Le Moyne Professors Shed Light on Constitutional Questions of the Day

On Monday April 18th, Professors Jonathan Parent and Jim Snyder of the Political Science department hosted Le Moyne’s annual Constitution Day event in the Drescher Community Room of the Panasci Chapel. Before a small group of students, both faculty members utilized their individual expertise to examine issues testing the limits and effectiveness of the Constitution today.

Dr. Parent, whose specialties include the US Supreme Court and reproductive rights, opened his talk with a brief explanation of the nomination process for Supreme Court Justices, then jumped into the implications of the Kavanaugh nomination on the Supreme Court. Noting that the Supreme Court, regardless of original intent, breaks down along political lines, Dr. Parent explored the controversy surrounding Mr. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. He explored how the confirmation of Mr. Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court would shift its political alignment from a balance . While calling into question former Justice Kennedy’s swing credentials, Dr. Parent noted that his appointment drew the ire of Senate Democrats. He stated that current Justice Neil Gorsuch did not receive as much opposition since he replaced a conservative justice, but that Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination would most likely shift the political makeup of the court in the favor of conservatives. He also touched on the allegation of sexual assault placed against Mr. Kavanaugh (by Professor Christina Foley) and a similar event in the past of sexual misconduct by Justice Clarence Thomas (Accused by Anita Hill, a former employee of Justice Thomas), noting that it could have an effect on whether or not Mr. Kavanaugh is confirmed. Dr. Parent then went on to examine how Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation and career on the Supreme Court could affect the Roe v. Wade decision and access to abortion within the US. He explained the difficulties of predicting how a potential justice could vote due to the practice of lower federal court justices to avoid hot button issues. However, he also pointed out instances where Mr. Kavanaugh appeared to support curtailing the reproductive rights of women, specifically his praise for former Justice Rehnquist’s dissent to Roe v. Wade in a speech before the Federalist Society, and his ruling to prevent an undocumented minor in federal custody from getting an abortion while he served on the D.C. federal appeals court. Overall, Dr. Parent predicts that Mr. Kavanaugh’s nomination would uphold restrictions on women’s reproductive rights by states that are taken to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Snyder, a practicing lawyer and professor of legal studies, prefaced his talk by stating that the Constitution was undergoing a stress test, others of which included the American Civil War and the Great Depression. He went on to discuss the role of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and his team as they face scrutiny from President Trump. He began by explaining the concept of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, or where the power for a court to hear a claim comes from. For example, federal courts are limited to federal law, while the US Supreme Court is limited to federal and constitutional law. He then went in depth into Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 general elections and the conflicts it creates in the Executive Branch. Mr. Snyder noted that Mr. Mueller is a federal prosecutor, and is therefore under the power of President Trump. He then raised questions of what enforcement of the law the president violated and what inaction by employees of the Executive to enforce the law would mean, specifically in relation to the current control of the White House and the Congress by the Republican Party and their lack of enforcement or investigation into potential crimes committed by the Trump administration. Mr. Snyder answered these questions with an explanation of the famous investigation into the break-in of the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel , finding some parallels in the results of the investigation and hearings. Mr. Snyder believed that the Mueller investigation would continue go after the “little fish” of the Trump administration (Papadopoulos, Flynn, Cohen, Manafort, etc.) in order to build a case against Trump, and then send a report to Congress to determine whether or not impeachment proceedings should be launched against President Trump. He went on to describe the Emoluments Clause, which essentially prevents the president from receiving any form of profit or compensation from foreigners, foreign states, domestic organizations, or US state governments. Noting President Trump’s numerous private holdings currently held in a blind trust run by his sons, Mr. Snyder described this issue by relating it to foreign dignitaries and officials visiting Trump hotels and recreation facilities while they stay in Washington D.C., such as the Trump International Hotel located in that city. By only patronizing Trump hotels while serving on missions for their governments, foreign officials would as a group be giving Trump’s companies profits, potentially in exchange for

Professors Parent and Snyder fielded questions at the end of both of their talks. For example,  when asked how long the Mueller investigation would go on, Mr. Snyder answered that he believed that Mr. Mueller’s team would take as much time as they needed, though that they were also probably working much harder as they faced the pressures of the Trump administration. Both Mr. Snyder and Dr. Parent agreed that it was likely that Roe v. Wade would not be overturned with the confirmation of Mr. Kavanaugh, but instead would “die of a thousand paper cuts” after rulings in favor of laws that would restrict reproductive rights. Overall, the event proved to be informative on the current challenges faced by the US Constitution.