In pursuit of a more perfection union in 2017

Karen Ruben

Women’s Equality Day was Aug. 26, the date in 1920 when the 19th Amendment won adoption, which prohibits states and federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex (notably, 50 years after the 15th Amendment which gave black men the right to vote).

Who knew? Who cared?

Not Trump, whose policy agenda, from healthcare to education to climate change to tax reform to guns would harm women, make women less than full citizens with full rights of self-determination, with the economic power and mobility to compete successfully with men, despite a proclamation that contradicted every action.

Indeed, this week we marked Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the 230th anniversary of this document. We hear a lot of B.S. about how the Constitution, establishing the framework for a government “Of the People, For the People” was so revolutionary, and yet so many Americans then and still now do not have the equal rights of citizenship.

Let’s be clear: Americans going back to the earliest colonists were racist, sexist not to mention imperialist religionists – attitudes that were enshrined in the original documents, which is why “originalism” – a pseudo judicial philosophy practiced when it is convenient by ultra-right wing conservative Supreme Court justices – is a crock.

The “founders” – who were hardly gods or omniscient beings, but instead recognized their own human frailties, the fact that they were embarking on a social experiment, and that they had to make compromises for the greater good of forming a new nation, not to mention the technological limitations of the time – always recognized the Constitution as a living document.

That’s why they created an amendment process; indeed, they immediately had to come up with the first 10 Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, for enough states to sign on.

We have always been an imperfect union, striving to reach higher ideals.

So the reality is that some rights seem to have higher status than others and in different contexts, depending upon who is asserting those rights – which would seem antithetical to the essence of the Constitution: the Rule of Law and no person is above it.

That clearly has not been the case in the epidemic of police shootings of unarmed black men, stopped for a traffic offense which somehow is elevated to a capital offense (illegal search & seizure? Due process?), or for well-placed businessmen (Jared Kushner), negotiating deals with sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Take the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and to petition government) versus the 2nd Amendment (gun rights).

It is only recently – in fact, since the Scalia court – that the 2nd amendment right is considered unlimited and unconstrained, even when those rights impede or inhibit or intimidate the free exercise of the other rights. And yet, when you read the Bill of Rights, the 2nd amendment is the only one which actually is qualified and limited (“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”).

I asked Federal Judge Jack Weinstein who spoke on civil rights at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck this week about that limitation, and he only responded, “Well the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.” As if the Supreme Court justices were infallible.

Indeed, this government and the Supreme Court right-wing activist majority is in pursuit of a country that gives preference to the establishment of a state religion over a woman’s rights to self-determination.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at the induction to the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls this week (his mother, Matilda Cuomo was one of the honorees), stated, “This is an important time because from Washington there are real challenges to women’s rights and the role of women in society. I tried to pass two years ago in New York a constitutional amendment to protect Roe v. Wade in the state constitution. And I failed because the legislature said ‘It’s inconceivable that anyone would go to roll back Roe v. Wade.’ That was two years ago. It was inconceivable. And it’s the reality. And they are trying to do it and it’s wrong and if Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were here today, they would say, ‘Ladies, it is the time to stand up and organize and mobilize and make your voice heard.’”

Here are other issues in which the Constitution, written at a time when the most sophisticated weapon was a single-ball musket, it took days or weeks for a representative or a message to come to the capital and there was no such thing as prenatal testing or surrogacy – is archaic: the Electoral College, devised as a check-and-balance against populist whim (the Founders never really trusted “the people”), failed to operate as the Founders intended in 2000 and again in 2016; the notion that states like South Dakota and Alaska, with a population smaller than Long Island, have such greatly outsized power in the Senate and Electoral College as to veto densely populated states like California and New York, give lie to the illusion of “one person, one vote”.

The founders could not have envisioned cyberwarfare such as waged by Russia to upset the presidential election, or indeed, how hackers could literally steal an election; they therefore provided a mechanism for impeachment (for high crimes and misdemeanors) but not nullification of an election.

They could not envision data-mining so precise that you could gerrymander down to a bedroom in a household to draw districts so that the politician gets to choose his voters rather than the other way around.

They could not envision individuals, corporations and even foreign governments being able to literally buy elections and policy.

And they certainly never envisioned an individual with the character and motives of Donald Trump stealing the White House.

 

 

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Karen Ruben

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