On Friday, May 8 of this year, the news service Reuters published a report by Andew Chung et al., entitled “How the Supreme Court protects cops who kill.” The crux of this report is the little-know legal doctrine called “qualified immunity”, created some 50 years ago by the Supreme Court itself.
This controversial doctrine is covered beautifully in the Reuters article, and for those interested in the details, I refer you to it. For my purposes here it is enough to say that this doctrine was originally intended to “protect government employees from frivolous litigation”, but SCOTUS has seen fit to expand its application to serve as protection for police officers accused of violating Fourth Amendment rights dealing with “cruel and unusual punishment.”
For the video of one incident involvolving the victim, Garrit Vos, during a mental health crisis, courtesy of Reuters you may find it here.
But police brutality is not the only issue. The real issue is the balance of power among our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Whatever balance there may have been intended, during the most recent 50 to 60 years, the Supreme Court has given itself unequal powers based on their interpretation of our U S Constitution and subsequent case law. Interpretation is the key word. Only they are empowered to interpret the Constitution and all the case law to come afterward.
Gone are the days of pure legal judgment regardless of politics. Now it is common to hear talk of Democrat and Republican Justices whose intrepretations are influenced heavily by the party of the President who gave them their life-long powers.
Remember the 2000 presidential election and the confusion of the “hanging chads” in the punch cards used by Florida election officials? In the end the Supreme Court gave the election to George W Bush on a decision not based on the Constitution nor subsequent case law. It was a political decision, a gift to the party responsible for appointing the most Justices to the Court.
Then came Citizens United in 2010. I would say it is probably the most un-American decision ever to be handed down. Essentially it gives large corporations and political organizations the same status as ordinary citizens when it comes to donating to political campaigns. How insane is this? And yet the only hope of setting it right is that that the same body will reverse itself. Some people talk of a Constitutional Amendment. Pie in the sky! One look at the machinations needed to pull this off will give you cause to believe in witchcraft.
Then: Thurgood Marshal: (1) Before serving as a Justice, he argued and won 29 of 32 mostly individual and civil rights cases before the Supreme Court;
(2) quoted as saying, “History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”
Now: Clarence Thomas: (1) No questions from the bench over a ten-year period;
(2) During confirmation was accused openly by Anita Hill of sexually harassing her over a period of years.
Then: Anthony Kennedy; (1) He [was] known for his reverence for legal precedent, for creating unlikely coalitions among the justices, and for being a strong advocate of free speech;
(2) quoted on record as saying “I do not think that we should select judges based on a particular philosophy as opposed to temperament, commitment to judicial neutrality and commitment to other more constant values as to which there is general consensus.”
Now: Brett Kavanaugh: (1): Played a role in the Bush v. Gore case in which, on December 12, 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed a Florida Supreme Court request for a selective manual recount of that state’s U.S. presidential election ballots. The 5–4 decision effectively awarded Florida’s 25 votes in the electoral college—and thus the election itself—to Republican candidate George W. Bush.;
(2) Quote: “Yes, we drank beer. My friends and I. Boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer.”
Undoubtedly, the Court has become the dominant branch of our government. At the stroke of a pen they trash legislation and proclaim who our President should be. They have ruled that powerful corporations have the status of ordinary citizens even when they cannot cast a ballot, which is supposedly a basic right of every citizen.
Who’s to rein in the nine robed deciders of our destiny. I have no idea. I live with the hope that some one or some thing can cut them down to size.