Standing Up for Our Democracy and Impeachment

Almost two years ago, I spoke to a group of engaged citizens at the State Capitol, on President’s Day, to talk about an affront to our constitutional separation of powers.  The President had just announced the illegal diversion of funds to build a border wall.  We challenged that railroading of Congress’s power in court and, as has occurred repeatedly over the last four years, the courts checked the illegal action of this President.

Today, this President continues to abuse his power, and act without regard for the law, for his office, or for decency towards others.  This has led to an attack on our democratic republic itself, to the theft and vandalism of public property, to the desecration of the United States Capitol, and to the deaths of five Americans.  We are left with no other option: this President must be removed from office.

These last two years, our office acted again and again to defend the Rule of Law and challenge this President’s disregard for our Constitution.  From illegally shuffling taxpayer funds from our military to fund his border wall to illegally ending DACA to the abuse of the Postal Service to attempts to overturn the results of the Presidential election.

This past week, this President once again abused his office, acting illegally and dangerously.  And for what?  For the sole reason of advancing his own political and personal interests.  

And let’s not forget that, over this past week, his unlawful actions weren’t just limited to the violence on Wednesday.  Just days earlier, we learned of his calls to Georgia election officials, pressuring them to commit illegal acts and find enough votes to overturn his defeat in that state.  He refused to do so.  Let us always give credit to public officials who do the right thing, regardless of party.   Closer to home, former Republican Speaker of the Colorado House Russ George just condemned Lauren Boebert for her failure of leadership and actions that contributed to the attack on the Capitol.

This week marked a new low from this White House, with the unprecedented and previously unthinkable actions of a President urging his supporters to interfere with the operation of another branch of government as it certified a presidential election.  Those rioters—who desecrated the hallowed halls of the Capitol, destroyed government property, assaulted Capitol staff, and even murdered a Capitol Police officer—must be held accountable for their actions.  And the President who egged them on must be held accountable as well—and not allowed to further harm our nation.  

If the Vice President and Cabinet won’t invoke the 25th Amendment to protect the country when the president is unfit, Congress must act and condemn his abuse of power and undermining of our Constitution.  It is important that the voice of “We The People” be heard at this critical moment in our history.

Going forward, we cannot stop with the condemnation of the abuses of power by our current President.  We must do the work of building up the leadership our nation needs,  rebuilding our democratic institutions, and recommitting ourselves to the Rule of Law and equal justice for all.  Let us come together to fight for America.  Let us follow the examples set by Presidents Washington and Lincoln, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and legislators John Lewis and Stacey Abrams.  

Thanks to the voters of Georgia, particularly in the African American community, we now add Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof to the list of leaders who will help rebuild America.  And I sure do like the sound of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Thanks to the work of so many here, and across the United States, the U.S. Senate can be a force for—and not a brake on—progress.  

President’s Day will be soon upon us again and this year we will have a new President and Vice President, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  As we open a new chapter in our history, let us be guided by the example of President Lincoln.  Lincoln called on us to heed the voices of our better angels.  In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln uttered these powerful words that resonate today: “with malice toward none; with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.”  We all know we have much work to do to rebuild and renew our democratic republic.  By doing that work, we can realize Lincoln’s vision for our democracy—“a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Thank you for your engagement and commitment to our important work ahead.  It is an honor to serve you and work with you.

 


The Continued Work of Defending Our Democracy

When I was running for Colorado Attorney General in 2018, I often talked about our democracy being at stake. Since my election, I have fought to preserve the rights of Coloradans, including the right to vote.  After the events of the last several months, it is clear how vulnerable our democratic norms actually are—and how much work we need to do to defend the rule of law and our democratic institutions.

Because of my deep commitment to defending our democracy, I am running for re-election to build on our work together.  

In 2020, we witnessed unprecedented attacks on our democratic institutions.  To protect our democracy, we went all the way to the Supreme Court—and won. We brought a case involving the threat that “faithless” Presidential electors would disregard the will of the people.  Last May, in the final case heard by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we prevailed in a unanimous decision.  This victory proved important last fall when we faced the threat that electors from some states would be pressured to go against the will of the voters, in defiance of the results in our Presidential election. And we once again stood up for our democracy and the rule of law this fall in opposing a petition by Texas at the Supreme Court that attempted to override how other states manage their elections, as explained in this op-ed

Last summer, we also went to court here in Colorado (and joined a multistate effort) to stop the US Postal Service’s plans that would have undermined the delivery of ballots by mail.  This effort was a true partnership between the Attorney General’s office and the people we serve. When we asked you to share stories of degraded mail delivery, we received scores of stories. We used several of them to make our case successfully and to secure relief.     We fought for our voting rights together, and Colorado won.  And we successfully sued the Postal Service a second time—and won again—to address the sending of misleading postcards to Colorado voters.

We also witnessed the threat—and use—of voter intimidation during the last election.  We stood strong with leaders across our state to make clear that it would not be tolerated.  And when one landlord resorted to such tactics, threatening vulnerable individuals, we took action and secured relief.

In the future, we need other states to adopt Colorado’s pro-democracy measures, making it easy and safe to vote at home.  We also must work together to address the holes in our campaign finance system created by the dangerous and wrongly decided Citizens United case.  Working with other State AGs, we sought to challenge that decision at the Supreme Court last year.  The Court declined to take this opportunity, but we will persevere in this fight.

I am committed as ever to serving as the “People’s Lawyer” as your Attorney General.  This means that all we do in our office will be inspired by President Lincoln’s definition of democracy: a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  

As you have often heard me state, our democracy is a team sport.  That means that all of us must continue to be out on the field, doing the work of moving our nation toward a more perfect union, and defending, renewing, and rebuilding our institutions that have come under attack.  Together, we still have important work to do.  Please join me in continuing to stand up for our state and our country as I run for reelection. Together, we can prevail in this election, and we can make sure that we continue to defend our democracy in 2022 and beyond. 

 


A New Chapter

We have just participated in--and witnessed--a historic election in the United States.  A record-shattering number of people, including a record number of young people, felt so connected to the future of this country that they showed up to vote, organize, and engage in this election.

With the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we see another history-making moment. Our nation voted the first woman into the White House and the first woman of color as Vice President, representing an important step towards a more inclusive We the People.

When “e pluribus unum” was first written to capture the spirit of our great American experiment, it was a call for us to work together towards unity.  Even during our most trying times, we held together as a nation by staying true to this credo—out of many, one—we are one nation, made stronger by bringing together the best of each of our unique, individual gifts.

Over the past year, we confronted a set of intersecting crises—a pandemic, an economic downturn, an overdue reckoning with racial injustice, wildfires, continued challenges and threats to the rule of law, and a contentious national election. I am so grateful that, in the middle of these crises, we remained committed to working towards a more perfect union and participating in our democracy.

In Colorado, collaborative problem-solving remains core to our character.  I am proud that we set an example for the rest of the United States every single day in the way that we come together. The tragic wildfires we faced this year, like the floods we faced in 2013, brought out that spirit as Coloradans showed up for one another. 

In the Jewish tradition, we are called on to “heal the world.” Scripture teaches us that it is not on each of us to do this work by ourselves, but that we are not free to desist from doing our part. Each day gives us the opportunity to be our best authentic selves while also acting with empathy for others to find ways to heal our world.  This is what Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he called on our nation, at the end of the Civil War:  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds."

I am as committed as ever to our team’s mission at the Attorney General’s Office: “Together, we serve the people of Colorado, advancing the rule of law, protecting our democracy, and promoting justice for all.” In Colorado, we can demonstrate how to work together to meet our challenges, from advancing the rule of law to addressing the opioid epidemic to improving our criminal justice system to protecting consumers to protecting our land, air, and water.  

As we do this important work, we are reminded that we are better together. That’s just the spirit our nation needs—living the commitment “out of many . . . one”. 

Please join us in doing our part here in Colorado—helping to pave the way to heal our nation and bind our wounds.  Our democracy, as this past election demonstrated, is not a spectator sport and, together, we have some important work to do.  

(Photo by Scott Olson, Getty Images)


The Righteous RBG

As the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) ushered in a time of renewal and reflection on Friday night, we experienced the end of a great and historic life--the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A champion of women’s rights, equality, and justice, Justice Ginsburg taught the world--and taught me--to see justice and freedom differently and to work for a better future for all. To lose a moral anchor like her in a time of such hardship and division is especially difficult.

“The personal is political” has long been a rallying cry of the feminist movement that Justice Ginsburg helped empower. For me, her passing is both personal and political, since RBG was an important mentor and friend to me for many years.

Clerking for Justice Ginsburg remains a cherished experience in my legal career. Her wisdom and courage inspires my fight for civil rights, gender equality, and women’s reproductive rights. RBG became an important force in my path as a lawyer--leading to my work as the attorney for the people of Colorado. She was a source of kindness in the lives of my children as my family grew. That’s one of the reasons it was such an honor that she spoke at my investiture as Attorney General of Colorado. I was also the last person to argue a case in front of Justice Ginsburg, which I discuss in this recent interview on her passing.

Sadly, the death of this American icon, who was my friend and mentor, has created a bitter fight over filling her seat. Regardless of how that plays out, no one will ever be able to fill her shoes.

In keeping with the theme of “the personal is political,” RBG the person was just as extraordinary as her larger-than-life public persona became. Her fame was based on substance, moral courage, and on her embodiment of the best in human nature. She was compassionate, kind, and empathetic--and she shaped the evolution of American justice with those brave qualities and an extraordinary intellect. In doing so, she also shaped generations of young people both through the law and through her example. And she also made the Supreme Court a better and more collegial institution, building strong relationships with justices across the spectrum (most famously, Justice Antonin Scalia) and highlighting the importance of being willing to listen to and learn from those with opposing viewpoints (as I explained in this blog post).

In the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s passing, many writers and religious figures have described her as a “tzadik” or a “righteous” person, as signified by her passing just before Rosh Hashanah. As she shared with me, her favorite line from the Bible was “righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue” (also translated as “justice, justice shall you pursue”). I will continue to live by the example of the Righteous RBG and to be a better person and lawyer because of her. I know I won’t be the only one.

 

May her memory be a blessing.

Phil

(Justice Ginsberg and my daughter Aviva)


George Floyd and A Window for Justice

I have to acknowledge a truth from the start:  I speak from a place of privilege.  I see the heartache of black America, and it shakes me to my core.  But I see it from a distance, having not experienced indignities based on my race.  My commitment to my black fellow citizens is to stand with you and to fight injustice, as we continue the work to make ours a more perfect union.

For people who are white, the last few weeks have offered a window into what it might mean to be a black person in America.  Would my encounter with police, my jog down the sidewalk, or my peaceful morning of bird watching become a potential life-and-death confrontation, with a legacy of stereotypes haunting my ability to live free and exercise basic rights without fear of arrest, bodily injury, or even death?

Looking through that window into someone else’s experience is the definition of empathy.  That window is always there.  But without firsthand experience, I cannot, in spite of all of my empathy, truly feel the same fear or anger or grief as the black citizens I work for every day.  

At this moment, we also have a different kind of window available to us:  a window of opportunity.  George Floyd died in a senseless and unconscionable act of violence. But his death—and a wave of protests calling for justice—has created heartache that is opening up new possibilities.  To honor the memory of George Floyd and so many others, we must see their deaths as a call to reform and renewal.  You can read more in my statement here. 

In reflecting on the path forward, civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis concluded, “Our work won’t be easy — nothing worth having ever is — but I strongly believe, as Dr. King once said, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.”  That arc feels long right now, but together, we can work to help bend it. 

In this moment, “justice for all” is more than our nation’s credo—it is a call to action and prayer as we work for a better tomorrow. 

In Peace, 

Phil

(photo by Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)


It’s Easier To Believe

When I talk to people or watch the news, it’s easy to sense the despair and anxiety.  Many call it a “panic,” but it’s really a mixture of so many emotions. Seeing landmarks empty or experiencing isolation at home can fill us with fear and sadness.  But I want to challenge us all to look at things from a different perspective. 

As you probably know, my Bubby was an inspiration for my campaign to serve as our Attorney General.  After giving birth to my mother in a Nazi concentration camp, she taught my mom--and later me--the importance of hope in dark times. When I asked her how she survived such unimaginable hardship, she told me simply, “It’s easier to believe.” 

That belief and hope is what we need right now. 

We are living in a time of hardship, but those empty landmarks are demonstrations of people trying to help their neighbors.  Your time social distancing might save someone else’s grandmother. This epidemic especially targets the elderly, so all those empty schools show our youngest generation helping to save their elders. 

Seen in this light, deserted landmarks are a thing of beauty because they represent us looking out for each other. 

We cannot deny the hardship and fear of these times. For those who work in food service and rely on tips to put meals on their own family tables. For those who deal with depression. For those whose age or preexisting condition makes them afraid for their lives. 

That’s why I’m so grateful that Governor Polis took quick and decisive action on testing and protective measures, and why it’s so meaningful to see many leaders in government, nonprofit, and business put Colorado’s spirit of community problem solving to work. In the Attorney General’s office, we have created a Coronavirus Task Force to confront this crisis. You can read more about our work here.

In our times of hardship, I am inspired by these words from Scripture: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”  All Coloradans will need to do what they can to limit the spread of this virus and support one another. It is challenging, and my heart is with every mother and father who is worried about paying the bills and every person who fears for their safety and the safety of their family. But I pray that we can stay positive and remember that “it’s easier to believe.” We can get through this together--even if we are keeping our social distance (staying six feet apart from one another). 

I will close with some lines from a poem that has been making the rounds online. Written by a monk in Ireland, it ends with thoughts on people in Italy who have chosen to sing across their balconies as they stay indoors for the greater good: 

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

to touch across the empty square,

Sing.”

Thank you for your engagement and for supporting me in serving the people of Colorado. And thank you for all the sacrifices you are making so that we can believe in—and protect—a better future. 

Phil

https://www.colorado.gov/cdphe

https://www.cdc.gov/

 


Community During the Time of Coronavirus

In Colorado, we are committed to leading the way in responding to this crisis by developing data-driven, thoughtful, creative, and responsible measures to confront an array of new challenges.  At the Attorney General’s Office, we set up a special Coronavirus Task Force in February to coordinate our response efforts. AG’s Office team members, and public servants statewide, have been working day and night—and weekends—and under new conditions (namely, working remotely) to serve the people of Colorado during this crisis.  I am more proud than ever of their service.

Our Consumer Protection team is working vigilantly to protect Coloradans from those who would spread misinformation and take advantage of others during this crisis.  Last week, we put out our first ever Consumer Alert advisory, encouraging Coloradans to be careful of scammers and to get information about the crisis from reputable sources, including the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmentthe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization websites.  And when you hear of scams—whether fake cures, fraudulent charities, or phishing attempts to gain access to your personal information—please report them to Stop Fraud Colorado at 800-222-4444 or www.StopFraudColorado.gov so we can protect Coloradans from scammers and hold bad actors accountable.

This pandemic is a new challenge that will require a strong commitment from all of us to mitigate and manage the impacts of the virus.  All of our actions—in how we care for each other—will have a direct and powerful effect on how the virus plays out. While social distancing is essential for containing the virus, we must also stay more connected as a community than ever before. Take the extra few minutes to call, text, or email a friend or neighbor to let them know you are thinking about them. As Coloradans, where collaborative problem solving is core to who we are, we will get through this challenging time together.

 

 

 


The Supreme Court Will Hear Our Case

Protecting the votes of Coloradans is fundamental to preserving our democracy. When Coloradans cast their ballots for President, they are voting for a specific candidate, not an unknown elector. That’s why when one of the 2016 Hillary Clinton electors refused to vote for Clinton in the Electoral College—as required by Colorado law—our Secretary of State removed him and oversaw the selection of an alternate elector who followed state law.

The removed elector, Michael Baca, decided to make a federal case out of his removal. And now the dispute is heading all the way up to the Supreme Court, after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals here in Denver decided that the Constitution affords electors the right to vote for anyone they choose, disregarding the will of the voters and overriding any state law limits to the contrary. Colorado, like the majority of states, has a law that addresses the concern of “faithless electors.” In our case, Baca v. Colorado Department of State, the Supreme Court will now decide whether states have the power under the Constitution to make sure that the will of the voters is respected.

The Constitution gives states the right to select their presidential electors through elections, which is what Colorado has done for decades. The thought of a Presidential election being decided by “rogue electors,” including ones willing to auction off their vote, is terrifying. And if elections are not decided on Election Day, but instead by free agent electors, we can expect havoc, chaos, and confusion in our election system. This is why we will be defending the Constitution and the integrity of our Presidential election system, arguing that the Constitution clearly provides to the states the power to have their electors follow state law.

The good news is that the U.S. Supreme Court is now positioned to resolve this critical question about the foundation of our democracy before the 2020 election, preventing the need for litigation on this issue in the wake of the election.

The opportunity to defend Colorado’s law and protect the will of our voters is an awesome responsibility. Every day, I am honored to serve as your Attorney General, leading our Department and contributing to our mission—“Together, we serve Colorado and its people, advancing the rule of law, protecting our democracy, and promoting justice for all.” This case is one important example of that work.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve our state.


The Rule of Law and The Case for Impeachment

The rule of law is fundamental to our nation’s core values. If the American people lose confidence in the durability of the rule of law - the principle that all persons are treated fairly and equally - then we will lose our ability to govern ourselves.  This principle was tested during Watergate. Our nation passed that test, with the U.S. Supreme Court sending a clear and lasting message in the Nixon tapes case – no person, not even a President, is above the law.  

Impeachment is a tool that is not to be used lightly.  In the wake of a complaint filed by a federal employee that President Trump used his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, there are now powerful constitutional and moral grounds to consider impeachment.  Such an act constitutes a blatant and illegal abuse of power—conducting foreign relations not with the interests of the United States in mind, but with a focus on a President’s own political and personal interests.

As Colorado’s Attorney General, I am committed to protecting and defending the rule of law.  I have spent my professional life at the U.S. Department of Justice, educating future lawyers, and advancing the rule of law.  When this principle is being tested, I cannot remain silent.  

Impeachment proceedings are the proper next step to defend our Constitution.  The Constitution calls for impeachment in the face of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  As Alexander Hamilton defined the standard for impeachment (in Federalist 65), it is the appropriate remedy for an “abuse or violation of some public trust.”  Given the severity of President Trump’s alleged actions, impeachment proceedings are the proper and necessary next step by Congress.

We are living in a time when distrust in our institutions and our elected leaders is on the rise.  In the face of shocking reports about our President’s conduct, Congress now has an important job to do.  Acting with care, rigor, and integrity, it is up to the House of Representatives to consider articles of impeachment.  In the event that such articles are adopted, it goes to the Senate to conduct a trial. By following this constitutional procedure, and defending the principle that the law must apply to everyone, our nation sends an example to the world and to future generations that the rule of law is a bedrock principle that protects our constitutional democracy.

 


All Truth is Partial

We are facing a profound challenge to our nation’s tradition of respectful and engaged discourse.  For us to live up to our Founders’ vision of self-governance and a constitutional democracy that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we have some important work to do.  And that work starts with appreciating what former Colorado Governor Roy Romer often said: “all truth is partial.”

In today’s hyper-polarized environment, there is too little listening and too little collaborative problem-solving in our politics.  A virus that prevents collaboration—and creative problem solving—is that people are often more interested in winning an argument than solving a problem.  Or put differently, it is possible that two people can both be right—looking at different sides of an issue where both see part of the truth—and yet neither individual is able to see what the other is seeing.

To appreciate why “you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right,” as one author put it, consider a mathematical equation that recently went viral:  8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ?  Depending on how you approach this problem, the answer is either 16 or 1.  And both answers are correct, as explained in this article.

For many in our society, it is not common to hear a political leader acknowledging the truth in the argument of someone from an opposing party.  But politics should not be a world of religious views where rival tribes fight it out to the death. It should be a search for truth, for common ground, and for solutions that make the world a better place.

At its best, religion, too, recognizes that all truth is partial.  Many religious traditions are fond of noting that only the Creator sees all truth; humans can only grasp a glimpse of it.  That’s why in the Talmud, which captures hundreds of years of debate among leading rabbis, there is a common refrain of two rabbis arguing a point, only to settle the issue by concluding “they are both right.”

In the scientific world, the concept of two opposing truths is also a familiar one.  Most famously, the argument as to whether light travels in waves or particles was settled by concluding “it’s both.”  And as Niels Bohr famously concluded, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”  

It is not an accident that our politics are abandoning this awareness at the same time that our society is struggling with pluralism.  A politics that stokes fears of integration, that rallies against inclusion, and that insists one group is supreme is a threat to the American project of self-governance.  In a recent article, David Brooks defended inclusion and pluralism, explaining that:

"Pluralists believe that culture mixing has always been and should be the human condition. All cultures define and renew themselves through encounter. A pure culture is a dead culture while an amalgam culture is a creative culture. The very civilization the white separatists seek to preserve was itself a product of earlier immigration waves."

Finally, pluralism is the adventure of life. Pluralism is not just having diverse people coexist in one place. It’s going out and getting into each other’s lives. It’s a constant dialogue that has no end because there is no single answer to how we should live.

Our Founding motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” out of many, one.  This spirit captures why we have historically seen immigration—and new waves of people and viewpoints—as a strength.  The attacks on this spirit present an existential challenge to our society and to our democracy. I believe we shall overcome this challenge, as we did in earlier ones, such as the fight for civil rights and equal justice for all.  But that will only be true because engaged citizens elevate our politics and live our values at a challenging time for our nation. I will continue to do my part and believe Colorado will be a model for our nation.