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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Citizens United and Dred Scott - Deja Vu in US Supreme Court

Note:  Link below to a National Memo article - US Supreme Court may reconsider this case in light of a foot in the door opening made by a Montana ruling! 

Among the most controversial of all US Supreme Court decisions are the Dred Scott slavery decision of March 1857 and the Citizens United ruling of February 2009.  Obviously, I'm not a legal analyst, but in my lay-mind, both decisions have one weird component in common- each creates an "out of body" look at what constitutes a human being.

In the Dred Scott decision, some historians claim the ruling, which disallowed anyone of African descent from being an American Citizen, also created the precedent of  the "separate but equal" basis for subsequent racial segregation. Even worse, the ruling allowed for people to consider Negro slaves to be less than human beings.

In the Citizens United ruling, the court created a new life form by claiming corporations have the same right to freedom of speech as American citizens enjoy under the US Constitution.  This unenlightened ruling now allows wealthy individuals and corporations, who expertly shelter their wealth in accounting formulas, to  spend unlimited sums of money on political advertising. The result of this decision has become a right to create paid for "yellow journalism", a way of slinging propaganda at anybody.

Even worse, the US Supreme Court has not specifically overruled this 1857 decision, but the US Constitution was amended (14th Amendment) which makes it illegal to deprive a person of life, liberty or the pursuit of a better life.

Will the Citizens United case require another exhausting Constitutional Amendment process? It seems like common sense solutions should not require such exhaustive and expensive interventions.

Meanwhile, Americans are suffering with a barrage of horribly negative political ads paid for by the heavily financed new donor entities.  If an ounce of truth is woven into the mud slinging expensive ads, then the conclusion should lead to "none of the above" being qualified to hold public office. Cliche works here - "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...."

Journalists would likely suffer the equivalent of public stoning if we published even a crumb of the kind of negativity thrown around like sludge in the 2012 GOP primary campaign! But, then, journalists are real people who don't enjoy the diversionary anonymity of a corporation - our right to free speech is mitigated by professional ethics.

Americans value our right to freedom of speech, but we also have a right not to listen to opinions we find offensive. Moreover, we arguably have a civic responsibility to rebuke the yellow journalism thrown by these decadently expensive political ads on the American public, for the purpose of demonizing election opponents.

Perhaps we need a judicial litmus test prior to having the Supreme Court consider making common sense decisions. Prior to a decision, a primary toggle might be - "Will this Court decision make a difference in how we define a human being, or not?"  Let's begin screening with two absolute facts;

1. Corporations are not human beings.
2. People of African descent are human beings.

Our Supreme Court has twice created precedent to challenge both of these  facts. Each ruling was made during a time of extraordinary division in America - slavery in 1857; and now, political ideological differences have created an American Balkan nation.

In divisive times, Americans are not well served by a Deja Vu Supreme Court.

When Moses presented his followers with the Ten Commandments, he carved for us a rule of human conduct rooted in common sense.  Ten sensible laws have survived for thousands of years to support and improve the human condition, without creating new life forms.

May I suggest the US Supreme Court spend some time roaming around in the desert to reconsider some judicial priorities?



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