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April 01, 2005

After Schiavo, Questions Remain

Though Terri Schiavo's death may have finally brought some measure of peace to her agonized family, it did not end the troubling moral questions surrounding it. Tom Bevan asks one that has often occurred to me:

During the last two weeks, many have argued that the moral questions raised by the Schiavo case outweigh the legal considerations and that any means of preventing her death (including sending in the National Guard) would be morally justifiable.

If this is true, then aren't we obligated to ask the following: If one believes abortion is the taking of innocent life and that we have a moral duty to prevent infanticide, shouldn't Congress immediately pass a law outlawing abortion at the federal level regardless of its constitutionality? Wouldn't the saving of even a single life (or preventing a single death by abortion, if you prefer) justify such an action?

And if we accept the idea that deeply held moral beliefs can compel extralegal or even unconstitutional action, doesn't that argue in favor of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision last year to begin issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians in violation of California law? After all, Newsom acted on the belief, deeply held by many on the left, that denying gays the right to marry is morally indefensible and akin to the legal racial discrimination of blacks in the 1950s.

At its core, the dilemma is this: At what point are we forced to live within the law even if we disagree morally with some of the outcomes resulting from its application?

The questions raised by the tragic case of Terri Schiavo are not easy ones at all. But they are important, and the country would benefit from an effort to consider them as honestly and thoughtfully as possible.

This is akin to the issue I raised earlier regarding the FEC, to mass derision. These are difficult questions.

What kind of world would it be, if every person who disagreed with a law felt morally justified in taking the law into his or her own hands? We are an increasingly hetergeneous and pluralistic nation composed of people who disagree - often violently - over what is morally right.

Do we place our own instinctive sense of right and wrong above our duty to obey law? Do we place our opinion of a law's constitutionality above our civic duty, granting ourselves carte blanche to disobey laws we try in the court of private opinion and find unconstitutional?

That, increasingly, seems to be the consensus of opinion I am hearing and reading on the web. And it disturbs me.

Posted by Cassandra at April 1, 2005 08:46 AM

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Well, you have not heard it from me. I thought the governor had authority to intervene if Child & Family Services actually did have new evidence but he went to a judge,(the same judge, is there only one in Florida? I remember at least two from 2000)to get a court order, once he did that and the judge denied it he had no option within the law.

It is the judges in this case that have placed themselves above the law, the judiciary is not an equal branch of government, it is now the ultimate branch until such time as the other two take action to clip its wings.

Posted by: Pile On® at April 1, 2005 09:47 AM

Pile, this wasn't aimed at you :) Nor, really at anyone in particular.

I'm not interested in re-arguing the merits of Terri's case: that has been done ad nauseam. I just thought Bevan had an interesting point (and one that goes to the heart of the matter, as I have read several places where people have advocated sending in the National Guard, Elian Gonzalez-style, to seize custody of Terri - ironically something conservatives were up in arms over when Clinton did something similar :)

He actually made several interesting points - it was a thoughtful piece. Sometimes we don't like everything someone says, nor necessarily agree with it, but it can still be thought-provoking and worthy of consideration.

And battles between the branches of govt. are nothing new - they have been going on from time immemorial. Currently it is popular to blame the judiciary, and there is some cause for alarm on that score. But legislatures, as I have often pointed, out do really dumb things too -- all the time.

Witness passing the Patriot Act and then turning right around and vilifying it the next day. How are we supposed to read this? They got carried away? And then the "feeling" passed?

Hysterical, emotional pandering by Congress. Yet this is the reasoned, measured body we somehow think is so far superior to the judiciary? The one that got hoodwinked into passing McCain-Feingold by a handful of rich liberals? Feh.

I guess it's better to get bad law handed down by a whole passel of buffoons who can paralyze the entire Senate by having 41 of them simply threaten to filibuster than by just 9 of them... This is the "459 monkeys are smarter than 9 monkeys" theory. How's that again? :)

And yes, I've oversimplified the argument. But personally I don't really trust any of them all that much.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 10:13 AM

Not to get distracted by all of my previous, headache-induced ranting, the question I meant to pose was: does the end justify the means?

Blacks had to live with terrible injustice during Jim Crow, yet the vast majority of THEM did not rise up in arms against a government that was undeniably depriving them of their civil rights under the US Constitution. They sought change LEGALLY. They upheld the legitimacy of a system that was depriving them of their rights at the time, because they understood that in the end, the rule of law gave them the best protection against prejudice and the passions of men. And where there is no respect for law, passion and unreason quickly take over.

And it took time. Lots of time.

Yet many of us, who have never had to live with similar injustice, lightly speak of taking the law into our own hands for relatively trivial infringements of our "rights" rather than seeking peaceful change in the law to correct deficiencies in our government.

I have a problem with this. And so again, I pose the question: what kind of country would this be if we all simply took the law into our own hands? Or simply decided to disobey those laws, with which we disagree?

Because that is, in the end, EXACTLY what we're talking about.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 10:18 AM

Law is created to express and implement morality, not the other way around.

With that being said, we have to be clear as a society as to what our collective consensus IS on moral issues, and in a democratic milieu, implement them by way of due process so that they can achieve their ultimate expression in law.

If we recognize that the law failed our morality, the next logical step is to adjust the law so that it won't fail us again.

As for how this applies to abortion, it dredges up and begs the question of where exactly we as an American people are willing to draw the line on what is acceptable to kill and what is not acceptable to kill, either for convenience OR for contrived hearsay testimony about "the patient's wishes".

I think a good consistent and reasonably solid ground would be to draw that line at SENTIENCE, or the ability to be self-aware and to feel pain. If a being is not conscious of its own existence then it will neither know it nor miss it when that existence is eliminated. I think abortion CAN be kept moral and legal to within certain time limits of embryonic debelopment, prior to the onset of a sentience level that would render the fetus conscious of self, and conscious of its own elimination underway when it happens. As applied to a Schiavo-like case, set a very rigorous medical standard for ensuring that upon EXHAUSTIVE neurological tests, the brightest minds in medicine conclude that the patient has completely lost all awareness of environment, of self, and lost all ability to interact with this world (with no prognosis of recovery). That standard would have saved Terri Schiavo (because Schiavo was interracting and self-aware), and admittedly, it would not save others who are more far-gone than Terri was. But that is where I could comfortably draw my line in the moral sand.

Posted by: Ciggy at April 1, 2005 10:30 AM

As I have heard so eloquently spoken, not so long ago:

Let's imagine I am black. Would I have to go home to mother to tell her that I am black? No, of course not, which is why the civil rights analogy of homosexuals doesn't hold water, and Newsome got his hiney spanked in the courts.

Now, speaking as a snake-handling evangelical, I saw many slippery-slope and moral shortcomings in the Schindler case. I disagreed with the decision, but I did not advocate violence and I did not advocate breaking the law, no matter how badly I wanted someone to do so.

There are larger questions here, questions we should try to answer. But lawlessness is not the way.

Posted by: Purple Raider at April 1, 2005 10:37 AM

Do the ends justify the mean?

In defense of a democratic republic and individual liberty? No. Never.

In defense of socialism/communisism. Yes. Everytime.

Posted by: Pile On® at April 1, 2005 10:55 AM

Nicely said, Mr. On.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 10:58 AM

Oh, and another thing.

Your monkey analogy is excellent. And in my little mind all the more reason to keep them all equal.

Posted by: Pile On® at April 1, 2005 11:11 AM

Like it or not (sometimes), we live under the rule of law.

If moral considerations compel me (as I see it) to break the law, then I must understand that I can and probably will be held legally responsible for my actions.

Posted by: George at April 1, 2005 11:30 AM

The judiciary is often the scapegoat of conservatives. Sometimes deserving, but still a scapegoat in a sense. Part of it is power fills a vacuum. The legislative has its role, but on the really tough issues (see, e.g., declaring war), it has slowly pulled back its power and seems to want the executive or the courts to take the risks. So they end up doing so by necessity. Of course, the Courts do it alone sometimes, but Court orders can only be enforced by the Executive's guns. The legislature has more power, as does the executive, when it wants it. Sometimes, the Courts are challenged by opponents even when they are right (see civil rights era), so there is no one rule I can offer. It is simply a political struggle, and we seem to be happy with Courts and the Executive having more power rather than less.

I would also point out that Florida state judges (and most states in the country) are not lifetime office holders like Federal judges. They are elected and run for re-election every so often. Don't like Greer? Go after him next time he has to run for his job.

Posted by: KJ at April 1, 2005 11:37 AM

Well, Cassandra-like, I now have to toss a monkey-wrench into the fight. Many moons ago I briefly entertained amusing mr. rdr and torturing the rest of you with an excerpt from a Constitutional Law exam of mine I found while going through some old papers. A glimpse at a younger, callower, but no less intellectually arrogant Cass, bravely treading with elephantine feet where angels fear to tread:

Legislatures have never had a monopoly on wisdom. They tend to suffer from the same afflictions as most democracies, i.e., mob rule, demagoguery, and a tendency to sink to the lowest common denominator. In reading various Court opinions for this test, I was repeated struck by the cogency and compelling logic of many arguments advanced by our SC justices. The dimwitted or poorly-educated are far less likely to be nominated to the bench than to be elected to public office. Exactly what that says about us as the electorate, I would rather not contemplate. Having seen Bill Clinton get re-elected for a second term, I am beginning to believe in an X-files type conspiracy to control our minds via deliberate contamination of the public water supply. "Better living through chemistry" takes on a whole new meaning in this context.

Democracy is such a sacred cow in today's society that the deficiencies inherent in a democratic system are largely forgotten in a welter of fuzzy logic and throwaway sentiment. People are not inherently good, as Rousseau would have it - we all have to work at bettering ourselves through education and hard work. The beauty of Baron Montesquieu's separation of powers theory is that it balances the democratic legislature with an executive branch that is just strong enough to be decisive in times of national crisis and a judiciary that, while it certainly is composed of the elite of our society, at its finest also represents the best of which we as human beings are capable.

My cheap and probably specious analogy would compare our system of government to a human being. The legislature is the Heart or Gut. It can be swayed by baser emotions, but also possesses an inherent common sense of 'rightness', a "gut feeling", if you will, that is not always logical in nature. The executive branch is the Will. It cannot be allowed to dominate as it tends toward arbitrary exercise of power, but without it a being lacks resolution and accomplishes nothing.

The judiciary is the Mind. It is vulnerable to being seduced into trivial distinctions and immoral decisions by the artificial wiles of pure logic. Yet it alone possesses the insight into the essential nature of the universe by which we, as human beings, occasionally transcend our limitations and approach the vision of what our Creator intended us to become.

It is this vision that the judiciary provides to our system of government. It is no accident that Montesquieu advocated an independent judiciary...

It is one of the ironies of living in a free society that an equitable process does not always ensure equitable results. Likewise a rule that is, in itself, right (in that it recognizes the limitations of government and respects the right and responsibility of the individual to come to terms with God) may have a result that many find to be profoundly immoral. The more freedoms we have, the more opportunities exist for abuse and license. However, the responsibility for these outcomes cannot always be passed along to government.

This may, paradoxically, be the best argument for some types of judicial activism (not my favorite theory at the best of times). In it, the Court admits the existence of an arena of human affairs that is beyond the power of government or of individual persons to analyze; and admits that neither it, nor any legislature, can formulate a rule that can be legitimately applied to every citizen.***

***note, this statement harks back to specific case law cited discussed earlier in the test, in which I disagreed with the majority opinion. If it "hangs" here, that is perhaps why, but it is attempt to reconcile a very long test with a long laundry list of cases with some general analysis.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 11:42 AM

When it appears that people (ab)use laws to set and adjust their moral compass, as opposed to allowing that compass to influence law, things are gonna BE real screwy.

Along with attending a funeral yesterday of the man I knew who ran a national production studio I do some work for here, and another friend I work with/for's mother dying---I have also been consumed with the Terris case. I am emotionally worn out, and mentally fatigued. There's just TOO many itches not gettin scratched with the Terri case and my mind just can't be wrapped around such an execution being ordered--PERIOD, much less based on nothing more than HEARSAY by a compromised *husband*. Had their been solid evidence of her wishes to not be "artificially" sustained (basic food and water = artifical??)than there wouldn't be the madness. Michael Jackson would have maintained his *rightful place* as Ringmaster in the media circus.
Based on what I know, and going with my gut---I cringed...it made my SICK inside to read "Terri died in her husbands arms".

Having the Polyanna streak that I do when I read the "Not Just The God Squad" article I saw reason to hope that once the tide of emotion over this "epic" ebbs, that maybe---just maybe--righties, lefties, deists, atheists, gays, lez-b's, bible thumpers, bible thumper thumpers, etc etc etc. can maintain common ground on the basic issue of Right to LIFE and work together to get some foundational clean up work set in motion. (Imagine what's accomplished when no on really cares who the helk gets the credit or glory for it!)

Interesting excerpts from the article:

***Perhaps grasping the disposability with which Terri is being treated, Eleanor Smith — a self-professed agnostic, liberal, lesbian — held a "Feed Terri" sign while she told Reuters from her wheelchair: "At this point I would rather have a right-wing Christian decide my fate than an ACLU member."

***"We have watched as this woman, whose only crime is that she is disabled, is tortured to death by judges, all the way to the Supreme Court," columnist Nat Hentoff complains in the March 29 Village Voice. Hentoff, who calls
himself "an atheist," clearly is sickened by Terri's mistreatment, which he calls "the longest public execution in American history."

***(Ralph) Nader adds: "It's one thing to have consent when the patient is overwhelmed with ventilators, and dialysis, and heart pumps, but it's quite another when there are non-heroic ministrations — in this case simply a feeding and water tube — and not having explicit consent or even credible consent — in ending her life."

There is something to being wise as serpents, while harmless as doves...which of course doesn't always guarantee no one never gets pooped on..OR bit. Someone always will be the recipient of one or both. (~;)

Apologies for the longwinded bandwidth banditry! Sorry, if I'm rambling, too. I'm still feeling pretty beat up and have to work harder (than normal (~;) at assembling & articulating quasi-cogent thoughts. Oh crap---if nothing else, please just read the linked article.(~;)

Posted by: CKCat at April 1, 2005 12:18 PM

Not at all Cat. Your input is very welcome here, and well worth reading.

And I think that's part of my point. At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to reduce her life to some trite lesson (and I'm not, by any means - Ms. Schiavo was a human being, not some sort of object lesson put here to teach us something; yet her life - and death, and the manner of it - may well accomplish that, in the end) this is what I'm getting at when I say things take time to be fully understood, and often there is some higher purpose at work that we may not see fully when in the grip of painful and horrifying events.

I think this will continue to reverberate for many years through public life and through our legal system and may well have effects that are hard to imagine, today.

And again, at the risk of sounding trite, because I realize that it does, it says to me that perhaps God does move in mysterious ways. We see so little, standing on the earth's surface, in the thick of things. But from a great distance, it may be that great changes are beginning. I think this case will stay with us.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 12:29 PM

When it appears that people (ab)use laws to set and adjust their moral compass, as opposed to allowing that compass to influence law, things are gonna BE real screwy.

But the problem here Cat is: whose morals?

And that is the crux of the issue. We have the "changing standards of decency" argument so lamentably urged upon us by the recent decision in Roper v. Simmons, yet that is precisely what legislatures so often do, and the courts so often strike down on (rightly or wrongly) Constitutional grounds.

And it's a thorny question. Can you - should you - legislate morality?

I asked that question a while back on Jet Noise. I believe we do, indeed, do so - all the time. But I also believe this, if it is to take place, is properly a local function and so I support federalism: the right of local communities to set those standards of decency through state law and not have the federal govt. intervene in a heavy-handed fashion and overrule state courts and state legislatures. And as KJ pointed out, in the South many judges are indeed elected.

Hmmmm.... troubling, isn't it?

And I'm not being snide here. Just pointing out that this is a complex issue. I am not unaware of the arguments on the other side, or I'd hardly have linked to Bevan's piece.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 12:39 PM

I thought the Constitution was to protect what was in the Declaration of Independence, or the inalienable rights, the ones that no one could or should take from you and the ones that government was to protect. Life, liberty and happiness.

The way I see it, Bush signed a law, and the judiciary ignored it. Where was the check and balance between the two branches. Laws can't be enforced without some form of common sense, and we have thrashed out judicial activism here...so
going on the 'rule of law,' which law prevailed?
The Constitution or Justice Greer?

Posted by: Cricket at April 1, 2005 01:03 PM

Part of what the judiciary rules on is whether laws stand Constitutional scrutiny and whether the legislatures have the authority to make law (federal legislatures may not always make law that overrides a state legislature's or a state court's authority). That is why we have a judiciary: to settle these disputes.

Without taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of the decision itself, the scrutiny itself was not overreaching, Cricket. It was, in fact, exactly what the judiciary is there to do. It is their whole reason for being: the very essence of checks and balances. The fact that the outcome was unsatisfactory is another matter.

Whether or not it was done properly is a question for history to decide.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 01:17 PM

This was my response to a similar discussion in the comments over at the Castle (ain't seen your spoor there today either, Cassie...)

The comment was on this post

Kal - there has been civil discourse and disagreement among the regulars here, and there are those who share your opinion.

The issue is more complex than you allow for, on both sides. Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Cambodia under Pol Pot are also examples of nations ruled by law.

Law, in and of itself, is insufficient. There must be a generally agreed-upon basis from which the law springs. Terri's case reflects a society in which there is a fundamental difference on this issue - and, to my money, played out correctly, even if I find the specific ending unsatisfying.

But go read Democratic Underground, or visit this site and read the comments.

Plenty of hatred spewing from the other side of the question, as well. Not to mention vile, sophomoric 'humor'.

There is ugliness on both sides - and both sides have the right to forcefully express themselves and to do so vigorously in all the available venues.

Perhaps I'm putting words in your mouth, but you sound as if you believe that if a judge says it once, that settles, shut up and drive on.

That isn't how it really is intended to work. The judges did speak, and then the debate moved, as it should have, to the legislatures, where it was fought out in public view. And precedents set that should frankly please you. It is now measureably easier in this country to kill/let die the inconvenient, leaving aside the specfics of Terri's case. I don't really think that is what you meant - you are supporting Michael in his quest - but that's how I see the unintended consequences of this societal drama.

Remember the Balance between the branches. To take your position to it's logical extreme, the judiciary is the Ultimate authority.

That spells oligarchy.

The people on Terri's side were unable to muster sufficient consensus for the legislative branch to effectively over-rule the judicial branch. That is exactly how the system was intended to work.

Posted by: John of Argghhh! at April 1, 2005 01:28 PM

I have long said we can't actually legislate morality. Ideally the *hearts* of leglislators should be changed. we'd have more effective, people & rights respecting laws. I guess that's where us bible thumpers haven't done such a great job. NOT that I'm advocating shoving bibles down peoples throats. Honey not vinegar.

I guess from the bible thumping perspective (and as I've stated, I'm brain drained)--the problem started looooooooooooooooooong ago, when God wanted to call the shots for His people, but they insisted on a KING, so he accomodated them.

I use the term "the obvious things" where humanity is concerned. Seems to me an "obvious" is that you don't STARVE a helpless woman to DEATH. Execution for WHAT crime, may I ask?. I'm trying not to sound sloganeerish, but it's simply an OBVIOUS.

And how many times can "lawmakers" run the Constitution through Hillarys paper shredder, then try to tape it back together before it all becomes convoluted?

In Terri's case...why did a legal system continually favor a very hand picked team (by Michael) group of Hemlock society advocates in Terri's case....including COURT APPOINTED Drs. I'm just too simple, I know, but What would be the harm in, at no expense to that punk *husband*, allowing the parents to have Terri actually GO through therapy for a reasonable amount of time and then ask her, herself if she wanted to be kept on a feeding tube, or starved to death. I try so hard to not be conspiracy theorist and to be objective, but sometimes there are just sinister characters that persistently do not afford me that.

Like with cops who've been cops for along time, they can understandably become jaded and really need to change careers, retire, or take a lengthy sabbatical---I shudder to think 60 something year old Grim Reaper Greers decision was remotely influenced by his simply being burned out on this after 7 years. I can't help but have suspicions at how carefully M selected all his "players". My Lord, George Felos really SHOULD undergo some SERIOUS psychiatric care. Ever read any of his quotes. YIKES! We're talking the Mullah Kahuna of Moonbats. He actually says "he hears voices in his head", well no frickin' DUH. Necromancy is me, says he.

IMO, alot of what we're seeing is consequences of choices made by too many people in places of power and authority who hoped that ignoring God would just make Him go away.

I need to shut up. I'm a T-ball player attempting to play in the Major Leagues here.

But I believe the bottom line of all this can't be better explained than it was by a wise MarineStud:
"any society that abandons religion will not long survive.............. religion brings three things that are irreplaceable: a moral anchor, a sense of purpose (to something larger than yourself), and hope for the future."

Posted by: CKCat at April 1, 2005 01:59 PM

You most assuredly are not a T-ball player, Cat, and you don't need to shut up.

I'm glad to have you comment - I think you have a lot to say on this. Sometimes words just fail me (believe it or not).

I think sometimes cases like this are put before us to force us out of our complacent little boxes and make us think: to shake us up a little, upset the apple cart and make us question our fundamental assumptions. That's why I'm suspicious of quick fixes and easy answers.

It is truly tragic that someone has to die for us to wake up and pay attention to our laws and our lawmaking process, yet that it the one good thing that may still come of all this. Everyone, on both sides, is asking questions, and that can't be all bad. That was why I chose the rather odd quote yesterday - I think that's what we are left with: the work of figuring out how to keep this from happening again, whatever side we came down on.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 02:28 PM

Damn, John of Arrgghh stole my thunder! That's what happens when you get to an argument late, I guess.

Law is an outgrowth of agreed-upon morality held by a society. When there is a huge split on a deeply held position, things can get nasty. For instance, it took a bloody Civil War to decide the issues of slavery and State's rights, notwithstanding the fact that slavery was "the law" then, and even expressly permitted in the US Constitution.

Likewise, in the civil rights era, black protestors routinely violated the segregationist and "Jim Crow" laws in the South, in order to protest the injustice of those laws.

Therefore, the simplistic view of the "law and order at all costs" types doesn't hold water. The laws of Nazi Germany were quite heinous vis-a-vis the jews. Who do you admire, the ones who followed the laws and mistreated the jews, or those who resisted and were killed or thrown into the camps?

Given the recent Easter holiday, let me also point out that the early Christians were routinely tortured to death by the Romans for not "obeying the law" which held Caesar to be a god. They nevertheless held true to their faith and endured those massacres rather than obey an evil law.

I am a big believer in civil disobedience and resistance to govt power. This is the only thing which can even remotely keep the govt honest. I would have applauded anyone and everyone if the protestors had stormed the hospice and kept Terri alive. Let the govt kill, beat, or arrest those persons of conscience if it must.

Liberty always needs heroes like Patrick Henry, Rosa Parks, etc. who simply will no longer submit to injustice. Ms. Parks civil disobedience to an unjust law helped spark the civil rights movement which ultimately overturned the unjust segregationist laws. She was villified by the "law and order" crowd who considered her and other civil rights protestors nothing more than "uppity niggrahs". I see similarities to the epithets aginst the people of conscience supporting Terri; i.e. "lunatic fringe", "religious kooks", etc.

This is not just limited to Terri's case either. I live in Arizona, and illegal immigration is a big-time frontburner issue here. In April, a citizens group of volunteers, the Minutemen, will begin patrolling the border for the month. They are doing this to both call attention to the govt failure to do the one basic thing it is supposed to do, protect our border, and to do something about it.

The Minutemen have been derided as "vigilantes", and worse. I remember when this same derision was universally applied to the Guardian Angels by the pro-govt types, particularly law enforcement.

Vigilantiism is the most primitive form of justice. It is usually supplanted by more "civilized" judicial systems. Nevertheless, when people believe that the system is immoral, corrupt, or oppressive, it is inevitable that people will take the law into their own hands. I do not condone this, but accept it as undeniable reality.

When govt won't keep people safe from criminals, you'll get groups like the Guardian Angels. When govt refuses to protect our borders, you'll get groups like the Minutemen.

If govt fails to protect human life but, instead, continues promoting a culture of death, then I expect similar groups to arise opposing this. Similarly, if the judiciary continues to make decisions which are entirely arbitrary and based solely upon the individual justices' personal beliefs, rather than the US Constitution which they are sworn to uphold, then the people will see that justice is no longer available to them and take matters into their own hands.

People will only take so much abuse of power before they rise up and say enough is enough. History is replete with such examples, including our own American Revolution. I guess the Founding Fathers, lawbreakers and traitors to England to a man, were also part of the disturbing, lunatic fringe.

Posted by: a former european at April 1, 2005 06:17 PM

afe, for every person like the ones you mention there are 50 who show pi** poor judgement.

It's easy to cherry-pick your examples - I could quote an equal number of examples of destructive and morally wrong civil disobedience.

The end does not justify the means.

It may be in EXTREME cases that an individual has no other moral choice. No one is seriously advocating turning Jews over to the Nazis when they come a-knocking.

This is not that clear-cut a case.

When govt won't keep people safe from criminals, you'll get groups like the Guardian Angels


And that's how the KKK came into being. People forget that. I haven't - it's a very interesting chapter in American history.

Vigilantee-ism, when there was no law and order in the post-Reconstruction South. And we all know where that led, eventually, don't we?

And the Founding Fathers you mention? Some of the revolutionary groups (Sons of Liberty anyone?) engaged in acts that would be characterized as terrorism today. Kidnapping. Beatings. Murder. They were morally wrong then, and are morally wrong now. We don't learn about some of those things in history books because they're not pretty stories. But they're nonetheless true.

People want instant justice, quick answers. But that's not always the way of things. Yes, in an extreme case like Nazi Germany, when we're talking genocide, civil disobedience is the only answer.

But there are other ways to "keep government honest" without taking shortcuts and grabbing a pitchfork. I stated no objection to peaceful protest. As a matter of fact afe, I got in a whole lot of trouble when I was in school for organizing protests to several things, so I'm no stranger to the tactic.

And at any rate, you're exaggerating my position, which as you know is not really an effective rebuttal. Defeating a straw man is not much of a victory.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2005 06:43 PM

You can't legislate morality unless the people are in and of themselves, moral and are willing to abide by a moral code. And you can't have it if you don't have religion.

Them's the facts and I am sticking to them.

Posted by: Cricket at April 1, 2005 06:46 PM

I have 2 problems with the whole scenario. First, it is allowing one to die of starvation/water deprivation.

2nd, it is that the legal system is putting their own interpretations on law, rather then just following the law. We have seen the judicial system essentially act as a branch of the legislature for quite some time now, creating laws through their legal findings, which, in my opinion, is not their job.

Posted by: Puppy Blender [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 1, 2005 07:06 PM

Cass: I was not setting up a straw man, nor was I attempting to exaggerate your position. For some of my examples, I was taking your position to what I thought was its logical conclusion. I did not mean to say YOU were saying that.

The line between peaceful protest and civil disobedience is not a sharp, well-defined one. When the segregationist authorities turned dogs and water cannons on civil rights protestors, or when Mayor Daley turned the cops loose on the hippies in 1968, should they have defended themselves?

I'm not saying these are easy answers, but am not always, 100% opposed to the use of minimal force to oppose oppression. After all, wasn't it common protest tactics in the 60s to chain oneself to a door, take over the college admin building and have a sit-in, etc? I would have supported the protestors taking over the hospice to refuse to permit anyone access to remove Terri's feeding tube, forming a human wall to prevent access, chaining oneself to the door, etc. This does not mean that I would support overt terrorism, however.

I think civil disobedience has a place as an appropriate, measured, and mostly peaceful response to govt oppression.

As to the vigilantiism topic, I was merely describing a fact of life. This was an "actions have consequences" point I was making, not an expression of support for those activities.

It is well-demonstrated by the govts own studies that, for example, a consequence of increasing tax rates is a corresponding increase in tax avoidance by the populace. Likewise, increasing taxes on certain products, like cigarettes, has a corresponding increase in smuggling and black market activities for those products. People do not exist in a vacuum, but respond and react to various impulses and variables. When govt tightens the screws, many people will not just sit there and take it (i.e. taxes).

You can rail against this if you like, certainly most liberals do, or you can just accept such principles of cause and effect. My point on vigilantes is the same. When govt (the judiciary) no longer dispenses justice, but is increasingly seen as a group of black-robed tyrants oppressing the people, then, sure as the sun rises, people will seek more primitive forms of justice.

This is what abusers of power, in their arrogance, fail to understand; the eventual backlash against such abuses. The worse the abuse, the worse the backlash. As I said before, the historical examples could fill a book, so I will not suck up more bandwidth by making such a list. If you feel I need to, though, I will be happy to do so.

I am concerned that the arrogant, heavy-handed approach by the judiciary and the "death" activists in Terri's case will cause people to believe that they will never get justice and encourage them to go vigilante. This is not a thought that gives me any joy, but I believe it is inevitable.

Posted by: a former european at April 1, 2005 07:43 PM

My point, afe, is that there are responsible ways to effect change and irresponsible ones.

It is undoubtedly true that people take matters into their own hands when they don't like the way things are going. It is also undoubtedly true that the vast majority of these people never tried to effect change by going through the system, so I'm not going to condone what they're doing. Ultimately, tactics can be constructive or destructive in nature: organizing a well-thought-out political campaign to change public opinion and pressure lawmakers is, IMO, responsible.

Sitting at home and getting PO'd at the news, then decided you're going to take matters into your own hands without so much as firing off a letter to your Congressman first ain't cutting it for me - you just failed in your civic duty. You wanted the quick fix - there was a way to get what you wanted through the system, through persuading your fellow citizens in the democracy we live in that yours is a better way.

But no - you have decided that you are special and don't need to go through that rigamarole - rules are for the "little people". Well it seems to me that this is exactly what the "insurgents" in Iraq are thinking, isn't it? Why have elections? Why not just bomb and terrorize our way into getting what we want? We don't need law - we'll just make our own.

Interesting concept, and applicable on a broad spectrum of actions. Unfortunately as history shows, there is such a thing as a slippery slope, and disrespect for the law breeds more of the same. Ultimately the rule of law is the best protector of our rights in a world where people are not inherently good.

Therefore it behooves us to uphold the sanctity of law and make darned sure that our laws are just. Even if it takes longer that way.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 2, 2005 11:24 AM

I agree with you, Cass, that its better to work within the system than overthrow it. I also agree that its better to obey laws, in general, than disobey them.

Nevertheless, at some point, when all peaceful, constructive efforts have failed, you have two remaining choices: you either give up on justice, go home, and let everything go to hell; or you ratchet up the protest to the level of civil disobedience, etc.

When the Soviet Union and the rest of the Soviet colonies in the Warsaw Pact were liberated, peaceful protest was not what did it. Peaceful protest started the ball rolling, but it is rare that oppressive regimes will simply give up peacefully in the night.

It took Boris Yeltsin, deserting military units, and a crowd of russian patriots willing to forcibly resist the Soviet troops who were sent to crush the uprising. The same thing occurred throughout eastern europe.

The Romanians, who had been under the brutal thumb of Ceausescu, knew they couldn't expect justice from a corrupt judiciary full of Ceausescu cronies, so they took him out back and put a couple of bullets in his head, and also his co-dictator wife.

Was this the preferable approach? No. Was it understandable, though? Absolutely!

In the US, it is the judiciary itself which is destroying our people's respect for the law. The more the judges act like black-robed dictators, the more they spit on the principles of the US Constitution, and the more they are revealed to be spoiled, arrogant, aristocrats, the less "weight" the idea of respect for the law will become.

People are not stupid, and it doesn't take a legal scholar to see that the judiciary is clearly abusing our Constitution, and has been for some time. When THE DECISIONS THEMSELVES are seen as arbitrary and capricious, rather than based on any cogent legal principle, why should the people respect it?

As such, by engaging in such behavior, the judiciary itself is undermining the basis of its own authority and legitimacy, and causing people to disrespect the unjust laws and decisions they are spewing. This can only go on for so long before people get fed up with it. This is why I said that oppressors and their unjust actions sow the seeds of their own doom.

You and I have discussed my views before; namely, that govt is inherently evil and oppressive by its nature, but that a small, limited govt is a necessary evil to perform some basic functions.

Like the Founders, I have a deep distrust of govt. They purposefully wanted an armed citizenry to protect themselves from the govt (among other things). If the govt ever got too evil or corrupt, the people could rise up and toss the oppressors out. Dictators and liberals know this, which is why the first thing they do when they take power is try to pass "gun control" laws and otherwise disarm the populace. Read Machiavelli.

After all, the Founders had just gone done rebelling against the oppression of King George, so they weren't opposed to the concept of rebellion per se. Obviously, armed rebellion is the extreme and final step on the resistance continuum, and should probably only occur if a neo-Hitler tried to turn us into Nazi Germany, or if Hillary gets elected and tried to create the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of America.

I think it is unwise to ignore that there is a resistance continuum, and naive to believe that if an oppressive govt stymies all avenues of PEACEFUL resistance, that the oppressed will not move on to the next, more severe, level of resistance. You may not like it, and I may not like it, but it is the way of the world in such things. I will not pretend it doesn't exist simply because it is distasteful to contemplate such an occurrence.

Posted by: a former european at April 2, 2005 04:04 PM

Oops, please excuse the typos! I have pretty much no typing ability.

Posted by: a former european at April 2, 2005 04:07 PM

afe, I too distrust government, but having lived all my life with the military and having served on innumerable committees and governing boards, I can tell you this: government is PEOPLE writ large.

Same flaws that people have - it's flaws are human flaws. And rules are what hold people in check. I have served as a board member and also been in charge of an awful lot of these organizations, and there is always an anarchistic element that wants to throw out all the rules because they know a better way.

And when you get down to why they are doing it, in the end it ALWAYS boils down to selfish or self-serving motives, not the high-falutin' pap they spew to justify what they're doing. When people start whining about their "rights", alarm bells start going off: one of two things is going on --

1. They haven't bothered to think the situation through - the most frequent situation. Things are more complicated that their surface view, yet they want to step in without the bothersome effort of wading through the information and just upset the applecart. Well my answer to that is (just like in my prior comment) JOIN THE SYSTEM, GO THROUGH THE PROCESS, READ THE FRICKING INFORMATION, LEARN *WHY* THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY ARE AND WHAT THE PROBLEMS ARE BEFORE SHOOTING YOUR MOUTH OFF. Everyone's a fricking armchair quarterback, but they have never played football in their lives.

2. They have some vested interest in the process. Just like the wives club who pitched a fit about "why are we giving scholarships away to the community?" "Charity begins at home - we should be favoring our own military families!", to loud applause.


You say I have too much faith in government. I think perhaps you might be placing too much faith in people who are too impatient to do things the right way.

Like I said, if the Nazis come, I'm all over civil disobedience. But so long as there's a way to work within the system, that is the better, the more moral, the preferred method because it upholds the sanctity of law.

**And I'm not pretending resistance doesn't occur, by the way - that is the entire point of this post: I'm saying, "that's not the right way, except in dire emergency. As I said with the FEC brouhaha, that's a LAST resort, never a FIRST resort".

Posted by: Cassandra at April 2, 2005 04:33 PM

And a note on that club thing: we had a tax-exempt ID number. Their suggestion would have placed us in the rather ethically undefensible position of being a club who raises money under the pretense of being a charity and then gives it to its own members. If we're going to do that, why not just have parties and fundraisers, throw our money into a big pile, and have a fricking lottery?

Saves everyone a whole lotta time and trouble.

They didn't much care for me when I posed that question either.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 2, 2005 04:37 PM

Conformist troublemaker for the man is what you are.


Posted by: Pile On® at April 2, 2005 05:57 PM

That's me :)

I'm just a lackey for the richest 1%. And I refuse to surrender my unearned race and gender privileges too....

Posted by: Cassandra at April 2, 2005 06:00 PM

Cass: I always suspected you had Trotskyite counterrevolutionary tendencies!:)

I totally agree with you about the use of violence as a last resort, and that the first resort should be to try and work within the system.

The problem is that I believe our judicial system is broken and corrupted by activists who do what they want rather than uphold the Constitution. I think the problem has been worsening at a rapid pace, and SCOTUS, the 9th Circuit, etc. don't even PRETEND they're following the law anymore.

The arrogant justices are acting like the most pompous royalty of the past, Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette, and we all know how THAT turned out. Sooner or later, even the the best-intentioned reformer will get tired of being told to "eat cake" by these walking bungholes.

Therefore, if and when all peaceful avenues of reform have been exhausted, what do you believe people should do? Just surrender our freedoms and become another people's republic? When it is the govt itself that has become lawless, what do you advocate responsible people do?

Posted by: a former european at April 2, 2005 10:36 PM

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