Friday, September 24, 2004

Check the Imbalances

It would seem, dear readers, that it simply isn't enough for the GOP to push an agenda in Colorado which greatly undermines the rights of the people of that state (see previous blog entry). In fact, it would seem that the GOP has engineered (through some unholy alliance no doubt) the passage of a bill designed to upset the system of checks and balances laid out in our Constitution. The bill is with reference to one very specific, and, if you ask me, relatively ridiculous issue: the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

If you think back, you may remember that a California man brought suit agianst his daughter's school system because he, an athiest, did not wish his daughter to recite the words "under God" when saying the pledge. One California senator stated that a federal appeals court's ruling that the pledge was "an unconstitutional endorsement of religion" was "political corretness run amok." In my personal opinion he is, at least in spirit, correct. He might, however, find a bit of resistance from the author of the Pledge were Mr. Bellamy alive today.

Bellamy was a Christian Socialist and the chairman of the comittee of state superintendants for the National Education Association. He wrote the Pledge as part of a flag raising ceremony for the quadricentinial Colombus Day celebration in 1892, and, notably, he did not include the words "of the United States of America," or "under God." The former was added, against Bellamy's protest, by the National Flag Conference after a campaign by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, the latter, by Congress in 1954 following a campaign by, astonishingly, the Knights of Colombus, but I digress.

The real point of this article has virtually nothing to do with the Pledge. The point, friends, is that the United States House of Representatives, in an unprecedented move, has passed a bill which (should it pass the Senate and President) will prevent federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from hearing cases regarding the Pledge. It's called the Pledge Protection Act, and when it arrives at the Senate floor it will be, by far and away, the most unconstitutional piece of trash to ever disgrace both houses of Congress.

For those of you not already clear on why this is so absurd, I'll provide a brief tutorial of the system of checks and balances which is written into our Constitution. The three branches of government (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial) are responsible for keeping each other in check, thus preventing one branch from gaining too much power. Congress is the legislative branch. The word legislate derives from Latin roots meaning "to write laws." Thus the function of Congress is self explanatory. The executive branch, the President, is equally self explanatory. It is the job of the President to execute the laws laid forth by congrees. Where's the check and balance? Simple, laws have to pass the executive branch before they become laws, but, should the President veto them, a two-thirds majority vote of the entire congress will override the veto. The function of the judicial branch is a little less self explanatory than others. The nine justices of the Supreme Court function a little differently than other courts. They only hear cases in which the constitutionality of the law which has been violated is in question or a civil suit (as in this case) has raised a constitutionality issue. While they have no power whatsoever in the law making process, they can strike them right out of existence. Seem a little unbalanced? Well, it's not. The president appoints the justices who must then be ratified by congress. See, everybody gets a say. After they're sitting, though, they're there for life, and they determine what cases they hear. Now, if Congress and the President really didn't like a ruling the Supreme Court made they could make an amendment to the Constitution, thus making whatever was unconstitutional before, constitutional. However, this takes a pretty hefty number of votes in the House and Senate, and doesn't happen very often. So, you see, the system of checks and balances really does prevent any one branch from having too much power.

So there, three houses of government, all alike in dignity, in fair Washington, DC where we lay our scene. The play is a tragedy in the most Greek sense of the word, the kind of tragedy where things started off just fine and went downhill from there. The Pledge Protection Act is a direct assault on the Supreme Court's position in the system of checks and balances. It is nothing less than an attempt by GOP members in the House of Representatives to force the Supreme Court to dance to their tune. The good news is that, theoretically, the Supreme Court could strike a ratified (it hasn't even hit the Senate floor yet) Pledge Protection Act right off the books, but only after someone brings suit against and makes it through the lengthy appeals process to the Supreme Court. What does this mean for us? Imagine an act of the same nature to protect abortion cases. You're pro-life, you say? I didn't specify that this hypothetical act had to protect women who wanted to have abortions. Imagine an America where Congress could place protections on free speech cases. Imagine an America where you could be arrested for voicing an unpopular opinion and then, when you finally get a hearing, it's deemed illegal for the courts to hear your case. Well, the Pledge Protection Act is one of but a few steps into that deep chasm that is despotism, and once over the edge, readers, there is no turning back.


Related Links:
The Pledge of Allegiance - A Short History
House Votes to 'Protect' Pledge of Allegiance (Reuters)

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