Friday, December 23, 2016


I should stay out of the storage room. It’s too full of old files, poignant memories, temptations to blog.

This time, I stumbled onto a file entitled “Larry Brennan’s Song.” It was nineteen years ago. Northern Ireland was still mired in “The Troubles” and suffering from endless rounds of murder and revenge between the Catholics and the Protestants of Belfast.

USA Today carried a story about a 52 year old Catholic cab driver who was assassinated while sitting in his parked taxi.

I wrote a song about it:
The Legacy of Larry Brennan

Twenty-five days after Christmas Morn
         In dear old Belfast Town
Assassins hailed a taxicab
         And gunned the driver down

Well, he died for being Catholic
         He died for being Green
His sweetheart was a Protestant
         She’ll never be his queen

No, she’ll never be a Brennan now
         She’ll never share his bed
The Troubles split poor Larry’s brow
         The Troubles left him dead

Now, he was a gen’rous witty man
         Who loved most everyone
And for his kindness he was paid
         Four bullets from a gun

Oh, he had no time for politics
         He helped the sick and old
His killers didn’t care at all
         They left his body cold 

Yes, the Troubles trouble Ireland
         A People torn apart
They took poor Larry Brennan’s life
         And broke his mother’s heart

Then his sister, Lish O’Reilly, stood
         Midst flowers in the hall,
And with good sense she spoke the words
         That echo for us all:

“I forgive them, those that did this thing”
         Her eyes were rimmed with tears
“They’re sick and wounded animals,
         Imprisoned by their fears.

“No, we can’t let hate and bitterness
         Control the Irish heart
If we’re to see the Troubles end
         We’ve got to make a start”

Tho’ two thousand years have come and gone
         Since Christ was crucified
The world still longed for peace on earth
         When Larry Brennan died.

Now his little house on Friendly Street
         Will never be the same
The World has built a friendly shrine
         In honor of his name

So let this be Brennan’s legacy:
         That vengeance won’t be seen
And peace will come to Ireland
         For both the Orange and Green

Historians tell us that the Irish Troubles erupted in 1968 and ended thirty years later with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. As we gather to celebrate Christmas 2016, in a painfully divided America, let us pray that our troubles will soon be consigned to history as well.

Monday, December 19, 2016


I wrote another blog today. More opining about the President-Elect, the Russians, the world and all its problems, dangers and disputes.

Polly didn’t like it. Her counsel: it’s Christmas time. Write about Christmas.

And so it is. December 19, 2016. Five days until Christmas.

Downstairs, from the bookcase that holds the family bible, my Supreme Court opinions, our Last Will and Testament and some other significant papers, I retrieve a dog-eared letter sized binder containing 49 typewritten pages.

The cover is decorated with a Christmas card picture of a little girl standing on a chair and putting up Christmas decorations. It announces the title of this little tome: Five Days To Christmas.

It is a chronicle written in 1969. I was then Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. We lived in a large house on Berkeley Road in the west side of Detroit area known as Sherwood Forest. Five bedrooms, four fireplaces, an extra lot next door. It was a great place to raise a family and a great place for Christmas. Our six children ranged in age from four to seventeen.

In the course of a sleepless night on December 19, 1969, I decided on a very special Christmas present to give to my family. I decided to do three things:1)   quit smoking; 2) do it cheerfully and not brag about it, and 3) write down all the things I think and feel during the five days before Christmas.

While I managed to stop smoking during that holiday season, it was not until five years later that I finally kicked the habit for good.

In due course, I gave each of our children a copy of the little book. I am told that every so often they read it again and enjoy reminiscing about those ‘good old days.’

Whether I was cheerful is a matter best left to the memories of my family and to the episodes I described in the booklet.

As I skim it again myself from the perspective of eighty-seven years, I am touched a little and amused by the hectic lives we were living. Obviously, I didn’t know then what I know now. I had no idea what life would be like in 2017.

In December of 1969 some people were suggesting that I should run for the United States Senate in 1970, and I was considering it. Polly was not very keen about the idea. Neither of us had any idea that in three years I would start a law school and resign from the Court.

Considering how things have worked out for us, the final paragraphs of “Five Days to Christmas” are rather prophetic:

For people like us there is nothing to worry about in a new year of 1970 or a new decade of the 70’s. We will make all of the decisions when then shall become now. The time of decision will be  a crashing waterfall of pushing and pulling and testing and shouting and laughing and holding hands and being proud and crying and consoling and accepting the flexible challenge of the future and being reconciled to the inflexible memory of the past, and believing in the total importance of the present.

And now it is Christmas.

Now it is the day on which the Babe was born.

Who comes into our hearts and into our lives.

Who helps us to love one another.

As He loves all of us.

Who teaches us to see in the smallest events of our daily lives

The miracle of His mercy and His love.

Who teaches us to be happy now

Just knowing that now is Christmas

And we are all together.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


In the cacophony of objections to the stunning election of New York Businessman Donald J. Trump to the office of President of the United States, none is more preposterous and laughable than the scurrying of left wing intellectuals to advance constitutional objections to the real course of human events.

It goes something like this: Donald Trump’s business assets and interests are world wide. He has hotels and golf courses all over the planet. He has done business in many, many foreign countries, paid money and made money in many languages. In short, Trump has what our nation’s Founders feared: “foreign entanglements.” Putting a legalistic, scholarly patina on it, Harvard Professor Lawrence Tribe and his cohorts call attention to the “Emoluments Clause” of the federal constitution.

Aha! You never heard of that, did you? Sounds ominous. Especially, when you dub in the motives that drove the founders to include the “Emoluments Clause” in the Constitution. They were concerned about the established nations of Europe, especially England and France, co-opting our new national government by simply buying off our nation’s leaders.

In colonial times, it was not unusual for European kings to grant charters to
people who wanted to settle in America. People were paid money to explore and settle in the new world. Christopher Columbus got money from the Queen of Spain. King Charles II gave William Penn the huge parcel of land that became Pennsylvania.

So this is what George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and the rest of them wrote as the last paragraph of Article I, Section 9 of our founding document:

No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

No one has yet supposed that Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, is likely to dub Donald Trump a Knight of the Realm, or designate him and his progeny as Princes or Dukes of the British Empire.

No, the theory is much more nitty gritty. They argue that Trump will be making money overseas, taking, they argue “emoluments” from foreign powers, which the Constitution forbids.

So if the Prince of Wales decides to play a round of golf at Trump International Golf Links in Scotland, and he pays a greens fee for the privilege, Professor Tribe and his devotees will holler “Emolument, emolument!”

I say that is nonsense. Black’s law Dictionary defines an emolument as:
The profit arising from office or employment: that which is received as compensation for services, or which is annexed to the possession of office as salary, fees, or gain arising from the possession of an office.

In short, our Constitution forbids federal officeholders from being on the payroll of a foreign  government. But wait, you say, it also forbids the President to accept “any present” from a foreign leader or government without Congressional approval.

Indeed it does, and Congress has addressed the matter. The Congress has consented generally, in the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, to the acceptance of gifts from foreign countries which are of minimal value and offered as a courtesy or where refusal to accept the gift would adversely affect our foreign relations. The inventorying of such gifts is required by law. Bush 41 received over 40,000 gifts and President Clinton accepted more than 92,000 while in office.

Such gifts are not the personal property of the President or his family. They belong to the United States.

What is of more importance in the debate over Trump’s foreign connections is this fundamental question: Is there reason to believe he will be influenced by personal economic interests in carrying out his Presidential duties?

I submit that it is most unlikely. After all, Mr. Trump is a very wealthy man. He proposes to serve as President without pay. By what rationale can it be said that he is going to be swayed from his sworn duty by the profit motive?

Friday, December 16, 2016


I sat down at the computer prepared to write a scathing critique of the group which calls itself “Unite for America.” It’s a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities, most of whom are junior varsity types. They have made a video pleading with the delegates elected to the Electoral College to ‘go rogue’ on December 19, and vote contrary to the choice of the voters who elected them.

The “A lister” whose visage and voice give street cred to the video Is an actor by the name of Ramon Antonio Gerardo Estevez, better known to American movie goers as Martin Sheen.

No doubt his credible performance as President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet in the popular television series ”West Wing” bolsters the appearance of authenticity when he pleads with Presidential Electors to ‘vote their consciences.’

Certainly the odds are very much against any such uprising. Not only did Donald Trump win by a substantial margin of the Electoral College, but since the delegates are selected by the Parties, they are unlikely to jump the fence.

And besides, about the most Sheen and his compatriots can hope for is to deny a majority for the President-Elect, which would throw the final choice into the Republican dominated House of Representatives. Trump would surely win in that forum as well.

So I confess that I am disenchanted with the notion of a scathing critique. Enough to say that the “Unite for America” video is a fool’s errand.

Still, my research on the subject led me to read the background of Martin Sheen, and I confess that he has intrigued me.

His mother was Irish, an immigrant from Tipperary. I like that. His Dad was from Spain. They had ten children. Sheen was number six, and the first to be born after the family moved from Bermuda to Dayton, Ohio. His left arm was crushed by forceps at birth, and remains about three inches shorter than his right. As a child, he contracted polio and was bed ridden for a year. His mother died when he was eleven and the family was held together by Holy Trinity Parish in Dayton.

His first foray into the world of social justice was to organize a strike among caddies at the Country Club. His complaint: obscenity and anti-semitism by the members. I like that, too.

His Dad didn’t want him to be an actor, but he borrowed money from the parish priest and went to New York.

Early on, Sheen met and worked with Dorothy Day, the activist organizer of the Catholic Worker movement. He never changed his legal name, out of respect for his Dad. His stage name came partly from Robert Dale Martin, the CBS executive who gave him his first big break, and from the iconic televangelist Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

His stage, film and TV credits go on and on. Along the way, he has
collected a number of awards both as an actor and as a director.

Throughout his career, Sheen has been a politically active liberal. He puts his money and his time where his mouth is; supporting liberal and charitable causes.

I am sure that Martin Sheen and I would find an ocean of topics on which we might disagree. Still, I can’t help respecting a fellow who really believes in what he believes in.

Surely Martin Sheen is not the only American who had, and perhaps still have, misgivings about the qualifications of Donald Trump to be President of the United States.

But Sheen, undaunted, is still out there, still grasping at straws to move the country to where he thinks it should be.

Don Quixote? Tilting at windmills? To be sure. But, in truth, I have done enough of it myself to admire the man.