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June 18, 2008
It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s here in the conservative Midlands—specifically in our neighboring state of South Dakota—that anti-abortion forces again are in the national spotlight with a proposal to be put on the November South Dakota ballot.
The significance of this direct challenge to the United States Supreme Court Roe v. Wade legalization of abortion should not be minimized because it occurs in a thinly populated state which is not very often in the national spotlight. Voter adoption of the proposed South Dakota anti-abortion constitutional amendment would presumably lead to United State Supreme court review of the decision in which the court held that states cannot ban abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy.
A South Dakota ban might be the first test of the Supreme Court’s current attitude toward abortions since President Bush’s two appointees—generally regarded as conservatives—joined the bench.
This year’s South Dakota proposal would seem to have a better chance to win voter approval and perhaps survive judicial scrutiny because it makes some exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or births that would endanger the life and health of the mother. These exceptions were not in the 2006 South Dakota proposal, which lost by 56% to 44%.
I’m inclined to think that there is not a general understanding of the fact that if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, abortions would not—repeat not—automatically be banned across the United States. That’s because overturning Roe v. Wade would leave the abortion legality decision to each of the 50.
One certain result of overturning Roe v. Wade would be bitter battles across the nation in state legislatures and in petition campaigns.
It’s a virtual certainty that some states would not pass legislation or enact constitutional language banning abortions. California and New York come quickly to mind.
This would raise the possibility that some organizations, like Planned Parenthood, might try to raise funds which would allow women to be sent from anti-abortion states to clinics in states where abortions are legal.
I’ll leave it to lawyers as to whether a state—Nebraska, for example, where I think abortions would be banned—could pass valid legislation preventing money being used within an anti-abortion state to finance sending women to clinics in states where abortions are legal.
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A recent news story reported that the Omaha School District received the biggest slice of additional state aid to public schools--$20.8 million of the $70.8 million increase in state funds appropriated by the Legislature for the state’s public school districts for the coming school year.
The story, of course, received major play in all news media. But the more significant news was reported 10 days later in a World-Herald Midlands Voices guest column written by the president of the Omaha School Board, Sandra Kostos Jensen. She told how the money will be used. That was the good news.
Quoting from the School Board president’s column, the following are some of the vitally important improvements which will help the Omaha public schools attack a variety of problems, including especially those in inner city schools:
Smaller class sizes. Early childhood programs. Fewer students per teacher. Teacher mentoring and professional development.
Access to early childhood programs. Uninterrupted teaching time. Access to social workers. Access to summer school and extended school-day or school-year programs.
For special-need students, the additional state funds will help in “closing the opportunity gap suffered by children in poverty” and addressing the needs of students “with limited English proficiency,” the School Board president said.
Jensen’s Midlands Voices article made clear that while the new state-aid formula “puts funding directly where it is needed most: student needs,” there is still the need to “look toward a statewide solution for teacher pay.”
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There was good news for gun owners, I believe, in what three members of the United States Supreme Court said during oral arguments on the constitutionality of a District of Columbia ban on handguns.
To my surprise, comments of three of the justices seemed to indicate a broad interpretation of this language in the Second Amendment to the Federal Constitution: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Now I certainly approve of the right of people to keep and bear arms, subject to certain reasonable restrictions. But I had felt that if the Second Amendment’s language was put to a Supreme Court test, it might well have been argued that the Second Amendment language was designed to apply to a long-ago era—a time when militiamen grabbed their muskets or rifles and turned out to repel invaders, as did the legendary Revolutionary War Minutemen.
I believed that the “well regulated Militia” language might pose problems when, as in the case of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns, it would be hard to argue that in 2008, the handgun ban was a restriction on District of Columbia “militiamen.”
But during arguments on the constitutionality of the District of Columbia handgun ban, comments from three Supreme Court justices went well beyond the concept that a “well regulated militia” was the only reason for assuring that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Chief Justice Roberts, Jr. said that if “militia” included everyone in the long-ago era when the Second Amendment was adopted, “doesn’t the (militia) preamble not really restrict the right much at all?”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy argued that the purpose of the militia clause was simply to “reaffirm the right to have a militia, while the second clause made clear that individuals have the right to own arms.”
Justice Kennedy insisted that the Second Amendment’s framers wanted to assure the ability of “the remote settler to defend himself and his family against hostile Indian tribes and outlaws, wolves and bears and grizzlies and things like that.”
That argument is the farthest I have ever heard any Second Amendment defender go. That the Second Amendment’s framers had in mind settlers protecting themselves against “grizzlies and things like that” had never occurred to me and, I would venture to guess, to hardly anybody else.
Justice Antonin Scalia said that the first and second clauses of the Second Amendment “go together beautifully.” Justice Scalia suggested that “the proper interpretation” is “since we need a militia, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
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The “militia” language in the Second Amendment, incidentally, often brings to my mind the image of the legendary Minutemen grabbing their muskets and rifles and turning out, in April, 1775, to repel British troops sent from Boston to disarm “rebels” who reportedly had hidden weapons in Concord.
The fighting began when the British troops crossed the bridge at Concord and continued along the road to Lexington. Contrary to popular legend, very little of the firing on either side was done by rifles. Most of the fatalities and wounds resulted from the fire of smoothbore muskets.
The British suffered heavy casualties as they retreated to Boston. British casualties totaled 73 killed and 174 wounded, compared to 50 militiamen killed and 39 wounded. The fighting was considered the beginning of the colonial rebellion against British governance, fighting which later grew into a war for independence.
When I’m reminded of that beginning of Americans’ battle for independence, I think of the stirring opening stanza of “The Concord Hymn,” written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 on the occasion of a dedication of a monument memorializing the Americans who took up arms that April day in 1775. Emerson wrote:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard ‘round the world.
“Fired the shot heard round the world” must be, I would suggest, one of the most memorable—and significant—lines ever written by an American poet.
The Andersen dogs—the world’s three most lovable cocker spaniels—get a good deal of attention in my columns. (Anyone who says “Too much attention” is ruled out of order.)
So today I focus on another set of dogs, featured in one of Charles Barsotti’s delightful New Yorker cartoons:
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