The Constitution is a Living Document, NOT a Sacred Document

Someone responded to the post I made the other day suggesting the Supreme Court be expanded to 15 justices in order to ensure that neither political party would be able to drastically shift the court’s philosophy due to the happenstance of several vacancies opening on the court within a single administration.

Here is her comment, followed by my response:

“Too many cooks spoil the broth.

They are not judging politics or feelings. They are judging to see if the laws are Constitutional. If the congress wants to change the constitution they can call a Constitutional convention.”

My response:

If judges were thinking machines instead of people, they would simple parse the constitution and apply it.

But, the constitution contains both denotation and connotation. It represents not only the letter of the law but the intent of the framers.

In fact, that intent is often unclear and must be interpreted. This is due not so much to obscure communication in the document but to conflicts and compromises of the framers themselves.

This is why the constitution makes allowance within its own text to be amended and updated into the future as the nation evolved.

And so, even if you put aside politics and feelings, there is both the binary logic of the constitution and the intuitive interpretation of the intent.

Our political parties are built around different intuitive interpretations: two different beliefs in what the American Ideal is, just as the framers disagreed in that same respect.

Which interpretation is correct? Both? Neither?

Regardless, when a party approves a justice for the Supreme Court, they understand that any competent judge can handle the legal elements of a decision. It is the interpretive philosophy that determines who a party supports to fill a vacant seat.

If this were not true, then one could expect Barrett to make exactly the same decisions as Ginsberg. And one would also assume there were never be any dissenting opinions on the court. And then if would follow that we really only need one justice, since every one of them would agree based on the letter of the law.

But that is not the case. The supreme court is often split and seldom unanimous. And so, despite the desire for a utopian world in which the judges are unbiased, in reality they still must interpret and do so according to their philosophical perspective, which mirrors the party that nominated them.

Having more judges does not make decisions carry any less the weight of law. It matters not if the justices decide 5 to 4, 7 to 2, or 12 to 3. The decision is the decision. So, more cooks do not spoil the broth. If anything, more justices provide more variance within each philosophy that can lead to more considered opinions by the court.

And, with the approach I recommended. It will ensure that the court’s overall philosophy changes more slowly, with changes in society, rather than whiplashing from one philosophy to the other whenever several deaths on the bench occur within a single administration.

Melanie

Stacking the Supreme Court

The supreme court swinging back and forth between conservative and liberal majorities has become too disruptive given the bipolar nature of today’s political landscape.

We could do with a more consistent court that is less prone to political gusts and better represents the prevailing winds of the nation at large.

Though both Democrats and Republicans can benefit from such rapid shifts in the short term, it does not serve the country for radical shifts to either side in the long term, as the court then become unresponsive to gradual changes in the culture at large and serves only to build negative cultural tension by maintaining a shift to the left or right that become increasingly at odds with current mores.

This problem is largely caused by the lifetime appointment of justices, though that is an essential element that conceptually allows them freedom from social and political pressure to rule according to their understanding of the constitution.

But, since the constitution is both a legal document and an inspirational outline, different justices often interpret its meaning in different ways.

When the court is stacked too heavily in one direction or another, then decisions consistently favor only one of those perspectives putting the law of the land at odds with the people of the land and undermining the intent of the founding fathers for a representative government.

Wisely, the founding fathers did not specify the number of supreme court justices in the constitution. It was never their intent to pre-determine how many might be needed.

Historically, the number of justices has both increased and decreased at various times, ranging from 6 when the court was first convened up to 10 during the Civil War and back to 9 in 1869 where it has remained to this day.

Ideally, the number of justices should fluctuate as the political rift in the nation widens or narrows. Fewer justices are needed in times of cultural unity and more judges are needed in time of cultural division so that decisions are not so easily responsive to transient political power but are more reflective of long-term societal evolution.

To that end, I believe it is clear that the current court needs to be enlarged to compensate for the intense disunity of the past few administrations, both Democratic and Republican.

This is essential so that any minority which may, through circumstance, come temporarily to power is not able to bias the court toward its agenda so that the majority will not be properly represented for years or perhaps decades to come.

Democrats should not have the power to force their view on society through momentary power plays and neither should Republicans.

Of late, much has been spoken of “stacking the court.” To Republicans, this means expanding the court and filling the new seats with liberal-leaning justices. To Democrats this means filling the current court with conservative-leaning justices with no new expected openings in sight.

Let me suggest this balanced approach to setting up a supreme court that truly represents the will of the people, even in this time of tension.

The court currently has 6 justices appointed under Republican administrations and 3 appointed under Democratic. Clearly, this is out of balance since both parties have roughly the same number of registrations and need roughly the same number of justices to fully represent the people.

What if the court was expanded to perhaps 15 justices by allowing both parties to choose the nominees so that the court becomes fully balanced between conservative and liberal, save the chief justice who would always be chosen by the party in power when the position opened?

In this way, the current court would add two more justices nominated by Republicans, bringing their representation to 7 (not including the chief justice.

Democrats would nominate four more justices bringing their representation also to 7.

The court would be balanced once more with a very sight bias to the conservative perspective since Chief Justice Roberts was appointed by a Republican administration, though he has proven himself to be a balanced arbitrator in his own right.

We cannot go on as we are, tearing away at each other. A an expanded and balanced Supreme Court would average out the effect of political leanings so that the law of the land would change slowly, along with our changing society, and would never create additional social tension by locking either political agenda in place which currently disenfranchises half the population.

Somebody someday is going to have to do this or our national rift will widen into growing social unrest and threaten to rip apart the fabric of society.

My message to Democrats: If you win the election, don’t stick it to the Republicans and stack the court. Expand the court to balance it.

My message to Republicans: Don’t fight court expansion to hold on to the unbalanced current situation for it will create tension and disrupt society.

My message to Americans. Embrace a balanced expanded court and join together in unity as one people.

That’s my opinion.

Debatable

I was once covering a union strike at Lockheed for the company.
My only job was to video tape any illegal actions by the strikers.
If they didn’t break the law, no problem. If the did, it would be documented.

At first, the strikers thought we were a TV crew and made pleasant conversation with us. Then, someone from management came over to give us some additional instructions.

As soon as that happened, the strikers turned angry and surrounded us. One guy in particular – a very BIG and red-faced guy, started shouting at us, wouldn’t let me get a word in side-ways, and moved forward to me with a raised baseball bat.

I tried to tell him we weren’t there to entrap them – just to make sure everyone obeyed the law so nobody got in trouble and nobody got hurt.

But he just shouted me down, wouldn’t let me talk, wouldn’t listen to anything I said, and kept advancing. That’s when my crew pulled me away before things got out of hand.

And from that, I learned a lesson that has served me well: You can’t reason with a man brandishing a baseball bat.

This fellow wasn’t interested in reason. He didn’t care about what made sense, or even about preventing trouble or keeping his people safe.

He was angry, plain and simple. He needed a target – a surrogate for the group he was mad at, and I was it.

But, he did have a function for his group of strikers. He protected them. He protected them from any and all threats from management, and they could get behind him and stand behind him – “Stand back and stand by.”

It is guys like him to enabled unions to form in the 1930s. They were the ones powerful enough and unafraid enough to confront management and drive them back – to keep the rank and file committed and motivated.

So, good can come from that when the guy with the bat is fighting for justice and fairness and equity. But when that guy is fighting for injustice, unfairness, and inequity, like the Brown Shirts in early Nazi Germany, then they are the ones disrupting law and order for their own purposes against what is best for the nation as a whole.

Did Germany become a great world power? It truly did! Did the they make Germany Great Again? Absolutely? Did they compensate for all the wrongs done to them by the treaty at Versailles? Absolutely. All goo so far.

But they did it by blaming a huge segment of their nation as being the cause of their troubles, rather than blaming the real causes, including their own war-like nature that was part of the trigger for WWI.

And beyond that, they not only compensated, but over-compensated. They used Blitzkrieg – literally, “Lighting War,” to roll over their perceived enemies before they could even respond.

They never gave those enemies a chance to respond. They weren’t interested in negotiation or compromise. They weren’t interested in debating the relative value of their ideas vs. those of other nations. All they wanted was a target upon which to express their anger so they could feel strong, and not perceive themselves any longer as victims.

Just like my guy with the bat.

And so, when a group is being wronged, those kinds of people are heroes as they protect the group and stand up against tyranny.

But when those guys overcompensate and attack others who are not the enemy, declare, “My way or the highway,” demeaning them, disrespecting them, and even refusing to let those others speak to defend themselves, much less share their ideas for peaceful progress – well, then that might-have-been hero becomes a villain, a trouble maker, a rabble rouser, a loose cannon.

He is no longer interested in what is best for his group, much less the others he is targeting. He is only interested in his own power, in the sound of his own voice, in bashing heads, in marveling at the blood on his hands.

Some people enjoy being mean, whether it be because of their upbringing, their genetic code, or just the luck of the draw. But for whatever reason, they enjoy being mean, being the center of attention, hearing themselves speak and on one else, interrupting, disrupting, creating chaos, lying with reckless abandon, blaming others for their own faults, refusing to abide by agreed upon rules, refusing to take responsibility, and on and on.

In short, they are bullies. They only feel “up” when putting someone else down. They need the spotlight, they need to be in control and so they shout down anyone else so the light remains on them, trying to get enough illumination to counter the darkness in their hearts.

One could say disruption is a tactic. And it is an effective one. But to what purpose?

If you have good ideas to share, disruption is the last thing you’d want. If you believe your ideas are stronger than the other guy, you’d relish the opportunity to prove it. If you believe in fairness, respect, honoring ground rules, finding common ground, uniting factions, fostering peace to support the pursuit of happiness, then you don’t disrupt.

But when are mean-spirited, don’t believe in the strength of your ideas or, worse, have none, and want all attention on you, and absolutely power to do as you please, then disruption is your game.

About the Presidential Debates

About the presidential debates…

My first thought is that everyone should watch for themselves and not rely on their news outlets to tell them how it went. Always better to get your information first hand so you can make your own judgment.

Second thought: Expecting a certain outcome or looking for a certain outcome predisposes a person to only see things that support their existing beliefs. It’s called “Confirmation Bias.” With Confirmation Bias, we not only see what supports our view, but things that are different from our expectations don’t even register. So, this second thought is to go into the debate with a balanced mind about it. No matter who you support and no matter how strongly you support them, what you really need to know is, objectively, what were the good points each candidate made, what points did they fumble, and overall, who had the stronger arguments about the direction the nation should go.

One of these men is going to be our next president. Our future will be guided by the plan they lay out, the priorities they have, the attitudes they express as their version of the American Ideal.

Whether your guy wins or loses in the election, this is perhaps your best opportunity to do a service to yourself and for your family by seeing the two paths we might be taking for the next four years so you can be prepared and make the best choices for your household.

The debate isn’t a sporting event where you are a fan, shout your lungs out, and go away angry or ecstatic when your candidate loses or wins in November, though many treat it that way. What it really is, is a forum where two visions of the future are compared, where the ideas each vision contains are weighed against each other, and where the kind of world we’ll live in for the next four years might very well be determined.

Wouldn’t it be great if rather than rejecting out-of-hand anything the “other” guy says, we were able to find the good ideas hiding in their rhetoric, the poor ideas in our own candidate’s spiel, and use that opportunity to incorporate those good ideas in our own platform and strengthen it further by removing ideas from our platform that the debate showed where not the best on the table.

In the end, this approach brings us closer together and helps unit us as Americans since, after all, neither party wants to bring down America, though each party will tell you the other party wants to do that.

We all grew up here, share the same celebrations and holidays, enjoy our families and friends, worship in the manner of our choice, or not at all if we so choose.

Both parties have lost as many soldiers protecting our freedom and our constitution. As many from each party died on 911 or from Covid as from the other party.

We all want what’s best for America. We are all patriots and feel it with a passion – except, of course, those who want the country to be run the way their party believes, with the other half of all Americans locked out of having any part of the country they love, or even having any voice or any say.

We are Americans. We favor different candidates. But we owe it to ourselves to see the good in the other side and the bad in our own. For if we don’t, we’ve proven we really aren’t Americans after all: we’re just in it for ourselves.

Seriously?

Facebook sent me a message:

“Learn about how you can make small changes in your daily life to have a positive impact on the planet.”

Why bother when there are people out there making big changes that have a negative impact?

Fix the problem, not the symptom

I think it will bring a lot more of us together if we focus on fixing what’s wrong with the political system than what people are doing wrong within the system.

Honestly, if the system is the problem, you’ll never fix it by attacking the individuals.

Down Around Our Ankles

In regard to the fires, coronavirus, et al..

Early man faced many direct threats to his (her) existence. And so we built civilization – a social construct that serves as chain mail – a level of protection between us and perpetual existential crises.

We have come to rely on this web, this matrix, this armor since we are no longer at such great risk of infections, attacks by wild beasts, extreme weather and on…

But what we fail to realize is that in protections ourselves, we have merely shifted the existential risk to the network in which we enclose ourselves: the framework of our safety only functions because it takes on those risks to itself, leaving its own existence continually under threat.

As long as our construct remains between us and danger, we have little to fear. But should that barrier be breached (as it has been of late) or worse yet should it fail completely, we no longer have individual or social experience in protecting ourselves.

It has been said that the more complex a system, the more vulnerable it is to collapse. The law of entropy is invoked at the underlying principle.

Like a house of cards, or a game of Jenga or pick-up-sticks, complex matrices expand until they maximize the volume then can contain – just as social interactions and relationships expand to form the largest possible network, and supply chains expand to move goods and services as efficiently as possible from the source to the consumer.

But connections within such a system become mutually dependent, just as do the components of bridge or of an assembly line. In the most interdependent systems, all it takes is a disruption in one component for the entire system to fail, often catastrophically.

Of course, this is not new. It is our innate knowledge of this that makes us laugh at Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory conveyor belt or Donald Duck in the gift wrapping assembly line.

As long as things run smoothly, the systems expand and become increasingly complex. But, just as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge begins to shimmy or an Imperial Walker staggers in directions its legs were not designed to move, disruptions in the smooth, orderly, and predictable function of a system provide indicators that it has become too complex for the environment in which it currently resides. Instability if the first harbinger of a coming collapse.

So as we take comfort that our supply chains are returning to normal, our health care services are being bolstered and retrofitted to handle our current pandemic, keep one eye open to the possibility that all of these disturbances are not only immediate problems to remedy, but may also be indicators of growing instability in the entire system as a whole.

The American Ideal

The American ideal is not a thing or even a state of things but an idea – a belief we are all created with equal worth, and equally entitled to pursue our best course as we see it, as long as we don’t interfere with someone else’s right to do the same.

We’ve never fully lived up to that ideal – never can. It is an unattainable beacon to guide our path, not a destination at which we can ever arrive.

Sometimes we’ve set a mark straight for it and other times we’ve drifted far afield. But the light is bright, the direction true, and it is easiest to see in the darkest night – showing us the way out of the wilderness toward a greater good.

Covid Conscience

In the Civil War rich people could hire others to go to war in their place and legally avoid the draft. I often think of this when I order groceries delivered. But, being 67, I realize my risk is far greater than the twenty-somethings delivering, so I uncomfortably accept their shopping in my place and soothe my Karmic wounds with the notions that I am helping to keep them employed and then I seal the rationalization deal with myself by tipping well.