Going To Church

by William Rivers Pitt, CLG

"All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
- John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, Friday, January 20, 1961

I went to church this past Saturday afternoon. My church lies upon the farthest outcropping of stony earth that juts out into the cold Atlantic waters along the harbor. The smell of the sea is strong there, and as I passed through the doors to worship, the wind whipped rain into my face that reeked of tidal flats and the history of mariners.

My church is the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, housed in a stark yet beautiful building on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The patron saint of this place, JFK, was himself a mariner. He spoke often of the sea and sailing, and risked his life in defense of his country as a PT boat commander during World War II.

Some might call it blasphemous to refer to such a place as a church, but they do not understand my concept of worship. As did Abraham Lincoln, I bend my knee to the altar of American democracy. If we are to discover God in this country, we must more completely realize the ideals of liberty and justice for our citizens and our nation. Such things cannot be maintained in temples, mosques or churches, though the goodness of such ideals can be preached there.

No. If we are to worship properly in this country, we must do so in the halls and rooms of our public institutions. It must begin there, for if such ideals are not achieved there, they will die there without ever seeing the light of day.

Lincoln, I believe, said it best: "Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles in her lap. Let it be taught in schools, seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling books and in almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation."

While wandering the halls of my church, I was struck by a number of similarities between John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush. Kennedy was young and inexperienced when he ran for President in 1960, and faced an opponent who held the position of Vice President and who was well-versed in politics. The election that placed Kennedy in the White House was a razor-close one; in the popular vote, Kennedy's margin of victory was 118,550 votes.

There, however, the similarities abruptly ended. Kennedy won both the popular vote and the Electoral College, the latter by a decisive margin. Bush lost the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes, and won the Electoral College in a corrupted brawl by a single vote. Kennedy was the author of several books, among them the Pulitzer-prize winning 'Profiles in Courage,' while Bush apparently takes pride in never having even read much of anything.

While President, Kennedy gave dozens of unrehearsed and unscripted televised press conferences that provided the American people with horse's-mouth information on the workings of the government. He averaged one conference every sixteen days, a remarkable display of candor and political bravery. Bush, by comparison, cannot show his face before the press without flash cards, and becomes annoyed and tentative if the conversation deviates from his prepared script. Where Kennedy spoke openly, Bush obfuscates. Where Kennedy offered facts, Bush lies.

The most glaring difference, of course, is that Kennedy's ascension to the Presidency had absolutely, positively nothing to do with the intervention of a politicized and partisan United States Supreme Court.

I came away from my visit to church with renewed resolve to deal with the terrible consequences arising from the Supreme Court's decision to select Bush as President. I decided that the time has come for me to do more than simply complain and shout and stomp and scream about it. Such action is necessary, to be sure; it is the essence of grass-roots action to make noise until enough people come to see the issue as you do, and I will continue at it. But another level must be reached if this fight is to be successful.

It is not enough, when engaged in an argument regarding the public good, to simply criticize. As a man once said, any jackass can tear down a barn. It takes a craftsman to build one, and it takes time and patience.

I believe the time has come for those of us who believe George W. Bush illegitimately gained the White House through the scurrilous and politically motivated actions of the Supreme Court to speak now about cures, constructive plans, reforms, bulwarks against such events ever taking place again. I have heard precious little of this from my brothers and sisters so courageously shouting down the usurper. I deign now to speak for them, and I hope my words do justice to their greatest hopes and boundless energies.

I believe the time has come for those of us who believe George W. Bush illegitimately gained the White House through the scurrilous and politically motivated actions of the Supreme Court to speak now about initiating a recall of the five judges who allowed their political fealty to interfere with their sworn duties as defenders of the law.

First, let us speak of responsibility.

There shall be those among you who will be surprised to know that Justice Antonin Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court by a unanimous vote in the Senate. Not one Senator stood to oppose him. Because the Justices are appointed by people whom we vote into office, they are by proxy a reflection of our political will. We elected the politicians who appointed these judges, and so they belong to us. I shall hazard to say that they are our fault, to a degree, because we failed to speak to our representatives about them, and failed further to agitate effectively enough to thwart their appointments. We must take responsibility for them.

The workings of the Senate are not magic. It is the people's business that happens there, and we the people must make a concerted effort to involve and inform ourselves regarding the actions which take place there. We must never again allow our Senators to stand in unanimity for a Judicial nominee who holds a hollow respect for the laws he or she would uphold.

We must learn all there is to know about these appointees by analyzing the history of their careers on the bench, and investigate where and how they worked in politics. We must paint this information across the sky for all to see and understand, and we must let our Senators know exactly what we know about what is going on. Senators function best for us when in daylight. Let's resolve to work hard and pull the curtains aside.

Second, let us speak of reform.

I propose a sweeping reform regarding the very individuals who are nominated to the bench. Seats in the Federal courts are, sadly, part of the political patronage system. This is the root of our woe:

  • Chief Justice Rehnquist actively campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, and worked as an on-site legal advisor for Republicans seeking to challenge voter credentials at a Phoenix polling place in 1962.
  • Sandra Day O'Connor was the co-chairperson for the Arizona state committee to elect Richard Nixon, was vice-president of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, and served three terms in the Arizona State senate as a Republican. For a time she was the majority leader there.
  • Antonin Scalia was an attorney in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
  • Anthony Kennedy was a Sacramento power-lobbyist who worked hammer and tong for Reagan's anti-tax initiatives, and represented such clients as the GRT Corporation and the National Association of Alcoholic Beverage Importers before being elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
  • Clarence Thomas was a legislative assistant to Republican Senator James Danforth of Missouri. During his confirmation hearings, he admitted to never debating once, with anyone, the merits of Roe v. Wade.

In the interest of balance, I point out that John Paul Stevens was a counsel for a House of Representatives subcommittee during the Truman administration, and Stephen Breyer was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Carter administration.

The glaring similarities between all these Justices is their obvious fealty to a political party for whom they have actively labored. It is no stretch to understand that, when a person dedicates a part of their professional life to the success of a political party, their objective view of that party's actions can become badly skewed. This is one area where bipartisanship truly reigns.

We must put an end to the idea that a seat on the Federal bench is a proper reward for someone who has spent their life working for a political party. It became clear on December 12, 2000, that a black robe cannot elevate a person above acting out of rank political motivation. The Supreme Court chose to accept Bush v. Gore in the face of years of states-rights rulings. They went on to rule in favor of one candidate before all the votes were counted, abusing the wide latitude we entrust our judges with by cobbling together a ruling that favored a man who shared a political connection with the majority on that court.

I believe there are men and women working within the confines of our judicial system who would make fine Supreme Court Justices, men and women who have never stepped foot into the corrupting arena of politics. We must choose our Justices from among these people, so as to better ensure that political considerations will never again soil a decision by our highest court. They may be Republican or Democrat; it would be nearly impossible to find someone without fealty to either party. But they must never have worked for those parties in any way.

No human soul is pure, and self-interest is our common curse. Were we to choose our Justices from the ranks of those mentioned above, we would go a long way towards purifying our system.

Finally, let us speak of recalls.

Article III of the Constitution of the United States reads, in part, as follows:

"The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and embellish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior."

The Federal Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees, Canon I, reads as follows:

"A judicial employee should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and of the judicial employee's office. An independent and honorable Judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judicial employee should personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the Judiciary are preserved and the judicial employee's office reflects a devotion to serving the public."

The Federal Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees, Canon II, reads as follows:

"A judicial employee should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. A judicial employee should not engage in any activities that would put into question the propriety of the judicial employee's conduct in carrying out the duties of the office. A judicial employee should not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence official conduct or judgment. A judicial employee should not lend the prestige of the office to advance or appear to advance the private interests of others. A judicial employee should not use public office for private gain."

The United States Federal Code, 18 USC 211, reads as follows:

"Acceptance or solicitation to obtain appointive public office: Whoever solicits or receives, either as a political contribution, or for personal emolument, any money or thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. Whoever solicits or receives any thing of value in consideration of aiding a person to obtain employment under the United States either by referring his name to an executive department or agency of the United States or by requiring the payment of a fee because such person has secured such employment shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

It is my firm belief that Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, O'Connor, Kennedy and Thomas violated Canons I and II of the Federal Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. They failed to uphold the honor and independence of their offices. They allowed "other relationships to influence official conduct or judgment" in their ruling of December 12, 2000. Furthermore, they "lent the prestige of the office to advance or appear to advance the private interests of others."

Because of these violations, these five Justices violated Article III of the Constitution. Article III clearly stipulates that judges may hold their seats "during good Behavior." Clearly, violations of the Canons of Ethics for Judicial Employees does not fall under this definition. The five Justices must be recalled and/or impeached, so such violations cannot happen again.

Pursuit of such actions may fall under the umbrella of 18 USC 211, which clearly states that, "Whoever solicits or receives, either as a political contribution, or for personal emolument, any money or thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

I do not necessarily want to see these Justices imprisoned or fined, though that would be nice. Simply removing them from the bench will satisfy me. Again, violation of 18 USC 211 clearly constitutes an abrogation of Article III.

I am not a man of means. I cannot hire an attorney with enough background in judicial/constitutional law to pursue this properly. I have painted here a picture in three parts, the last of which will cost money and time. Petitions, though valuable as a rallying cry, will not do enough in the end. It is no small thing to chop down a Supreme Court Justice. But if the reforms I listed above are to begin, if they are to have teeth, the reasons for such reforms must be made examples of. Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy, O'Connor and Thomas must be brought low, and then the reforms can begin in earnest.

The first part, responsibility, falls to all of us.

I have been to church, and I have knelt at the altar of our public religion. The time has come to cleanse the temple, as Jesus did, with whip in hand. We must never stop proclaiming from the rooftops that we have been wronged, robbed, pillaged of our right to elect our leaders. But we must also begin the steps towards active and constructive ways to fix our deplorable circumstances.

June 4th is the anniversary of the slaying of Robert Kennedy. I can think of no better way and no better day to honor his name than by embarking upon this work.

As John F. Kennedy said upon his inauguration, it may not happen in our lifetime. But let us begin.

"Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, and in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors." – Abraham Lincoln

- - - - - -

Author's Note One:

The information on the political backgrounds of the Justices provided in this column was gleaned from Vincent Bugliosi's book, "The Betrayal of America."

The Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees was found within the Federal Court Internet Law Library here.

The text of U.S. Federal Code 18 USC 211 was found within the United States Government Printing Office website here.

Author's Note Two:

If you have received this document, you have my explicit permission to publish, forward, edit, reprint, fold, spindle and/or mutilate it in any way you choose. I only ask that you leave my name attached, and provide, if published, my email address: w_pitt@hotmail.com.