Sunday, December 03, 2006

Heinlein would have loved this judge

Robert A. Heinlein, "the dean of American science fiction authors", had a Julian Simon-like optimism about the state of the world, America in particular. Not for him the fashionable pessimism and misanthropic tendencies of today's doom-and-gloomers.

In 1980 Heinlein published a book called "Expanded Universe", a collection of essays and short fiction. The last selection in the book is called "The Happy Days Ahead". It's a fantasy about a black woman becoming President of the United States. She is the complete anti-Jesse Jackson, anti-Kweisi Mfume, anti-Charles Rangel type of black woman, though. She believed that people didn't need laws to kill prejudice; that they didn't need special preferences:
No more Black Americans. No more Japanese Americans. Israel is not our country and neither is Ireland. A group calling itself La Raza had better mean the human race – the whole human race – or they'll get the same treatment from me as the Ku Klux Klan. Amerindians looking for special favors will have just two choices: Either come out and be Americans and accept the responsibilities of citizenshp ... or go back to the reservation and shut up. Some of their ancestors got a rough deal. But so did yours and so did mine. There are no Anglos left alive who were at Wounded Knee or Little Big Horn, so it's time to shut up about it.

I intend to refuse to see any splinter group claiming to deserve special treatment not accorded other citizens and I will veto any legislation perverted to that end. Wheat farmers. Bankrupt corporations. Bankrupt cities. Labor leaders claiming to represent "the workers" when most of the people they claim to represent repudiate any such leadership. Business leaders just as phony. Anyone who wants the deck stacked in his favor because, somehow, he's "special".

Stirring stuff! I recommend it. Especially the part of the story dealing with her sponsorship of something she calls "The Plain English Amendment". I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating in light of the story I read today that I'll get to in a minute.

The Plain English Amendment
permits a citizen to challenge the Constitutionality of any law or regulation, Federal or any lesser authority, on the grounds that it is ambivalent, equivocal, or cannot be understood by a person of average intelligence.

Madam President believes that the amendment could be passed even though Congress and all the state legislatures have a majority of lawyers:
[E]very one of them not anxious to lose his job. That's their weakness...because it's awfully easy to work up hate against lawyers.

Now, how is this possibly relevant to anything happening now? I'm glad you asked. In a November 29th AP story:
LOS ANGELES (AP) - [U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins] struck down President Bush's authority to designate groups as terrorists, saying his post-Sept. 11 executive order was unconstitutionally vague, according to a ruling released Tuesday.

You can read the details for yourself. The part that made Heinlein's fantasy concrete was at the very end of the article (emphasis mine):
In 2004, Collins ruled that portions of the Patriot Act were too vague and, even after Congress amended the act in 2005, she ruled the provisions remained too vague to be understood by a person of average intelligence and were therefore unconstitutional.

While a quick check of the Constitution reveals nothing about how smart the citizens have to be to grant powers to the federal government, I am 100% in favor of rulings of this nature; that is, striking down a law because it is "ambivalent, equivocal, or cannot be understood by a person of average intelligence." If you wonder whether the IRS code would fit the definition, you win a kewpie doll!

Thank you, Robert A. Heinlein!

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