Opinion | A Sinister New Page in the Republican Playbook

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On Tuesday, I wrote about the Republican effort to limit the reach and scope of initiatives and referendums as another instance of the party’s war on majority rule. One thing I wanted to include, but couldn’t quite integrate into the structure of the column, was a point about the recent use of legislative expulsion to punish Democratic lawmakers who dissent from or challenge Republican majorities.

We saw this in Tennessee, obviously, where Republicans expelled two Democratic members — Representatives Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin J. Pearson of Memphis — for loudly supporting a youth protest for gun control from the statehouse floor using a bullhorn.

We saw another example this week, in Montana, after State Representative Zooey Zephyr, a transgender woman, spoke out against a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors. Calling her comments (“If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”) “disrespectful and “inappropriate,” Montana Republicans have barred Zephyr from attending — or speaking during — the House session for the rest of the legislative term, which ends next week.

In Nebraska, a Democratic lawmaker is being investigated by an ethics panel for a conflict of interest regarding her filibuster of another bill to ban gender-affirming health care for minors. The conflict? She has a transgender child.

And if we look back to last year, we’ll recall that House Republicans censured former Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their roles in investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

What to make of this?

Expelling or censuring members isn’t necessarily an attack on majority rule or popular government, and yet it feels more sinister, in a way, than an impenetrable partisan gerrymander or even a strict voter ID law. I think that’s because these moves against dissenting members constitute an attack on representation itself.

No one forced Tennessee Republicans to expel Representatives Jones and Pearson. They could have ignored them. But they were so incensed by the show of opposition that they deprived about 130,000 people of their representation in the legislature. Silencing and effectively banning Representative Zephyr means that about 10,000 people in Montana’s 100th District don’t have a voice in the legislature.

The foundation of modern American democracy is that all Americans deserve some kind of representation in the rooms where law and policy are made. Not content to control those rooms in states where they dominate the political scene, some Republicans have said, in essence, that representation is a privilege for communities whose chosen lawmakers don’t offend their sensibilities.

The Constitution guarantees to each state a “republican form of government.” I’ve written before about how this “republican form” is mostly undefined; neither the framers nor the courts have really said what it means for a state to have one. But I think we can at least say that when legislatures are stripping communities of representation over dissent and disagreement, it doesn’t exist.

My Tuesday column was, as I mentioned, on the Republican attack on referendums and initiatives, and how the party has committed itself to circumventing the will of the majority wherever it thinks it’s necessary.

There’s still room for innovation, however, and in the past year Republicans have opened new fronts in the war for minority rule. One element in these campaigns, an aggressive battle to limit the reach of the referendum process, stands out in particular. Wherever possible, Republicans hope to raise the threshold for winning a ballot initiative from a majority to a supermajority or — where such a threshold already exists — add other hurdles to passage.

My Friday column was on the drama on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where its chairman, Dick Durbin, asked Chief Justice John Roberts to testify at a hearing on Supreme Court ethics. I wrote that the response from Roberts demonstrates something crucial about the relationship between the court and the American political order.

“Separation of powers,” in Roberts’s view, means the court is outside the system of checks and balances that governs the other branches of government. “Judicial independence,” likewise, means neither he nor any other member of the court has any obligation to speak to Congress about their behavior. The court checks, according to Roberts, but cannot be checked.

And in the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we discussed the 1995 political comedy “Canadian Bacon.”

Wesley Lowery on journalistic “objectivity” for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Gabriel Winant on J.D. Vance for n+1 magazine.

Amy Davidson Sorkin on Justice Samuel Alito for The New Yorker.

Max Holleran on parking for The New Republic.

This is a photo of the long-defunct Lyric Theater in Waycross, Ga. It is one of my favorite things to photograph and I always try to take a picture whenever I’m in the area. This one was taken over last Christmas break on Kodak Gold film in medium format.

I don’t dislike mayonnaise … but I don’t particularly like it either, and if given a chance, I will look for a substitute. My favorite mayonnaise substitute — to use in any number of applications — is tahini sauce, which like mayonnaise is an emulsion. And because it’s an emulsion, it works very well, texture wise, wherever you would use mayo. I also like the rich, nutty taste of tahini — I find it goes well with most things.

This recipe, which is perfect for the warmer weather, comes from Melissa Clark via New York Times Cooking.


  • 1¾ pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1-inch chunks

  • 2 bunches scallions, trimmed

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed

  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • ¼ cup tahini

  • Ice water, as needed

  • ½ cup soft herbs, such as cilantro, parsley, mint, dill or a combination


Place the potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the kind of potato. Drain very well.

Heat the broiler. Arrange 1 bunch scallions on a sheet pan. Thinly slice the other bunch, reserving the slices for serving.

Season the whole scallions in the pan with salt and pepper, and very lightly drizzle with olive oil. Broil until charred, tossing occasionally, for 3 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to cool. Coarsely chop scallions and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, cumin and a large pinch of salt. Let sit for 1 minute to mellow the garlic and dissolve the salt. Whisk in tahini, then gradually add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time (about 3 to 6 tablespoons total), until the sauce thickens and is smooth enough to drizzle. The sauce can take 30 seconds to 1 minute to thicken, so keep whisking; if it gets too thick, thin it down with a little more water. Taste and add more lemon juice and salt if needed.

Transfer hot potatoes and charred scallions to bowl with tahini dressing. Drizzle in the remaining ⅓ cup olive oil and toss until potatoes are well coated. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed.

Let cool to room temperature for at least an hour before serving, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. The potatoes will absorb the dressing as they sit. Just before serving, taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed, and toss with the raw scallion slices and herbs.

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