I am a seasoned Washington criminal defense lawyer who has represented former president Richard Nixon, then-Attorney General Edwin Meese, Idaho Congressman George V. Hansen, New York Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, and many others. Fortunately, I have not been drawn into the current maelstrom surrounding President Donald Trump; but, because I am Jewish and have been a resident of the nation’s capital for more than half a century, the remarkable events of the past year have significantly affected my personal life.
As a Maryland resident who remains a registered Democrat in order to have a meaningful vote in primaries, I knew that my vote in the 2016 presidential election was essentially meaningless: Maryland’s electoral votes were going to go for Hillary Clinton. But I voted for Trump because I was convinced then — and remain convinced to this day — that Trump and the Republican Party would be much better for Israel than Clinton and the Democrats.
Together with my daughter and law partner Alyza and our family law firm (Lewin & Lewin, LLP), I represented Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, in seeking to enforce a law enacted in 2002 that entitled any U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem to have his or her passport identify “Israel” (and not “Jerusalem”) as his or her place of birth. This pro bono publico litigation against the Bush and Obama administrations took 12 years, three trips to the federal court of appeals in the District of Columbia, and two oral arguments in the Supreme Court.
Six of the Court’s justices ultimately ruled that no one other than an incumbent president could constitutionally declare for the U.S. government that Jerusalem is in Israel. (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Alito wrote powerful dissents.) The majority justices who voted against us and declared Congress’s law unconstitutional were certain, I believe, that the issue of Jerusalem’s status was so sensitive that no U.S. president would ever have the courage to withstand the world’s resistance to the notion that the city of Jerusalem is within Jewish jurisdiction.
Trump surprised the doubters with his December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. No one could challenge the legality of that declaration because six sitting Supreme Court justices had endorsed the sitting president’s exclusive authority on this subject. My wife and I were privileged to attend the celebratory opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. I wear the souvenir — a blue cap with the date May 14, 2018, and the Embassy’s seal — with great pride.
The travails of Trump’s presidency have had an immediate effect on my personal life in ways other than the macrocosmic concern over America’s relationship with Israel.
Each day’s news is a cliffhanger. Even those of us who lived through Watergate could never have imagined that our personal lives would be so affected by the latest news from the White House, Capitol Hill, and federal courthouses.
This suspense has had a perceptible impact on my personal life:
1.) I can’t make it to shul on time in the morning. Four newspapers are delivered to our driveway at 5:30 a.m. Before the Trump tribulations, I happily waited until returning from morning services to digest news or opinion in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Times. These daily screeds have now become irresistible when I wake. So, I come late for the 6:30 shacharit at my synagogue.
2.) My television habits have become very jumpy. I used to select Fox News, CNN, or even MSNBC as the news station to watch for a full news broadcast. Now I must instantaneously contrast how the different news channels (and their pontificators) approach each day’s revelations. My finger twitches on my TV remote like my grandson’s finger does when he’s engaged in the latest combat game on his phone. I go from Dershowitz to Turley to Toobin and then back, if he’s still there, to Dershowitz.
3.) Friendly reunions and family gatherings are no longer fun. The Washington alumni of the Harvard Law School Class of 1960 hold monthly lunch reunions at which controversial law-related subjects have been discussed. As a confessed Trump voter, I am now in a distinct minority subjected to adversarial challenge and occasional ridicule. At Shabbat lunches or family gatherings in Washington, New York, or elsewhere, conversation inevitably turns to an evaluation of the latest revelations, and this sets off acrimonious debate. Discussion about politics that used to be good-natured now takes on a bitter flavor.
More than a century ago, in 1914, Americans were in thrall to a serial of movie melodramas called “The Perils of Pauline.” Attendees gasped as each movie segment ended with Pauline appearing to be (in Wikipedia’s terms) “in a situation that looked sure to result in her immediate death.” Today’s counterpart is “The Tribulations of Trump,” with each day’s news leaving one wondering what tomorrow’s serial will bring.
By Nathan Lewin
Nathan Lewin is a Washington lawyer and served as president of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington between 1982 and 1984.