Selected Thoughts on Recent Events

Once upon a time, it was common to see billboards and bumper stickers calling for Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to be impeached. Right-wing organizations like the John Birch Society had two principal complaints against him, as set forth in a “wanted” poster from 1958:

Warren is a rabid agitator for compulsory racial mongrelization and has handed down various decisions compelling whites to mix with Negroes in the schools, public housing, in restaurants and in public bathing facilities. He is known to work closely with the N.A.A.C.P. [the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and favors the use of force and coercian [sic] to compel white school children to mingle intimately with Negroes.

Warren has been accused of giving aid and comfort to the Communist Party on frequent occasions. He is guilty of inciting riot, disorder and anarchy in Little Rock and elsewhere in his attempts to impose judicial tyranny upon white Southerners. He has illegally transformed the Supreme Court into a Soviet-type politburo with power over the Congress and over the various state governments.

Fortunately, Chief Justice Warren was never in danger of being impeached (although he may have been in danger of being shot). In fact, only one Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached. That was Samuel Chase back in 1804. The Wikipedia summary says he was impeached for “political bias and arbitrary rulings, promoting a partisan political agenda on the bench”. Sound familiar? The Senate acquitted Justice Chase and since then making ridiculous decisions based on one’s political ideology hasn’t been considered grounds for impeachment. Federal officials generally need to be accused of criminal activity before the House of Representatives will impeach them.

Nevertheless, if “political bias and arbitrary rulings” and “promoting a partisan political on the bench” were ever grounds for impeachment, Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas would be prime candidates. The three of them were willing to cripple the Affordable Care Act in 34 states because of a single poorly-written phrase, even though it’s standard procedure for the Court to interpret the language in complex laws based on context and legislative intent. Sensible people understood all along that Congress meant to offer subsidies to low-income people in all fifty states. It was only right-wing ideologues like Scalia, Alito and Thomas who thought or claimed to think otherwise.They saw a way to weaken the law and were willing to disgrace themselves in order to purposefully misinterpret it.

If you want to understand the Court’s decision in the Affordable Care Act case, there is a helpful summary on the Court’s website. They call it a “syllabus” and it’s only five pages long. The majority opinion begins at page 6 of the same PDF document and Scalia’s bizarre dissent begins at page 27.

If Scalia were really as angry as his overheated language implies, he would have dropped dead a few pages into his opinion. Maybe next time.

Moving on to other recent events, I’m trying to understand why some people are opposed to gay marriage because they think it will infringe on their own religious liberties. That may be a future topic. Meanwhile, here are two excellent paragraphs from an article by Andrew O’Hehir called “America Is Changing, and Marriage Equality Is a Huge Victory — But We Need To Go So Much Further”:

An entire strain of right-wing commentators, exemplified by Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, have built careers on casting the left as treasonous America-haters who piss on the flag at every opportunity. This is a moment for people who believe in social justice to accentuate the positive, for damn sure. Beyond that, it’s also a moment that makes clear who really hates America – who hates the democratic and egalitarian potential of America, the America that does not quite exist but is struggling to become real. The America that the Coulter-O’Reilly caste claims to love does not exist either, but it never did and never will; it’s not just 1954 but a thoroughly fictional version of 1954, in which women and African-Americans were content to live in subjugation and Latinos, Muslims and LGBT people were invisible….

It’s essentially tragic that so many people feel themselves under attack from the expanded application of basic principles of fairness and justice. It cannot be a good thing that millions of Americans are so imprisoned by toxic ideology that they are unable to share in this collective celebration of hope and happiness, that they seem so determined to wall themselves up in mental ghettoes of intolerance, and that they seem devoted to waging endless rearguard combat in defense of “traditional values” rooted in a constricted understanding of God and the Christian faith and America. As the congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church told us a week ago in such moving and memorable fashion, love is stronger than hate. Many people in our country who call themselves Christians would do well to reflect on that.

More, but not a lot more, here.