This week marks the start of a new book of Torah: the Book of Numbers. This week’s portion, B’midbar, or “In the Wilderness”, recounts the census-taking of entire Israelite community commanded of Moses by God. The Israelites are sorted by tribe and all men over the age of 20 are counted, as God commands, “head by head,” with special instructions for the Levites. Read more…
Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Representative John Lewis (D-GA), and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) reintroduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) would prevent discrimination in public adoption and foster care on the basis of potential parents’ – or the child’s – sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. By doing so, this vital legislation would help ensure the ability of thousands of children to find permanent, loving families.
The topics of criminal justice reform and community-police relations have been at the top of the news cycle for months. In fact, just yesterday the President traveled to Camden, New Jersey and visited with local law enforcement and met with young people in the Camden community to hear directly about the progress the revamped police force has made in building trust between law enforcement and the people of Camden. Through trips such as this one, and his establishment of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama has demonstrated his commitment to improve communities and police departments across the country and respond to the series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Read more…
Last week in our Torah portion B’har we saw how integral environmentalism was, not just in our commandment to “till and tend” as God told humankind in the Garden of Eden, but throughout our sacred text. In this 5776 Shmita, or Jubilee Year, when we are meant to “let the land rest” and forgive debts in our community, combatting climate change is especially important to us.
As more and more candidates announce their entrance into the 2016 presidential race, we’ll hear more and more about their platform and vision for the country—and about their donors and fundraisers. 2016 will be the first presidential election since McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Court struck down a longstanding ban on aggregate limits on donations directly to candidates’ campaigns and political parties. So, it’s possible an even bigger shift in the realm of money and politics is expected in an election six years after Citizens United.
The Supreme Court recently decided another case with major implications for campaign finance reform: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. In a 5-4 opinion, the Court upheld a Florida law that prohibits judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. The petitioner, Lanell Williams-Yulee, sent a signed letter seeking campaign contributions in her 2009 race for Hillsborough County Judge. The trial court found Williams-Yulee in violation of a state law stating that a candidate “for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds.”
Williams-Yulee challenged the ruling, arguing that the law violated her constitutional right to free speech. The Florida Supreme Court, however, held that the law is constitutional, for it “promotes the State’s compelling interests in preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary, and that it is narrowly tailored to effectuate those interests.”
This case raises the question of how we should strike the balance between constitutionally protected free speech and the state’s compelling interest to ensure public confidence in the judicial system. If this type of question sounds familiar, that’s because it is: the right to free speech was central to major campaign finance cases Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC. Yet, as the Court found in Williams-Yulee, we must balance that right with the need to maintain public confidence in our systems of government.
So what, exactly, does Williams-Yulee have to do with campaign finance reform? Judicial elections certainly differ from elections with political or partisan candidates. Unlike candidates, judges are not elected to represent their own views, or even the will of the people. Instead, it is a judge’s responsibility to interpret laws passed by those elected officials, in the interest of upholding the Constitution and the principle of justice. This difference is key for Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the opinion of the court that in a judicial election, personal solicitation “creates the public appearance that the candidate will remember who says yes, and who says no.”
Yet, we know that this concern extends into races for elected office as well. Jewish tradition recognizes the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. Deuteronomy 16:19 teaches, “You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.” Take action today; urge your Members of Congress to support a publicly funded election system, so that no gifts blind the eyes of those responsible for creating policy and upholding justice.
As Memorial Day approaches, we are also coming closer to Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai. On Shavuot, it is customary to have sweet dairy foods, like cheesecake and blintzes, in honor of the sweetness of milk and honey, akin to the sweetness of celebrating the knowledge of learning and the Torah.
Yet, there are many children across the country who cannot fully enjoy the sweetness of studying without going hungry. Three out of four public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry. Though child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, already exist, these programs need to be strengthened. Breakfast is connected to benefits in the classroom: a majority of teachers see students paying better attention in class and having improved attendance. 48% of educators also note that their teens have fewer disciplinary problems when they eat breakfast.
By Cantor Jason Kaufman
I often think about how fortunate I am to live in this period of time when social justice for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community is advancing at such a rapid pace.
I never felt this more profoundly than on April 28, when I stood outside the United States Supreme Court to demonstrate my support for marriage equality. Thanks also to a great deal of luck, I was even able to sit inside the chamber and listen to the oral arguments for a few brief minutes. As I walked into the courtroom I consciously called to mind LGBTQ heroes and righteous allies who helped to make the day possible – individuals who helped to bend the arc of justice that Dr. King spoke about, so that we could even approach this time when the Supreme Court would consider granting the LGBTQ community a fraction of our fundamental rights as American citizens. Read more…