LWVN Newsletter, Vol 25 Issue 3
President’s Letter, Nov. 2019
Dear LWVN Members,
As I mentioned in my July letter, the Board of Directors scheduled a planning session in August. As a Board, we met on Friday, August 2, and spent the better part of that day and multiple additional meetings, thinking about who we are as a Board and the LWVN priorities. Thank you to the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club for allowing us to meet at their lovely facility on Watertown Street.
As a result of our meetings and discussions, I am pleased to share our Leadership Standards:
The Board of Directors:
- is non-partisan
- maintains high ethical standards
- ensures that we have consensus and speak with one voice
- maintains transparency as a Board and local LWV
Each member of the Board of Directors:
- stays responsive to Board members and to all LWVN members
- strives to bring forward different views in order to present a well-thought-out position
- honors our individual and Board responsibilities
- remains honest about our own opinions while respecting those of others
Next we decided to introduce, or in some cases re-introduce, ourselves to current and future members. So please visit our enhanced Board of Directors page on our website where we have posted short bios and pictures of each Board member so that you can get to know us better.
In order to set our priorities we first looked at what we do well and where we could do things differently and better. Coming out of our deliberative process are the following priorities, actions and Board Leads, Exhibit A.
In light of these priorities, the LWVN has accomplished, Exhibit B a great deal since I last wrote, …so I am pleased to share all and hope that you will volunteer as we move forward in the new year.
Marcia Johnson, President
Topic Discussion Notes: Is our Constitution Holding up to the Test of Time?
By Frieda Dweck
On September 15, 2019, Jed Shugerman, a Newton resident, former Bowen PTO co-chair, and law professor and legal historian at Fordham University in New York, lead a discussion on “Is the Constitution Holding up to the Test of Time”.
We first discussed the methods of interpreting the constitution and whether it matters what was “intended” when the constitution was written. The two most common methods of interpreting the constitution are “originalism” and a ”living constitution”. Originalists are usually associated with a more conservative approach to the constitution and to politics, while the ”living constitution” approach is usually associated with more progressive values and politics. Jed presented his case for interpreting the constitution as a “progressive originalist”.
Originalism is built on the idea of the “rule of law”. The constitution is intended to put limits on partisanship and politicians. If we allow the rule of law to evolve all the time, then anyone can interpret it any way they want depending on who is in power. Rather, the constitution should be interpreted the way we interpret any statute or legislation – look at what Congress intended when they passed the legislation, look at the text and the context. That includes not only what was intended by the Founding Fathers and the words in the constitution, but all texts, ideas, thoughts and values, that went into the deliberation of those words, as well as history.
If we are going to embrace the originalist concept for interpreting the constitution, then should we have a longer constitution? No – a more detailed constitution is apt to become outdated and less useful. A shorter constitution sets up the framework of how decisions will be made, but does not get into the minutiae of details that will change over time. So, while the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the constitutional questions regarding, for example, school desegregation, reproductive rights, gay rights, the essential values behind those questions can be discerned in the constitution.
We then discussed the Supreme Court and whether it is still acting in a non-partisan fashion as the constitutional framers envisioned, or should we try and “fix” the Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices or limiting the term each justice serves? Even though the Supreme Court is currently lined up more conservatively, the justices still make decisions based on their interpretation of the law, and sometimes that interpretation goes against how you would think they are politically aligned. (Chief Justice Roberts’ decisions on the ACA and on the census questions are examples – but there have been examples like that throughout our judicial history.) If we allowed presidents to increase the number of justices on the court, each president would want to appoint enough justices to overcome what they believe is a political minority on the court, but then where would it stop? Having life tenure insures the independence of the judiciary. If Supreme Court justices knew they would have to leave the court after a certain number of years, they might position themselves for their next “gig” while still on the court, which could sway their rulings and affect their independence.
Finally, we tackled the question: are we currently experiencing a “Constitutional Crisis”? It is not a constitutional crisis to have disputes over the meaning of the constitution. We are meant to always be debating the values of the constitution. It is when our political disputes are settled with violence, such as the Civil War, Reconstruction, the race riots in the 1920s, and bringing in the National Guard to enforce desegregation, that we experience a constitutional crisis.
There were many great questions raised by the audience, and stimulating discussions were engaged in, after Jed’s formal presentation.
Voter Service Update for the Fall 2019 Municipal Election
by Sue Flicop
LWVN held 10 Candidates’ Forums this election season, including two for Ward 5 Ward Councilor, both before and after the preliminary election. All were produced with NewTV, our long-time partner, recorded at NewTV, and made available through the NewTV and LWVN websites. These were for contested seats on the City Council only. Although there were also three contested School Committee races, one candidate in each race declined to participate. Because LWV does not hold ‘empty chair’ debates, we had to cancel the School Committee Candidate Forums.
The LWVN Online Voters Guide did include all candidates for City Council and School Committee, including those in uncontested races and those whose opponents chose not to participate. This was made available to the public approximately three weeks before the election. City Council candidates were asked four questions, and the School Committee members were asked five.
LWVN also created ‘Saturday Night at the Races,’ a ‘candidating’ type event for City Council candidates, which was co-sponsored with 7 other Newton organizations. The event was held at the War Memorial at City Hall, and involved groups of citizens conversing with the City Council candidates by ward. Every 15 minutes, voters were asked to move to a new table to meet a new set of candidates. This was quite well-received, both by the candidates and by the voters, who enjoyed an opportunity for face-to-face discussions on issues raised directly by the voters. Many especially appreciated being able to meet with candidates who did not have challengers, but who nevertheless made the effort to meet voters and discuss important topics. We expect to continue this event in the next election, but will work to address some issues raised (mainly the noise level and timing).
In an effort to learn more about a new incoming City Councilor, LWVN did also host Ward 8 Ward Council candidate Holly Ryan on our monthly NewTV program, ‘The League Presents’. Because Holly did not have a challenger, either on the ballot or as a write-in, we felt it was acceptable to meet with her individually and talk about some of the same issues discussed in our Candidates’ Forums.
LWVN thanks our Voter Service team of co-chairs Bonnie Carter, Sharyn Roberts and Sue Flicop, as well as Lucia Dolan, Lois Levin, Karen Manning, Lisa Mirabile, dozens of LWVN volunteers for the Candidates’ Forums and Saturday Night at the Races, the wonderful NewTV staff, and our co-sponsors for Saturday Night at the Races: Green Newton, Mothers Out Front, 350 Mass for a Better Future, Newton Needham Regional Chamber, Newton Conservators, Newton Council on Aging!
Community Discussion with Peter Koutoujian
The League of Women Voters was pleased to host a community discussion led by Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian in November 12, 7 p.m. at the Angier School. Sheriff Koutoujian talked about the work of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, partnerships with local law enforcement and efforts to address the needs of justice-involved individuals with substance use and mental health disorders. He also discussed innovative programs for incarcerated military veterans and young adult offenders.
This event was co-sponsored with the League of Women Voters of Arlington, Norwood, Sudbury, Wayland and Weston.
You can learn more about Sheriff Koutoujian at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office website, at middlesexsheriff.org/sheriffs-executive-office/pages/sheriff-koutoujian-biography.
After Suffrage: A 20/20 Perspective on Women’s Rights, 1920 – 2020
by Karen Manning
On Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 7:00pm, the League of Women Voters of Newton (LWVN) co-sponsored a Newton Free Library event, together with Historic Newton and the Newton Human Rights Commission, hosted by author and guest Barbara Berenson. The event, “After Suffrage: A 20/20 Perspective on Women’s Rights, 1920 – 2020” was a talk that explored how women have fared politically and legally over the past century; considered how women activists have built alliances and shaped laws in an effort to combat stereotypes, discrimination and gender-based violence at home, at work and in the public sphere; reviewed some of the key developments over the past century including a discussion of the long and ongoing campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment; and discussed the historical connections between women who opposed suffrage and those who oppose women’s rights today. Barbara Berenson is the author of Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers (2018), Boston in the Civil War: Hub of the Second Revolution (2014) and Walking Tours of Civil War Boston: Hub of Abolitionism (2011, 2d ed. 2014). She is the co-editor of Breaking Barriers: The Unfinished Story of Women Lawyers and Judges in Massachusetts (2012).
Please consider joining LWVN for a discussion of Barbara’s book (Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers (2018)) with the author on Sunday, December 1 from 3 pm to 4:30 pm at the Waban Library Center. Please RSVP at email@example.com.
New Members, Fall 2019
We welcome the following new members: enjoy the LWV Newton!
- Kathleen Franklin
- Kim Smith
- Martha Bixby
- Stephanie Gilman
- Joana Canedo
- Irene Margolin-Katz
- Ruth and William Dane
Recent LWVN Losses
We have lost two members of the LWV Newton:
- Rhona Shoul, who was a very long standing member, died age 93
- Beth Lowd, a more recent member, kept up her membership even though she had moved out of Newton.
Our sympathies to their families.