CONTEMPT -- How The Right Is Wronging American Justice is the title of my new book that hits the shelves on Tuesday. In the wake of the Terri Schiavo debacle and the outrageous attack on the nation's jurists, I wanted to write a book in defense of the federal court system and its judges and to explain how, though imperfect, the system has evolved very much as the founders intended.
But I don't want that anymore. Now I want this book to be a wake-up call, a warning flare, a political grenade that provokes the silent majority of this country to stand up and take notice of the attempted coup that is underway in the country.
On August 14, 2005, at 7:00 p.m. EDT, the Family Research Council aired a television special watched by an estimated seventy-nine million viewers (twenty-seven million more viewers than watched the last episode of Friends).
Justice Sunday II was taped at the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee and featured born-again religious leaders, ultraconservative politicians, and right-wing special-interest-group directors. The promotional flyer proclaimed, "How activist judges subvert the family, undermine religious freedom, and threaten our nation's survival." The producers said their show concerned "the absence of evangelical beliefs in our country's judicial branch." Their first installment, Justice Sunday, which aired April 24, 2005, had been just as popular.
James Dobson, founder of the fundamentalist religious group Focus on the Family, wasted no time as the broadcast began. America's judges are "unelected, unaccountable, and arrogant," he charged, and "…believe they know better than the American people about the direction the country should go." Michael Donohue, president of the Catholic League, demanded a constitutional amendment that would state that "unless a [Supreme Court] judicial vote is unanimous, you cannot overturn a law created by Congress." The Court, he bellowed, is trying to "take the hearts and soul of our culture."
To hear the Justice Sunday people tell it, judges are outlaws and murderers, part of a conspiracy that sabotages people of faith and rejects the sanctity of life. They echo Pat Robertson's sentiment: "These judges actually despise the country and all it stands for; therefore, they believe that the best way to undermine and humiliate America is to break down its laws, morals, beliefs, and standards, and to bring about as much cultural anarchy as possible, so that the nation will eventually destroy itself. "
Though members of this radical faction constitute a minority in America, they wield a great deal of clout. Their influence is disproportionate to their size; but their power comes from their organization, their commitment, and their unshakeable sense of righteousness.
The extreme Right has conquered the executive and legislative branches of government, but it has not been able to bring the federal courts to heel…yet. Undoubtedly, this group has a prodigious impact on the Supreme Court and the other federal courts, but it wants so much more. Its leaders have taken an entity that innately resists politics and turned it into a highly politicized battle zone. They seethe over this unelected, independent third branch of government, the last bulwark between the American people and their attempted coup. That some federal judges have proven well educated, fair, and unintimidated by these voices and methods has further stymied their best-laid plans. The extreme Right may control a good part of the castle, but they have yet to breach the citadel. Only, make no mistake, they mean to bring every last wall crashing down.
And if they manage this, what will they do?
Most of them would like to see the United States under biblical law. Comparable to countries like Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, all of which live by Sharia (the strict Islamic code of the Koran), America's right-wing fundamentalists seek a nation governed by Old and New Testament scripture. Born-again Christianity will supplant the Constitution. This is no exaggeration—purchase a DVD of either Justice Sunday event, buy a book by one of their ministers, or simply go to one of their web sites. They do not make a secret of it. What's more, they demand that all Americans adhere to their rigid and reactionary beliefs.
The Far Right wants to control our federal judiciary in order to enact this reactionary agenda. At first blush, the focus seems to center on social issues—abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, and religion in schools. These items certainly garner the most press attention, but don't be fooled.
There is another insidious aspect to their designs. Economic and political issues are crucial to them as well. If they are successful in our federal courts, this plot will have a profound impact on citizens in every arena. They are making efforts to curtail federal regulation of businesses, environmental protections, worker's rights, bankruptcy laws, tort liability, and property interests, among other causes.
This radical group also wants much more control exerted by the states. For over a century, the federal courts have built a safety net in order to protect the constitutional rights of every American. But Edwin Meese began arguing in the 1980s that the Bill of Rights does not apply to the states, and now the extreme Right supports his assertion that such Constitutional protections only exist to inhibit action by the national government. They want our individual guarantees surrendered back to the states, where enforcement will diminish and maybe disappear altogether.
Despite the Far Right's claims that they want the courts to leave Congress alone, they actually aim to reduce congressional authority. They want ultraconservative judges to strike down a great deal more federal legislation and to negate decades of legal precedent—the very definition of "reactionary." The extreme Right may argue against judicial "activism," but they certainly know how to practice it. And through it all, they camouflage these issues under a shiny veneer of values, morality, and religion.
Should the nation have minimum wage laws? Should corporations be held responsible when they commit serious wrongs? Should our environment, the air and water, be protected from polluters large and small? Should the Bill of Rights apply to all of the states, or should we have fifty different fiefdoms wherein a simple majority of state legislators can decide our fates?
For the first time since the early twentieth century, these items are actually in play.
Of course, the key to each and every one of these issues is the federal courts. And this drives the extreme Right to distraction. They have nothing but disdain for the founding fathers' belief in three branches of government and the prescient system of checks and balances. Indeed, they are rewriting America's revolutionary history to accommodate their point of view.
For all of those Americans who believe that our democracy is safe, you are wrong. Today, the radical Right is winning, and they know it. Sooner rather than later, we may be living in a very different country, a country that had been ours, a country that will be theirs.