Democracy At Work
A classic lesson on whether a nations or group of people are ready for a democratic form of government can be found in Egypt’s recent past. Former President Hosni Mubarak was turned out of office following Egypt’s Arab Spring. The US Government had just issued calls for Egypt to embrace democratic reforms. An election followed.
A “free and open” election led to the Muslim Brotherhood narrowly gaining a majority in parliament and Mohamed Morsi elected President. The dust had hardly settled before Morsi announced there would be a new Constitution written. As you might easily guess, the new Constitution would enshrine most of the Muslim Brotherhood’s beliefs and greatly restrict the rights of others. Hmmm.
Over two hundred years ago, Americas founding fathers struggled with similar problems. How could a nation have democracy and still provide a home for people of differing views. In a strict democracy, majority rules. With one more vote than the opposition, a new law applies to everyone. Hmmm.
Our founding fathers mulled this quandary and decided that our Government should contain checks and balances on each branch of government (executive, legislature, and judiciary), and extra protections for minority views. While one vote majority must be observed if there is to be a democracy, a process where minority views are heard and respected (Bill of Rights) was necessary.
The Federal Judiciary was a critical part of this protection. Justices in the Federal Court system were to be appointed by the executive and confirmed by Congress. Confirmation has traditionally been based upon competency, experience, and independence of views. Republican Presidents appointed Republican jurists while Democrat Presidents appointed Democrats.
For most matters which come before Federal Courts, the matter of law can be seen from a conservative or a progressive viewpoint. More interestingly, most matters are decided by a plurality of the court with no indication of Democrat or Republican affiliation.
For the Supreme Court, the appointment process begins with a Presidential nomination. Law associations including major universities and the ABA issue opinions on the qualifications and readiness of the appointee to serve. The Senate Judiciary Committee reviews the available information and holds hearings to further vet the appointee. Finally the committee issues and opinion and the whole Senate votes.
Over the years there have been controversial nominees and some nominees have withdrawn their names during the confirmation process. A few have been rejected by the Senate for specific reasons. Most, however, have been confirmed regardless of whether the Congress is of the same party as the President.
Justice Antonin Scalia died over the weekend. Before his body was even cold, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most all the GOP Presidential Primary Candidates all issued statements rejecting President Obama’s (Constitutional) right to nominate a replacement Justice. Hmmm.
These are all individuals who incessantly call for this or that to be rejected because the law or regulation was not “constitutional”. These individuals regularly complain that President Obama has overreached his “Constitutional Authority”. But at this time, with almost one full year remaining in President Obama’s term, most of the GOP want to ignore his right to nominate and Congress’ duty to confirm.
America has long practiced a special form of democracy. Inherent in America’s take was an unwritten principle of “fairness” and “playing by the rules ( based upon past practices)”. No one should argue that past practices cannot change, times change and so must our government practices evolve. Change, however, should not have the smell of “unfairness”.
The Muslim Brotherhood sought to use a narrow majority to completely change the rules denying all sorts of rights to the minority. In a way, the GOP is doing the same if it follows through with its threats on appointing a Scalia replacement.
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