Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Primal Scream about Justice

As a rule I try to avoid phone-in shows.  The prevailing rule seems to be that both the hosts and the callers are interested in little more than hearing themselves speak, so I tend to feel best off by ignoring the whole thing.  It provides no entertainment and less information.

The one exception to my rule comes when I occasionally tune in Washington Journal through my satellite radio feed for C-SPAN Radio.  Many of the callers seem to take seriously the proposition that they have an opportunity to communicate with people who might matter, and those in the studio always seem to begin with the presumption that what they are hearing is worth the listening.  When that presumption is clearly refuted, the host is always good about closing things off and moving on to the next caller.

So it was that this morning I was drawn to one caller who, in response to comments on the pending ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Barack Obama’s health care legislation, dismissed the High Court for having become “just another political action committee.”  This struck me as the perfect appendix to yesterday’s post, in which I suggested that all of the rational arguments Ronald Dworkin could muster to demonstrate “Why the Health Care Challenge Is Wrong” (the title of his NYRBlog post) were irrelevant in the face of Supreme Court Justices willing to be party to a Republican faction determined to remove Obama from office “by any means necessary.”  This caller put his finger on the crux of the matter:  the Judiciary is no longer a body that acts independently of political matters that can check and balance both the Executive and Legislative branches.

This is nothing new.  History is full of stories of Presidents who packed the Court with Justices sympathetic to their personal ideologies.  Had that not been the case, we might not have witnessed the progress enjoyed by the Civil Rights movement or the freedom of women to make their own choices about abortion, which could or could not draw upon personal convictions of faith.  Thus, it should be no surprise that those wishing to undo such milestones of social progress are willing to engage in the long-range planning of packing the court in favor of new ideologies.

We can debate whether or not this may be counted as an aspect of the Constitution that may undermine that desire for “domestic tranquility” expressed in the Preamble.  I can remember when Gore Vidal went so far as to suggest that things had gotten bad enough that a new Constitutional Convention might be in order.  While I tend to respect Vidal’s wisdom, I fear he may have overlooked just how contentious the last Constitutional Convention was.  Given the way discourse has changed, I cannot imagine a Constitutional Convention coming up with a better document any more than I can imagine our government coming up with a fairer strategy for health care reform.

Can we get out of this mess?  Perhaps the lesson of that phone call to C-SPAN is that our electorate is gradually waking up to just how corrupt our government has become.  Churchill used to call the United States a “sleeping giant” to describe its reluctance to get involved in foreign affairs.  Perhaps the giant is beginning to stir in awareness of what is happening on the domestic front.

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