Thursday, September 08, 2005

Chief Justice William Rehnquist was a brilliant jurist, but he was also a Conservative ideologue!

I know I should be writing some eloquent eulogy to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of our longest serving Supreme Court justices, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. This is a man who embodied judicial activism for over 30 years. That is not a concept I have a great deal of trouble with in general, though I find it viciously hypocritical that conservatives would throw that terminology around to describe only judges who favor granting homosexuals civil rights and holding corporations accountable for the environmental footprint they leave on this country, and not the role of religion in our government and the rights of minority groups.

It has to be said, Chief Justice Rehnquist was a decent man. He was the first to come forward in the aftermath of the disgusting Terry Schiavo debacle and criticize neo-conservatives like Tom “the Hammer” Delay, when they railed against an out of control Judiciary that was taking the law into its own hands. He pointed out that this is in fact the job of the Judiciary, to interpret and clarify ambiguity that is inherent in all laws. In fact, the Judiciary has done a relative good job dealing with the political blather that is churned out by our rather sophomoric Congress. One can hardly blame the Judiciary for the atrocious laws that our elected officials churn out on a regular basis. It seems to me that 90% of the time the laws that the Legislative Branch passes are totally nonsensical so that it is near impossible to implement the laws, but the politicians can say that they took action and blame the people who implement the public policies.

In spite of his apparent reverence for the Judiciary, Chief Justice Rehnquist has taken some positions in cases that should be really troubling for a lot of people in this country. I guess the best approach is to start at the top and work our way down. William Rehnquist was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1972 by Tricky Dick Nixon. He was an extremely conservative appointment for the relatively moderate Nixon. Almost immediately he grabbed the mantel of conservative anchor on the Burger court. It is hardly surprising that he came so vehemently to the defense of the Judiciary and its very important role, since he was often regarded as an advocate of judicial supremacy. If you have any question about this, you need only look back to 2000 when he and his Supreme Court stepped in to decide the Presidential Election. He said that in times of uncertainty that a strong and truly supreme court should step in a take control. This is troubling to many, as they are lifetime appointments and accountable to no one once they are installed.

Rehnquist has voted against the expansion of school desegregation plans. He dissented in Roe v. Wade (1973). In his career Rehnquist has consistently voted in favor of school prayer and capital punishment. What endeared Rehnquist to the religious right was his leadership in establishing more governmental leniency towards state aid for religion (a clear and absolutely no-no to any Constitutional purist such as myself). This was evidenced in his writing for the majority in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, approving a school voucher program that aided parochial schools.

Then there are his positions on all things regarding the 14th Amendment. One of Rehnquist’s biggest legacies will be his push for State’s rights. He envisioned the 14th Amendment being interpreted as narrowly as possible, thus creating a system where deference was given to State’s (some might find it hypocritical that he then stepped in and overruled the Florida Supreme Court in the Bush v. Gore [2000] decision).

In the end, it may be his State’s rights push that will also hurt his legacy. Think about it, many of the problems that we face in our society are either the result of a lack of uniformity or because tasks are delegated to the States that really ought to be handled by the federal government. I can name a host of examples but I will give you just a few. Firstly, why do we delegate the control over core educational curriculum to ass-backward States like Kansas who then turn around and throw out all scientific methodology to turn science classes into faith based teaching opportunities? It seems to me that we should give a certain amount of discretion to local school districts, like deciding what should be on the lunch menu and designing school bus routes, but we need to a stand against dogmatic ignorance which exists in large pockets in this country.

The other great, and particularly timely, example is the handling of disaster relief. We need only look at the Gulf Coast of the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to see the danger of ambiguity in the roles of federal and state officials. Clearly, the relief efforts of the disaster should have been the responsibility of the federal government. There is no way that the three poor states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could have mustered the resources to take the decisive action that was urgently needed. But because so much discretion is now given to States, it was unclear for several days what role federal officials should play. This ambiguity did not exist in the 1960s when President Kennedy federalized the National Guard and sent them in to Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas to enforce desegregation efforts. Granted, the scope is different, but the unambiguous action taken by the federal government in the 60s, without regard for State’s rights interests clearly shows the influence the Rehnquist Court has had.

So we move on, Rehnquist is gone though his legacy will be felt for years to come. President Bush has moved to get John Roberts, a protégé of William Rehnquist’s, installed as the 19th Chief Justice of the United States of America. What will his legacy be? Only time will answer that question.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wasted Resources and Racism in America!

My sister-in-law recently turned us on to a new show on MTV. I am definitely not part of the MTV target demographic, but we have found ourselves inexplicably drawn in to Laguna Beach: the Real Orange County. Who can say why certain things attract certain people. I guess I find it equal parts California breeze-heads and sociological experiment with the rich white youth of America. I am drawn to breeze-heads because I so desperately miss California right now. I am only a year removed but would give anything to go back. I am drawn to the sociological experiment because as a social scientist I find it completely fascinating to observe the high school brats in their element in a way I thought to be impossible.

Some people question the reality aspect of the show because the very act of adding cameras to the equation ensures that the sample is tainted. People never act the same in front of cameras. The extroverts bubble over like a kettle left on high blasting hot air at a nauseating rate. The introverts (of which there are none on this show) shy away from the camera and thus you never get to know anything about them.

The thing that strikes me about Laguna Beach is that these are the children of the richest people in Southern California and yet when they open their mouths to speak it is like feeding my arm into a wheat combine. It is painful to see the children of so much privilege and opportunity communicate in such an obviously ignorant manner. Watching the news coverage of the Hurricane in Louisiana one quickly realizes that the mastery of the English language is woefully lacking in many parts of the United States, but at least the poor people in New Orleans have an excuse. Abject poverty and an educational system that is completely ineffective and stifled by a never-ending string of tight budgets and not enough money has made it impossible for these people to be taught properly. Laguna Beach, California could not be further from New Orleans if it was on Neptune, yet these children of lawyers, doctors, business entrepreneurs and Hollywood moguls sound every bit as “poor” as people who have lived in crippling poverty all their lives. There isn’t one person living in the poor neighborhoods of south Louisiana that wouldn’t trade up for the opportunities afford these California breeze-heads and it is sad to see so much wasted.

I guess I must really sound like an old curmudgeon but I weep for the future if this is the so-called elite in the United States. No wonder China and India are kicking our asses in everything from manufacturing to high-tech. The sooner China deposes the United States as the number one economy in the world, the better. We are slow, fat and lazy. Much like Rome before the Visigoths sacked it 410 A.D. the United States is a corrupt society in need of “righting”.

What kind of a world do we live in where hundreds of thousands of New Orleaneans are ignored by FEMA for days, but when mudslides happen in Laguna Beach federal officials are on the ground almost immediately afterwards. I’ll tell you, we live in a world where “money talks and bullshit walks” people. Kanye West said it best: the federal government wasn’t faster at responding because George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people. What the Gulf Coast needed was urgent, decisive action, in essence, the President the led us head long into Iraq. What they got was a guy in a pair of khakis and a denim shirt posing for photos, a man with no answers and nothing to add to the effort except for blowhard babble.

So, dear readers, will I boycott Laguna Beach: the Real Orange County for all time? No, these kids are hilarious to mock. They are stupid and they revel in their own stupidity. Who can’t see the humor in that? But at the same time, I know that there are those who watch believing that these kids are great and they want to be just like them. They, of course, are the real problem. Not a bunch of breeze-heads living sliding houses on the left coast.