Divided We Shall Fall
We all remember – from our earliest school days – that it was drilled into us that the United States system of government is based on “checks and balances.” The Congress had a check on the power of the president, and vice versa; and the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, had the ultimate check on the power of both other branches.
I generally believed this to be true, until now. I am starting to believe that the checks and balances, which the framers of our Constitution intended, are being eroded before our very eyes.
I first started getting concerned about this going back to the result of the 2000 election battle between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The contested Florida returns ended up, as we all knew they would, before the Supreme Court of the United States.
The fact that the decision was reached on a strictly partisan 5-4 vote, which essentially installed George Bush as president, disturbed me then and continues to bother me today. Decisions like this should not be made on a partisan political basis.
Until that time, I viewed the Supreme Court as the ultimate neutral arbiter of our great national questions. Since that time, I am not so sure. We see more and more decisions coming out of the court for which the results are almost predictable, with the so-called “Conservative” justices on one side and the so-called “Liberal” justices on the other. This is not what Alexander Hamilton intended when he penned the Judiciary Act of 1789, and is certainly not what we were taught in school. It bothers me.
And within the last month we have seen another change in our federal government which I think could have a monumental impact on our society and our system of government, by eroding the confidence of the people (to the extent the people still have any confidence whatsoever in the competence of our federal government).
The United States Senate recently abandoned centuries of tradition by changing their rules by a bare majority of senators, again on a strictly partisan basis. Until this vote was taken, to move most anything through the Senate it required 60 votes. This always seemed to me to be a good rule for one house of our federal legislature. A bare one vote majority could not steamroll the rights of a well-represented minority; and, with 60 votes being required, often compromise was needed to push something (or someone) through.
No more. Now, a bare majority (today of Democrats, tomorrow who knows) can proceed with certain governmental appointments and judicial nominations. I view this, as many others do, as but the first step in expanding the bare majority rule to Supreme Court nominations and pending legislation.
I always thought that the super majority requirement in the Senate provided yet another check and balance against the power of a bare majority to control the lives of the minority. It has been eroded; and, in my opinion, is likely to be eroded further.
With the complete polarization in Congress, we are likely to see in the future a repeat of what happened with Obamacare. That is, legislation passed without a single vote from the minority.
If you go back to major social legislation in the past, from President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, through Bill Clinton’s welfare reforms, there always seemed to be a bipartisan consensus eventually reached. That is not the case today. And when you add to that fact the changing of the Senate rules and the penchant of the Supreme Court to act along strictly partisan lines, I see an even more divided United States in the future.
It is not the country that I was hoping my children would grow up in.