Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Author: Connie Wilson Page 1 of 113

Biographical Information

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson graduated from the University of Iowa and earned a Master’s degree from Western Illinois University, with additional study at Northern Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago. She taught writing at six Iowa/Illinois colleges and wrote for five newspapers and 7 blogs. Her stories and interviews have appeared online and in print and her work has won prizes from “Whim’s Place Flash Fiction," “Writer’s Digest” (Screenplay), E-Lit award for 3 works, Illinois Women's Press Association Silver Feather awards, Pinnacle award (NABE) and recommendations for the Bram Stoker award. She is the author of 4 nonfiction published books, 4 short story collections, 1 novel and there are 2 novels ready for publication (the trilogy beginning with "The Color of Evil.") She reviewed film and books for the Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa) for 12 years and wrote humor columns and conducted interviews for the (Moline, Illinois) Daily Dispatch.

How Trump Might Try to Cheat to Win

BEE GONE: A POLITICAL PARABLE

This is a slightly truncated version of the original “Washington Post” article that explains one of the likely methods that DJT will/would try to use to steal the November 3rd presidential election.

Could Trump steal the election? Here’s one way to find out. (Sept. 30, 2020)

The disastrous debate that unfolded in Ohio should prompt us to take the possibility that President Trump will try to steal the election far more seriously — even as it also renders that outcome much less likely to succeed.

Trump exhorted his far-right army to mobilize for a sustained conflict over the election results. He refused to say whether he’d accept a legitimate loss. And he confirmed he’s expecting the Supreme Court to help invalidate countless legally cast ballots.

It’s this last point that presents a way to gauge Trump’s chances of executing some version of his corrupt designs.

The short version is this. At Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Democrats can press a line of questioning that might illuminate whether Trump can pull off one of his most-discussed means for rigging the election: getting a GOP state legislature to appoint substitute pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, regardless of the popular vote in that state. 

Trump is telegraphing his scheme

At the debate, Trump said he “can’t go along” with a result tallied up from millions of mail-in ballots, which will mean “fraud like you’ve never seen.” He urged supporters to “watch” the voting “very carefully,” i.e., to engage in voter intimidation.

And asked what he expects of the high court and Barrett, Trump said:I’m counting on them to look at the ballots.”

Trump did also say he might not “need” the court to settle “the election itself.” But that only inadvertently confirms that he believes the court is at his beck and call on this matter.

As far-fetched as it seems that a state legislature might appoint pro-Trump electors, it’s important to note that some Republicans are already claiming that the fictional mass fraud in large-scale mail balloting could serve as the justification for doing just this.

As one Trump legal adviser told the Atlantic, they might say: “We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.”

And so, when Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of a prolonged count after Election Day — as he did at the debate — he’s opening the possibility of using exactly this justification for precisely this endgame.

As Edward Foley outlined in a prescient 2019 article, if Trump were ahead in the Election Day count, he’d likely put this scheme in motion while claiming “machine politicians in Philadelphia” are trying to steal the election with fabricated mail votes.

Could this work?

Democratic National Convention

To be clear, it shouldn’t.

The Constitution does assign to each state the authority to “appoint” its electors, in a “manner” that the legislature “may direct.”

But in a terrific piece, three legal scholars — Grace Brosofsky, Michael Dorf and Laurence Tribe — explain that precedent shows this means the legislature must “direct” how the state appoints its electors by making laws that create and define the process for doing so.

Virtually all states have made laws that provide for electors to be appointed in accordance with the popular vote outcome in them. (Maine and Nebraska do this by congressional district.) Thus, those scholars argue, legislatures can’t appoint pro-Trump electors without making a new law providing for appointment of electors based on legislators’ own will, not that of the voters.

Such a new law would require the governor’s signature. And in three states where this appears most likely to be tried — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — Democratic governors would veto any such effort by GOP-controlled legislatures.

The Supreme Court has upheld the principle that a governor can veto such an effort, those scholars note. In the 1932 case Smiley v. Holm, the court ruled that the Minnesota state legislature could not change election rules unilaterally in the face of such a veto.

This ruling confirmed that for the court, “state legislatures cannot alter” laws governing the selection of electors “except through their ordinary state lawmaking procedures,” which would require a gubernatorial signature and be subject to veto, the scholars argue.

So friendly legislatures can’t do this on Trump’s whim without a new law, no matter how loudly they scream that ongoing counting of mail ballots is fraudulent.

Such a case might again find its way to the Supreme Court. But how would it rule?

The question for Barrett

Democratic senators can press Trump’s nominee on this question — by asking whether she believes Smiley is settled law, and on whether she believes the Constitution does or does not allow state legislatures to appoint electors outside the lawmaking process.

Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, told me Barrett would likely evade this question, by merely promising to “respect precedent” while declining comment on a question that might soon be before the court.

Still, this might be worth trying. Given that Trump has explicitly said he expects the court — and Barrett — to help him pull off something like this, we’re in an extraordinary situation. By confirming that Smiley is settled law, Barrett could strongly suggest that such an effort will fail, sparing the country from it.

“She could certainly throw cold water on it,” Dorf told me. “She could make it clear that she’s not likely to be receptive to an argument” that legislators can appoint electors without a new law.

As for other justices — such as John G. Roberts Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — they might also look askance at such an effort. In Bush v. Gore, the court described the process for appointing electors as a “legislative” scheme. Dorf says they might see this as invalidating any effort to appoint them outside the lawmaking process.

To be clear, Trump’s disastrous debate performance makes it more likely Biden will win the “blue wall” states by a comfortable enough margin that Trump won’t even try such a scheme.

But Trump also made it clear at the debate that he’s unhinged enough to try anything — and is perfectly happy to rile up millions of supporters behind an effort to overturn a legitimate loss. So if there’s any way to take this off the table now, we should try it.

“Kubrick by Kubrick” Entertains at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

 

Stanley Kubrick, “A Clockwork Orange,” 1971.

Stanley Kubrick was a legendary perfectionist whose demands for more and more takes for a scene in one of his movies would nearly drive the actors to drink. This documentary, showing at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, discusses that facet of Kubrick’s work and personality.

Sterling Hayden, interviewed in the documentary “Kubrick by Kubrick,” admitted that he had lost it the day they were shooting “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” There had already been 38 takes. Hayden notes that Kubrick’s response to his apologies for repeatedly messing up his lines was, “The terror that is in your eyes may just give us the quality we want.”

The foremost authority on Kubrick’s life and works, Michael Cement, guides the viewer of this documentary on Kubrick’s works, aided by the taped interviews of the Master, himself. As Roger Ebert says, in one filmed segment, “He worked entirely on his own schedule. It was kind of inspiring.”

was referencing the fact that Kubrick shot almost all of his films within 25 miles of his country estate in England and had a complete studio with the necessary sound systems and cameras, so that he could turn out such films as:

 1999 Eyes Wide Shut

1987Full Metal Jacket

1980The Shining

1975Barry Lyndon

1971A Clockwork Orange

19682001: A Space Odyssey

1964Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1962Lolita

1960Spartacus

1957Paths of Glory

1956The Killing

1955 Killer’s Kiss

With just 13 films in 43 years Stanley Kubrick cemented his reputation as one of the greatest directors of all time.  Whether it was the 7 months spent shooting “A Clockwork Orange” or the 5 years he spent directing Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick was a perfectionist, “quintessentially a perfectionist,” according to his set designer Ken Adams.

The stories involving 105 and more takes on a single scene abound, and yet, as Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) said, “If he trusts you, you’re all right. If not, watch out.”

With clips from nearly all of Kubrick’s feature length films and his own recorded remarks, this documentary directed by Gregory Munro with music by Vincent Theard is totally enjoyable for the Kubrick fan.

It ends with Tom Cruise reminiscing how he was called in the middle of the night with the news that Kubrick—who was then directing “Eyes Wide Shut” with Cruise and Kidman—had died in his sleep at age 70. Cruise pronounces the news unbelievable. Even today, it is.

Kubrick seemed a fierce force to be reckoned with forever.

“How Did You Like Them Apples?” (A: I Didn’t)

Apples

Greek director Christos Nikou has crafted a film about a pandemic that causes amnesia and a bureau, the Disturbed Memory Department for Amnesiacs, that works to re-educate those so affected.

It opens with the main character, Aris (Aris Servetalis) knocking his head against a wall and, shortly thereafter, he is on a bus but has no idea where he is going.

Many others are affected. Apples enter the plot as being good for the memory, according to a local grocer, while Aris hungrily wolfs them down onscreen.

During the course of the re-education of Aris, the Bureau sets him up with housing, walking around money, and a set of instructions as to what he is supposed to do. The Learning How to Live New Identity Program will have us watching Aris bicycle, solicit a lap dance, attend a costume party, go to a movie, take Polaroids of all new experiences and do the Twist, a dance made popular in the U.S. in 1960 by Chubby Checker. [Why would a song that is 70 years old be playing at the disco? No idea. Maybe that is considered “cutting edge” in this film’s country of origin.]

I’m a big fan of plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This plot has a beginning and a long middle. It has no end.

It won a Slovene Film Festival award for Best Sound and has nominations in several other Feature Film competitions, including both the 56th Chicago International Film Festival and the 43rd Denver International Film Festival.

One of the things I found most off-putting about the film is the fact that Alzheimers Disease is basically rampant in this country now. It’s truly not a “funny” thing to lose all sense of identity and not know where you are going or who you are.

I did not like this film for that and other reasons that have nothing to do with the argument that it posits amnesia as a cure and not a disease.

Losing your mind is not funny and too many people I have personally known, including my father, have experienced it, so no recommendation from me for this one.

Rachel Brosnahan Plays Jean in “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon Original Film at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival

Rachel Brosnahan

Rachel Brosnahan, familiar to television audiences as Mrs. Maisel, has a different role as Jean in the feature length film, “I’m Your Woman,” an Amazon original movie now showing at the .56th Chicago International Film Festival and a nominee for the Golden Hugo award.

The film unfolds a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is married to Eddie, who is a professional thief. It’s the seventies and they live in a very seventy-ish house, with Jean basically a bird in a gilded cage—a bird who can’t cook. Although she knows that Eddie (Bill Heck) is a thief—she knows almost nothing about his associates or the true nature of his job or, apparently, anything about the true nature of the man himself.

Much of the film concerns Jean’s “coming of age” as a woman. She is suddenly gifted with a small child, courtesy of Eddie, whom she names Harry. Later, we hear a story about how “Harry” (played by Jameson and Justin Charles) came to  Eddie and Jean’s house in the first place, but we never know if it is the truth or another example of the things we’ll never know for sure.

Enter Cal (Arinze Kene), an associate of Eddie’s who appears at Jean’s house in the dead of night and insists she and Harry must flee. Cal is Black and, later, we meet Terri (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who is his wife and the mother of his son Paul.

From there, things get interesting.

One of the strongest things about the Julia Hart directed film, (which Julie Hart and Jordan Horowitz wrote), is the fact that you don’t feel as though you’ve seen this film a million times before. It’s an original way to tell the story. It unfolds slowly at times, more quickly at others, with exciting chase scenes involving 70s autos and more and more revelations that will keep the viewer enthralled.

In addition to the theme of Rachael Brosnahan’s growth into full womanhood, there is plenty of action, mystery and suspense. Good performances, an interesting tale, and lessons to be learned all contribute to the appeal of “I’m Your Woman.”

“Bleeding Audio” Relates the Story of “The Matches” Band at Denver Film Festival

Chelsea Christer’s documentary about Oakland’s “The Matches” rock band tries to answer the question, “What was ‘The Matches’ downfall?” In doing so, it may just open up a second chance for “Matches” stardom.  The 91-minute documentary is currently playing the Denver Film Festival and doing well at other film festivals, nationwide.

Tattoos with the message “May your organs fail before your dreams fail you” abound amongst the die-hard fans of “The Matches.”  This American pop punk band was formed in 1997 in Oakland, California.

The band is composed of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Shawn Harris, lead guitarist and backup vocalist Jonathan Devoto, bassist Justin San Souci, and drummer Matt Whalen. The Matches have released three studio albums and are currently unsigned after their contract with Epitaph Records expired.

On July 9, 2009, the Matches announced that they were taking a “hiatus“, saying that, “our time to start new projects has come”. On June 17, 2010 Shawn confirmed  that he had left the band.

The Matches announced a one-time reunion show with the original lineup in May 2014. The show sold out, as did an additional eight shows and a following tour in Australia.] The band announced additional reunion dates and new songs in 2015. They performed additional reunion shows in 2018.

Now, the documentary “Bleeding Audio” is putting “The Matches” of today out there with the logical question, “What is next? Is the band back together for good?”

I hope to cover that question and others in a “live” interview with Director Chelsea Christer TBA for my Weekly Wilson podcast, but, from the sound and look(s) of the band, it was not a lack of talent that derailed their success.

The band worked hard for 10 years, performing roughly 300 dates a year and touring continuously. They took their jobs seriously. Like other artists struggling to break through, they soon learned that “We had to learn how to be promoters now.” That led to the realization that there was so much more work to do, as, before, they were trying to win over a small community, but now they were trying to win over the world. They were fortunate that the members were creative and one member of the group has mad artistic illustrator skills.

As the documentary digs into the reasons for the band’s “hiatus” in 2009, several disconcerting facts emerge.

The band’s manager did not register all of the band’s songs with BMI. Only 4 albums were registered with BMI (the manager’s job). The reason the band members had no money much of the time was directly attributable to this lack of attention to duty. [Think of Trump’s actions on stopping Covid-19: Trump fiddled while the nation burned, and I was just diagnosed with Covid-19 on Sunday.)

In this case, band manager Miles Hurwitz had become a Big Brother figure who interfered in the creative process overmuch, but did not attend to his duty to register the creative output of the band with the appropriate agencies so they could be paid. Band members had only a $10 per diem walking around allowance. They were approaching 40 years of age “and we’re still crashing on people’s floors.” [I had such a band crashing on my apartment floor in Chicago during Lollapalooza one year, so I can relate.]

It was this lack of progress that caused Justin to burn out and quit the band. Dylan replaced Justin. Justin said, “It’s really scary to admit that this dream or passion you’ve had for ten years isn’t what I want.”

As one of the band members put it, “We were so naïve.” In fact, drummer Matt Whalen, when the band breaks up, begins to study intellectual property law because of the many ways in which the band now feels they were taken advantage of by the industry and by those with whom they worked. “We were naïve.”

One of the artists in the group, Justin, turns to his art talent to support him and, upon getting a gig illustrating a book, said, “My first paycheck was more than I made in 3 years with the band.”

This is a “feel good” documentary and the band seems to have real potential, despite some health issues for their virtuoso guitarist. Long may The Matches burn!

Showtime “Belushi” Documentary Features Closest Friends’ Testimony on Comic Star

The Opening Night Film of the 56th Chicago International Film Festival on Wednesday, October 14th, was the World Premiere of the documentary “Belushi.” It not only showed at a drive-in on Throop Street in Pilsen, but was streamed to those of us at home.

John Belushi—one of the 7 original members of the “Saturday Night Live” troupe in 1975 and a Wheaton, Illinois native—lived fast and died young. During life, he knew no limits. Born on January 24, 1949, Belushi died March 5, 1982, at the too young age of 33.

One amazing thing about this documentary was how many dead voices who knew Belushi well speak to us about his lack of caution and restraint. He died from a combination of cocaine and heroin (a “speedball”) injected by a woman named Cathy Smith. Smith, who was extradited from Canada, admitted to administering the speedball to Belushi at the Chateau Marmont. She served 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

During the documentary, we hear the voices of such now-deceased close friends as Carrie Fisher (herself a drug addict), Penny Marshall, and Harold Ramis. Their testimony is thanks to oral history interviews recorded by Tanner Colby.   Richard Zanuck, who produced “Neighbors,” Belushi’s last film, and the others repeat that, “John didn’t have a limit on anything.”

A parade of still-living celebrities and close friends also talk about Belushi, including Candice Bergen, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtin and Michael Apted, the director of “Continental Divide,” one of Belushi’s post-SNL films.

Ultimately, we are left wondering why someone who could make so many people happy could not make himself happy. He had a loving wife and close friends, but Belushi himself wrote, “I may be on a natural course of self destruction that no one can control. I’m too far gone.”

A close-up, complete look at a comic star in this R.J. Cutler film for Showtime. The oral interviews plus pages from Belushi’s own journals make this one the definitive word on John Belushi’s life and death. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously in 2004 and was voted “the greatest Saturday Night Live star of all time” in 2015 by “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Dan Partland (“Unfit”) Re-Scheduled for October 22nd on Weekly Wilson Podcast

Joe Biden in Independence, Iowa, on the Fourth of July, 2019.

My apologies to all who tuned in to hear me speak with Dan Partland, Writer/Director/Producer of “Unfit,” the #1 Amazon documentary that answers the question, “What the hell is wrong with Donald J. Trump?”

Due to technical difficulties beyond my control, my show was not on the air on 10/15, but Dan Partland has agreed to be with me “live” on 10/22. Trust me: you want to hear this man talk about the truths revealed in his excellent documentary. You can tape the presidential debate, since we already know, based on tonight’s town halls, that DJT will do his best to interrupt and ruin it, anyway. It’s a “live” call-in format so you can call in with questions at 866-451-1451.

Here’s my other thought for today, before I begin comparing the two town halls in a separate piece (to run later). It is page 705 of Jeffrey Toobin’s book “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump.”

“He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What is right matters even less. And decency matters not at all. I do not ask you to convict him because truth or right or decency matters nothing to him, but because we have proven our case and it matters to you. Truth matters to you. Right matters to you. You are decent. He is not who you are.” (Adam Schiff’s adjuration to the Senate during the impeachment of DJT).

“Unfit” by Director Dan Partland Documents Trump’s Mental Health

The documentary “Unfit,” (now available for rental on Amazon Prime) is the perfect companion piece for Mary Trump’s book “Too Much and Never Enough.” Both informative works feature trained professional psychiatrists or psychologists speculating on the line that the documentary mentions early on, articulated by George Conway (husband of Kellyanne Conway), “What is wrong with him?”

Of course, right now, what is wrong with him is that his stubborn denial of the science and refusal to wear a mask routinely in public has landed our chief executive in Walter Reed Hospital with Covid-19. This just three days after making fun of former Vice President Biden for wearing a mask in public.

But Dan Partland’s documentary, inspired by an article in “Rolling Stone” wants to know what causes Donald Trump to “go off the rails.” We all saw this behavior in real time during the September 29th presidential debate—which wasn’t very presidential at all and certainly put the “off the rails” behavior on full display for the nation and the world.

After a discussion of the Goldwater Rule, which came after the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater’s reputation for wanting to use nuclear weapons caused some mental health professionals to use terms that were libelous and slanderous. Goldwater sued and won. The slogans like “In your heart you know he’s right—-far right” were discredited and an unwritten rule arose that the professional psychiatrists and psychologists should refrain from diagnosing those who were not in their care. However, as the film attests, “We never intended it to be a gag rule.” Yet it did become a gag rule.

However, the truly unique nature of this year’s issues caused the formation of a group of professional psychiatrist and psychologists who formed a group called “Duty to warn.” Like the Lincoln Project, this group of mental health professionals set out to warn about the clear signs of a malignant personality disorder in Donald J. Trump.

What are the signs of a malignant personality disorder?

They are:  1) Narcissism

2) Paranoia

3) Anti-social personality disorder

4) Sadism

Narcissism:

The narcissism is pretty clear. Trump constantly tells us he is “a very stable genius” and nobody can do whatever it is like he can.

Paranoia:

Donald J. Trump’s devotion to conspiracy theories formulated by groups like QAnon and his constant whining about how unfairly he is treated contributes to his sense of paranoia. Even today, there has been some talk that Trump was quite concerned about his recent diagnosis of Covid-19 and that that is why he was helicoptered to the hospital.

Anti-social personality disorder

Trump does not seem like “a people person.” He has been far more astute at mocking and making fun of his enemies than in demonstrating any compassion or empathy for those who are suffering. This tendency helps explain why he doesn’t seem to radiate the emotional depth of someone who really cares. His lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility for missteps or misstatements is correlated with this disorder. Trump seems to have few friends and he has racked up three wives in his 72 years. One analyst used a line from Macbeth: “Those he commands move only in command, nothing in love.  Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.”

Sadism:

Tony Schwartz, who really wrote “The Art of the Deal,” described Trump as a sociopath and said, “He doesn’t feel anything.” This is in keeping with his actions when his older brother, Fred, lay dying and Donald went off to the movies instead of spending time with his dying brother. DJT seems to take a perverse glee in taking petty revenge against those he thinks have wronged him.

Director Dan Partland has assembled a stellar cast of mental health professionals, including John Gartner, PhD, the founder of Duty to Warn; Lance Dodes, M.D., a Harvard graduate from Boston; Justin Frank, a Harvard grad in charge at George Washington University; and some better-known faces like Anthony Scaramucci, who noted that DJT is “a reflection of the cultural zeitgeist.” Bill Kristol, a Harvard PhD who served as Chief-of-Staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle, Richard Painter, who worked under Bush, and Malcolm Nance (author of “Defeating Isis”) are also featured, commenting on the president’s bullish, obnoxious, arrogant, narcissistic behavior, visible to the world at large.

Dan Partland, who is the Writer/Director/Producer of “Unfit,” has been a much-decorated documentary filmmaker for over twenty years. In the 15 years that the Emmys have recognized primetime nonfiction series, Partland’s shows have been nominated for best in class 5 times, and in 3 different sub-genres; Reality, Nonfiction format, and Documentary. Partland has twice won nonfiction series Emmys and in 2011 and 2012 was nominated by the Producers Guild of America for Nonfiction Producer of the Year. In 2001, Partland won an Emmy (Best Non-Fiction Program) for his work on the ground-breaking 13-part doc series American High on Fox. Partland served as the Supervising Producer and a Director of the critically acclaimed show that is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of the current doc series genre.

Partland’s work has spanned several nonfiction genres.  He produced and directed How To Raise An Olympian, a winter Olympics special for NBC and was Showrunner for the multi-award-winning CNN archival series The Sixties. Partland was the Executive Producer and Showrunner of A&E’s Intervention for over 150 episodes, garnering countless awards and accolades including the Emmy for best reality series.

Partland will be joining me to discuss “Unfit” on Thursday, October 15th on my Weekly Wilson podcast (7 to 8 p.m.) on the Bold Brave Media Global Network. It’s a live format, so call in at 866-451-1451.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Been A Rough Four Years

Supreme Court: To Pack or Not to Pack. That is the Question.

When I heard the accusation about “stacking the court” from Pence (at the VP debate) it rang a bell with me from the book by William Dallek I am currently reading, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Political Life.” I knew that FDR had tried to “pack” the Supreme Court—-as Pence termed it. And FDR’s effort failed. “The whole New Deal went up in smoke as a result of the Supreme Court fight,” according to Dallek’s excellent book. The fight opened a divide in the Democratic Party alienating Roosevelt from some former allies and also alienating some Republican allies, like his Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.

As Dallek said in his book, “Roosevelt’s effort to master the judiciary produced something of a pyrhhic victory. FDR’s expenditure of so much political capital on the Court battle forced him to approach other Congressional disputes with uncharacteristic restraint. Advancing new liberal reforms became a distant hope. The Court controversy, one contemporary observer said, sidetracked ‘much useful legislation that otherwise might have been put through.’”

FDR had a plan, which he tried to float as a way to alleviate the overloaded work schedule of the Court. His plan was to add 6 justices, one for every Justice who had served at least 10 years and failed to retire 6 months after turning 70. This would have allowed FDR to immediately appoint 6 new justices, bringing the total to 15. Although the exact number of Supreme Court Justices is not set by the Constitution, the number has been set at 9 since 1869.

FDR, in Fireside Chats (March 4 & 9, 1936) said “There is nothing novel or radical about this idea. It seeks to maintain the bench in full vigor.” He was obviously feeling apprehensive about the move, but he made it——unsuccessfully—-anyway.

All sorts of rhymes sprang up. Here is just one: “Ancient judges sat in the hall, Ancient judges due for a fall. Our country’s Great Leader thinks some younger men, would see that the court gave us justice again.”

Although 60 to 65% of voters were willing to elect FDR to an unprecedented 3rd term, 50% of those same voters opposed the plan to change the court’s make-up. “The issue touched off the worst congressional conflicts of his administration.” As Dallek put it (p. 280), “As someone with a progressive temperament and an adaptive personality that enabled him to accept that changing times meant adopting fresh ways of thinking about old problems, Roosevelt was impatient with politicians who doggedly clung to the past.”

So, things did not go well for one of the most famous Democratic presidents in history when he attempted to “pack the court.”

I began to wonder WHY Pence would specifically attack Harris on this idea, since it seemed quite obvious that it is the GOP who are trying to “stack the courts” and have, indeed, probably succeeded with their recent nomination of an arch Conservative to fill Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat. Did someone I didn’t know about suggest that the Dems might want to change the make-up of the Supreme Court?

I asked this question of Google and the answer was that Eric Holder had mentioned it (former Attorney General under Obama), but that didn’t mean the rest of the party had any plan or knew or approved of his remarks, whereas the GOP have been crowing about how many judges at all levels they have appointed and are attempting to appoint even now.

I began to wonder if and when there had been successful attempts to “pack the Supreme Court.” The answer is that it has happened 7 times in history. The first 3 times centered around the political reaction to the Revolution of 1800. The Court was reduced in size at that time from 6 to 5 to prevent Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party from filling a vacancy as the Federalist Party left office. Once Jefferson was firmly in power, the size was moved back to 6 justices, then to 7, so that Jefferson could appoint new justices. Over the next 30 years, efforts to expand the Court were denied, but President Andrew Jackson gained enough power to add 2 new Justices in 1837.

Lincoln increased the size to 10 to prevent judicial attacks on his war policies. After Lincoln was assassinated, Congress reduced the size of the court to 8, to prevent Andrew Johnson (the new president) from harming Congress’ Reconstruction efforts. Ulysses S. Grant added a justice to insure the overturning of a recent Court decision that invalidated the legal tender law that allowed the government to finance its war efforts.

Obviously, what one party does (the GOP right now) can be done by the opposing party when power shifts (tit for tat). At least, those attempts can be made. In FDR’s case, the attempt was made at a time when he was in his 2nd term and riding high, but his move still failed in 1936.

So, that is the history, in a nutshell, of the attempts to expand the Supreme Court.

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