US Civics lesson, anyone?

Okay, this post is born out of a discussion with my sister regarding the merits of checks-and-balances in the Government of our nation.  To be specific, we were talking about what defines a “Neo-conservative”, leading unto a discussion about a limited scope of government, tweaking the healthcare system as a whole, and finally, lowering the overall cost of medical care.  It was at this precise moment that she asked me the dangerous question of, “can the legislature limit the judgements of the judiciary?”  I was delighted….

In a rare stroke of “on the spot” brilliance, I came up with an explaination… “An over-simplified explaination of the government, is that the government is intended to be like a game of rock-paper-scissors.  To be stated more accurately, it is a game of rock-paper-scissors where we ask ourselves, ‘if the rock has a pocket knife, the paper has a hammer, and the scissors have bottle of superglue, what is the price of tea in China?'”  Aren’t I smart?

To give an ACTUAL answer, yes… the legistlature can give a limit to benefits rendered by the judiciary.  For example, there are limits given to criminal judgements for most smaller crimes… because nobody likes the idea of getting the death penalty for spitting on the sidewalk.  To be sure, the judiciary’s place is to be rendering judgements based on the Constitution and the other laws that have come to be underneath it… so technically, the laws that be should be dictating the actions of the court, rather than the actions of the court dictating the law (such as setting precedents and declaring certain laws unconstitutional).  The fun bit is that if we had one of these kinds of deals where the Supreme Court justices could be removed at any time, we wouldn’t get anything new done because we would spend all eight years of the president’s two terms undoing everything the last crew did (firing and re-appointing Justices, repealing and reinstituting laws… letting the Christian kids back into public schools…). 

The legislature can legally suggest ammendments to the Constitution (which negates the power of the court to declare something unconstitutional) and is saddled with the power of authoring supplemental laws that address every day life (things like a twenty year statute of limitation on armed robbery).  The President is given the power to sign these laws and to nominate/appoint the Justices on the Supreme Court.  Ideally, the Court should be passing impartial judgement on individuals and singular situations based on the law rather than making decisions on the merit of national law or domestic policy based on personal impetus.  If this had been the case always, I highly doubt there would be as much restriction on  displays of religion (specifically Christianity) on public property as there is now.  Remember, the 1st Ammendment says that “Congress shall make no laws respecting the ESTABLISHMENT of a religion, nor prohibiting the free excersise thereof.”  Last I checked, that meant that Congress wouldn’t make a law saying that we had a national religion (like the Church of England). 

Now, this tug-of-war between the judiciary and the legistlature means that if Congress wants to make any changes to the codified laws that is exempt from judicial scrutiny, it needs to be a Constitutional ammendment… which means that a majority of people in 3/4 of the states need to think it is a good enough idea to force state legislatures to ratify it… which means that a majority of voters (or at least the most vocal of them) think it is the right thing to do.  I’ll admit, I feel a little uncomfortable with how near to 100% immune the justices are from consequences of their decisions (no threat of being fired), but there needs to be at least SOME solidarity within the court to allow for a semi-consistent reading of the Constitution.  Perhaps we need to get a Constitutional Ammendment passed allowing for the impeachment of Justices… that would be a political firestorm to be witnessed…

 Explore, educate, vote… Peace out.



~ by xristosdomini on September 26, 2007.

3 Responses to “US Civics lesson, anyone?”

  1. You and your sister have interesting discussions.

    The competition for power between the branches of government is part of the God-inspired genius of our system, and a necessary bulwark against tyranny. It’s super important that none of the branches actually *win*.

    For example, the notion that the supreme court is the sole and ultimate interpreter of the constitution is relatively contemporary; that is a power that the supreme court asserted. Legislators take an oath to uphold the constitution, but another contemporary phenomenon is having congressmen vote *for* laws they themselves don’t like, with the expectation that the law will be overturned by the supreme court (witness McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform).

    The legislature has lots of power over the judiciary at all levels. The legislature confirms and impeaches judges. They set the jurisdiction of courts (the FISA law created a court to oversee certain domestic intelligence-gathering activites, and can dissolve courts in the same way). They also write all laws. The legislature can exercise all of these powers most easily when the executive agrees, but make no mistake, the veto-override is absolute.

    I think the founders wanted amendment of the constitution to be hard, but I don’t think they wanted it to be so forbiddingly hard that it never ever happens. Requiring the 2/3 majority in the congress and ratification by 2/3 of the states is a great filter to assure the constitution doesn’t become a warehouse of trivialities, but shouldn’t be such a high bar that we can’t use it to fix bad court rulings (like the recent imminent domain precident, for example).

    The problem IMHO is that so many American citizens have only a sound-bite understanding of our constitution and governing system. Take for example “Freedom of Speach”.

    Every American would probably agree that people have a *right* of Free Speech in America. The constition says this (First Amendment): “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”. The constitution forbids the federal government (and by extension state and local government) from making laws – it does not grant an urestricted right to speak. If you go to a bank and say “stick ’em up”, you’ve probably committed a punishable crime, even if all you did was talk. If you get in the face of a gangster and say “You smell like a monkey!”, you will still be subject to direct consequences. Yelling in a library will get you thown out, and using your cellphone in a theater will get you a popcorn-infused wedgie. Speach isn’t really so much free as it is “on credit”, and some speach is more likely to require repayment in suffered consequences.

    I get really annoyed when intelligent Americans say: “We must allow the President of Iran to speak at Columbia University because of freedom of speach”.
    (a) Our constitution only forbids government regulation of speach.
    (b) “Free” speach is not free of consequences.
    (c) Aid and comfort to the enemy is mentioned in the constitiution, called “treason” or “sedition” last time I looked. Apparently a crime unless you are a democrat or a liberal intellectual.

    Time for Americans to try a little harder to “get it”, no?

  2. Oope – I meant 3/4’s like you said earlier – I just got in a groove: Taking my own advice:

    Article V
    The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which in either case shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the Ninth Section of the First Article; and that no State, without its consent shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

  3. I noticed that this post got a hit from someone searching for “consequences of spitting on the sidewalk” and I re-read your comments… Now, to answer the question asked by the search guy, I believe it ranges from a $20 fine to one night in jail, depending on the state…

    However, to my father I shall note that the rights listed in the Constitution are supposed to be for US citizens… so really, the whole Amadinejad thing was total BS anyway. Free Speech is guaranteed to US citizens, that doesn’t mean we need to invite our enemy to our house for tea.

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