Brooks and Capehart on Texas voting law, Breyer retirement and replacement

New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Texas’ new restrictive voting law, the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer and who may replace him on the Supreme Court.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

    Hello to both of you on this Friday night.

    David, I know you two were listening, watching Geoff Bennett's report. What do you make of what's happened in Texas and the aftermath of their tightening of election laws?

  • David Brooks:

    I think it's really important to send election clerks to jail for six months. That part of the bill strikes me as completely crazy.

    The overall principle of the thing, that you should voter I.D. in person or by mail, that doesn't strike me as crazy. That strikes me as something 80 percent of Americans support. It strikes me as something that happens in countries all around in the world, Germany, France, Israel. Democracies all around the world have voter I.D.

    And so you would like to think it's just incompetence that, as of, I think last summer, there were two million registered voters who did not have the proper numbers on their — on their — on the voter rolls.

    And so, when they sent in their applications for mail, it came back rejected. And so that's just bureaucratic incompetence, something I think they're trying to fix. But the question is, is this suppression, which we have just heard answered twice.

    And given the law about the clerks, you would have to think there's some nefarious motives going on here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, nefarious motive?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    Yes, I agree 100 percent with David.

    Look, one of the people in that great segment from Geoff Bennett was where he said, it seems like this is more of a feature than it is a bug. And when — the right to vote should be something that should be as easy as possible. The obstacles and the barriers to exercise the franchise should be as few and as low as possible.

    And when you are now threatening poll workers, who, as Ms. DeBeauvoir said, all she wants to do is help people cure their ballots and be able to exercise their right to vote. And yet she's threatened with — threatened with jail.

    But I love that she gave advice without jeopardizing herself. What is happening in Texas, what is happening in Georgia, what is happening in Arizona and other states is happening because the governors and the legislatures in those states don't want their citizens to vote, and they don't want particular citizens to vote.

    I mean, what else are you supposed to think when, in Texas, for example, you can use your gun license as I.D. to prove your I.D., but you can't use your university or college I.D.? What does that say to a potential young voter who wants to vote?

    And so I think the nation's eyes are focused right now on the right to vote and the ability to vote. And it's going to take everyone who is concerned about this to push for remedies to keep these things from happening. And that's why it is very important that the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act somehow get out of their purgatory and get passed and become law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will be watching to see if these kinds of things happen in other states. As we said, 19 states have passed new restrictive voter legislation.

    I do want to ask you both about one of the big news headlines this week, David, and that was the announcement by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer that he is going to step down from the court, retire after almost 28 years. He's going to do so at the end of this term.

    Before we talk about what that means for the future of the court, what is your sense on what he's — what his presence on the bench has meant to the country, to the court for these last few decades?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, two things.

    One, he just has an extraordinary mind. I was once at a conference that we were at, a small conference. And I was giving some presentation. And somewhere in the presentation, I said, here's a problem. I don't really know the answer to the problem, but here's a problem. And I can't read what the problem was.

    So, after the session, he comes up to me with a piece of paper, Breyer, Justice Breyer, and he says: "I don't know the answer to that problem either, but here's how you might think about it."

  • David Brooks:

    And it was this diagram of how you think this, if then this, then this, then this. And it was — filled the whole page. I have never seen anything like it in my life.

    So, I thought, wow, this guy has knows how to think. So, that's the first thing.

    And then the second thing is just how public spirited he was in the way he did things. There's been a controversy this week over whether he was too naive, whether he should understand that we're not in a time where we can have compromise, we can stick to facts. We're in a time of bad faith, of — and we — it's just a brutal war. And some people have accused him of being naive to that fact, and trying to be too reasonable.

    But I would say, A, I don't think Justice Breyer has any chance — choice but to be reasonable. And, B, even in the midst of war, I think it's still important for reasonable people to be reasonable, and to try to seek compromise, to try to seek consensus, to try to seek use reason in a prudent way, and not in a bellicose way.

    And he embodied that throughout his whole career.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, he was a believer in trying to get the justices to come together on some of these most important cases.

  • Jonathan Capehart:


    And that is what the court is going to lose when he retires. The court is going to lose a thinker. One of the things about Justice Breyer, especially in the profiles that I have read, is, his questions could go on and on and on, that he would sort of think out loud as he was trying to figure out what he should think or test out his theories with the opposing lawyer.

    But what that said to me was that here's a thinker who was open. Here's a thinker who really wanted to debate and talk about and think through the issues, in the way that David saw with his own eyes with that diagram that he put out there.

    But the other thing that strikes me about Justice Breyer is the pragmatism. Yes, he is known for being with the left, the liberal wing of the Supreme Court. But pragmatists are people who compromise. They are about coming to — bringing all the sides together and coming to some kind of understanding.

    And, usually, compromise is for the greater good, is for something bigger than his own beliefs, but is something that is for the greater good of either the court as an institution or the country as a whole.

    And it is my hope, and it is my — I really hope that whoever President Biden chooses to be the nominee is someone who will be pragmatic. And I will just say flat out, since we know that it is going to be a Black woman who will be the nominee, and hopefully confirmed as justice, I can tell you right now, there's no more pragmatic people in the world, out of necessity, than a Black woman.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David, what do you make of the president's pledge? He made it first during the campaign. He repeated it this week. He said, I'm going to be naming, he said, the most qualified person, and it is going to be a Black woman judge, the White House said.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I want the court, like every institution in American life, to look like America. And we have known how — we have learned and I think all known how important it is to have people from different backgrounds, because you're — we're not just machines who think.

    We come from a certain background. We're formed by certain values and experiences. So it's important to have that diversity.

    Nonetheless, I confess I'm a little uncomfortable at fronting that identity, putting that identity up front. And I think universities have learned that, as they seek diversity, they should treat the whole person.

    And so naming it that way and putting those identity issues up front, to me, it's a matter of articulation. But I would like to emphasize, I would like to think the part of the person that's up front is their wisdom, their compassion, their care, and that they are treated as a whole person.

    And so I confess I'm a little uncomfortable with the way Joe Biden used that pledge during the campaign, though I support the idea of the pledge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jonathan, would it be better for the president to have said the first thing that matters is wisdom?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    And, well, that's what he said in his remarks yesterday.

    We have to understand something that, for far too long in this country, qualifications and wisdom and everything were never things that were — or ideas or characteristics — that were automatically ascribed to someone who was not white and certainly someone who was not white and male.

    And there — we have seen on the court that diversity has not been a thing on the court up until recently. We have an African American justice. We have several women justices. We have a Latina justice. And, pretty soon, we will have a Black woman justice.

    And it says something — you can focus on the race, but how about we focus on the experience the person brings to the bench because of who they are, where they're from, their lived experience?

    And, also, the Black woman who's going to be on the bench will probably be more impressive, have more qualifications, be more brilliant than the folks who have come in before her, precisely because she has had to be all those things because people used her race to downgrade and — downgrade and belittle and not think much of her, simply because she is Black.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, David?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, well, first of all, I probably agree with that. We will see when the person's named. I have read some of the likely candidates, and they do seem extremely impressive.

    I guess I think the history of America is a history of racial essentialism. It's a history of judging people by what group they're part of and by what skin color. And that's an ugly, awful history.

    And I guess the question for me is, how do we best overcome that history? It involves, A, recognizing race is a real thing, that racial injustice is a real thing. But it also involves trying not to essentialize people, trying not to reduce them to categories.

    And, to me, sometimes, when you — the way it was articulated during the campaign, as I say, it put that level of identity first. I'd like to think he would just pick the best person, and who would be a Black woman.

    But when you put that identity first, I think you're in danger — in a culture that is racial essentializing more and more these days, I think you're in danger of feeding into that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another thought on this, Jonathan?

  • Jonathan Capehart:

    I mean, I — I just disagree.

    I think, as someone who is Black, the idea that you have the — a potential president of the United States, now a president of the United States, who says that he wants to put someone on the bench who looks like you, to me, says he is recognizing that I and we are a part of this country, an integral part of this country, that there have been millions of people who, because of their race, were denied even consideration for being on the bench.

    And so I am not going to criticize the president or at all for saying he wants to put a Black woman on the bench, because, one, it is something that should have been done a long time ago, but, two, the person he does nominate, we all know from jump that that person is more than qualified, is more than worthy, and is more than able to sit on the bench, and hopefully for more than 28 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So important to hear what both of you think about this.

    Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.

  • David Brooks:

    Thanks, Judy.

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