Monday, January 5, 2015

Judiciaries Are Not Legislatures

My home state of Nebraska is unique in the United States in that its legislature has one house. Every other state in the Union has a bicameral legislature, as is the Congress of the Untied States. There are a few US territories that have unicameral legislatures, but Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature. A ballot initiative in 1934 abolished Nebraska's former House of Representatives and gave its powers to the Senate, which was renamed the Nebraska Legislature, and it is often referred to as the Unicameral. This is an example of the people exercising their supreme authority to establish or change the manner in which they are governed and to create laws for their state.

In 2000, the very same thing happened, but with a different issue and a different outcome. A ballot initiative which defined marriage as a heterosexual union and denied recognition to any homosexual union granted in any other state passed with over 70% approval, and was enshrined in the state constitution. Again, this is an example of the people exercising their supreme authority to establish or change the manner in which they are governed and to create laws for their state.

But this initiative, unlike the initiative that created the Unicameral, was challenged, and will likely be challenged again. It was ruled unconstitutional by the US District Court for the District of Nebraska, but was overruled by the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. In fact, similar laws in other states were overturned by federal judges on the basis that they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This is actually how most states are being required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, likely against the wills of their voters, who hold supreme governing authority but delegate it to governments.

Now imagine with me that some federal judiciary ruled that the Nebraska Legislature is, at present, unconstitutional and must revert back to a bicameral system with a separate House of Representatives and Senate. I hope that that idea makes you feel a little uncomfortable. No federal authority can tell state governments exactly how they can govern.

This is the essence of the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution. The federal government only has the powers the Constitution has delegated to it, and state governments have all other powers that they are not prohibited from having by the Constitution. And any powers that state governments do not grant themselves or prohibit from the people are retained by the people. Even the authority to define marriage within their state.

But this is exactly the route that LGBT activist groups take to move their agenda forward. It is a lot easier to convince a few people with a lot of authority than it is to convince a majority of a state to vote otherwise. But what happens when this route is pursued and used to get what they want, it sets some terrifying precedents.

If a federal court can change what a state's constitution says regarding marriage, then there is no logical reason it couldn't change what it says with regards to owning firearms, free speech, or even how the government operates. There is a reason that the state governments and the federal government are separated.

Not even the abolition of slavery, over which the United States fought a civil war, happened without the people having a say in the matter. Leading up to the Civil War, the courts more or less were silent on the matter. The Dred Scott Decision is really the only example I can think of, and it upheld the position of the slave owner. President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in areas in active rebellion against the United States not under the control of the Union army. It was a measure of war against the South, which he had the authority to do as commander in chief.

But it was ultimately and finally abolished with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which had to be ratified by 75% of the states to be put in effect. The people agreed twice with the 13th Amendment - once visa-vie their Congressmen, and the second time visa-vie their state representatives. The people spoke, and slavery was abolished.

I certainly do not think that prohibiting or allowing same-sex marriages is any where near the level that abolishing or upholding slavery was on, but the same process should be followed, especially if the LGBT agenda wants to be seen as more credible. In my opinion, they sound like a bunch of kids that aren't getting what they want, and a throwing tantrums until they get it. I mean of course, that they are going to be loud and obnoxious until they get what they want, no matter the cost. Instead, they need to make an argument that the people can get behind, and change laws that way.

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Christmas" Season?

I love Christmas.  But I really am starting to hate the Christmas season.  

There are many wonderful things about Christmastime.  The first real snowfall is usually quite beautiful, decorations are often festive, and I LOVE CHRISTMAS COOKIES.  But what has been really getting to me the past several years is how soon the Christmas season starts.  You know what I'm talking about: stores like Wal-Mart and Menards are putting out their Christmas decorations sooner and sooner every year.  Countdowns start at times that eclipse other holidays.  Christmas music starts playing before Thanksgiving.

What do these things have in common?  Increasingly, it isn't the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ that is in focus, but rather we are focusing on ourselves.  Companies want to make you think that Christmas is right around the corner so you spend more money buying more stuff so that they make more money.  And we succumb to it.  The reason that I personally dislike the Christmas season is the fact that it has become a season of self-indulging greed.  I particularly resent hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving because it makes us think of things we want to get instead of being thankful for the numerous blessings we already have. It makes us greedy; it focuses us on ourselves.

It could just be me, but I know how much worse I could have it.  My family has gone through some rough patches in our past, but we have made it through.  We are incredibly blessed to have a sturdy house to protect us from the elements, food to nourish our bodies, and a steady source of income to pay for all of these things.  I have been blessed abundantly by having scholarships and summer income to pay for my higher education, and I have a career in place after graduation.  I am ridiculously blessed.  And I thank God for it.  If you are reading this, you also have many of the same blessings I have, if not more so.  As a society, we live in an age where fewer and fewer people are dying of diseases that are easily treated.  Infant mortality is at an all time low, and life expectancy at birth is at an all time high.  Just about every measurable statistic in health, crime, and society has been trending in a favorable direction since at least the mid 1980s.  For more info on this check out this video by Aaron Carroll, MD (sources can be found in the description):

 Or, you can check out this video by author, producer and philanthropist John Green about how 2014 was awesome, repeating some of the same stats, but hitting on some others that point towards favorable trends (again, sources in the description):

Both of these videos were published right before the new year.  It doesn't matter what religion or lack thereof you subscribe to, we can all acknowledge that these are good things that are happening in the world, and to us as Americans in particular. The fourth Thursday in November has been proclaimed to be a day of thanksgiving.  True, this is another holiday with Christian overtones, and indeed is an important celebration in many church bodies, but being able to express gratitude is a human quality.  And so, it is on this day that we give thanks in our own way for all of the blessings we have received.  

But now think about the Christmas music you are listening to before Thanksgiving.  Is it "Joy to the World", or is it "Silver and Gold" from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Are you listening to "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" or "O Come, All Ye Faithful"?  It's safe to assume that it isn't a joyous proclamation of the birth of Jesus Christ, for which we are thankful for.  It's probably music about Santa Claus coming to bring you stuff, or how stores are putting out their Christmas displays and getting ready for the holiday rush.  Which, in turn, will aid in making you think you need to buy stuff to give your family, or get you excited for presents.  Either way, you probably aren't in a mood that is terribly appreciative, grateful, or thankful.

I enjoy the jolly aire of Christmas...around Christmas.  I don't think there is anything particulary wrong with looking forward to receiving a gift with thanksgiving.  But we need to think about why we give gifts at this time of year.  What is the origin of Christmas?  The answer: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He offers the greatest gift of all: eternal communion with the Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit.  We give earthly gifts out of love for the recipients because Christ has given us the greatest gift of all, out of the greatest love for us all.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8

Monday, November 24, 2014

Do You Have All The Evidence? No? Then Shut Up.

Well, the grand jury has decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department and charge him with any crimes. And many people are not happy one way or the other. But there is only one court that is important in actually holding people accountable when they break the law - and it isn't the court of public opinion.

The legal system in the United States is set up in such a way as to maintain innocence until proven guilty. It requires a thorough investigation by the police, an arrest warrant signed by a judge, and a trial whose outcome is decided by unanimous consensus by a jury of 12 other people. A grand jury will often hear the police's evidence for a crime before the person is indicted for that crime. This is the step that happened at Ferguson, MO today. The grand jury did their duty to make sure that there was actually sufficient evidence to say that a crime may have taken place before charging Officer Wilson with a crime.

What happened here is, apparently, an anomaly. In 2010, the last year for which data is available, there were only 11 federal cases that were not indicted by a grand jury out of 162,300+ cases that were prosecuted. This is because they did not have sufficient evidence to do so. That is less than 0.007%. There is an old expression that says something to the effect of a competent lawyer should be able to argue for the indictment of a ham sandwich and get it. True, this is for US federal cases and not for Missouri state cases, but if the proportions are roughly the same, then there should be even few times that a grand jury did not indict in Missouri. Which should mean that, if they didn't in this case, there is no good reason to believe that they should.

The only reason this has made national news is that it was a white police officer that shot a black civilian. And an unverified report that made it sound like Officer Wilson killed Michael Brown in cold blood because he's a terrible racist and the whole police department is racist. The key word in that last sentence is "unverified". A news team probably interviewed someone on the street who said that Officer Wilson just shot Mr. Brown, even as he supposedly put up his hands to show he was unarmed. And that version of the story became the truth in the court of public opinion. Even though eyewitness testimony alone is frequently the worst way to argue a case.

You have to give the Ferguson Police Department credit, though. They did their due diligence by investigating the matter in however they manage such incidents. I do not know how that happens, nor do I really care. Really, I'm just commenting on this post on my Facebook news feed, and the ideas that are behind it:

I'm not going to actually comment on the post because these are my friends and there really are much bigger and more important things I could piss them off with and ruin our friendship over. A little bit of context. Both the black and the red in this screenshot study/studied English in college and seem to lean heavily left in a number of social issues. The black is currently in New York City pursuing her chosen career path, and the red is still in school at the same university I go to, the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. I am the blue in this picture.

But what I'm going to say applies to anyone who has not seen the evidence and yet still thinks that they know what happened and that the decision by the grand jury is somehow unjust. You do not have all of the evidence, so you do not actually know what happened. The justice system as we have it and as it is used in Missouri has seen fit not to charge Officer Wilson with a crime. That is what is going to go down in history, and that is what we must say is the truth. 

Does this mean that there is never a time when the justice system gets it wrong? No. But what happens when the system does get it wrong and we know about it is that new evidence is discovered that pushes the truth away from what we thought was the truth and towards what it actually is. Will that happen here? Maybe. I don't know for sure. And neither do you, unless you were on that grand jury, were one of the lawyers arguing the case, or were the judge overseeing the case. So shut up about it and let's get on with our lives.

UPDATE: I know I've just made the case that we should let the grand jury do its job and that whatever we say really doesn't matter, but if you must make a comment about this, at least know what Officer Wilson thought. Here's a few key paragraphs from his testimony, as reported in the Wall Street Journal: Key Passages from Police Officer Darren Wilson's Testimony