David S. Cohen, professor of law at the Kline Law School of Drexel University, has dedicated most of his professional and personal life to defending women’s rights. He has gained nationwide notoriety through Supreme Court cases advocating for the right to abortion in Texas, has fought against unconsented drug testing on pregnant women in South Carolina and has been actively participating in women’s rights within the Philadelphia area. He agreed to talk to The Triangle in context of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
The Triangle: How would you describe the DNC for students who are not familiar with the purpose of the convention?
David Cohen: In our country, we have two main political parties. That’s not required by law, but that’s the way it came about. Every four years for the presidential election, each of the parties has to choose a candidate who’s going to run in the general election against each other. The convention is the final step in choosing that party’s candidate. The most important thing for each of the conventions is to formalize who that candidate is. The secondary goal is to get everyone excited about that candidate. Lastly, the formal goal is to nominate a candidate who will run against the other party.
TT: What do you think are the essential points regarding women’s rights and gun control that Drexel students should be aware of when it comes to Democrats vs. Republicans?
DC: Women’s control of their reproductive rights has always been a major issue. That means abortion, birth control, general access to health insurance and health care and quality of medical care. These are important issues that the Democratic Party has always put at the forefront of their agenda — that the Republicans have shied away from. It’s the huge difference when it comes to the two parties.
Also a big issue with women’s rights is equal pay and non-discrimination of employment. So, right now the numbers are that women earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. Even when you look at comparable jobs, women earn less than men. The Democrats have put forth strong proposals to try to require by law equal pay and the Republicans have ignored these.
In terms of the Second Amendment, the Republicans are very much in favor of getting rid of restrictions on gun ownership and purchasing and they think that anything the government does to get in the way of their individual right to own a gun is unconstitutional. Whereas the Democrats, I don’t think they go far enough in my sense, but they are very much in favor of more gun restrictions.
TT: What is your view on Hillary Clinton’s ideas on programs for women and LGBT rights?
DC: I know she’s been a strong supporter of women’s rights, reproductive rights, equal pay, LGBT equality (recently) and marriage equality. She is a strong supporter of abortion rights, so I have no doubt those are honest positions and she will be an advocate for all important principles of equality with respect to women and LGBT people when she’s elected as president.
TT: Do you think having a woman as president will change stereotypes? How do feel about her position?
DC: As Michelle Obama said in her speech last night, [the nomination of the DNC’s first woman presidential candidate] is a glass ceiling that needs to be broken. If you look around the world, there have been so many countries, both developed and developing, that have had women leaders, and yet, we have not. This is something that needs to change in this country. We need to have young children who look up and say that both men and women can be president. We need to have adults who can say “I’m proud that my country has had a woman and man as a president.” Now just because she’s a woman, this doesn’t mean that she’s going to make perfect decisions. She’s going to have all the good and all the flaws that anyone has. If we had a very conservative woman running, I would not support her just because she’s a woman. I think it would be bad to have those policies. So the policies matter. But given that, I think she has good policies and I am thrilled that she is about to break this glass ceiling.
TT: If he is ever elected, how much of a threat is Donald Trump to women’s rights, birth rights and gun control?
DC: If he’s elected, one of the things that will be the most damaging is that he will get to fill at least one, if not more, of the Supreme Court Justice slots and when he does that he will put very conservative people on the Supreme Court who will be against women’s rights. I think this is one of the most important things in this election — the future of the Supreme Court — and I fear who he would appoint to the Supreme Court. I also fear what he would do, if the Congress is Republican and he’s president if they get rid of Obamacare. And anti-discrimination laws — he would sign all those laws into effect and that would be disastrous. He would be terrible with respect to Muslim women, whom he would treat horribly, just like other Muslims along with women of color. He has shown complete disregard for women throughout his career. I worry that just the general attitude about women that he would bring to this country would trickle down.
TT: Do you agree with the speakers of the DNC who have declared that this election is not a ‘Republican vs. Democrat’ issue, but a larger issue of morality?
DC: Trump is different than any other Republican presidential candidate that we’ve had. I don’t think he understands the Constitution; I don’t think he understands the presidency, what a president does. I think he thinks he can be a dictator just like a CEO of a corporation. As a CEO, you can say “I want this to happen,” so they’ll make it happen. The president can’t do that because we have the judiciary and the legislative branch that limit what the president can do. I don’t think he understands any of that. That’s a real threat to our constitutional democracy and in that sense I do think that the statement is right. And it shouldn’t be a Democratic versus Republican thing. It should be those who believe in a constitutional democracy versus those who don’t. On top of that he’s such a divisive figure when it comes to race and religion. It really goes against what this country stands for. He is a threat to our country and needs to be stopped.
TT: So, if that’s the case, what do you think appeals so much to Trump supporters?
DC: I think that people are drawn to other successful people and he portrays himself as very successful. They are also drawn to people who are charismatic, speaking off the cuff and saying they’re going to fix things, though he never says how he’s going to fix things. I think there’s a segment of the American population which is racist and is drawn to the fact that he is racist. There’s a segment of the American population who fears immigrants and is drawn to the fact that he is xenophobic. So, he appeals to different people in a lot of different ways. My hope is that over the next few months, people will focus on the fact that he has said awful things. Clearly he doesn’t respect women, minorities, and doesn’t care about equality, free speech and basic things and that his numbers will drop.
TT: What recommendations would you give to students who want to participate in the political life of their city?
DC: There’s a lot of things people can do locally. Unfortunately, I think there’s too much attention paid to the presidential election. The president and Washington D.C. decide national policy but a lot of things that affect people on a day to day basis are local.
Policing, which is such an important issue right now, is a local issue. The president can make speeches about policing or send money to the police department for more training. But in terms of who is running the police department and who is going to set a tone so that black people don’t get stopped unconstitutionally and then shot — that’s local.
The more young people and students that get involved in local politics, the better. The same voices that come every four years and speak up during the presidential election need to speak up every year during every election because they matter. So getting involved locally with local politics, local volunteer options, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, makes your life fuller. It helps people and makes you get away from the monotony of being a student.