When government no longer respects the rules, where are the officials to call foul?
Many years ago when I studied political science the department chairman, who later made me his teaching assistant, had a favorite question for final exams. The question was why the U.S. Constitution had survived so long as the foundation of our government. The answer he was looking for was that the people participating in government had accepted it as “the rules of the game” just as people playing organized sports accept the rules of their respective games, even if they don’t always agree with them.
I’m not sure what Professor Ramos would think today, if he were alive to see what is going on in government now. We have legislators who deliberately work to undermine our governing document while the executive branch ignores it completely. Chief Justice Marshall, in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison cast the Supreme Court and the lower courts as guardians of the rule of law, and of the Constitution, but unfortunately, even the courts are not immune from the temptation to go against the rule of law. Chief Justice Roberts opinion on Obamacare was a travesty of legal reasoning, particularly when he took the position that his duty was to protect the act of Congress, and not to protect the people from bad political decisions. Perhaps he should have considered, as Marshall would have that his duty was to protect the Constitution from bad political decisions and struck down the law as a blatant violation of the Supreme Law of the Land.
And we should not forget that Roberts had help. There were other justices who voted with him; justices whose positions on the court are founded on their political beliefs, with no interest in the law, or the Constitution. They see their duty primarily as instituting a socialist system, and the law be damned.
What Marshall had attempted to do was place the courts in the position of referees between the law and government. This assumes that the courts will always operate with the highest levels of integrity, but they have now failed to do so. The rest of government also suffers from a blatant inability to understand and respect their duties. We have United States Senators who think that it is acceptable to enact confiscation of firearms, regardless of the Second Amendment. We have an executive branch that sees nothing wrong with seizing the digital communications of innocent citizens in the name of national security, in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. At the same time the Department of Justice takes the records of media reporters in violation of their First Amendment protections.
We should also not forget that the executive branch was using the Internal Revenue Service to interfere with citizen’s rights to participate in the political process, and to intimidate them as well. Some individuals were also subjected to intimidation by the FBI, OSHA, and in the case of Houston’s King St. Patriots / True the Vote, even the ATF people got involved. All this was the use of the government for manipulation of the political process and to thwart actions by the opposition of office holders. It was not only unconstitutional; it was illegal interference in the criminal sense.
And to top it all, Obamacare demands that we turn over our medical records, records previously considered private, to the Internal Revenue Service. Didn’t the Supreme Court recognize a right to privacy? So why should the government have access to our medical records OR our financial records. Perhaps, the Internal Revenue Code is for all significant purposes, a violation of that right.
And so, without the courts to act as a referee, and government run amok, there is very little that the people can do, unless the power of public opinion is sufficient to call officialdom to heel. And what if officialdom does not follow instructions and rein in its excesses. One has to wonder what would happen if the executive branch decided to suspend the Constitution because of a “constitutional crisis” that required government action to correct, then declared martial law because too many people would see this as an obvious institution of tyranny.
This leads us to an important fact. The constitutional protection is as thin as the willingness of government officials to follow its rules. For decades elected officials generally saw their duty, and when some forgot there were others who would bring them back into line. At the same time we had a population that was better informed of their rights, and was intent primarily on accepting opportunity and not looking for handouts. If there was a need for charity they had community and religious organizations to step in and help out. No one desired a welfare state and it certainly could not function on the frontier. But things changed. Today’s citizens are often less interested in opportunity than in subsistence. They see the latest “reality show” as more important that what is happening in the halls of government. They frequently don’t take their rights seriously, and those that do are often treated as radicals, out of touch with reality, or part of the “tinfoil hat” crowd. All of this is because they take our governing document seriously.
One is left wondering whom the loyal citizens of the Republic can turn to if the all three branches of the government cannot be counted on to do their proper duties and uphold their oaths of office. In ancient Rome there was the occasion when Marcus Brutus was lauded “as the noblest Roman of them all” after he took part in his adopted relative Julius Caesar. His nobility was “not because he loved Caesar less, but because he loved Rome more.” This is not a call to repeat Brutus’ actions today, but we have to wonder why there seems to be so little love for America that people won’t take part in the political process sufficiently to keep officials in check. Has American society become so apathetic that it doesn’t care who breaks the rules if they get their three meals a roof and cable TV?
Authorities like to tell us that rules keep a society together, but whose society is it, and who makes the rules? The Constitution declares that “We The People” created the government, and “We The People” should be able to call it to account when necessary.