One of the biggest scandals of the current Bush administration was what it tried to do to the U.S. Department of Justice. In order to destroy its political opponents, only right-wing Republicans got interviews for top jobs, while belonging to the The Nature Conservancy was a sure sign that an applicant was a communist.
There is a reason why both neo-cons and the Christian right have been obsessed with reshaping the American judiciary. Judges and the rule of law constitute the last barrier against the imposition of a theocracy where the wall between church and state comes down and lawsuits are regulated instead of companies.
The ultimate prize, of course, is the Supreme Court, which has marched to the right since President Reagan. It is now so conservative (witness the recent ruling on gun control) and its center is so fragile, that almost every ruling is a 5-4 decision. It is but one conservative justice away from the dream of the Focus on the Family crowd ” a far-right majority that could shred the Constitution and the rights of ordinary Americans.
The court already sides with big business consistently. It has also allowed itself to be used as a political tool, especially in the case of Indiana’s harshly anti-democratic voter ID law. The people who don’t have driver’s licenses are mostly the poor, minorities and the elderly, for example, take the 12 elderly nuns who showed up to vote in the Indiana primary and were turned away for not having acceptable identification.
In this court, corporations are doing very well, especially Exxon Mobil. The punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill ” which poured 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound ” was reduced from what was once $5 billion to about $500 million, a pittance to a company that measures its quarterly profits in double-digit billions. Punitive damages are meant to punish and deter bad conduct. This was a slap on the wrist.
The court also upheld Kentucky’s use of lethal injection to execute prisoners, when it could have outlawed the shameful (and dare I say unchristian) practice altogether.
Even so, for Americans who value civil liberties, the Constitution and the rule of law, there was some good news.
The court upheld the right of habeas corpus for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It also rebuked the right of Bush to arrest anyone for any reason and lock them up without any recourse, representation or rights ” you know, that whole American justice system thing. And in the case of the rape of a child, horrific as this is, the court ruled against capital punishment, refusing to expand the death penalty to crimes in which the victim’s life was not taken. This enraged the right wing, which loves vengeance more than justice.
In a few cases where workers rights were violated, the court stood with them, which is what we used to be able to expect the nation’s highest court to do. But these decisions were all razor-thin. One more conservative justice appointed by John McCain, and the Supreme Court of the United States will be controlled by a Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito bloc that will change this country in ways we will all one day regret ” conservative and liberal alike.
Habeas corpus? Forget about it. Woman’s reproductive rights? The Christian right salivates at the thought of making abortion illegal. Environmental protection? Worker’s rights? Protecting religious minorities? They are all at risk in a 5-4 court.
When you go to the polls in November, remember that you are casting more than a vote for president. You are voting for the Supreme Court of your choice. That court is now teetering on the brink ” just like the country we love but hardly recognize anymore.
Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational Church and teaches in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University.