April 09, 2005

I Never Thought I'd See The Day

I mean, I love politics and all the tactical manuvering that goes into it, but I had always hoped that underneath it all there were some basic rules of fair play. Turns out I'm wrong. Tom Delay (on the fast track to political oblivion and acting like it) and some of his fellow wingnuts are actually openly dismissing the separation of powers.

The organizers of the conference and Congressional staff members who spoke there called for several specific steps: impeaching judges deemed to have ignored the will of Congress or to have followed foreign laws; passing bills to remove court jurisdiction from certain social issues or the place of God in public life; changing Senate rules that allow the Democratic minority to filibuster Mr. Bush's appeals court nominees; and using Congress's authority over court budgets to punish judges whom it considers to have overstepped their authority.

Wow. Just wow. First, as even William Rehnquist says in a quote ealier in the article, "a judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment." It's simply not something Congress can do. The Founders made the judiciary independent specifically because they might be improperly influenced by the political branches of government. This same argument applies to budgetary issues. Article III of the Constitution specifically fixes the pay of federal judges so that their salary isn't a Sword of Damocles hanging above their head whenever they make a decision. Congress can play politics with the budgets of all kinds of areas of government, the military for instance, but separation of powers demands that the judiciary be left alone. And again, I can't stress this enough, the decision a judge makes in a case is *not* sufficient for impeachment. The Constitution states that judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour" which basically means that unless the judge does something pretty seriously illegal they can't be removed. "Good Behavior" does not mean, "Decides cases in step with the ideology of the majority" and there are a million reasons why the judiciary is independent and apolitical.

Secondly, looking to modern standards throughout the world is never the only basis for a decision, but when it is used it is entirely proper to look to prevailing ideas throughout the world for help in fleshing out an argument. Again, it's not the only basis for an opinion, but when you're saying that it's cruel and unusual punishment to execute kids, it can be useful to notice that before we recently stopped we were among Somolia, and Iran as one of the extremely few countries to continue to do so.

As pertains to the filibuster, it's been a political tactic for 200 years in this country and it's only now, when the Republicans have both houses of Congress and the White House and aren't able to get literally *everything* they want that people are seriously calling for an end to it. It is important to remind ourselves that we live in a republic, not a democracy. We are not ruled by the majority, but rather we try to honor the wishes of the majority while protecting the minority. People complain about how slow things happen in Congress, but there's a perfectly good reason for it; we don't want one party or group to take over the government and then radically change the system overnight. We're a huge country and we need to make sure that when big changes are made it's something that is not only wanted by a majority but is something that also jibes with some basic concepts inherited from our history as well as is something that will hopefully last beyond one election cycle. And this isn't even to mention that Republicans had absolutely no compunction about using the filibuster and other tactics to stop appointments when they were out of power.

In an interview, Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the panel was likely in some way to take up the issue of how the federal judges handled Ms. Schiavo's case.

But Mr. Lungren said Mr. DeLay had not requested a hearing and the committee had not decided on a course of action. "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary," he said.

It's nice of Jeff to cover for Tom DeLay on this, though it's pretty apparant from the full article that DeLay is right in step with this type of action. This quote just proves exactly what I'm talking about. Congress overstepped it's powers by getting involved in the Schiavo case and the Judiciary let them know about it. Instead of meekly crawling back to their own sphere of power, Republicans in Congress are trying to siphon off judges' ability to make decisions independent of the will of the political majority. Why they would choose this issue, which poll after poll shows something like 70% of Americans want Congress uninvolved in, is beyond me. Then again, DeLay is a dying lion and they always go down fighting a hopeless fight.

Thanks to Kos for the link.

No comments: