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Finding common ground

January 31, 2019

Nadine Strossen, Judge Michael Mukasey debate abortion, discuss how to speak civilly across the political divide at ASU event

On Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted that Democrats are becoming the “party of late-term abortion.” The contentious issue took up much of an hourlong debate that evening between Judge Michael Mukasey and Nadine Strossen at Old Main on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

Their debate was part one of a three-part event that also included a discussion on the necessity of civil discourse and a question-and-answer session with the audience. “How to Have a Civil Conversation Across the Political Divide” was the seventh event in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s yearlong lecture series, “Polarization and Civil Disagreement: Confronting America's Civic Crisis.”

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law are co-sponsors of the series.

Strossen, a chaired professor at New York Law School and the first woman to serve as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, describes herself as a “liberal-tarian” and added that politically, she falls on the liberal end of the spectrum and has even been called a “bleeding-heart liberal” on issues like abortion and the death penalty.

She kicked off the debate by reminding the audience that both Sandra Day O’Connor and Barry Goldwater, both revered Arizona Republicans, were supporters of reproductive freedom during the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which concluded that a woman has the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy up until the point that a fetus has become viable, or potentially able to live outside the mother's womb.

Mukasey, who served as the 81st attorney general of the United States and as a district judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, took issue with the term “viability.” He noted that the state of New York just legalized abortion for the entire period of gestation, up to and including nine months, which he called “barbaric.”

“That road leads to places like Philadelphia, where there is a doctor who is snipping infants’ spinal columns,” Mukasey said, referring to Kermit Gosnell, who was who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of one woman during an abortion procedure and of murdering three infants who were born alive during attempted abortion procedures.

Furthermore, Mukasey argued that abortion should not be a constitutional issue.

“The country was well on its way toward resolving issues related to abortion before Roe v. Wade,” he said. “Instead, that conversation was cut off and we have a really bitter atmosphere as a result.”

In Mukasey’s opinion, the issue should be resolved by culture, not the courts.

Widely recognized as an expert on constitutional law and civil liberties, Strossen pointed out that abortion is one of those rights that is not explicitly outlined in the Constitution but that is protected by substantive due process.

“Substantive due process is the vegetarian hamburger of constitutional law,” Mukasey replied. “If somebody hands you a vegetarian hamburger, you’re not entirely sure what you’re going to get but one thing you’re damn sure not going to get is a hamburger.”

Despite their disagreements, the two found common ground in that they both consider abortion to be an important issue of morality and ethics that should not be used for political gain.

The other major subject of debate Thursday evening was the implications of free speech and religious liberty laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Moderator James Weinstein, professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, referred to the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which dealt with whether owners of public accommodations can refuse certain services based on the First Amendment claims of free speech and free exercise of religion, and therefore be granted an exemption from laws ensuring non-discrimination in public accommodation.

The case arose when Colorado baker Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on the basis of his religious beliefs. Mukasey called it a “classic free-speech case.”

“However, that is not what this case is about,” Strossen countered. “The baker Jack Phillips was completely free to say whatever he wanted, express religious beliefs in any way he wanted. What he is not free to do is hang out his shingle, open a commercial business that is open to the general public but say he’s not going to provide services to particular people because of who they are.”

She noted that the same argument was made by opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that interracial dating went against their religious beliefs.

“You can voice your views, but you cannot implement them through discriminatory conduct,” Strossen said.

Both Mukasey and Strossen were in agreement in response to an audience question about how to restore moderation in political parties that seem to have gone to extremes.

More progress could be made, Mukasey said, if people were willing to align themselves with people they agree with about most things instead of insisting they agree on everything.

“Those who tend to be the most active are the ones who have the strongest views,” Strossen added. “But just as you have the responsibility to vote, you have the responsibility to be active.”

Top photo: Nadine Strossen and Michael Mukasey (right), along with moderator Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law Professor James Weinstein, hold a conversation Thursday that intended to model a civil, mutually respectful and vigorous exchange of ideas on issues that challenge American society, such as abortion. Strossen is a professor at New York Law School and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mukasey served at the 81st attorney general of the United States, appointed by President George W. Bush. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Editor , ASU News

(480) 965-9657

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ASU scientists offer first look at Bennu

January 31, 2019

The first results from the study of the asteroid beyond Mars are surprising

On Thursday night, explorers gave a first report of a new land.

A packed house at Arizona State University heard the first details of the mission to study an asteroid beyond Mars.

After a two-year voyage, the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission arrived at Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza, in December.

And it has surprised scientists since.

“We didn’t know what it looked like, and that’s called exploration,” said Phil Christensen, mission co-investigator, lead of the spacecraft’s OTES instrument, and Regents' Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU.

First surprise: Bennu is a craggy ball, with some boulders the size of houses. Scientists thought taking the sample return was going to be like plucking something from a football field. It’s not.

“It’s going to be like landing between two parked cars in a parking lot,” Christensen said.

That problem is a ways off. The asteroid will be studied for a year before the craft touches down — briefly — on the surface and grabs four pounds of material, which will be sent back to Earth to crash into the Utah desert in 2023.

“The beauty of this mission is … we get to bring rocks back,” Christensen said.

Operating the spacecraft is breaking records — for orbiting a body this small, and for orbiting so closely. The spacecraft is flying above the asteroid at the height of the Empire State Building.

“The navigation on this mission is amazing,” Christensen said.

Bennu holds water.

“What’s interesting about these meteorites is that they contain water,” said Vicky Hamilton, a co-investigator on the OSIRIS-REx mission, lead for the OTES spectrum analysis team and a planetary geologist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

It’s not in liquid form, but it's in the minerals — up to 2 percent in some cases. Bennu’s parent body had significant interactions with water, Hamilton said.

Much more data will be collected over the next calendar year.

Scientists think asteroids may contain clues to the origins of life. The small, rocky bodies have never been explored before. No one knows how they form, how they behave or what’s on them.

The samples will be studied by scientists for decades.

“Literally, the carbon that’s on Earth came from asteroids like Bennu,” Christensen said.

Bennu is not a solid rock. It’s either porous or formed of a very “fluffy” — Christensen’s word — material.

This type of meteorite is so fragile, if you get it wet or touch it with your hands, it’s ruined, said Devin Schrader, a carbonaceous meteorite collaborator on the OSIRIS-REx mission. He is also an assistant research professor with the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies.

One of the reasons Bennu was chosen for exploration is its relatively high likelihood of hitting Earth in the next century. Knowing the physical and chemical makeup of the asteroid will be critical to know in the event of what NASA calls an “impact-mitigation mission.”

OTES stands for OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer. It will sniff out what types of minerals are on the asteroid, how big the particle sizes are and what the temperature is. It has been vital in the year of mapping and studying Bennu before the decisions are made on where to pick up samples, and it’s the first space instrument built entirely on the ASU campus. 

Top photo: This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). The image was obtained at a 50-degree phase angle between the spacecraft, asteroid and the sun, and in it, Bennu spans approximately 1,500 pixels in the camera’s field of view. Image by NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News