Sunday, July 4, 2010

You Say You Want a Revolution? Nah.

Consider these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
They are, of course, from The Declaration of Independence. It's quite an extraordinary document, one well worth reading every now and again - say, on Independence Day.

They say that "all men" (and one can only wish that "all" were meant to include people of color, including those who were enslaved, and that "men" were intended to include women) "are created equal" which really leaves no room for invidious discrimination.

They say that those equal men have certain rights that are "unalienable," that is, they cannot be alienated or taken away. They say that among the unalienable rights are "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit [not the attainment, however, since that's beyond guarantee] of Happiness." They say that government exists "to secure these rights."

And they say, and these are amazing words today, but we must remember that the landed gentry who signed this document were not just the establishment - they were an establishment teeming with enlightenment ideals and with revolutionary ardor, they say that when governments don't do that job, then it is the right and the duty of the people to overthrow the government. Revolution is obligatory.
That's how I started last year's Fourth of July post (though I didn't put the last sentence in italics last year).  It's not a bad way to begin this year, either.

And so with revolution in our souls, let's look one more time (I'll try to hold myself in check for a bit and at least consider having it be the last time) at the Generalissima, Elena Kagan - about as non-revolutionary a choice as there could be for the Court.  No surprise that the guy who eschews excitement would choose a nominee who exudes none.

She could end up voting my way on every issue to come before the Court.  (I'd be surprised, really I'd be shocked, but it's theoretically possible.)  I still wouldn't think it was good to put her on the Court (though I'd like her votes).

I want a lawyer who's actually practiced law.  I want someone who's stood in the well next to some poor person charged with a crime or victimized by the police or an unfeeling government agency or a major corporation.  I want a person on the court who knows what it means to stand up for the Bill of Rights at some risk.  Someone who actually knows something about risk.  Someone whose trajectory offered something other than a direct line to where she is.

I want a justice who understands constitutional rights both from the ground up and from the top down.  The Generalissima gets them, insofar as she does, only from the top down.

But then, I get the idea of the Declaration of Independence.  It's a call for revolution by a bunch of wealthy landowners (the same sort who brought King John to heel at Runnymeade and made him sign Magna Carta).  [It's no surprise that having established their republic, these same men were eager to protect "life, liberty, [and] property.]  And yet, there was more.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
No small thing, that.  And truly at risk.
The Declaration is not a blueprint for government. (That's the Constitution.)  It is, as I said last year, "a campaign speech for overthrow of tyranny."  And it's one of our sacred documents.  Think about that.  Then look at the Supreme Court.  
Is there even one of them who'd sign?  Who'd risk life, fortune, honor?  One of them for whom honor itself might be something sacred?  
Look at Elena Kagan.
Happy Independence Day.

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