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We the People: Remarks to the American Constitution Society

Washington DC

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you all very much,…

A special word of welcome to those of you visiting from out of town.  I have a sacred constitutional duty as Governor of Maryland that I am here to fulfill.  You are hereby cordially invited to visit us across the Potomac.  Please feel free to invest in our local economy.

I want to introduce a member of my staff who is with us today.  Cassie Motz serves as my Deputy Chief of Staff.  You may know her mom, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Or her dad, Judge Frederick Motz, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

It’s great to be here with all of you.  Although, I must confess you invited the wrong member of the O’Malley household.  My wife, Judge Katie O’Malley is the superior legal mind in our family.

Of my six brothers and sisters, four of us became attorneys, including myself.  We all wanted to be just like our dad.  To us he was Atticus Finch.  Like him, we wanted to be able to stand up for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.

In that sense, perhaps you could call this organization the “Atticus Finch Society.”  By applause how many of you have seen the Gregory Peck movie?  How many have read To Kill A Mockingbird.  How many, like the O’Malley brothers, were inspired by Atticus Finch to study law?

Atticus Finch was a lone voice for justice in a sea of reactionaries.  Sound familiar?  America needs the American Constitution Society.

The Common Good

As members of this organization, you recognize that any conversation about justice must begin with the common good.

Each of us has a role to play– whether we’re working through the courts, the congress, or in our own communities, our own cities, our own states.

There are some – particularly those who happen to identify with the Federalist Society – who would argue that government is never a part of the answer.

We might ask them, what then is the question?

Because if the question is how to create jobs,… how to strengthen our country’s middle class,… how to create greater freedom, opportunity, and justice for all,… then a working and effective government is an indispensable and essential part of the answer.

How can we hope to make our society and our laws more just if our government no longer functions properly?

How can we hope to enforce the law, if we cannot pick-up the trash?

How can we hope for equal protection under the law when our own Congress can’t get over the obstructions of a minority faction of Tea Party ideologues?

And by the same note,…

How can we be expected to increase citizen engagement when decisions like Crawford v. Marion County Election Board open the floodgates for anti-voting measures in states across our country?

How can we protect the principle of one person, one vote, when Citizens United makes it easier for Governor Scott Walker to outspend his opponent 8-1 in Wisconsin?

What the Federalist Society is doing in our courts, the Tea-Party is doing in our state houses and in our Congress.

Rather than expanding rights they seek to restrict them.

Rather than expanding opportunity they seek to constrict it; and

Rather than strengthening our middle class, they seek to concentrate wealth and power for the top 1%.

This is what happens when we allow the far right wing to stack any of our institutions.

They gerrymander right wing districts and intimidate law-abiding citizens out of voting.

They flood political campaigns with unlimited corporate cash.

They create all sorts of special interest loopholes, and send our jobs to China.

And they use the power of their elected offices to dismantle our government.  How?  Two ways – and they are related:

First they use the false guise of “tax cuts for all” – which really means millionaires and billionaires – to starve government of revenues.

Second, they drive up deficits in hope that they can scare us out of making any common sense investments in priorities like education, innovation, or rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due.  They’ve been very effective at this.

But in the process, they’ve managed to halt middle class progress for the first time in American history.

Economic mobility is now lower in the United States than virtually any other highly developed country on Earth.  The ladder of opportunity has been pulled up for millions of middle class Americans.

You and I understand that if there is no way out of poverty for our poorest neighbors, there is no way forward for the middle class.

And if there is no way forward for the middle class, then the success of our American experiment has come to an end.

That’s where their choices would take us.  And that’s exactly why we need all of you to be a part of a new movement.

A movement that asks not whether a policy is left or right but whether it moves our country forward or back.

A movement that recognizes that the fundamental question about any public policy is “does it work?”

A movement that calls for leadership that is entrepreneurial.

Leadership that is collaborative.

Leadership that is accountable, performance measured, and relentlessly interactive.

Leadership that creates common platforms to connect and empower individuals.

Leadership which understands the power of human dignity and the strength of our diversity.

Maryland

This how we do things in Maryland.

We recognize in our State that things like equal rights, inclusion, diversity, an open society, respect for the dignity of every individual –these things make our State a more innovative and creative place for business and job creation.

On the other hand, things like inequality, discrimination, exclusivity, intolerance, disparity and division – these things weaken the potential of our creative economy.

And so we’ve nominated a record high percentage of women to the state bench, and awarded state contracts to a record percentage of women and minority-owned businesses.

We passed the DREAM Act and did more than any other state to hold down the cost of college tuition.

We made record investments in public education and drove down the achievement gaps between white and minority students.

We listened when our nonpartisan Commission on Capital Punishment told us that the death penalty does not work and cannot be administered without racial bias.  And we abolished it and replaced it with the less-expensive alternative of life without parole.

We took action to expand substance abuse treatment,… we invested more to better serve Maryland’s homeless,… we worked together to drive down infant mortality,… and we fed thousands of hungry children in pursuit of the goal we set for eradicating childhood hunger.

And we passed a civil marriage equality bill and successfully defended it at the ballot.  Our message focused on human dignity and the idea that we all want the same thing for our kids: to live in a loving, stable, committed home protected equally under the law.

We’re anxious to see if the Supreme Court will vote to finally end federal discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens.

On the issue of voting rights: other states have used Crawford v. Marion County Election Board as a cudgel.  They passed new laws like photo-ID requirements – and we all know what these laws are really all about: deterring lower income Americans from voting.  Keeping racial minorities away from the polls.  Creating obstacles for Americans living with disabilities and seniors.  Suppressing turnout among Democratic-leaning constituencies.

In Maryland, we made better choices.  Instead of making voting harder, we made it easier.  We let our citizens register to vote online.  We made same-day registration available during early voting.  We offered early voting on more days, at more locations, and for longer hours.  And, we made it easier for citizens to vote-by-mail thru absentee balloting.

Opponents of our efforts to enfranchise more Marylanders did not even attempt to go to referendum on these reforms – understanding that public opinion is overwhelmingly on the side of making it easier to vote.

What’s more, Maryland’s Tea-Partiers were unable to obtain the necessary signatures to petition either our new gun violence prevention law or our capital punishment repeal to the ballot.

Conclusion

Ultimately, all these efforts come back to the belief we share in our own responsibility to advance the common good.

The late Judge Learned Hand, wrote that “a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save,… a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save,…[and] a society which evades its responsibility by thrusting upon the courts the nurture of that spirit, that spirit in the end will perish.”

We the People have generations of creative, healing, life-giving work in front of us. And We need the work of the American Constitution Society to fulfill our destiny.

Thank you all very much.

 

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