Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Almost Political: "Independent Judiciary" and Responsibility

This post is a little off-topic for this blog, but not by much. America had midterm elections yesterday, whose results have surprised me a little. No whoop of victory here: I'm not sold on either party, or any candidate.

But, as we say here in Minnesota, 'it could be worse.'

I'm focusing on one facet of the Iowa election.

The New York Times has an op-ed (or article) about those people in Iowa and their judges. Here's how it starts:
"Ouster of Iowa Judges Sends Signal to Bench"
A. G. Sulzberger, Politics, The New York Times (November 3, 2010)

"An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state was celebrated by conservatives as a popular rebuke of judicial overreach, even as it alarmed proponents of an independent judiciary.

"The outcome of the election was heralded both as a statewide repudiation of same-sex marriage and as a national demonstration that conservatives who have long complained about 'legislators in robes' are able to effectively target and remove judges who issue unpopular decisions.

"Leaders of the recall campaign said the results should be a warning to judges elsewhere...."
I think there's some reason for concern that the position of judge in this country could become subject to the whim of a fickle electorate. That said:

Perfect Judges: Wouldn't It be Nice?

Ideally, a judge would be selected on the basis of character and abilities - and once in office, stay in office. For only thus could the judges of this fair land be above considerations of how the rabble might view their august decisions. And not held responsible for freaked-out crazy decisions. But remember: I said "ideally."

Also ideally: I think that judges should be wise, just, learned, insightful, prudent, and impartial. Sort of like the comic-book Superman of the fifties, without flight capability.

There probably are a few like that.

And there's the lot who've been running this country for the last fifty years or so. At least.

Civics Class vs. Real Life

I sort of like the version of American government I was told about in high school: where there's a president who executes decisions; legislators who legislate laws and make high-level decisions; and judges who sort out arguments over how the laws apply to specific cases.

It looked good on paper, and I've reason to believe that it occasionally worked in the field. Of course, there were things like the Dred Scott case.

But for most of my life, the president has been making day-to-day decisions, judges have been deciding what laws 'really' mean, and Congress has been sucking up salaries and debauching interns. That's an exaggeration: I'm sure there are members of Congress who keep their zippers up most of the time.

I acknowledge that it's a good idea for a society to have specialists whose job it is to make sure that legislation fits into the existing body of law.

But it's very hard for me to shake the impression that many American judges, realizing that there were very few ways to remove them from their privileged position, decided to 'reform' American law and society. According to their own preferences.

So we've gotten decades of screwball decisions, from Roe v. Wade to the 'marriage my way' silliness in Iowa.

The Rabble's Gotten Uppity

Problem is, the rabble in America isn't quite a docile as it was in the fifties and sixties. We've gotten, in my opinion, uppity. Many of us actually think that there's a higher authority than the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

And, in Iowa, it looks like the rabble decided they'd had enough of dealing with some of their betters on the bench.

The 'Good Old Days?'

I can remember the last vestiges of an America where The President was viewed with a certain amount of awe, at least in some subcultures. There's the old movie convention of only showing this great leader from a three-quarters back view, seated in a high-backed chair, all but a hand and half of the forearm visible.

Authority? We were supposed to respect authority, listen to what those above us said we should do - and do it. An exaggeration? Certainly. But I think there was an unspoken assumption among many Americans that they should not contradict utterances from - if not political leaders, then Experts.

I think a plethora of daft child-raising books by 'experts' who seemed to have heard of human beings but never actually seen one helped dampen the assumption that the village doctor, the village lawyer, and certainly their big-city equivalents, should be listened to for something other than comedy relief.

The Sixties: It Wasn't All Bad News

Then came the sixties. I was a teenager for most of the decade: and emerged with my neurons more-or-less intact. Many of my peers didn't - and that's another topic.

'Authority' and going along with 'the establishment'1 weren't high on the list of "those crazy kids' " priorities. In my case, those two things still aren't. (This, from a practicing Catholic?! I don't like authority: but I also acknowledge that God is smarter and more powerful than I am. I've discussed my conversion before.)

I think that some of the blame - or credit - for what happened in Iowa may lie with the social reforms of the sixties.

Some of the sign-waving kids are now in American leadership positions. They're now 'the establishment.' They succeeded in changing the way America thinks. Americans don't have the same unquestioning acceptance of authority that they did in my childhood and youth.

And now we've got the Internet.

I've discussed information gatekeepers and difficulties that the old-school types have in accepting the Information Age in another blog. ("What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

Love, Hate and Making Sense

I shouldn't have to say this: but Catholics aren't supposed to hate people. It's against the rules. It's also a really bad idea. (April 13, 2010, January 22, 2010, November 21, 2009)

The Catholic Church also has rules about human sexuality. It's great: but needs to be used properly. Sort of like gasoline or plutonium.

Some folks have, for whatever reason, seriously disordered sexual urges. The Catholic Church teaches that we're not supposed to have sex with animals, or members of our own species who we're not married to. Even if we feel like it.

Acting as if those rules were important has been called "hateful."

Yes: there are malignantly virtuous individuals who spew venom on those whose sins are other than their own. Catholics? We're commanded to love people. (November 21, 2009, March 13, 2009)

The Catholic Church also says that rape isn't nice and that we shouldn't do it. (May 27, 2010) Oddly, that prohibition hasn't been put on the 'hateful' list.

As for the Catholic definition of marriage: I've discussed that before. (August 7, 2010, June 23, 2010, for starters)

Related posts:
1 I've made the point, in another post, that I am a member of a counter-culture. Which isn't the same as having long hair and love beads.

Another thing: What 'the establishment' is has changed in the last half-century.


Brigid said...

A couple typos: "of only showing this great leader only from"

"'Authority' and going along with 'the establishment'1 weren't high on the list of 'those crazy kids.'"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks! I fixed those. Changed them, anyway.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.