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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

It's a Good Day

when you don't have to check the news repeatedly to keep up with Donald Trump's latest atrocity.  Not that he isn't trying, but since the many attacks that his supporters have perpetrated on journalists, the media isn't cooperating with free publicity anymore.  Things have calmed down to the point that public life is kind of boring, which is the way it should be. 


There could not be a greater contrast between Melania Trump and Dr. Jill Biden, which reminds me:  when I wrote about Dolley Madison and the 1814 invasion of the capitol (by British soldiers, not American civilians like last January), a reader asked about my favorite first ladies.  Of course Democrats Eleanor Roosevelt and her acolyte, Hillary Clinton, are the best, as well as Michelle Obama.  She kept her excellent reputation with the public by largely staying out of politics, while Hillary and Eleanor fearlessly waded in to fight for the underdog.  But what I want to talk about today is a Republican woman who should be better known, from the days when some Republicans were proudly liberal, especially on matters of race. 


Lou Henry married Herbert Hoover after her 1898 graduation from Stanford University, where she was the first woman to earn a degree in geology.  Like all too many women of her time, she never used the degree in paid employment, but she did actively participate in her husband's international mining business.  She and their two young children traveled with him to Egypt, India, Russia, and more.  China was especially troublesome, as miners there rebelled against the presence of a woman underground.  They were sure she would cause a cave-in.


While a young wife and mother, she also studied at the London School of Mines and published several technical articles, as well as a complex translation of a 16th Century mining textbook.  For that, she received the Gold Medal of the Mining and Metallurgical Society.  The couple was in London when World War I began, and Lou Henry Hoover demonstrated her innate organizational skills by working in war relief.  A lack of food quickly became a serious problem in Europe, and she returned to the US to rally Americans on the need for conservation of that and other resources.




After the war, when Herbert Hoover became active in Republican politics, she concentrated on two organizations that emphasized girls and women.  Lou Henry Hoover was a co-founder of the Women's Division of the National Amateur Athletic Association, and from 1917 to 1944, she served on the national board of the Girl Scouts.  During that time, the Girl Scouts grew from ten thousand to over a million members.  She made speeches saying "girls can do anything" -- yet at the same time, she opposed the entrance of women into the Olympics.  She thought that its degree of competitiveness was inappropriate for women.


Her most important contribution to the American scene, though, was when, as first lady, she invited wives of congressmen to the White House – including Jessie DePreist, who was married to an African American representative from Chicago.  Although the first lady was careful to include only women she knew would not be offended, the press got hold of the story and there was a huge national uproar.  A Washington newspaper editorial denounced Hoover for "defiling the White House," and a Mobile paper deemed it "an arrogant insult to the South" that "has harmed Mr. Hoover to a serious extent."


It's unlikely that Alabamans of that era would have voted for Hoover in any case, but some Northerners also joined the criticism.  For the first time in history, state legislatures passed resolutions condemning a first lady.  That began in Texas, but was followed by New Jersey and other states.  This tumult was in 1929, Herbert Hoover's first year in office, and by the time he was up for reelection in 1932, the Great Depression had set in and his wife's liberalism no longer was a reason why he lost to Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. 


I've never seen a comment from Eleanor on this, but maybe I should read more of her voluminous writing.  I have searched for years to get a first name for Mrs. Oscar DePriest, and now, through the magic of the internet, I finally know.  He was the first African American elected to Congress after Reconstruction, and during his six-year tenure was the only one.  He was succeeded by another African-American man, who was the first Democrat ever.  Although it would take decades for all of the formerly "Solid South" to join the trend, the 1932 election – and especially this race -- signaled the shift of African Americans from the Republican Party to the Democratic.




Because of an order issued by President Joe Biden, a non-partisan commission of legal experts is examining fundamental reform of the judicial system, especially the Supreme Court.  This arose because of the hypocrisy of Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who refused for a year to hold hearings on Barack Obama's nomination of the well-qualitied Merrick Garland because – McConnell said – it was inappropriate to add a newcomer to the Court during an election year.  Yet when a vacancy arose during the last weeks of the Trump administration, McConnell fell all over himself to have his Republican Senate confirm Trump's nominee.  This commission is a result.


Most of us hold the Supreme Court as involute:  like the pope, its word is not to be doubted.  Yet if we know any history, we know that isn't true.  The Court has overruled itself many times during our national evolution.  My favorite example of a really quick reversal is in labor law pertaining to women.  In a 1905 case, Lochner vs. the United States, the Court ruled that state laws protecting women from long hours of work was an unconstitutional interference with an employer's right to establish schedules – but just three years later, in Mueller vs. Oregon (1908), the court upheld Oregon's law creating a ten-hour maximum work day. 


This is just one example of many reversed decisions.  The most famous doubtless is Plessy vs. Ferguson, in which the court accepted racial segregation as legal; that was in 1890, and by 1954, it ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that Topeka's public schools could not exclude young Linda Brown simply because she was black.  Schools closed throughout the South as segregationists tried to evade the Court's order, but integration ultimately was achieved because of the federal government's executive branch.  Both Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and his successor, Democrat John F. Kennedy, used their presidential powers.  And congressional segregationists lost respect because of their prolonged filibuster – another thing to be reexamined.




The Constitution gave Congress the power to establish a court system, and neither its size nor any number of other current issues are mentioned.  Perhaps the most powerful of the rights the Court has assumed for itself is "judicial review," meaning the authority to strike down laws it deems unconstitutional.  The commission's experts are considering ways to reduce this power.  Some suggest that if the Court strikes down an established law, it must do so by a super majority.  Another proposal is that Congress could override rulings with a supermajority, instead of the current -- and nearly impossible -- requirement for a constitutional amendment. 


Since the 2000 presidential election, when in Gore vs. Bush, the Court stopped the recount of ballots here in Florida, it has nullified an increasing amount of legislation that was legitimately adopted by our elected representatives.  In cases such as Citizens United, we have lost campaign finance laws that would have increased honesty.  We also lost portions of the historic civil rights laws adopted in the 1960s, especially in voting.  That should be a federal right, not a matter of so-called "states' rights."  After all, we consider ourselves to be Americans first, not Alabamians or whatever. 


Which reminds me:  some speakers to this commission addressed the fact that Democrats have won seven of the eight last presidential elections – but the people's votes don't decide who will occupy the White House.  That decision is made by the Electoral College, an anarchism that should be abolished.  This never will happen as long as the states with low populations have disproportionate power in the "college."  The last time I looked, a vote in Idaho was worth sixteen times more than one in Florida, and that just isn't fair.  An organization called National Popular Vote is working on this, and I ask you to please check it out. 


All of these things and many more need serious debate, but Florida's lawmakers continue to evade profound issues by focusing on such things as trans girls playing basketball.  When Marco Rubio comes around to ask for your vote next year, ask him instead about this stuff.



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