Tom Delay vs. the U.S. Constitution
April 19, 2005
About 20 years ago in Santa Monica I got a ticket for parking in a time-limited parking zone. The citing officer had blown it; there were no markings or signs designating any limits, so on principle I went to court to fight it. Armed with an array of supporting evidentiary photos, I knew I had a slam-dunk case.
Wrong! The judge found me guilty. As I was signing the official papers at the desk before exiting the courtroom, I softly told the clerk, “This guy’s unbelievable!”
I guess it wasn’t softly enough! Into his next case, the judge stopped, looked over at me and said “if there’s one more word out of you I’m going to throw you in jail!”
It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what would have happened if I had said something like: “The time will come for a man like this to answer for his behavior!” After all, it’s a federal crime to threaten judges. At least for most of us. But apparently not for Tom DeLay and his band of ultra-conservative thugs, both in and out of government, who would remake our republic in order to impose their core beliefs on the rest of us. DeLay made just such a threat to judges in the Schiavo case as that long judicial process was concluding.
Earlier, on March 18 he had attempted to transform the tragic case of the terminally ill patient and her feuding families, making himself and his political and religious agenda, rather than the Schiavos and her parents, the central focus. Referring to supporters of judicial temperance, he complained, “This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others.”
Then on March 19, before Terri Schiavo died, DeLay said that he and other Republican members of Congress would continue to work on a bill that would “force” doctors to reinsert her feeding tube. This goes to the heart of the issue that consumed America last month: force – as in “force” the judiciary to bend to his will.
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DeLay’s clarion call soon was picked up by the inciting screwball element. A North Carolina man offered huge sums of money to anyone who would murder Mrs. Schiavo’s husband or the state judge who first ruled on the case. On March 21 radio talk show demagogue Michael Savage urged listeners to break down the doors of the hospice where Mrs. Schiavo resided. Several days later a right-to-life pastor in Michigan announced that he had put together a coalition of state militias that were ready to do just that.
The aggressive effort of this element to remake American culture in their image is one of the most dangerous threats to our way of life – ever! Accompanied by the advocacy of violence, it is reminiscent of the passions in Nazi Germany during the 1930s when might made right and a nation’s judiciary was pressed to bend to the will of the state.
On March 31 DeLay said that he wanted to examine “an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president.” His was the language of tyrants, notwithstanding the fact that opposing tyranny was a founding principle of this nation.
The right-wing zealots dominating our local radio market, such as Rush Limbaugh, Savage and Laura Ingraham, who vociferously blame the opposition to congressional interference on “leftists,” are wholly out of touch with reality. These zealots outrageously misstate what happened here, which was a brazen attempt by right-wing ideologues in Congress to usurp the powers of the two other co-equal branches of government. Their indignant anti-Americanism should be strongly condemned by us who cherish the American way.
In truth, many well-known liberals supported reinsertion of Mrs. Schiavo’s feeding tube, among them Tom Harkin, Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson. And among those opposing interference by the president and Congress, expressing concern about secular issues becoming subservient to the religious right, were Republicans Chris Shay, John Danforth and Bob Barr. While DeLay continues to falsely portray these judges’ decisions as judicial activism, none other than Republicans Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are now openly critical of the majority leader.
The strongest counter to DeLay-like nonsense came from one of the most conservative judges on the bench, Stanley Birch Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court. Rejecting the appeal of Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, he affirmed that Congress could not force reconsideration of the case; he stated that Bush and Congressional Republicans had acted “in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for governance of a free people – our Constitution.”
The principle that our judiciary determines whether acts of Congress or of a president are consistent with or contrary to the Constitution goes back to1803. In Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall affirmed that one of the purposes of a written constitution is to define and limit the powers of the legislature which cannot be permitted to pass statutes contrary to a constitution if the latter is to prevail as superior law.
In order to prevail as a government of laws, judicial decisions must be accepted and enforced. The alternative is what we beat 60 years ago.
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