Supreme Court

A Supreme Mistake

Money talks. This is an old aphorism in American culture and probably among people the world over, for human history has demonstrated that the rich generally get whatever they want. The haves never have enough and the have-nots never get enough. This is sufficiently problematic in the world of finance. But when that world intersects politics, the result is generally disastrous.

Democracy, certainly the American version of it, is predicated upon the principle of one person, one vote. No one individual possesses a greater claim than any other on the outcome of an election. At its core, democracy is essentially egalitarian. But this guarantee of equality is eroded when elections are determined by the amount of money available in a campaign. That is a lesson we should have learned in the 1970’s.

The Watergate scandal toppled an administration and led to the only Presidential resignation in U.S. history scarring the reputation of Richard Nixon, arguably a great statesman. But it did more. At the time, the scandal awakened Congress and the American people to the corrupting influence of money in politics, proving that this corruption is not just theoretical. The buying of politicians and political influence is intrinsically perverted and leads inevitably to a political and social landscape that is as dark as the night that follows the day.

The U.S. Supreme Court, at least five Justices, appear ignorant to historical reality. In yesterday’s decision
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” Ironically, and not just a touch cynically, that is exactly the right that the Supreme Court has now stripped from most Americans.

I am baffled by one aspect of this decision: Why didn’t the Supreme Court just abolish elections altogether and merely put candidates up for auction? Oh, come to think of it, they did. How many Americans have $3.6 million to contribute to an election? People might do well to ask themselves whether their individual votes equate with participation compared to that kind of wealth.

There is an element of incomprehensibility in the court’s decision. Money is a tangible object, but the Justices want us to believe that spending it to influence elections is an exercise of free speech. This suggests that some people are
more free than others because they possess more wealth. It also makes slaves of the poor, reducing the average American to a plantation worker. And if I am not mistaken, we already fought a war over that.

America is quickly falling, if it hasn’t already, into a world of oppression. An abyss where the oligarchy control all aspects of government—legislative, executive and judicial. We’ve seen this before, throughout history and around the globe. And we know the result. People will put up with oppression for only so long before they revolt. We did it ourselves over two hundred years ago. The last line of defense should the Supreme Court, but it has now fallen prey to the power and whim of the wealthy. As such, more and more citizens will begin to realize how powerless and disenfranchised they truly are.

I fear we are nearing a new revolution. Since the court’s ruling in
McCutcheon infringes on the fundamental rights of the governed, maybe it is time to revisit our own Declaration of Independence. That founding document states, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government…” Then again there might a less drastic solution.

In American democracy the government
is the people. That’s why we have elections in the first place: to vote in and out of office those who, respectively, do or do not represent us. It is a reality today that running a campaign costs money. Perhaps the time has come for the government to equally fund all campaigns—the federal government for federal candidates and state governments for state candidates—and to eliminate all private funding. This is money that belongs to all the people, not just a privileged few. I realize that such a proposal will fall on many a deaf ear. But elections should be determined by the power of a candidate’s ideas and convictions, not the size of his or her bank account.

Money talks, but it is not speech.
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Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

This past Wednesday, The Supreme Court of the United States weighed in on same sex marriage issuing two decisions, one dealing with a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the other with California’s Proposition 8. As is frequently the case, especially given the divisions within the Court, advocates on both sides of the debate are expressing some disappointment.

In the case of DOMA, the Court decided that the federal government must grant to married homosexual couples the same benefits its accords to married heterosexual couples. This is a victory for same sex couples and a defeat to those who oppose same sex marriage. However, while effectively gutting DOMA, the court did not strike down the entire law. Its decision does not force states to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.

In the case of Prop 8, the court determined that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit to the Supreme Court, leaving intact the lower court decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. This is at least a temporary victory for gay rights in California, and a defeat for opponents of same sex marriage. At the same time, it does not guarantee a right to same sex marriage in all 50 states. Instead, it leaves in place the right of individual states to ban same sex marriage.

No one should be surprised at the response of the religious extremists—today’s prophets of doom—who anticipate a continuing wrath of God. Reiterating comments I made for
Effie Magazine, “These two decisions are neither harbingers of a godless nation, nor reflections of a religious demise already in progress.”

The fact that people on both sides are displeased, should not suggest that the court was wise or balanced in rendering its judgments. Something more serious is in play. The Supreme Court displayed a disquieting lack of courage in its decisions. Not unlike Congress, the Court is incapable of leading. Worse, still, the Court seemed unwilling to live up to its most basic duty of guaranteeing equality and justice for all.

Whatever one’s positions on states’ rights, the U.S. Constitution stands as the foundation of equality, with the Supreme Court its guarantor. Individual states frequently enact laws that are determined to be unconstitutional; laws driven by principles based on differing faith or denominational values. However genuine these values, the United States is not a theocracy. The Constitution guarantees both freedom
of and freedom from religion.

In previous generations a commonly held belief was that blacks were either not human, as in the case of slaves, or at least not 100% human. Pains were taken to root these ideas in religious values and, ultimately, distorted interpretations of the Bible.

Today there are those who make the same claims about homosexuals. Every time some religious fanatic claims that homosexuality is unnatural or contrary to God’s plan, they are disguising the same kind of prejudices that denied all races equality under the law. Again today, individual states codify those prejudices in discriminatory laws. The fact that they root their claims in religious morality, merely discredits both faith and the law.

I am reminded that it was not until 1967 that a truer and more honorable Supreme Court invalidated all laws outlawing inter-racial marriage. Such laws are unconstitutional. I hope we do not have to wait until 2067 for a more courageous and faithful Supreme Court to invalidate laws opposing same sex marriage.

Our independence was declared on this simple, yet profound, principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
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Time's Up! Law, Morality and Religion

It seems as though every aspect of life has been partitioned into an “us” v. “them” mentality. The most obvious example is black v. white--most obvious because it is so visually demonstrative. It has become the absolute metaphor for good versus evil, and right versus wrong. This is fine as far as it goes, but most of us do not live in an absolute world. Our lives are tinted by shades of gray.

The problem intensifies when we start applying that analogy to the real world, assigning goodness and evil to other people simply because they are different from us. This is particularly odious in the areas of morality and religion. And, no. They are not the same.

Moral values transcend religion in the same way that God transcends religion. To some that may seem incongruous, but the simple truth is that both God and morality existed prior to any concept of religion. Wrapping morality into one’s religious ideas, at least trying to make them synonymous, is an exercise in futility. It is certainly futile when one is in search of truth. At the same time, it is quite successful in creating a simplistic view for the simple-minded. But that has its own drastic consequences.

Several generations of white people believed that blacks were inferior. Some ignorant people still do. Who knows the actual root of such prejudice? Perhaps it was rooted in the economic and structural development of the Western world. But did such advances make the West more civilized? I suppose it depends on how one defines civilization. One thing is clear: The resulting prejudice defiled religion as believers sought to justify their bigotry in their faith.

A similar kind of discrimination occurred with women. In fact, choose your group and there is a prejudice to match. Many people of faith have continually twisted their thinking into knots to justify bigotry that has no rational foundation. And they have managed to complicate the matter even further.

Recently, people of religion have been making louder and louder claims to be the guardians of morality. Almost without exception, these claims to moral superiority are rooted in their religious values--values that are neither absolute nor universal.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. There is nothing inherently immoral about same-sex marriage, nor about homosexuality itself. The morality exists only by way of social construct. And those constructs, like all moral values, differ from one society to the next and are always in a state of flux or evolution between generations.

To claim that religion determines morality is like saying religion determines God. Wait a minute. That is exactly what many believers do! They can only accept and believe in a God who conforms to beliefs they already hold. They are not about to be challenged by God. By extension, they can only accept people who believe and act the same way they do.

How else to explain the absurd refusal of some fundamentalist Jews to recognize a non-Orthodox marriage? How else to explain the absurd claim by Christian fundamentalists that non-Baptized people are going to hell? How else to explain the absurdity of Muslim fundamentalists who say that a person who converts from Islam should be put to death? How else to explain the religious belief that same sex couples cannot marry—a religious belief with a very uncertain ground in truth and no claim on the mind or heart?

Enter the law. One of the beauties of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are that they are not based in any religious tradition. The Declaration transcends faith, at least beyond the general acknowledgment that certain unalienable rights are bestowed by God. The Constitution transcends the contextual limitation of social morality, at least insofar as those same unalienable rights are inherent in being human.

The result of the American experiment in democracy is that law is the all important and ultimate measure of our society. Neither morality nor religion can make that same claim. A certain credit must be given to those who vociferously claim that God is being pushed out of public life, schools, etc. They have managed to distract many people from the truth. Many people, but not the courts. So a certain gratitude also must be expressed to those judges that have consistently held that God does not belong in public life and schools. The United States is not run on Christian or any other religious principles.

In this country the law is the foundation of our society. It should not be capricious, nor should it be dictated to by religious whim. Our Declaration of Independence states that all are created equal and endowed with rights. The rights mentioned are not meant to be all-inclusive. What is all-inclusive is the all people have these rights.

I disagree with the religious position of the anti-gay movement. It is a skewed and false reading of the Bible. But it does not matter. The United States is not a country based on the Bible, and that is a good thing. It is a country based on the law.

All people have a right to marry, black and white, gay and straight. I would like to believe that anti-gay is the last great prejudice to be overcome by our society. History suggests that as soon as we succeed, something else will spring up in its place. There will always be those people who seek to cast a black
v. white, a good v. wrong pall over the world of gray that is human life.

For now, times up! In the United States of America, law, justice and equality trump religion. Thank God! And thank the Founding Fathers!
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Citizens United--An Amendment

Words, whether spoken or written, are our primary means of communication. For this reason, even as words evolve, it is essential that we agree on their meaning. No one is above the law of definition. The alternative is an inability to communicate with reason, and confusion more disruptive than Babel.

At the Iowa State Fair on August 11, 2011, Mitt Romney made his now infamous declaration: “corporations are people, my friend.” That statement simply does not pass muster. Romney was roundly
ridiculed by citizens in the crowd. In news reports, members of the media chimed in. However, few people took the time to analyze the danger not only of his idea, but also his misuse of language.

In the Declaration of Independence, we read the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men
(sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….” Whether or not one believes in God, the point here is that people, not corporations, are so endowed.

The problem is that Romney equivocates on definition and defies the conventions of logic, for a corporation exists only as a legal entity. As such, its rights and obligations do not accrue naturally, as they do with persons. It is true that a corporation is made up of individuals, but collectively it is not a person.

On the one hand, it is easy to see why Romney thinks corporations are people. He has never had to work a real job in the real world. Almost all of his wealth is derived from sitting in boardrooms and deciding which companies are most attractive for the “purchase, dismantle, sell and workers-be-damned” model of business.

On the other hand, Romney is not entirely to blame. He is not known for original thought, and in this case his idea emanates from Supreme Court and its
Citizens United decision of 2010. Prior to that decision, most rational persons would never have dreamed of calling corporations people. But once one accepted definition is dismissed, it is easy to alter the meaning of other words as well. All of a sudden, money is defined as speech.

I have a friend who suggested the Supreme Court did not anticipate that their decision would undam the flood of corporate money that has so corrupted the current political season. I am a little more cynical. And for good reason. Even if one were to grant a certain naiveté in the
Citizens United case, the Court revealed its true colors this past June by doubling down in another 5-4 decision, the American Tradition Partnership case. In that decision, the court struck down a century-old Montana campaign finance law that prevented corporations from spending money on political campaigns. This may be a terribly disturbing image, but the truth is that the Supreme Court essentially disrobed and flashed American society.

Like elected officials, the Justices are entrusted with protecting the Constitution. As the final arbiter of law, the Supreme Court’s obligation transcends even that of the President and the Congress. What recourse does society have when the Court, itself, tramples the Constitution and substitutes chaos for the rule of law?

The
Citizens United decision necessitates a constitutional amendment. This is a remedy that I recommend with great reluctance. There is always a danger that fanciful ideas rooted in unrestricted emotion might make their way into constitutional law, as happened with the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting alcohol. To its credit, the United States has passed only twenty six amendments, one of which, the twenty-first, was passed to reverse the foolishness of the eighteenth.

A constitution that is amended too frequently becomes a useless document. Still, a constitution is comprised of words, and the meaning of those words matters. Corporations are not people and money is not speech. If integrity is to be restored to the electoral process, the United States needs a twenty-seventh Amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision.
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