Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


It would be an understatement to say that this past year has been controversial on the political scene.  Three major stories dominated the news from my perspective.  Obviously at the top of the list was the continuing saga of Donald Trump.  Then there was he Alabama Senate race that became the nation’s number one soap opera.  And we learned that the government spends millions of dollars running down rumors of UFOs.

And here’s the kicker.  2018 is potentially shaping up to be the most tumultuous political year in our lifetime. The control of congress, more unpredictable antics from our President, the possible reckless actions from that crazy guy in North Korea, America’s deteriorating role of leadership on the world stage, gridlock in Washington and in legislatures across the nation:  Hey, what more could a political junkie ask for?

So far, President Trump has not followed in the paths of Reagan, Roosevelt and Kennedy in being forceful leaders who reached out to build working coalitions.  Great leaders, in order to govern effectively, extended their tribal base by appealing to people’s hopes rather than their fears.  There is a long history of presidents using their office as a bully pulpit to rally support.  But do we now have a bully in the pulpit?

Whether you are a Trump supporter or not, he is viewed across the board as an aggressive, abusive, no holds barred president. In the years to come, historians will look back to see if the presidency has changed Donald Trump, or if Donald Trump has changed the presidency.

The president is making a major effort to restructure the federal judiciary and has forwarded some three dozen nominations to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. Only six have been confirmed so far, and for good reason.  In a number of cases, Trump has selected grey mice. That’s the name given by court watchers to nominees who lack the scholarship, the temperament, and the learning to be federal judges.

We witnessed first hand several nominees who were over their heads and obviously unqualified for the federal bench in Senate judiciary committee confirmation hearings just a few weeks ago. Louisiana Senator John Kennedy has commendably hammered away at several nominees as to their knowledge of basic judicial terminology. Concepts any candidate for a judgeship should know.

As the Baton Rouge advocate reported: “The questions highlighted (nominee) Matthew Peterson’s lack of courtroom experience. Pressed by Sen. Kennedy, Peterson acknowledged having never made arguments in a court room nor having tried a case– and then struggled to define a series of legal terms, several of which legal expert described as fairly basic.”  As Kennedy appropriately observed:  “Just because you’ve seen ‘My cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge.”

So to help out future nominees, I’m offering a few questions and answers that should be memorized before appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing. Any future nominee should give me a call because, hey I’m a lawyer, and I’m admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.  So with the aid of Professor Garrett Epps at Baltimore University, I offer these suggested responses.

A Lawsuit: That’s what you wear in court.

Recusal: When the judge takes a brief judicial nap.

Sidebar: that’s of course the liquor kept near the courtroom.

Erie doctrine:  the rule that testimony by ghosts is inadmissible.

Bench trial:  Shopping for a new chair for the judge.

Judicial review: the number of “likes” on the judge’s twitter feed.

Res judicata:  the judges once a year have a race around the courthouse.

Marbury v. Madison:  the first matchup for the NCAA national football championship.

For all you judicial wannabes, gray mice or otherwise, I hope this helps in your quest to ascend to the federal bench.  For all the rest of us, get ready for a knock down-drag out 2018.  Happy New Year!

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


In Louisiana, a number of Jefferson and St. Tammany Parish officials were aghast a few years ago over a proposal to sell the Causeway Bridge that goes to the North Shore across Lake Pontchartrain. When the state’s largest paper, the Times Picayune, mixed the idea editorially, one elected official after the other fell all over themselves running away from even any talk of such an atrocity.

“That is the most ridiculous thing ever heard in my life,” said one Jefferson councilman. “I’m just flabbergasted that is even being considered,” said another. The gang at the Times Picayune took the final blow by editorializing that “this bad idea can’t die fast enough.” So why on earth would any public official even consider such an idea?

I might offer two reasons. The state is broke and there is a backlog of some $14 billion to build and fix roads.  A number of developers have told me that they see no predictable solutions in the near future.

Secondly, the sale of roads, buildings, sewer systems and a number of other publicly built projects are being sold to private groups in more progressive states all over the country. New projects are regularly being bid out to private groups to either lease or own. It’s the wave of the future, not just in the U.S., but also in industrialized countries worldwide.

In Virginia, the major interstate south of Washington, DC is a toll road built by a private investment group. In Detroit, there is an ordinary four-lane bridge in the busiest commercial border crossing in North America, carrying one-third of all road trade — or more than $122 billion in goods a year — between the two countries. It is owned by one man and his privately held company.

Airport rail links like the Chicago Skyway and the new California South Bay Expressway are examples of many privately owned toll roads in the US. Privately owned toll roads have been popular in Europe and Australia for years. In Chicago, the mayor auctioned off the city’s Skyway Transportation system for $1.8 billion.  And take a look at Indiana. Facing a $3 billion transportation-funding shortfall, the state auctioned off the rights to operate the Indiana Toll Road to a private group for a mere $3.85 billion.

Estimates have been made by the U.S. Department of Transportation that worldwide there have been more than 1100 private-public deals in the transportation field alone in the past 20 years, with a value of some $360 billion.

So what gives here? The Wall Street Journal asks the question recently as to whether there is any legitimate concern that private operators are only interested in making “money at the expense of taxpayers, and that new owners will skimp on maintenance and repair work in order to squeeze profits out of these operations?”  Progressive states around the country have dealt with these objections by building in restrictions and operating requirements to the contract which allow any such deal to be canceled and the roads and bridges taken back if “operators do not live up to the terms.”

If you want to be a bit cynical about those who oppose private ownership, one might wonder whether those objecting are looking to maintain their hold on public assets, especially since the commissions that often run these public authorities, as we have often seen, can create real job-patronage mills. And who is really happy with the condition of roads and bridges throughout Louisiana?

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal has a say about private ownership of bridges and highways. “For the first time in over a generation, America’s mayors and governors are looking at a realistic way to jump-start spending they’ve neglected for too long. Such deals bring welcome benefits to the transportation sector.”

Louisiana is facing a massive backlog of road and bridge repairs, as well as new construction needs. It is completely unrealistic to think that Governor Edwards and the legislature will be able to find enough new revenue to deal with this huge transportation problem. Rather than limping along, other states are becoming aggressive and proactive in bringing in the private sector.

 We need less parochial grandstanding and more vision by those who are elected to serve us throughout the entire state. Here’s the question to ask: “Does anyone notice the risk of inaction?”


“A new leader has to be able to change an organization that is dreamless, soulless and vision-less … someone’s got to make a wake up call.”
– Warren Bennis

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Republicans across the nation are cheering over the results of the Alabama senate race.  No, you didn’t read this wrong.  Sure, democrats are celebrating over the election victory of one of their own for the first time in 25 years.  But it should be no surprise to learn that key republicans are also pleased with the outcome.

The reason for GOP rejoicing is that they have thrown off the albatross of Roy Moore from around their necks.  Republicans will no longer have to answer, month after month, every question from the press that begins with: “Now about Roy Moore?”

Few republicans could even begin defend Roy Moore’s candidacy.  It wasn’t just the issue of preying on teenage girls.  Sure, that was bad enough. But Moore, as Alabama chief justice, continually failed to abide by the law.  In fact, he's been removed twice from the bench for disobeying the law. Following and enforcing the law is a bedrock premise for any republican elected official. It should be for all of those in public life.  But Roy Moore believed otherwise.

It’s one thing as a judge for Moore to write dissenting opinions and even to publically disagree and criticize decisions from both the Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court.  For those of you who regularly read this column, you are well aware of the blistering criticism I have levied against the federal court system.

But Judge Moore went much further time and time again while serving as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. One of the basic functions of being on the state’s highest court is to follow the dictates of the United State Supreme Court, whether you agree or not. Moore feels otherwise, and has said by his actions that he is above the law.

Not only does Roy Moore have no business being elected to the U.S. Senate, he has no business riding a horse. Did you see him on television riding off to vote?  Moore had trouble guiding the horse and didn’t even know how to hold the reins. His horsemanship was as feeble as his senatorial campaign.

So why do I say the GOP is better of without Moore? Simple. They will have a much better shot to regain the senate seat in 2020. Alabama is still a strong red state, and if republicans offer even a moderately qualified candidate, it’s hard to see how the new senator, Democrat Doug Jones, could hold on to his newly acquired seat.  In the meantime, republicans across the nation will not have to defend Moore’s past legal actions and personal indiscretions.

And remember that republicans still control the senate by one vote.  If there is as tie vote that takes place, the republican vice president casts the decisive vote. The challenge will be to see if republicans can hold on to current seats in the coming 2018 election.

On a much sadder note, Louisiana lost one of its legal giants this past week.  Federal Judge Jim Brady, from Baton Rouge, died unexpectantly at the young age of 77.  I have known Judge Brady for over 50 years, and admired his tenacity and scholarly competence on the bench as well as his open and friendly demeanor.

The Judge was a regular each Monday for lunch at a local Baton Rouge restaurant, where a number of judges and politicians gathered. Jim would work the room like he was running for office, even though he had a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. If there were ever an election for a federal judge, Jim Brady would win in a landslide.  He was a good friend and a great federal judge.  We will sure miss him.

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Monday, December 11, 2017


Thursday, December 7th, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


A hue and cry is mounting around the country that voting machines used on Election Day are eminently hackable.  Congress is investigating charges by the Office of Homeland Security that Russia attempted to hack into voting machines in 21 different states.  So is the integrity of our election system being undermined?  Are computer hackers able to change election results?  What gives?

Obviously, there is something fishy going on. It’s not just the election system being hacked.  New reports have told us that computer systems of major companies like Sony, Equifax and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have been broken into.  So how can we be sure that your vote cast the polls on Election Day is secure?

There is a recent push by election reformers to go back to, can you believe, paper ballots.  That’s right. Just like the first American elections back in the 1800s. There is a non-profit group called Verify Voting that is telling state officials:  “We have a single technology at our disposal that is invulnerable to hacking: paper.”  So will elections officials do an about face and reinstitute the paper ballot system?

When I was elected as Louisiana Secretary of State back in 1979, there were a number of election fraud allegations.  I formed an Election Integrity Commission and appointed former Secretary of State Wade O. Martin to head up the effort to weed out voter fraud.  Were election shenanigans going on in the Bayou State?  I often quoted former governor Earl Long, who once said:  “Oh Lord, when I die, let me be buried in Louisiana.  So I can stay active in politics.”  Of course there was voter fraud back then using paper ballots.

As one retired local sheriff told me, you could make the election results dance with paper ballots during absentee voting.  Here’s how one could beat the system. During the two-week absentee voting period, the sheriff would have his deputies pick up agreeable voters and bring them to the courthouse to vote.

A piece of paper was cut as the same size as the official ballot. The first voter was given the fake ballot and instructed go into the Clerk of Court’s office where absentee voting was taking place.  He was instructed to drop the fake ballot in to the voting box, put the real ballot into his pocket, bring it back out to the sheriff, where he was paid five or ten dollars, whatever the going rate was to buy votes back then.

Once the first official ballot was in hand, the vote buyer would mark the ballot for whoever he was supporting, give it to the next voter, tell the voter to put the official ballot into the ballot box, return with an unmarked ballot, and he would be paid for his effort.  This could go on all day for the two-week voting period with hundreds of illegal votes being cast.

This scheme was used, particularly in rural areas in the state, by numerous candidates who were trying to beat the system.  So no system at the present time seems to be foolproof.  But elections officials should move cautiously about throwing the current system to the wind and go back to paper ballots.

Louisiana presently has some 10,000 voting machines in 64 parishes. Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler is confident that the present election system works in Louisiana.  He’s done a commendable job so far.  But he has his work cut out in the future in putting in place cybersecurity that protects the integrity of the ballot, but still makes it easy for citizens to cast their vote.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at