Thursday, July 3, 2014

Laws in Chaos: SCOTUS is destroying America

The function of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is to establish laws. It does so by making decisions that guide all other courts in the country. This is a great power and a great responsibility. The current SCOTUS has not only abused this power, it has acted so irresponsibly that it has confused and contorted existing, established laws. It has created a situation where, in some important areas, no one knows what the laws are any more.

This confusion can be seen in SCOTUS handling of abortion cases. In their recent ruling on whether an abortion clinic can keep protesters from getting too close to patients, SCOTUS pretended that the case was about free speech rather than a woman's right to have an abortion. They struck down a buffer zone of 35 feet in Massachusetts. This 35-foot buffer, ruled SCOTUS, prevented anti-abortion mobs from getting close enough to the prospective patients to "reason" with them.

Anyone who has seen an anti-abortion mob in person or on tv knows that these mobs shout rather than reason and use their bodies to block women from getting into the clinics. Furthermore, the people in these mobs carry large signs that express their opinion very well. The net effect of these mobs is to intimidate defenseless women from exercising the rights that a previous SCOTUS decision had guaranteed to them in 1973. Abortion laws have been blurred so thoroughly that individual states have succeeded in outlawing abortion by passing TRAP (targeted regulations against abortion providers) laws that make it impossible for abortion clinics to remain in business.

The most dubious achievement of SCOTUS has been to overturn one of the most fundamental purposes of the Constitution. It has created an established religion by ruling that a corporation can decide whether its employees can receive insurance benefits that violate the "sincerely held" religious beliefs of the corporation.

Let me explain. The religious beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby forbid certain forms of birth control. The owners decided not to pay for insurance policies that provide those types of birth control to thousands of its employees (only the female ones, of course). Hobby Lobby took their case to the supreme court, which agreed with them. But the beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby are the beliefs of a few Christian sects. The Supreme Court ruled that the beliefs of these sects take precedence over the beliefs of Hobby Lobby employees (only the women) who will now be forced to pay for birth control out of their own pockets.

Take note: The Supreme Court ruled that certain Christian beliefs must be observed by employees of the Hobby Lobby (only the women), no matter what the personal religious beliefs of those employees may be. If the (female) employees fail to observe these beliefs, they will be punished by having to pay for their own contraceptives. While the Court assures us that this will have no effect on any other medicines or procedures a company decides not to pay, and additionally will have no effect on companies that are not "closely held", the Court track record on such predictions is abysmal.

This is not a "narrow" decision that only affects a few people. In the first place, it affects all women of child-bearing age, a large group. But this decision also opens the floodgates for every employer to make demands on their employees of any kind whatever. When the Supreme Court makes a decision, every court in the country must abide by that decision. When corporations see this decision, they will start looking for ways they can save money by denying benefits to their employees. The corporations will do this because they are not, as SCOTUS would have us believe, persons with sincerely held religious beliefs, but because they are businesses that exist to make a profit any way they can.

Employers know they can place any restrictions on their employees they want. Their employees may sue them in court, but federal cases proceed at a glacial pace. It will be years, or decades, before the Supreme Court gets around to ruling on whether the restrictions on employees are constitutional or not. In the meantime, corporations making such demands will be able to profit from their denial of constitutional rights.

The current Supreme Court seems intent on confusing the people so much that we don't know what is legal and what is not. The Court has decided that controls on election campaign donations are violations of our freedom of speech. Well, not our freedom of speech exactly, but the freedom of speech of corporations and the one percent. Apparently the Court believes that giant corporations and billionaires did not have enough opportunity to express their opinions, while we ordinary folks, the 99 percent, had too much. According to the Court's tortuous reading of the Constitution, the framers intended to give extraordinary rights to corporations (which hardly existed at the time) and political donors (a foreign concept in 1789). The Court declared in a particularly egregious decision that corporations have the same rights to donate money as actual, flesh-and-blood people.

SCOTUS believes that only rich people need their rights to speak freely in elections protected. They believe that only Christians protesting abortion need their rights to speak freely protected. What about the rest of us? This SCOTUS is not concerned about us. Their lack of concern is hardly surprising, since most of them were nominated by Republican presidents with regressive views on sex, voting, and minority rights. Furthermore, while there are 435 Representatives in the House, and 100 Senators in the Senate, there are only nine Supreme Court Justices who have the power to mold American laws in their own, regressive, prejudiced, and outmoded image. Nine people can decide whether African Americans have the right to vote or whether women have the right to choose their own birth control. This situation is the sort of thing that tyrants have always longed for. Caligula, a Roman emperor in the first century CE, once expressed the desire that the Roman Senate should have a single head so that he could cut it off. This is the power that radical Republicans hold today.

SCOTUS has become a body that reflects the obsolete views of a political class that has not been the majority in this country since the defeat of Herbert Hoover by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt himself recognized this glaring inequity by proposing to increase the number of Justice from nine to 15. We can and must do better than that. We must negate the power of SCOTUS by giving more power to the people through the adoption of a national initiative that would enable regressive decisions of the Supreme Court to be overturned by a vote of the people, not in the House of Representatives or the Senate, but in a national election where all the people can vote on important issues and make decisions democratically.

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