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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

September 17, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 14

Kavanaugh failed to explain expansive view of executive power

Americans needed to learn more about his take on constitutionality.

In all of U.S. history, only 37 Supreme Court nominees have fallen short of confirmation. Eleven were rejected by Senate vote. The remainder withdrew or had their nominations lapse at the end of a congressional session. That makes for a strong historical bias in favor of a president’s nominees.

No matter which party holds the presidency or the Senate majority, there has been a recognition that justices become part of the chief executive’s legacy and are likely to reflect the values of that president.

And, yet, the advice and consent role of the Senate was not intended as a mere rubber stamp. Unfortunately, in the vetting of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans chose to ramrod through a nomination that should have, by any measure, received far closer scrutiny than it has.

Their refusal to release more than 100,000 documents that include Kavanaugh’s time as a high-level political operative in the George W. Bush White House and as investigator for special counsel Kenneth Starr in his pursuit of President Bill Clinton, is a shameful and deliberate abrogation to fulfill their check-and-balance responsibility, particularly as regards a lifetime appointment.

As it stands, there remain too many troublesome aspects of Kavanaugh’s background, too much evasion of questions that deserved deeper answers, for the Star Tribune Editorial Board to support his confirmation.

That is a departure for this board, which earlier supported the nomination of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch to the high court. Our opinion on Kavanaugh is not based on his positions on issues such as abortion rights, gun rights and voting rights. A Republican president would be expected to nominate someone aligned with his values, and, for the most part, Kavanaugh is fairly typical of judges who could pass muster with the Federalist Society, to whom President Donald Trump delegated the initial cull.

But there is something different about this nominee. Alone among the more than two dozen names Trump considered, Kavanaugh has endorsed a singularly expansive view of executive power, even stating in a paper and speech that the president should be immune from criminal investigation or prosecutorial questions while in office.

Given the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, Kavanaugh had a responsibility to fully air his thinking. Instead, he evaded, suggesting during hearings that his 2009 Minnesota Law Review article was simply a call for Congress to pass a law shielding presidents from legal inquiries.

That paper, however, also contains this telling footnote in which Kavanaugh himself raised the issue of constitutionality: “Even in the absence of congressionally conferred immunity,” he wrote, “a serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a president can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.” (“Separation of Powers During the Forty-Fourth presidency and Beyond,” pg. 8, footnote 31.)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor, told an editorial writer that Kavanaugh’s notion of presidential power and immunity “are not a commonly held view at all” and even include support for the ability of a president to remove a special counsel. Klobuchar noted that Trump’s list had included “plenty of people with good credentials, but the White House picked the one with the most expansive view of presidential power.”

Kavanaugh’s evasiveness may have been rooted in the knowledge that his confirmation required but 51 votes in a body where Republicans hold ... 51 seats. Earlier rules that required 60 votes to stop a filibuster might have prompted a much different strategy, perhaps motivating Kavanaugh to be more forthcoming in his answers.

Republicans might have thought twice about withholding most of the relevant documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House and as an investigator for Starr. Trump might have needed to select a nominee with a modicum of bipartisan appeal. Instead, the Republican Senate jettisoned the last vestiges of the filibuster rule in 2017 to confirm Gorsuch. Even so, Gorsuch managed to avoid a strictly party-line vote, gaining several Democratic votes.

The committee vote on Kavanaugh has been delayed until Thursday. Republicans may yet manage to muscle through his confirmation, cementing a conservative majority on the court. The more responsible course would be to reject this flawed nominee and allow the president to make another selection, with a promise to work toward the strong bipartisan support that until recently was a regular feature of Supreme Court nominations.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Sept. 13

Health insurance: State should take action on uninsured rate

Why it matters: A growing number of people without insurance will push costs up for everyone.

The number of people without health insurance rose in Minnesota last year, and that threatens to increase costs for medical providers and insurance companies who will be forced to pass on those costs to all Minnesotans who have health insurance.

But the state government, providers and consumers can play a role in mitigating the risk of those cost increases.

Some 243,000 Minnesotans went without health insurance last year, an increase of 18,000 people compared to 2016, according to a report by the Census Bureau. Minnesota still has one of the lowest rates of uninsured in the country at 4.5 percent. The national level is 8.8 percent.

The Minnesota Department of Health put the uninsured rate at 6.5 percent using somewhat different methods, according to a report in the Star Tribune. That would a more significant increase from a rate of 4.3 percent uninsured from 2015.

Health care economists told the Star Tribune the rate of increase is troubling particularly because it came at a time of fairly robust economic growth and low unemployment rates. Other experts noted that the upward trend is troubling because there is no real safety net for those who have enough income to make them ineligible for government programs, but not enough to afford good insurance.

But there are solutions. The state estimates that about half of the people without insurance could qualify for government Medicaid programs or for help paying premiums. The first and easiest solution would be to make a robust effort to publicize the help programs to the uninsured population.

Experts also note the cost of health care puts pressure on premiums, making them less affordable. The state has programs that offer incentives for providers who become more efficient and coordinate care. Those programs should be expanded.

And third, consumers, even those with robust insurance policies, should evaluate their need for costly care. Those decisions are made easier by price transparency. If consumers know how much a procedure costs their insurance company and can compare those costs with other providers, they can make good choices on care.

Minnesota has just scratched the surface on providing price transparency. Several proposals in the Legislature for requiring transparency have been introduced but not gotten very far. There are public reports that also show average prices at different providers, but they are sometimes not complete or user friendly for intensive price scrutiny.

The health care cost and affordability dilemma will not go away on its own. It requires focused and urgent action by the state, providers and consumers.

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Post Bulletin, Sept. 12

Ken Burns film illuminates Rochester-Mayo values

Ken Burns’ Mayo Clinic documentary, which had its world premiere Monday night at Mayo Civic Center, resulted in a variety of reactions from the audience. There were tears, laughter, applause and knowing nods as stories and faces, familiar and new, appeared on the screen.

Overall, though, it was impossible to suppress a sense of hometown pride. “Mayo Clinic: Faith-Hope-Science,” traces the history of the clinic and rightly emphasizes the close connection between the Mayos, the Sisters of St. Francis, and the community of Rochester.

“It feels like we’re back home,” Burns said as he introduced the film. Burns and his crew spent three years working on the film, exploring Mayo and Rochester, digging through the archives, observing surgery, going on hospital rounds with doctors, interviewing patients, talking to locals. “What transpires in this town,” Burns said, “is nothing short of a miracle.”

Rochester and Mayo are intertwined. As the film shows, the city and the clinic grew side by side. When patients began arriving at Mayo in their hundreds of thousands, the community built lodgings to house them, restaurants to feed them, and eventually an international airport to transport them.

The relationship has been testy at times. Growing pains, the changing nature of medical care, the need for affordable housing — we could go on and on — have all helped create stress and pressure. Generally, Rochester and Mayo have learned to navigate these challenges.

If Mayo does well, Rochester will prosper. But Mayo can’t do well if Rochester doesn’t prosper. It’s a truism both Mayo and city officials will need to keep in mind as we face an even more challenging future.

“We’re not perfect,” Dr. John Noseworthy, Mayo president and CEO, said in a discussion after the screening of the film. “We don’t always do things right.”

After all, the clinic is made up of imperfect humans. Has it become more imperfect as it grows? Has the drive for economies made the clinic’s mission more problematical? Has Rochester bit off more than it can chew with the Destination Medical Center project? The answers to those questions won’t be found in Burns’ film.

Yes, Mayo Clinic has changed, as has Rochester. We are, after all, tied to each other.

Most importantly, though, both Mayo and Rochester are dedicated to service to humanity. “This is a film mostly about values,” Burns said of his documentary.

Those values are what ultimately connect Rochester and Mayo Clinic. It’s something of which all of us who live and work in this region can be proud.

As Burns said Monday, “It could only take place here.”

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