Can we get rid of the Electoral College yet, please?
Unidentified abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court in 1996 CREDIT: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Tim Dreste joined the First Missouri Volunteers, a right-wing “patriot” militia that some activists link to “white supremacist and violent activity” in 1995. The ex-marine served as the militia’s “chaplain.”
Four years later, a federal court implicated him in a conspiracy to make violent threats against abortion providers. As the Riverfront Times summarized the allegations against Dreste in a 1999 profile, the militiaman and anti-abortion activist “co-conspired and threatened to kill, assault, or do bodily harm to physicians who provide abortions.”
And now, Dreste is one of the short list of Americans who gets to cast a vote that matters in the 2016 presidential election. The voters already made their choice earlier this month, casting nearly 2.6 million more votes for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. But the real decision will rest with men and women like Dreste, who will soon convene and almost certainly give the presidency to Trump, the loser.
A classic justification of the Electoral College is that it will impose the views of excellent men between the people and their new president. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, “the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.” To that end, “a small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
It’s worth noting that the Federalist Papers were works of advocacy, intended to sell a Constitution that was already drafted to the public at large. As Yale’s Akhil Amar argues, it is likely that the real reason for the Electoral College is that it provided an inducement for slave states to join the Union. The Electoral College — when combined with the three-fifths compromise, which effectively gave additional electors to slave states — helped ensure Southern primacy in elections even though a majority of the voters resided elsewhere.
In any event, unless you believe that a militiaman caught up in a conspiracy of violent threats against physicians is among the “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the” presidency, it’s hard to credit Hamilton’s justification for the Electoral College in modern day America.
The conspiracy against these abortion providers was the subject of Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc. v. American Coalition of Life Activist, an important federal appeals court decision questioning when violent threats no longer enjoy First Amendment Protection. Among other things, Dreste and his cohorts published “Deadly Dozen” and “Wanted” posters “reminiscent of the old Wild West posters issued to capture outlaws, featuring physicians ‘Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity’ for providing reproductive services.” The posters listed the doctors’ names, addresses, and phone numbers, and promised a $5,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest, conviction and revocation of license to practice medicine” of these physicians.
Additionally, they published a “Nuremberg Files” website, which “listed working physicians in black font, the wounded in gray, and names with strikethroughs to mark the fatalities.”
After several twists and turns, a federal appeals court eventually concluded that these threats against physicians were not protected by the First Amendment.
Dreste, for his part, has not stopped using the threat of violence to intimidate abortion providers. A recent profile of the Trump elector in Politico quotes him offering a backhanded denial of allegations that he might kill a doctor. “I was a trained United States Marine,” he told Politico. “If I wanted that to happen, I don’t think I could be stopped.”
He added that “if they think that’s going to happen and they decide not to come into work one day because they see me out front, well OK.”