Tag Archives: Supreme Court

The Motorcar-Rights Amendment

1885 Benz Patent Motorcar

Back in the year 1900, there were only 4,192 passenger cars manufactured in the United States. Those 4,192 turn-of-the-century car enthusiasts could freely putter along their dirt roads with little concern about speed limits, driver training or tests, licensing, stop lights, traffic cops, seat belts, or fatal accidents. I’m sure some still managed to get into bouts of road-rage fueled fisticuffs, or run over the occasional slow-reacting pedestrian, but these incidents, while vexing, were not unmanageable.

Fast-forward to 2022 and there are now over 284 million motor vehicles operating on the roads of the United States. Today we absolutely do have to worry about things like speed limits, driver training and tests, licensing, stop lights, traffic cops, seat belts, and fatal accidents. Not only are there far more cars today, they are far more densely packed into confined spaces, they are dramatically heavier, and are far faster. To fail to regulate car ownership and to strictly circumscribe their use in today’s world would not be merely vexing, it would be insanely dystopian.

In this, I think any even the most passionate car enthusiast would agree.

But what if one of the drafters of our Constitution was also the proud owner of a 1886 Benz Patent Motorcar? He might have honestly believed that motorcar ownership is a right that should never be curtailed by the government in any way. And further, he might have argued that the personal mobility offered by the motorcar was essential to civil resistance against an oppressive government. Therefore, what harm could come from including a Motorcar-Rights Amendment to ensure that some future tyrannical government can not seek to oppress us by curtailing our ability to move about and associate freely?

What would likely have happened if we did have such a “Motorcar-Rights Amendment” in our Constitution?

Likely we would be in much the same situation we are in with guns.

Like gun owners, car enthusiasts would have tenaciously invoked their Constitutional Right to block any regulation that in any way restricted their use of cars. No seat belts, no speed limits, no competence tests, no police enforcement–no slippery-slope regulations of any kind. Certainly the American Automobile Association, funded by the car industry, would unfailingly argue in front of the Supreme Court that even the most modest car control regulation or liability exposure is unconstitutional. Regardless of the number of horrific high speed accidents, heedless of death and injury counts, the Supreme Court would steadfastly insist that we adhere to the original intent of the Constitution. “Responsible” car owners would buy ever bigger and more dangerous vehicles in order to defend their rights, to defend our liberty, and to defend themselves from all those “other” reckless car drivers.

Over the decades, as cars got bigger, faster, and more numerous, our dogged protection of that right would have gradually transformed our county into a vast and deadly demolition derby with 284 million rhinoceros-sized death-machines all trying to outdo each other by buying even more deadly elephant-sized death machines.

And our only response would be to continue to send our thoughts and prayers to all the victims of that insane car-nage even as we were quick to reaffirm our commitment to protecting “responsible car ownership” and advocating for inconsequentially modest reforms.

And guns have incomparably less value to society than do cars.

What a more sane and rational Supreme Court would and should do about guns is to drastically reevaluate or even better abandon this primeval Constitutional right in recognition of the real world we live in today. But regardless of that, any ethical and responsible individual would and should voluntarily elect not to own guns of any kind for any reason and refuse to defend or support any private gun ownership whatsoever for any reason.

Atheists Cannot Succeed in Life

Atheists cannot hope to accomplish great success in life.

This is the expressed opinion of someone who has been nominated for the Supreme Court as presumably being one of the wisest and most learned people in America (see here).

At the very top of her nomination speech, immediately after thanking the President and the Vice President, Ketanji Brown Jackson stated:

“I must begin these very brief remarks by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey. My life has been blessed beyond measure, and I do know that one can only come this far by faith.”

There can be no misreading or misunderstanding of her words. Again, she stated clearly that “I do know that one can only come this far by faith.” Only. There is no ambiguity there. There is no modifying context. She thinks this.

Further, this is clearly extremely important and fundamental to her. She chose to put it at the very top of what was certainly the most critical, the most visible, and the most carefully considered speech of her life thus far. She clearly not only thinks this but must think it very, very profoundly.

If this is something she thinks she knows, it must make one wonder what else she thinks she knows.

This revelation must come as a great shock to the many, many highly accomplished and successful atheists to learn that their success cannot be real. They must be imagining it.

More seriously, her considered conclusion must come as a great disillusionment to the many, many children who are not deluded by religion. It is undoubtedly disheartening to hear that they cannot accomplish great success in life unless they find Jesus.

It is disappointing to have a supreme court justice who a) does not appreciate or care about the effect of her words on non-believers and b) doesn’t recognize that her assertion is simply, utterly contradicted by actual facts.

Further, her statement isn’t as much a window into her religious humility and thankfulness as much as it is a window into a self-aggrandizing Prosperity Bible worldview in which god rewards the chosen few with great worldly rewards and success. That kind of self-righteousness does not bode well for a Supreme Court Justice in a secular nation.

Lastly, I’ll point out that I had good feelings about this nominee right up to these statements. When she uttered them, I slammed off the live video and shouted “Fuck!”

Within a minute my phone rang and the first word from my associate, a fellow atheist was, “Fuck!”

I’m sure that this was the response of millions of atheists who are Americans too. That this nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was apparently blind to that response or did not care does not bode well for her ability to act as an empathetic and fair arbiter in decisions that affect ALL Americans.

If, as Justice Brown Jackson, she holds a deep conviction that success is only accessible through faith, and she wishes the best for all Americans, how can she morally do anything other than make decisions promoting religion and diminishing atheist, even simply secular activities?

As a final note, I’ll point out that the most discouraging and aggravating thing about this incident is that Ketanji Brown Jackson is, to a large degree, absolutely right. Atheists cannot reach the highest levels of success in this country. Not because god rewards the faithful, but because our nation is filled with, and critical decisions that affect us all are made by, religiously compromised people like her.

The Supreme Court Must Ultimately Save Us From Second Amendment Genocide

gunlawsWe are trapped in a nightmarish, escalating civil war in which gun nuts, bolstered by the otherwise sensible people who support them in this national insanity, battle against those who recognize that we can we never hope to acceptably reduce gun violence until gun ownership is dramatically reduced.

Yes legislative action can blunt the damage a bit. We could and should prohibit semi-automatic weapons, as well as deadly ammunition and large capacity magazines. We could and should improve our mental health testing and strengthen background checks. We should stop shielding gun manufacturers from liability. But honestly, even all of these would not do nearly enough. These sort of legislative actions are merely the band aids we apply since we know we have no chance to obtain the life-saving cure we desperately need. In the case of our gun epidemic, that panacea is a radical gun-ectomy to remove all cancerous firearms from private hands.

Some think that repeal of the Second Amendment is a cure. But the reality is that we are so collectively obsessed with guns that we will never repeal our Second Amendment, no matter what the cost in lives. We could parade piles of bullet-ridden corpses down every American street every day and we would still stubbornly insist that no cost is too high to ensure our god-given right to bear arms. And even if we did, removing this right would do nothing affirmative to limit guns. States would only be free to pass their own similar gun-protection amendments.

But I think there is one slim hope that we are not sufficiently considering. That hope is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, with the stroke of one landmark decision, could reinterpret the Second Amendment so as to not only open up legislative options but to force legislators to enact them. Keeping a sensibly interpreted Second Amendment in place would be far more valuable than simply repealing it.

To refresh your memory, the Second Amendment states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is an extremely vague statement. Our forefathers made much of their writing intentionally vague so that future courts could reinterpret them in the context of their changing times.

Certainly times have changed with respect to guns. Since this amendment was ratified in 1791, guns have obviously grown in destructive power like the growth of a fire-cracker into a nuclear weapon. The population and our proximity to each other have also grown dramatically. The days of hunting as a necessity are long past. And the number of guns, as well as their destructive power, has grown millions of times over.

Yes, I know that just back in 2008 the Supreme Court ruling in Columbia v. Heller tremendously strengthened Second Amendment protections. Although that ruling was actually very narrow, it has been extended to justify the most generous interpretation. It can be argued that this ruling was as indirectly disastrous for sane gun reform as Citizen’s United was for campaign reform.

But the Supreme Court can, should, and does evolve on important, deeply held issues. It seemed that the Supreme Court had spoken clearly against civil rights in Dred Scott v. Standford and Plessy v. Ferguson. But they did eventually do the right thing in Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.

If our system is to work at all, we must not give up on the Supreme Court. We must hope eternal that at least one conservative member, in light of our exponentially deteriorating situation with regard to guns, might be willing to agree to subtle but dramatically consequential changes in our interpretation of the Second Amendment.

For example, the Supreme Court could rule that the phrase “a well regulated militia” is key and that it requires a far more limited distribution of weaponry. They could rule that the definition of “arms” must be far more restricted than our current interpretation. They could rule that “infringement” does not mean anything close to the current carte blanche in place now. They could clarify that their ruling in Heller does not justify extreme gun protections nor does it speak against sensible gun control.

Is this likely? Of course not. Is it possible? It certainly is and the impact of such a ruling could be huge. What we must do is not give up on this avenue even as we simultaneously pursue others. We must find justifications to bring a never-ending stream of cases before the Supreme Court to give them opportunities to put forth a modern, ethical, and rational interpretation of the Second Amendment. We could ask them, for example, to rule whether our current lack of gun control might actually violate our Second Amendment right to a well-regulated militia. We could ask them to rule whether it is consistent with the Second Amendment to allow certain weapons to be available for sport purposes only when provided at an approved facility.

Who knows, there may be a Justice right now who might now be willing to bend on this issue, if only given one more opportunity to make such a ruling. In any case, the reality is that until they do our Second Amendment genocide will continue to worsen.

Reinterpreting, not repealing, the Second Amendment is our best way out of this gun crisis that we have brought upon ourselves. Neither voters nor the repeal of the Second Amendment will force lawmakers to control gun proliferation. Just as with slavery and segregation, only a Supreme Court ruling can both allow and force them to do so.

 

Consitutution Thumping

scaliaI have a colleague who is really smart. Undeniably smart. He does his complex job extremely well and is deeply conversant in all spheres of intellectual discussion. He is also Bible literalist. He truly believes that he has arrived at all of his religious views through careful reading and unbiased interpretation of the Bible. In the end all he really does is cleverly pick and choose from the Bible to claim external validation of and authority for the beliefs he wants to embrace.

Substitute the word Constitution for Bible here and I could be talking about the late Antonin Scalia.

This is not an uncommon trap that smart people fall into in order to justify their biases and beliefs. Look at Ken Ham (see here). He invokes the Bible to “prove” his truly insane ideas and uses convoluted arguments to dismiss any Bible passages that contradict him. Ham claims that any Bible passages that can be interpreted to agree with him are “literal passages,” and any that do not agree are “historical.”

Just as Ken Ham and my colleague use the Bible as their inviolate source of authority that only they can interpret correctly, so do Conservatives like Scalia attempt to turn the Constitution into a secular Bible to serve their religious and conservative agenda. To them, the Bible and the Constitution are both sources of authority that they can invoke to support their dogmatic views. They claim that any interpretation that supports their views is literal or purist or originalist, while any that disagree are attempts to reinterpret or bastardize these written in stone authorities.

Since secular society does not accept the absolute authority of the Bible, religious fundamentalists seek to transform our Constitution into a secular Bible to serve as a proxy through which they can impose their religious views. Having established themselves as the protectors of the Constitution and as the authoritative interpreters of original intent, they portray the Constitution as infallible and unchangeable, like the Bible. No one is allowed to question its authority or that of those who profess to protect it.

By coopting the Constitution, religious fundamentalists have established an authority structure by which they can mandate and enforce social change according to their religious worldview. All they require is a Supreme Court that will continue to interpret the Constitution so as to maintain and expand their theocratic worldview. Antonin Scalia has been their great champion in this effort.

There is a great deal of manipulative coded language that these religious fundamentalists employ to market their reimagining of the Constitution. Foremost, they preach the absolutism of original intent. This is actually a phrase first adopted by Bible literalists to justify their interpretation of the Bible in the same way that religious fundamentalists seek to own the Constitution.

Even if it were possible to interpret original intent, this is neither practical nor desirable. The very idea is antithetical to what was almost certainly the clearest original intent of the founders that the Constitution remain a fluid and responsive document that can be continually reinterpreted to best meet the needs of a growing and changing nation. This view has actually gained widespread acceptance in Canada and formalized as their “living tree doctrine” which mandates that their constitution remain organic and be progressively reinterpreted to adapt to changing times. However, in America fundamentalists continue to try to reshape the Constitution into their own likeness and then cast it in stone.

Ironically, those who seek to control us incessantly warn about “activist judges who reinterpret the Constitution.” They tout the intellectual purity of Supreme Court justices like Scalia who “uphold the Constitution” according to “first principles.” In short, if you hear people invoking the Constitution and ranting about Constitutional first principles, be very wary.

Supreme Court judges like Scalia who claim to rule according to original intent are as deluded or as deluding as Ken Ham. Every interpretation of the Constitution is unavoidably colored by current culture. Every ruling is necessarily constrained and shaped by the many rulings that form a chain of precedent reaching back eventually to the Constitution. But that chain of legislative rulings may have drifted far, far away from original intent, as we saw most recently in the long, twisted chain of rulings that have taken us to Citizens United, a ruling so completely in contradiction to “first principles” as to be considered almost comical. I call this process of judicial drift from one precedent to the next until it has drifted far out to sea, “judicial brainwashing.”

Ironically, these same patriots who are overwhelmingly concerned with upholding the purity of original intent when interpreted according to their religious ideals are the first to push for Constitutional changes when they find the Constitution insufficient to their ends, as in pushing for a Constitutional Right to Life amendment.

Does this mean that original intent does not matter? It certainly does. As Garrett Epps pointed out in his excellent article “Stealing the Constitution” published in the February 7, 2011 edition of The Nation magazine:

“Serious originalist scholarship is very useful as one way of learning more about the Constitution. But in the hands of judges like Antonin Scalia or demagogues like Glenn Beck, it is really a kind of intellectual weapon…”

Antonin Scalia was the Ken Ham of the Supreme Court. If he truly cared about original intent, he would have acknowledged, for example, that our forefathers could never have imagined let alone intended to protect modern weaponry. The most they might have known was that this new innovation called the “flint-lock” was soon to appear. They could never have imagined or factored in the horrific killing-power of modern weaponry. But instead, what Antonin Scalia did was focus on the word “the” in “the right to bear arms” as the key concept in his extremist interpretation. Antonin Scalia, like Ken Ham, was a deeply self-deluded individual.

Our Constitution is a tremendously important statement of principles. However, in truth there are many countries with similarly admirable Constitutions. It is only the high court system of a nation, and how it interprets and enforces that Constitution, that makes it a great nation or a poor one.

The Constitution might just as well be a Rorschach drawing or Simon and Garfunkel lyrics for that matter. Either of these alternatives might be just as good in the hands of wise men or just as abused in the hands of ideologues.  Antonin Scalia may have been smart, but he was not wise. We can only hope his successor will not be so susceptible to Justice Scalia’s insanely flawed moral and intellectual reasoning.