Sunday, March 10, 2013

Perversity and Sadness

Inexplicably irrational.  This description is as close as I can come to understanding  events of two distinctly separate social contacts in the past two weekends.  This description fits so well within ongoing discourse on both national and local political levels that I find myself reacting with sadness, hence the title of this writing.  Permit me to explain.

First instance:  Last weekend, Mary Ellen and I were in a social setting where she was meeting some of my music colleagues for the first time. It is also the first time for me, other than rehearsals and concerts, that I have been with this group.  One of the group was chatting with Mary Ellen about backgrounds including number of children, interests and activities such as people do upon initially meeting.  Mary Ellen mentioned that she volunteers her time at Resurrection House in Sarasota, a resource center for the homeless established by a group of five churches.   The person listening to Mary Ellen’s description went off on a diatribe against the homeless in a terribly demeaning way that suggested that such people are weak, undeserving and opportunistic, and thus undeserving of help.  “They could get a job if they wanted to.”  I bit my lip as I refrained from asking this person if she thought that this is what Romney meant when he spoke of the 47% of the people in our country who are ‘takers.’

Second instance:  I played golf yesterday with three other members of this fancy private golf club I belong to which is safely ensconced within a gated community here in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.  When we waited on a tee box for the group ahead of us to clear, I casually asked one of the players, who was from Ann Arbor, Michigan, if he was excited about the basketball game today between Michigan and Indiana which will decide the Big Ten season championship.  Both teams are rated among the best in the country.  My inquiry resulted in getting more information than I bargained for.  My seemingly innocent question brought on a rant against blacks from all three of these guys.  Statements such as “If the south had won the civil war there would be a lot of very tall garbage men,” and “People in the north hate niggers as much as those in the south,” damn near brought tears to my eyes.  I might say, incidentally, that the speaker of the first statement has a personalized golf cart where his ‘lifetime member of NRA” decal is proudly displayed.  Perhaps needless to say, the golf course was hardly the time or place to discuss this issue, so I lamely responded, “Not all whites, in the north or south, hate black people.”  At least it was successful in ending the conversation.

I am writing this because all of the people in both of these experiences are ‘good’ people in that they are successful, talented, and smart.  However, when it came to the discussion of homeless or blacks, venom was dripping from their mouths.  In light of the recent proclamation of Justice Scalia during oral arguments that voting rights for blacks are an entitlement (causing Justice Breyer to remind Scalia that the civil war is over) these experiences make me truly sad; sad for me, sad for my country, sad for those who bear the brunt of this hatred.

Just saying . . .

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Judicial Activism

The phrase ‘judicial activism’ is tossed about by Faux News and conservative politicians as a blight on judges who, according to these sources, blatantly ignore the constitution and decide cases based on their own sense of right and wrong.  Their reasoning goes something like this; Nowhere in the U.S. constitution do the founding fathers mention that ‘privacy’ is a guaranteed right.  Therefore, the Supreme Court decision (Roe v. Wade) that upheld the right of a woman to decide (with her physician) whether or not an abortion for her was appropriate constitutes ‘judicial activism.’  In this context, judicial activism is the tendency to interpret the Constitution or law in a way that goes beyond the founding fathers’ intent, in order to influence public policy.  The decision in  Griswold v.Connecticut, almost a decade earlier than Roe, acknowledged the implicit constitutional right of privacy and allowed a woman, rather than the state, to determine whether her use of oral contraceptives was appropriate for her.  Griswold and the Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education (1954) which eliminated racial segregation in public education are often cited by conservatives as impermissible judicial activism.   Thus, the phrase is used by conservatives to label judges and judicial candidates as unfit for office because the founding fathers evinced no intent consistent with these decisions.  Of course, oral contraceptives were not in existence in the late 18th century and blacks were considered only three fifths of a person.

It is within this context that the hypocrisy of the present Supreme Court comes to light. It is currently considering a case (Selby v. Holder)  brought by the State of Alabama challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act with regards to constraints placed on that state in making changes in elections which could effectively prevent blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote.  Congress has renewed the voting Rights Act four times since its original enactment in the 1960s.  In 2006 the renewal was nearly unanimous in both houses.  During oral argument, that darling of the Tea Party, the arrogant self-proclaimed genius on the Court, Justice Scalia described Section 5 as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Oh really? How can a constitutional right to vote be considered an entitlement in any way other than by perverse judicial activism disregarding totally the enactments of the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. constitution as well as nearly 150 years of Supreme Court precedent? As Justice Breyer asked during oral argument “What do you think the Civil War was about?” Furthermore, how can a Supreme Court justice totally disregard the will of the people as exercised by those charged with the responsibility of expressing that will (Congress)?  I predict that the current Supreme Court, following Scalia, will do precisely all of these things.  Judicial activism indeed!

Just saying . . .