Monday, October 7, 2013

Train Wreck, Of a Sort

The federal government is shut down, and the Supreme Court opens a new term today, its docket heavy with radical claims. The shutdown and the Court's radical docket are linked, and together amount to a grave constitutional crisis. A link between the two is provided by Edwin Meese, who according to the The New York Times yesterday played a key role in planning for the shutdown. Meese you may recall was Ronald Reagan's Attorney General, who launched a movement that has succeeded to a surprising degree. With funds from a few hundred wealthy backers, this movement has advanced a theory which seeks to limit the Constitution to what its words meant to a few men in the eighteenth century, largely ignoring changes made after the Civil War, and precedents established by the Supreme Court in more recent decades. The avowed purpose, as expressed by Meese, was to roll back hated decisions of the Court in the Civil Rights era. Together with the billionaire Koch brothers, and a loose coalition of radical groups, the Times reports, Meese has also led planning for the present shutdown and threats of default. What we may be witnessing is a Constitutional moment of a kind historians describe, a moment when the constitutional framework shifts--as it did after the Civil War. If the Meese strategy works, the legislative power will be dominated even farther than it is now, not by Congress with its checks and balances, as the Constitutional provides, but by national political parties who rely in turn on wealthy donors and business corporations to finance their campaigns. Half shrouded by a political slogans and outrageous demands, the confrontation of the Tea Party Caucus with the President is the chosen ground for an attempt to alter the constitutional system. Justice Holmes, the great champion of duty and precedent is among the targets of Meese's campaign; perhaps if Holmes were here he would remind the Tea Party caucus of their oaths, and of their duty to accept what they cannot amend by lawful procedure. Perhaps he would remind the Justices as well that the Court has always considered itself bound by its own precedents, and that too is part of the constitutional system and the rule of law.