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River Views

We’re the bright young men, who want to go back to Nineteen-Ten, we’re Barry’s Boys.

We’re the kids with a cause, yes a government like grandmama’s, we’re Barry’s boys.

We’re the new kind of youth at your alma mater,

Back to silver standards and solid Goldwater

Back to when the poor were poor and the rich were rich…

Those are the opening lines of a satirical ditty sung by the Chad Mitchell Trio back in 1964. Senator Barry Goldwater seemed like an arch-conservative Republican war-monger to most Americans in those days. In 2013 Goldwater would probably be deemed too progressive for Republican Party politics.

The times they are still a-changin’, so it may not come as much of a surprise to learn that one of the cur­rent paragons of liberal/progressive broadcasting (right up there with the supposedly sainted Amy Goodman), Thom Hartmann, was a teenage Barry’s boy in 1964, walking door to door in his Michigan hometown handing out Goldwater for President leaflets.

Thom Hartmann, for those who don’t know, is a nationally syndicated radio and TV talkshow host with an average daily following in the millions. A good num­ber of his positions represent a common sense approach to politics and society, but like so many local MendoLibs Hartmann loves the sound of his own voice too much to put a lid (Loco vocal is the Latin derivative) on it.

The issue Hartmann has gone off the deep end over is the United States Supreme Court. Hartmann’s hackles were rightly raised over the Citizens United ruling of our highest court, the 2010 decision that further broadened the influence of corporations and big money on the electoral process. In the years since, Hartmann’s disdain for the Supreme Court has expanded to the point that he believes the Constitution granted the Supreme Court only very limited powers.

Hartmann appeared on local public radio during the Thanksgiving week as part of the Corporations and Democracy program, claiming that the Supreme Court has no real power to declare the actions of the other two branches of government (Congress and the President) to be unconstitutional. On the radio Hartmann repeatedly said that we the citizens of the United States are living in a “constitutional monarchy,” with the nine justices of the Supreme Court our kings and queens. Hartmann made this claim so many times he must have convinced him­self it is true.

No matter how many times he might say it, and no matter how far out of step from societal reality some of our present justices are, Supreme Court Justices are not literally wielding power in the same way as a tyrannical king or queen.

Hartman says that the Constitutional founders never meant for the Supreme Court to have as much power as they do. To back this up he does what the worst of the worst on the far right, the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys do, he cherry picks facts. Hartmann quotes from Section 2 of Article III of the US Constitution.

Here’s the entirety of Section 2: The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; — to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public minis­ters and consuls; — to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; — to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; — to controversies between two or more states; — between a state and citi­zens of another state; — between citizens of different states; — between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public min­isters and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdic­tion. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeach­ment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.

Hartmann wants us to focus on the words, “with such, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.” He interprets that to mean Congress can control the actions of the Supreme Court.

Leaving aside the sorry inability of our current Con­gress to pass any meaningful legislation, Hartmann dis­ingenuously avoids the opening of Section 2, which states, “The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution…”

Interpreting the Constitution can sometimes be a tricky thing, but not impossible. Can Congress overturn a Supreme Court decision? Yes, but that power is laid out in Article V, which details how an amendment can be proposed by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate (to become law three-fourths of the states must approve such a Congressional proposal).

Contrary to Hartmann’s demagoguery, the “Foun­ders” were already aware of the power of the judicial branch to review the actions of the legislative and executive branches when they formulated the US Con­stitution in 1787. Hartmann wants us to believe this: “For the first 14 years of our government no one even consid­ered the idea” that the Supreme Court could strike down as unconstitutional any law passed by Congress and signed by the President.

Liberals, conservatives, progressives, libertarians, do not be fooled. The concept of “judicial review” predates our Constitution, it predates the Declaration of Inde­pendence. The concept first came into practice with England’s Chief Justice Edward Coke in a 1610 case. Before the US Constitutional Convention in 1787 as many as seven different state courts had struck down laws passed by their legislatures and signed by gover­nors.

Hartmann would have you believe that the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison was a lightning bolt out of the blue, establishing the power of the judiciary to review the actions of the legislative and executive branches of government. Marbury v. Madison deserves an entire arti­cle, but what is most disturbing about Hartmann’s char­acterization of the case is his description of the Chief Justice of the time, John Marshall, as “an extreme right-winger.” This is the kind of scapegoat labeling that still exists in good old Mendocino County. I dare say, it sometimes pervades (see the recent Fort Bragg Senior Center debacle – see the rare strong-minded editorial of October 3,2013 in the Beacon or Advocate-News).

This so-called right wing extremist, John Marshall, was the same Chef Justice whose 1832 decision (Worcester v. Georgia) opposed the forced relocation of Cherokees on what came to be called “The Trail of Tears.”

Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are right wing extremists not John Marshall. If progressives, from Mendocino County to Washington D.C., want to be taken seriously they have to stop using misleading pho­tos and language in their brochures; they cannot continue to cherry pick from amongst historical facts; nor can they mischaracterize the deeds of actual people simply to promote their own misguided pet projects. 

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