8PM August 2, this coming Tuesday, for it to be counted. If you haven’t done your homework or you’re stuck deciding for whom to vote, here’s some help. (If you’ve already turned in your ballot, go to vote.wa.govand check under My Ballot/Ballot Status to see that your ballot has been received and accepted.)

First, understand that you are not required to vote for a candidate in every race. A race in which you do not cast a vote is counted as an “undervote.” If you’re stuck after checking out the available resources, don’t let that keep you from turning in your ballot. There is no penalty for incomplete homework. (Undervotes can be seen tallied in each race on the final Certification Documents in the Election Archives at the SpokaneCounty.org website.)

My personal favorite resource for candidate recommendations is the Progressive Voters’ Guide. It provides reasoned analysis of candidate qualifications in many, but not all, races. Here’s the link: progressivevotersguide.com

The League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area, a non-partisan organization, has a website (click on the name) with a lot of good voter information and candidate forums on video. They are a bit time-consuming to watch, but they offer a pretty clear idea of the preparation of the candidates who participate. Candidates are not provided with the questions ahead of the forum (although a well-prepared candidate would likely have a pretty good idea what might be asked).

Spokane Valley Speaks podcasts with Al Merkel offers extensive interviews with many candidates. In some cases the lack of an interview speaks volumes. For example, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton sat for a two episodes that offered extensive detail on what the Auditor does. But, as stated on the website with the Vicky Dalton interviews, “Candidate Bob McCaslin, also running for Auditor, was invited to interview as well. He initially agreed but withdrew after receiving the questions which were the same as those used for this interview.” It is hard not to assume that he was afraid his ignorance of the Auditor’s job would be exposed.

WeBelieveWeVote.com (WBWV) can also be useful. It seems to me that a higher percentage of candidates than usual are listed as “DID NOT RESPOND”. Considering the slanted Survey statements and the fact that some like myself now use this website mostly to decide for whom NOT to vote, not responding might be politically wise for some candidates who might otherwise score well with WBWV. (Bob McCaslin for County Auditor and Michael Cathcart for County Commissioner District 2 might be in that category, for example. Neither responded to WBWV.)

The “We Believe” part of WBWV’s name deserves some scrutiny. A candidate who indicates complete agreement (a 10 out of 10 rating) with the usual first statement on WBWV’s Survey, “The Holy Bible is the supernatural, inspired Word of God; it is inerrant, supreme, complete, and final” is self identifying as a Fundamentalist Christian. Biblical inerrancy implies belief in a literal seven day Creation, Noah’s Flood, End Times predictions, etc. that preclude acceptance (and understanding) of much of modern biology, geology, and climate science. Many practicing, highly moral Christians do not subscribe to Biblical inerrancy and the world view it implies. No one, especially Christians who are not of a Fundamentalist stripe, of whom I know many, should assume that the WBWV expresses universal Christian values. Make no assumptions about shared belief.

However, if you’re stuck making a decision in a race where all the candidates are of one party checking out WBWV may be helpful. For example, see the Spokane County Commissioner Race in the new County Commissioner District 4 (SE Spokane County). All three candidates responded to the questionnaire and all three get a 98% or above “alignment rating”. Don’t stop with just the alignment rating. Be sure to click “View Survey Responses.” There you can read the comments the candidate submitted. To my reading, Mary Kuney offers by far and away the most reasoned commentary (See question 12, for example). The other two are only interested in demonstrating their far right, Fundamentalist Christian bona fides. 

Properly used, WBWV offers useful information.

At one time or another I have written about and offered links to information about many of the candidates in this election. Visit the blog archives at jxindivisible.org and type a name into the Search box to see what comes up.

Do your homework. Fill out your ballot and drop it in a Drop Box this weekend. Avoid the rush! (If you need a Drop Box recommendation go to vote.wa.gov and click “Ballot Drop Boxes and Voting Centers for an interactive map.)

Keep to the high ground,


Contraception and “Our” Representative

Lies and twisted words to avoid commitment

In 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut the U.S. Supreme Court, based largely on a “right to privacy” rooted in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution, ruled that married couples in the U.S. are guaranteed the liberty to buy and use contraceptives without federal or state government restriction. The Griswold decision struck down a Connecticut State law that prohibited any person from using “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception”. Most of us today can barely imagine a state in which it was illegal to buy and use contraception—but so it was. Before Griswold there was a hodgepodge of federal and state laws known as the “Comstock laws,” some of which went so far as to make it a crime even to pass along information about contraception (First Amendment violation, anyone?). (Note that the bulk of these laws were voted into place by men before women acquired the right to vote under the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.)

The right to privacy, upon which the constitutional logic of Griswold depends, was just thrown out by the rightwing U.S. Supreme Court majority in the recent Dobbs decision. In his concurring opinion Justice Thomas could hardly conceal his delight at the prospect of “revisiting” Griswold now that the Court has declared that no constitutional right to privacy exists.

Having gleefully trashed the constitutional right to privacy upon which we have relied for half a century, one might hope that even Republicans might move swiftly to reassure us that the government will still somehow be kept out of our bedrooms and out of our other of most intimate decisions. On the contrary, they have voted overwhelmingly against all attempts to federally codify any of these rights. (See P.S.)

“Our” eastern Washington Representative to the U.S. House, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, rose to speak on the floor of the House against H.R. 8373, the Contraception Access Bill. As standard bearer of Republican catch-phrases, McMorris Rodgers did not disappoint.

Read the actual text of H.R. 8373, where we find the bill’s definition of contraception, that which the law means to protect:

(1) CONTRACEPTION.—The term “contraception” means an action taken to prevent pregnancy, including the use of contraceptives or fertility-awareness based methods, and sterilization procedures.

I don’t know how the definition could be more clear. 

In her floor speech McMorris Rodgers first whines that Democrats didn’t “work with her” in drafting of the bill. Was she denied input from the floor? Was she prevented from casting a vote on amendments? Then she breathlessly declares that the bill “opens the door further to extreme abortion on demand and their [Democrats] agenda”. She invokes Planned Parenthood and claims, without evidence, that the bill allows “…drugs to be used for abortions without restrictions.” She whines that Democrats provided a definition of contraception that is “not limited to FDA approved products”. A true statement, but totally off-point: fertility-awareness methods certainly do not require any approval from the FDA. She rambles on to a claim that the bill would require “the Little Sisters of the Poor” to violate their religion and provide contraception. Pure horse manure. McMorris Rodgers is fully aware (and later says) that these “Little Sisters” already have a litigated and acknowledged constitutional right to refuse, a fact that makes any supposed “requirement” entirely moot. She reaches her crescendo with:

“Democrats are conflating the issues of abortion and contraception to promote unrestricted abortion for all nine months of pregnancy! Contraception is fundamentally different than abortion!”

McMorris Rodgers’ own conflation of contraception with abortion and her invocation of every anti-abortion buzz phrase she knows to explain why she opposes contraception is a shameless display of political poppycock.

In this spectacle on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives I see a woman devoid of intellectual honesty using dishonest, manipulative, anti-abortion catch phrases to excuse herself and her Republican compatriots from voting to safeguard access to contraception. Furthermore, given her Fundamentalist belief system, her devotion to Republicanism as a team sport, and her prior lack of direct sponsorship of any significant bills, I have zero confidence that she will make good on her claim that she will move to codify access to contraception. 

Words are cheap. Legislative action requires a level of initiative, commitment, and collegial cajoling I cannot remember McMorris Rodgers ever demonstrating. 

Vote her out of office before she further trashes our rights.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives promptly voted “Nay” nearly en masse to all efforts to federally protect any of the rights once based on the right to privacy. Heather Cox Richardson offered a tally. McMorris Rodgers cast a “Nay” vote on all four bills:

In the House, Republicans voted against federal protection of an individual’s right to choose whether to continue or end a pregnancy and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services: 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 99% of House Republicans. [H.R. 8296]

They voted against the right to use contraception: 195 out of 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 96% of House Republicans. [H.R. 8373]

They voted against marriage equality: 157 out of 204 Republicans voted no; 7 didn’t vote. That’s 77% of House Republicans. [H.R. 8404]

They voted against a bill guaranteeing a woman’s right to travel across state lines to obtain abortion services: 205 out of 208 Republicans voted no; 3 didn’t vote. That’s 97% of House Republicans. [H.R. 8297]

Ballot Processing

As seen by an official observer

On July 6th I wrote a plea to my readers for volunteers to serve as Spokane County Election Observers for the Democratic Party. I was immensely pleased to hear yesterday that seventy of the readers of this email responded, a number that should sufficient to fill out all the time slots. Spokane County’s (and Washington State’s) ballot handling system is already processing ballots mailed in for the August 2 Primary Election deadline. Today I want to pass along the experience of one of the observers, Dan Simonson, after his first session of observing the process of ballot handling:

I signed up as an election observer with the Democratic Party.  I then attended a 1-hour class at the Spokane County Elections center at 1033 W Gardner Ave.  The center is in a completely nondescript industrial-looking building that also houses the Public Defenders office and a few others.

The class went over the whole process of securing the election integrity, which was pretty impressive!  I had no idea the lengths to which they go to make sure that not only is every ballot counted, but that there are always at least _two_ people involved any time a ballot or a ballot envelope is touched.  Log sheets, signed off by the staff, accompany each batch of ballots, and security is pretty tight.

Once I had taken the class, and signed an attestation form, I was good to go to become an observer.

Friday at 8:30 am I showed up for my 2-hour shift.  I had to sign in and obtain a badge on a lanyard, the badge had my name on it and “Democrat” in blue at the bottom.

There were three of us, two Democrats and one Republican.  Another Republican came later.  We were escorted in to the first stage area.  This is where the ballot envelopes are handled.

Sorting Ballot Envelopes and Capturing Signatures

The ballots are delivered in bulk from the Post Office and ballot boxes.  They sit in bins of about 200, not sorted at all. I sat behind a dividing rope and observed the ballot envelope sorter.  An amazing machine.  Reminded me of visiting the Coca-Cola bottling plant when I was a kid (rumor had it that if you watched long enough, they would give you a free coke – I watched a _long_ time before getting one!)

The worker set up the machine by running a test envelope through.  It is one long conveyor belt-type of operation, but the envelopes are fed in, one at a time, vertically (standing up, not flat) and they then run by a camera that does two things: it reads the bar code containing your name and address and legislative district, and takes a photo of your signature.  I would say that when running, two – three ballot envelopes a second pass by the camera.

Right after the camera, there are a bunch of bins lining the belt on either side.  There are bins for each Legislative District (LDs 3, 4, and 6 and parts of LDs 7 & 9), one for the “no signature” envelopes (more on those later) and one for errors, such as a blurry bar code or some other defect.  A gate clicks open to intercept an appropriate ballot envelope, and you watch them pile up quickly. Once the batch is run through, the worker fills in a piece of paper with information from the computer screen attached to the machine, which gives the batch number, the number of ballot envelopes, etc.  He signed it and put it in a tray, which was then taken by another worker and the info entered into another computer.

One interesting point: these folks take their work very seriously.  At the machine were TWO workers.  At one point, the one guy needed to get some gloves, and had to call the supervisor over to relieve him so that the other guy wouldn’t be left alone with the ballot envelopes.  No funny business.

Once the ballot envelopes are run through for the “first pass”, the “no signature” envelopes are taken away (about 2 – 5 for each run of 200, it seemed) and those voters are notified by mail that they need to sign the ballot, I can’t tell you how it works beyond that.

Signature Verification

Here’s a very cool thing:  Every single ballot envelope signature is then verified.  Prior to this, I had imagined that signature verification was done randomly, using some pre-determined random sampling scheme.  Nope.  Every signature is looked at by a worker and compared to your “signature on file”, which can be either the signature on your voter registration form or the signature on your driver license.  

Here’s how that works.  I was escorted over to the signature verification area, where there were 4 workers gazing at two computer screens each.  I could watch what they were seeing on monitors placed in front of the observers for that purpose.  Each monitor displays the signature area and the names of 4 ballot envelopes horizontally across the screen.  Below the signature captured on the ballot envelope photo (by the previous machine, see above) are displayed not only the signatures on file for that person, but also the signatures on file for anyone else at that address! So if there is a discrepancy, they can try to figure out if it was signed by another member of the voters’ family, I guess.

Upon visual inspection, the worker decides whether to accept the signature or reject it.  There were some great examples of “judgment calls”, and all rejected signatures are then examined by the supervisor and handled somehow.  

Ballot Handling

After signature verification, the ballot batches are recounted (to account for losses in the signature verification process, etc.) and the count noted again.  

Important: Up to this point, the ballots have not left their envelopes.  All of this processing is done on the envelopes.  At the next station, the ballots that have passed inspection (signatures that match, readable barcodes, etc.) are removed from their envelopes and stacked together, ready for the next step, the actual counting.  At this point, however, my shift was up, so I never got to see the ballot counting machine, which was in a separate room with lots of windows looking in, but locked tight.  

So there you have it – hopefully I will get to see the ballot counter on my next shift, but I have signed up for morning shifts so I may miss it.  Anyone out there lucky enough to see the ballot counter working, let us know!

Dan Simonson

I’m looking forward to a later observer report on the efforts made to “cure” the envelopes with questionable signatures (or other errors) before the envelopes are opened and the ballots separated from their envelopes and the anonymized ballot sent to the counting machine.

Keep to the high ground,


WA Secretary of State

Another argument for RCV

There are eight candidates on the primary ballot for Washington State Secretary of State, two Democrats (including the recently appointed incumbent, a former legislator, Steve Hobbs, and Marquez Tiggs who strongly advocates for the state to go back to in person voting); one Nonpartisan, Julie Anderson; one who “Prefers America First (R) Party”; one who “Prefers Union Party”; and three who identify simply as Republicans.

The office of Secretary of State has drawn a lot of interest as a position of importance to the conduct of elections as the Republican Party continues to ride the discredited claims of election fraud of a certain former President. Those riding the discredited claims all identify themselves by terms like “restoring election integrity” or “restoring voter confidence in elections” while quietly admitting that they don’t believe that widespread voter fraud occurs in Washington State. They want to ride Trump’s Big Lie into the office of Secretary of State to fix a system they admit isn’t broken. Worse, they propose expensive new overriding audits without offering an intelligent analysis of how the current Washington State elections system even works. 

No one on the August 2nd Primary ballot, except long term Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, has significant experience in elections administration.

In statewide elections in Washington State Democratic incumbents (even if freshly appointed) tend to have an electoral edge. Considering that, it seems likely that Steve Hobbs will gain one of the two “top-two” primary positions to appear on the November General Election ballot. 

I want to see Julie Anderson as a strong “top two” primary finisher. 

  • As Pierce County’s Auditor, Julie brings more than a decade of experience running fair, transparent elections, and she is the only candidate in this race with elections experience.
  • She’s endorsed by the bulk of our state’s County Auditors – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. Auditors are the people who run our elections; they know Julie, and they have confidence in her leadership.
  • She’s running as a nonpartisan, because she is committed to keeping politics out of elections. (In Pierce Co. the County Auditor is a non-partisan position—Pierce is a “home rule charter county”.)
  • And Julie Anderson supports ranked-choice voting (read Julie’s RCV issue paper). As the only candidate in this race with experience as an election official, she is the only candidate who has considered how Ranked Choice Voting would be properly implemented if voters chose to adopt RCV (as they have in Maine and Alaska, and may soon do so in Seattle).

Ironically, if we had already adopted Ranked Choice Voting, voting for Secretary of State in this August Primary Election second-guessing one’s voting strategy would not be required. With RCV I would simply rank Julie Anderson #1 and Steve Hobbs #2, confident that my votes would not support unqualified candidates. 

Keep to the high ground,


RCV and the Prosecutor

Strategic Voting and Self-fulfilling Prophecy

In Washington State elected county prosecuting attorney (aka “the county prosecutor”) sets the tone for the criminal justice system in that county. In Spokane County, the fourth largest county by population among the 39 counties of the State of Washington, the County Prosecuting Attorney presides over a department consisting of 66 attorneys, 66 support staff and 7 victim-witness staff members. The salary of the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney is $199,675.00, the same as a Superior Court Judge, higher than any other Spokane County elected official.

Incumbent Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell has drawn a lot of criticism—and three challengers in the August 2 Primary Election. A lot of the criticism arises from the persistent freely offered white nationalist opinions of his wife, Lesley, expressed on Gab and elsewhere. Daniel Walters, writing in the Inlander in January provides details. The flap over Lesley’s comments and her hobnobbing with the Proud Boys started soon after Mr. Haskell was first elected from the ranks of the Prosecutor’s Office in 2014. (For an extended sampling of the controversy click here for The Inlander and here for the Spokesman Review.)

Respectable Republicans in Spokane County might shake their heads at Lesley and Larry’s attendance at a fundraiser for Matt Shea’s “Liberty State” and for Mr. Haskell’s approving comments concerning Shea’s thinly disguised attempt to cleave eastern Washington off into a separate state dominated by theocrats like himself. 

Less noticed, Larry Haskell has opposed criminal justice reformbacked dissolution of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council, and elaborately (and incorrectlyargues that considering “racial equity” is not permitted in our legal system. All that suggests, contrary to Haskell’s protestations, that he shares his wife’s opinions—but carefully cloaks his opinions in legalese. 

What to do when you have such an incumbent running the Prosecutor’s office? Vote him out—but that requires a challenger with the chops to beat Haskell in the November General Election, a candidate who makes it through the August 2 Primary, the race for which you have now have a ballot (if you live anywhere in Spokane County).

We have three candidates running against Haskell, two Republicans, Stephanie Olsen, a 47-year-old assistant state attorney general who formerly worked under Haskell; Stefanie Collins, a 55-year-old longtime deputy prosecuting attorney still working in Haskell’s office; and one non-partisan, Deb Conklin, a 69-year-old United Methodist pastor and former deputy prosecutor in Clallam County, Washington. 

Here’s where my wish for Ranked Choice Voting comes in. If I could rank my choices for our August Primary Election I would list Deb Conklin #1, Stephanie Olsen #2, Stefanie Collins, #3, and leave #4 blank. After spending nearly an hour listening to an April interview with Deb Conklin on Range Media last evening I am convinced she has the skill, commitment, and experience to manage the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office wisely and justly. 

I took the time to watch the League of Women Voters of Spokane 2022 Prosecuting Attorney Candidates Forum on youtube. I wish that a majority of other voters would do the same. At the forum the candidates have no foreknowledge of the questions to be asked, so the forum is a test of thinking on one’s seat. Deb Conklin expressed my hope for the prosecutor’s office very clearly. Mr. Haskell quoted laws and regulations, seeming to suggest that current prosecutor practice offers little room for discretion. I do not find him believable. Ms. Olsen (currently working in the WA State Attorney General’s office) struggled to express herself. She might make a great county prosecutor, but, sadly, she did not come across as well-prepared or comfortable fielding the questions asked. Ms. Collins (currently working in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s office) was better spoken. Ms. Collins may not be bathed in the rhetoric of white supremacy by a Leslie Haskell every night at the dinner table the way Larry Haskell likely is, but I was left wondering how much change in the Prosecutor’s office Ms. Collins would bring. 

Unfortunately, if enough voters buy the idea that only an avowed Republican can win a seat as Spokane County Prosecutor against Mr. Haskell, that idea becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until we have Ranked Choice Voting, I will content myself with voting for the person I believe is the best-equipped candidate for the job, Deb Conklin, the non-partisan. 

Deb Conklin makes a point that resonates with me: Administering justice requires not only understanding the law but listening to people, both the victim and the accused. The skills of a good prosecutor and a good minister have a lot in common. 

Keep to the high ground,


Justice Thomas and the Disturbing Direction of the Supreme Court

The Assault on Settled Liberty and Rights

I have read the article I’ve copied below by Prof. Corey Robin from the July 8 New Yorker three times. I find it profoundly disturbing. It shakes my lifelong understanding of what Constitutionally protected liberty and rights mean as a U.S. Citizen. Prof. Robin lays out the worldview and legal reasoning of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He illuminates the background of Thomas’ notorious statements in his concurring opinion in Dobbs, the decision reversing Roe, in which Thomas encourages the court to abandon the right to privacy altogether. 

I was taught in high school that the U.S. Constitution, with its Amendments (including, but not limited to, the Bill of Rights), assured us that no state government action could deprive us of certain personal rights and liberties. I do not recall being taught that before the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868 that the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights were not guaranteed against intrusion by state governments—but that is, nonetheless, a fact. It follows that the modern-day interpretation of the post Civil War 14th Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court, as to what liberty and rights it protects from state intrusion, is absolutely critical. Justice Thomas’ darkly pessimistic, Hobbesian worldview drives his interpretation of the 14th directly away from protecting the liberty and rights a majority of mid to late 20th Century Americans understand the Constitution and its Amendments to guarantee—a right to privacy that underpins a right to contraception, to same-sex sexual conduct, to same-sex marriage, and a limited right to abortion (as delimited in Roe). Thomas’ interpretation of the 14th Amendment calls all of that into question, judicial precedent be damned. 

The Warren court of the 1960s also used the right to privacy, in Loving v. Virginia (1967) to strike down state anti-miscegenation laws, which had banned or otherwise regulated interracial marriage—as forty-one states once did. Perhaps wisely noting the danger to his own interracial second marriage, Thomas argued elsewhere that the right to interracial marriage rests on a different clause of the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause, instead of the due process clause in which the Warren Court rooted the right to privacy. Thus, a little too cleverly, Thomas avoids sawing off the branch on which his second marriage is perched.

According to the Prof. Robin, Thomas’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment derives from Thomas’ patriarchal view of the Black family, his belief that government assistance (“welfare”) is to blame for the disintegration of black families (certainly an argument Republicans have tendered for decades), and his conviction that a key intent of the 14th Amendment was to equip freed slaves with the guns needed to protect themselves against predations by white people. 

Justice Thomas, age 74, lived through the 1960s, the Civil Rights era, the same as many of my readers did. One of the things I took away from that era was the power of the non-violent protest movement of Dr. Martin Luther King to effect positive change. Judging by Thomas’ worldview as expressed in his legal opinions, he drew opposite lessons from the experience. In his world everyone should be armed because government cannot be depended upon to protect you. Thomas is far less allied to MLK than to the Black Panthersand the concept of armed resistance—every man to himself. To Thomas a main Constitutional purpose of the 14th Amendment is to prohibit state legislatures from restricting gun ownership and carriage—as the southern states felt free to do before 1868 and the passage of the 14th Amendment.

The current Court majority, nominated by Republican presidents each of whom was elected by a minority of Americans, is relatively young, far-right Roman Catholic-dominated, and reactionary. Insofar as Justice Thomas’ ideas are the bellwether for the direction of the Court that Prof. Robin proposes, this Court is a danger to much of what once made me proud to be an American. Especially given the Court’s tendency to strip Americans of rights we have enjoyed for half a century it is imperative that we understand and counteract them by electing, at the federal, state, and local levels Democrats interested in restoring those rights legislatively—and who are willing to consider making adjustments not only to the Court itself, but to scrapping the Senate filibuster to get it done.

Keep to the high ground,


The Self-Fulfilling Prophecies of Clarence Thomas

For decades, Thomas has had a deeply pessimistic view of the country, rooted in his reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the Supreme Court’s recent opinions, his dystopia is becoming our reality. 

By Corey Robin

July 9, 2022

On Friday, June 24th, Justice Clarence Thomas got something he’s sought his entire adult life: recognition. Writing in support of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Thomas recommended that the Court, as a next move, strike down a half century’s worth of “demonstrably erroneous” precedents establishing the right to contraception, the right to same-sex sexual conduct, and the right to same-sex marriage. On television and across the Internet, commentators took notice.

Insiders have long known that Thomas is the right’s pacesetter on the Court, laying out positions that initially seem extreme yet eventually get adopted. For years, Thomas pulled Justice Antonin Scalia—even, on occasion, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice William Rehnquist—to the right on issues of crime and punishment. His opinions on campaign finance, once seen as recklessly deregulatory, now command a majority. In 1997, Thomas signalled his belief that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms, a fringe position that the Court would come to accept, eleven years later, in District of Columbia v. Heller. Even Thomas’s extraordinary claims, in a concurring opinion three years ago, about the racist foundations of abortion and birth control, found their way into a footnote in the Court’s recent abortion decision.

Despite this track record of stealth and success, liberals have often dismissed Thomas as stupid or a sellout, a patsy and a puppet, the Justice who cannot speak. That era is over. Yet Thomas’s significance far outstrips his captaincy of the Court’s war on liberalism. The most powerful Black man in America, Thomas is also our most symptomatic public intellectual, setting out a terrifying vision of race, rights, and violence that’s fast becoming a description of everyday life. It’s no longer a matter of Clarence Thomas’s Court. Increasingly, it’s Clarence Thomas’s America.

Like so much else in this country, the largeness of Thomas’s vision hinges on the smallest of claims: two clauses, all of thirty-eight words, in the second sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment. One is the due-process clause, which Thomas believes has been misread. In Thomas’s view, that misreading is a stain on the nation—and the reason for its fall.

The due-process clause, which prohibits the state from depriving anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without the due process of the law,” is the basis for the constitutional right to contraception, same-sex sexual conduct, same-sex marriage, and, until a few weeks ago, abortion. To some, it might seem strange that the clause contains an affirmative right to anything. Doesn’t it simply require that the state declare the law, set out a punishment for violating the law, charge a suspect for its violation, try him in court, and so on? That, as it happens, is Thomas’s view.

But there’s a second, more expansive, interpretation of the clause, which holds that certain rights are so intrinsic to “liberty,” so fundamental to what it means to be free, that they may never be abridged without a vital reason. It’s not enough for the state to dot its “i”s and cross its “t”s before it takes those rights away. The state should not take them away at all—unless it must. Among those rights is privacy, from which derive the rights to contraception and so on.

Most liberals and conservatives accept some version of this second interpretation—which is called “substantive due process”—but argue over which rights it protects. Liberals say abortion; conservatives say guns. Thomas rejects the entire idea of substantive due process. In his concurrence in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Thomas calls substantive due process an “oxymoron” and a “legal fiction.” The due-process clause “guarantees process” only. Because it “does not secure any substantive rights,” he writes, “it does not secure a right to abortion.” The same goes for birth control, same-sex sexual conduct, and gay marriage.

Thomas’s argument against substantive due process is more than doctrinal. It’s political. In a speech before the Federalist Society and the Manhattan Institute which he gave in his second year on the Court, Thomas linked a broad reading of the due-process clause, with its ever-expanding list of “unenumerated” rights, to a liberal “rights revolution” that has undermined traditional authority and generated a culture of permissiveness and passivity. That revolution, which began with the New Deal and peaked in the nineteen-sixties, established the welfare state, weakened criminal law, and promulgated sexual freedom. The result has been personal dissipation and widespread disorder. Workers lose their incentive to labor. Men abandon wives and children. Criminals roam and rule the streets.

Today, the left ties itself into knots over whether it should defend sexual minorities, dismantle the carceral state, or fight for social democracy. For Thomas, these are three fronts of the same war. To reverse the downward spiral of social decadence and patriarchal decay, conservatives must undo the liberal culture of rights, starting with the unenumerated rights of substantive due process.

Thomas has never made a secret of his belief that the rights revolution hit Black people especially hard, destroying the Black patriarch whom Black women, children, and communities need for protection and instruction. “The salvation of our race,” he declared in 1985, depends upon “the strength and the will of black men.” But welfare “takes your manhood away,” as his grandfather told him. Sexual freedom takes husbands and fathers away, he told the students at a Black college in Savannah. Liberal criminal-justice policies take sons and brothers away: “The people who will suffer from our lofty pronouncements,” he writes in a dissent from a liberal Court opinion defending the rights of gang members, are those who live in Black neighborhoods. Because of their vulnerable position in American society, Black people have the greatest need of the stern patriarchal authority from which self-discipline and communal strength derive. Black fathers must become “the lion of children’s safety” and “the sheep of their peace.”

If misreading the due-process clause has caused the dissolution of Black men, another part of the Fourteenth Amendment offers their rehabilitation. For Thomas, the privileges-or-immunities clause, an obscure and mostly discarded provision that he has sought to resurrect for decades, promises the restoration of both his community and the country.

The privileges-or-immunities clause has its roots in the battle over slavery and emancipation. Before the Civil War, many Americans, particularly Southern slaveholders, argued that the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government, leaving the states free to deny basic rights like the freedom of speech. With the privileges-or-immunities clause, which declares that “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment hoped to abolish the distinction between the rights of national and state citizenship. From now on, all Americans, especially Black Americans, would enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms—“privileges or immunities”—which would be secured by the federal government. “No general assertion of human rights can be of any practical value,” Frederick Douglass declared, while “there remains such an idea as the right of each State to control its own local affairs.”

A persuasive argument, but it was never accepted. In a series of cases during Reconstruction and its aftermath, the Court gutted the meaning of the privileges-or-immunities clause, forcing later activists and lawyers to rely upon the equal-protection clause and the due-process clause to advance the claims of Black people, women, and queer people. Thomas believes that this was a crucial mistake, and that the Court’s precedents on the privileges-or-immunities clause should be revisited. The clause “gives us a foundation for interpreting not only cases involving race,” he writes, “but the entire Constitution and its scheme of protecting rights.”

Lest we think that Thomas imagines anything like the rights that contemporary liberals defend, he made clear, in Saenz v. Roe (1999), that his interpretation of the privileges-or-immunities clause would protect only a narrow range of rights. Abortion is not one of them; neither is same-sex marriage. But he does include the right to bear arms, which he views as the right that precedes all others. Citing Justice Joseph Story, Thomas calls the right to bear arms “the palladium of the liberties of a republic.”

Liberals often claim that there is something hypocritical, if not perverse, about conservatives enshrining the right to bear arms without enshrining the right to abortion. Conservatives have an easy response: one right is found in the Constitution, both as tradition and text; the other is not. That’s what Justice Samuel Alito argues in Dobbs and in his concurrence, the day before, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, which struck down part of New York’s concealed-carry law.

Bodily autonomy is so foundational to contemporary understandings of freedom, however, that it’s hard to imagine a reason for denying it to women other than the fact that they are women. The fetish for guns, meanwhile, can seem like little more than a transposition of America’s white settler past onto its white suburban present, a reading Alito suggests at the end of his concurrence in Bruen:

In 1791, when the Second Amendment was adopted, there were no police departments, and many families lived alone on isolated farms or on the frontiers. If these people were attacked, they were on their own. . . . Today, unfortunately, many Americans have good reason to fear that they will be victimized if they are unable to protect themselves. And today, no less than in 1791, the Second Amendment guarantees their right to do so.

It’s worth comparing this passage with Thomas’s reading of the right to bear arms. Alito argues that the Second Amendment can be enforced, over and above state law, because of the due-process clause. Thomas roots his justification in the privileges-or-immunities clause, and in its backstory of slavery and abolition. Not only does that free Thomas from Alito’s white frontiersmen of yore but it also allows him to conjure the history of Black slaves arming themselves against their masters, and of Black freedmen protecting their families during Jim Crow. In his concurring opinion in McDonald v. Chicago (2010), a landmark guns case, he concludes with this resonant image:

One man [in 1919] recalled the night during his childhood when his father stood armed at a jail until morning to ward off lynchers. . . . The experience left him with a sense, “not ‘of powerlessness, but of the “possibilities of salvation” ’ ” that came from standing up to intimidation.

Thomas tells some of this history in Bruen. He dedicates a paragraph to the horror Chief Justice Roger Taney expressed—in the infamous Dred Scott decision declaring that Black people, enslaved or free, were not citizens of the United States—at the prospect of Black citizens having the right “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Mocked and misunderstood on Twitter, the paragraph reprises a longer story, which Thomas narrates in McDonald, of how terrified whites were of Black slave revolts in antebellum America. Citing the work of Herbert Aptheker, the Communist author of a pioneering history of slave rebellions, Thomas notes that white fears of Black revolt would be “difficult to overstate.” Those fears “peaked” during Reconstruction, to which Thomas devotes even more attention in his McDonald and Bruen opinions.

If there is any rational basis to the Court’s claim that people have the right to carry guns because they fear violence at the hands of a generalized other, it is in Thomas’s account of Black arms and Black history. Of the four pro-gun opinions in Bruen, Thomas’s is the only one in which we find an empirical example of a people’s justifiable need for armed self-defense in the face of violent enemies and government indifference. “Seeing that government was inadequately protecting them” under Jim Crow, he writes, Black people took up arms “to defend themselves” against white terrorists. The only history that can make sense of the Court’s position on guns, in other words, is that of race war.

In his second year on the Court, Thomas said that he was “proudly and unapologetically irrelevant and anachronistic.” Almost thirty years later, he has become what conservatives of every era seek to be: anachronistic and relevant.

Under Thomas’s aegis, the Court now assumes a society of extraordinary violence and minimal liberty, with no hope of the state being able to provide security to its citizens. In his Bruen concurrence, Alito extends Thomas’s history of Reconstruction to all modern America: “Many people face a serious risk of lethal violence when they venture outside their homes.” Like the Black citizens of Reconstruction, he argues, few of us should expect the police to protect us. “The police cannot disarm every person who acquires a gun for use in criminal activity,” Alito writes, “nor can they provide bodyguard protection for [New York] State’s nearly 20 million residents.”

Once upon a time, Alito’s claims of systemic danger and state incapacity would have been dismissed as the rantings of a mountain survivalist. But, after decades of mass shootings, his assertion that the cops can’t protect you reads as a corollary to the left’s warning that the cops won’t protect you. What makes both beliefs plausible is the failed state that America has become, with no small amount of help from Thomas, the right-wing Court, and elected officials from both parties.

Today’s felt absence of physical security is the culmination of a decades-long war against social welfare. In the face of a state that won’t do anything about climate change, economic inequality, personal debt, voting rights, and women’s rights, it’s no wonder that an increasing portion of the population, across all racesgenders, and beliefs, have determined that the best way to protect themselves, and their families, is by getting a gun. A society with no rights, no freedoms, except for those you claim yourself—this was always Thomas’s vision of the world. Now, for many Americans, it is the only one available. 

Ballots Are Out!

The Primary is On

Ballots for the August 2, 2022, top-two Primary Election are in the mail. According to the Spokane County Elections website, they went out this Wednesday and Thursday, and the last go out today. Look for your ballot. Separate it from all the junk mail disguised as official mail that you receive. If you haven’t received your ballot by the time the mail arrives on Saturday, go to myvote.wa.gov and check your “Residential Address”. That’s the address of record to which the ballot should have been mailed. It also determines the precinct in which you’re registered, and, therefore, the races that appear on your ballot. Click “Ballot Status” under “My Ballot” in the left hand column. There you can see when your ballot was (or will be) mailed—and, if it doesn’t appear in your mailbox, request that a new one be mailed. (Notice that at myvote.wa.gov you are on the Washington State Secretary of State’s website, but, once you put in your name and birthday, Spokane County registered voters see data managed by the Spokane County Auditor’s office, Vicky Dalton, Spokane County Auditor.)

2022 is an even-numbered, non-presidential election year. Apart from federal and state legislative positions, many of which are up for election every even year, the focus of an even-numbered, non-presidential year election (at least in Washington State) is elected positions at the level of county government. 

Let’s cover the above-mentioned federal and state legislative positions first: All the U.S. House of Representative seats (2 year terms) and Washington State Representatives (to Olympia) (also 2 year terms) appear on the ballot. One U.S. Senate seat (6 year terms) and some Washington State Senate seats (4 year terms) also appear this year. It depends on the particular rotation of each seat. (In Washington State, U.S. Senator Patti Murray is on the ballot this year.) 

Unusually, the office of Washington Secretary of State (SOS)—a key position in election administration for WA State—appears in this years election cycle. Ordinarily, state-wide offices in Washington State are on the ballot only in presidential year elections (e.g. 2020, 2024). The WA SOS appears this year because the current sitting SOS is an appointee filling out the four year term of former SOS Kim Wyman. My personal favorite for this race is Julie Anderson, a non-partisan candidate with extensive administrative experience as Pierce County Auditor. To my reading she is a better qualified administrator than the appointed SOS, a former legislator.

In Spokane County government all the elected positions are on the ballot (excepting judges). Each of us gets to on each of four contested (and important) races in this Primary: Spokane County Auditor, one of the five new County Commissioner seats (elected from each of five new districts), Spokane County Prosecutor, and Spokane County Sheriff. 

Vicky Dalton is the clear choice for Auditor. Her opponent, Bob McCaslin, Jr., is an unqualified election fraud ideologue

The County Commissioner races are critical. Read up on the background and importance: 

Spokane County Commissioners (my writing). 


The most powerful elected positions you (probably) know nothing about, an excellent article by Carl Segerstrom of RANGE MEDIA. 

Mark your ballot. I recommend and value the analysis presented by the progressivevotersguide.com

A few notes on the Progressive Voters’ Guide:

1- This top-two primary election for the Spokane County Prosecutor is a strong argument for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). My preference is Deb Conklin, but the candidate I most wish to advance to the November General Election is whichever one can unseat current Prosecutor Larry Haskell—the classical voting conundrum solved by RCV. 

2- The Progressive Voters Guide offers no recommendation for the new Spokane County Commissioner Districts 3 (NE) and 4 (SE). In District 3, unfortunately, Josh Kerns doesn’t have a credible challenger. In District 4 (SE), if I lived there I would cast my vote for Mary Kuney.

3- In the Spokane County Sheriff’s race I find myself marginally favoring Wade Nelson, mostly based on a lengthy reading of the Spokesman articleon the three candidates. 

Turn in Your Ballot: Once you mark your ballot you can just put it in the mail. Your tax dollars (at $0.67 per ballot) pay the postage if you do. Save those tax dollars by depositing your ballot in an official Dropbox (and avoid possible post office delays). Check out the list of Dropbox locations click here or, even easier, go to myvote.wa.gov and click “Ballot Drop Boxes and Voting Centers” under “Current Elections” (The map refuses to display on some internet browsers.)  Take note, though: The Indian Trail and South Hill Library locations are currently closed—AND there are four new Dropbox locations. Check it out!

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Generally speaking, judgeships only appear on the Primary Ballot if three run for the same position. In Spokane County no seat this election has three candidates, so these folk will appear only on the General Election Ballot in November.