RBG and Roberts’ Rule

The Founders carefully allocated responsibilities among the branches to protect citizens from governmental over-reach. The Executive Branch has flouted those boundaries throughout the Trump Presidency, with Cabinet officers finally acting not as protectors of the Constitution, but as lackeys in service to the whims of the POTUS. In Congress, McConnell has used obstruction to undermine legislative deliberation, and focused on packing of the Federal Courts with partisans – using the filibuster when not in power, and then eliminating it for most positions during the Trump era.

The Roberts Supreme Court was the last holdout in the corruption of the Founders’ intentions. That has been uneven. Roberts hypocritically criticized the House Impeachment Managers for questioning the motives of the Republican Senate in failing to call witnesses, demanding respect for the “world’s greatest deliberative body” that McConnell has corrupted. But at least in the last Court session, Roberts insisted that precedent be honored, siding with the liberal members of the bench when his conservative peers attempted to over-ride prior judgments from his court.

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, that respect for precedent and the character of the Court is at risk. If Trump and McConnell succeed in seating a conservative ideologue, Roberts will find himself on the losing side in attempting to prevent arbitrary flouting of precedent.

The only method for restoring proper balance on the Court is for a Democratic-controlled Senate to mercilessly impeach Justices for judicial over-reach. The popular expedient – expanding the number of Justices – would be a mistake. Proper functioning of the Court requires thorough probing of the constitutional issues during oral arguments. As more Justices are added, that process will become unwieldly.

No, the proper approach is to erase McConnell’s legacy, just as he and Trump have worked to erase the legacy of our most popular politician (President Obama). Set up the impeachment express, and flush all the Conservative hacks out of the judiciary.

Chief Injustice

When the founders designed the Federal government, they thought carefully about how to ensure that at least one branch would be protected from electoral pressure – the Judicial Branch.

The other branches of government have staggered turnovers: the House of Representatives every other year, the Senate every six years, and the President every four years. The idea was that the longer the term, the more resistant to public pressure. It is for this reason that the Senate prides itself on being the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”

But the federal judiciary serve lifetime terms because they are intended to be immune to political pressure. They need not consider how a decision or opinion from the bench will affect their electoral prospects. This allowed the Supreme Court, early in the history of nation (Marbury vs. Madison), to claim the role of deciding whether the actions of the other branches were legal under the terms of the highest law of the land – the US Constitution.

The founders understood that political actors would use the powers of office to secure their position. In other words, the founders understood that every act by a elected official would have political consequences. In the hoped-for outcome, good policy would lead the voters to re-elect the official. In the unfortunate case, exposure of misconduct would cause the voters to deny the official their office.

Unfortunately, that requires that the misconduct be revealed. The founders again provided diverse methods for that to occur. The first is the free press. The second is the balance of powers: each of the three branches has the opportunity to check misconduct in the other branches.

The Supreme Court is intended to be the branch most immune to pressure when it exercises that responsibility. Unfortunately, it has abdicated that role. Under the guidance of “Chief Justice” John Roberts, the justices selected by Republican presidents have decided that they wish to avoid “political involvement.”

This is absolutely childish. Every act of the federal government has political outcomes. That one party or the other claims a case is “political” is natural, but irrelevant. The job of the court is to decide whether the actions of officials in the other branches is legal under the Constitution. To abdicate that role is absurd, childish, and cause for impeachment. It is the reason that the Supreme Court exists.

This is not idle speculation. The Court, considering the national conspiracy to disenfranchise electors in 2010 (The GoP “Red Map” project), determined that it was “nonjusticiable.” In other words, the Court would not decide whether the plan violated the Constitution right to vote in free and fair elections.

Similarly, the conservative members of the Court have avoided intervention to enforce Congressional subpoenas that are essential to exposing criminality in the Executive Branch.

This injustice is a political act. The chief proponent of that policy, John Roberts, is woefully ill-suited to his role. Claiming that the Court should avoid political entanglements is absurd. When a question of legality or legitimacy is brought before the court, the only criterion that the Court can consider is the Law, with the Constitution as the ultimate standard for legality.


When I began taking flute lessons again at 50, my teacher kept on insisting that I needed to record my practice sessions. I understood why: I was substituting speed for clarity and precision. The notes came out in a blur that began and ended on the right notes, but that didn’t communicate anything in the middle.

But the thing is that I conditioned myself to that expectation of velocity, and I’ve stuck with it, slowly eliminating the extraneous motion and learning to focus the air flow. I’m beginning to sound like a flautist.

This was particularly apparent today after I came back from Dance Tribe in Santa Barbara. I felt like playing dirges, and since I don’t have any in sheet music, I just played slowly. I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity of tone.

I’ve been calling patiently to Hillary all week, and resolved to dance this morning for healing. While waiting for the doors to open, I offered Out of Eden’s Every Move I Make and the Katina’s Draw Me Close. I got part way through Sheena Wellington’s The Christ Child’s Lullaby before cutting inadvertently over to Lauren Daigle’s I Am Yours. Fifteen minutes of tears later, I realized that I could have taken another path: Shiva’s Dance of Destruction. But I held my resolve, and spent most of the first hour of the dance working my way in to the root of the pain. When it was over, I thought “You know, Hillary, your pain is a link to the things that beset us.” I walked out into the sunlight, and made them present to the Ancient of Days.

Yes, that is an intentional reference to Daniel 10.

I am hardly proud of all this trauma. Particularly because much of it originates in Christian confusion – this idea that we are “one nation under God,” which means that the Bible should be the moral law of the land.

I finally heard an interviewee on NPR explain the Evangelical premise: Christian faith requires conversion of the heart, and a belief in the inerrancy of God’s word. Politically, that departs from the ten commandments, headlined by “thou shalt not kill,” and continues through pro-life logic to a determination to see the Supreme Court recomposed to overturn Roe v. Wade. It was that determination that caused almost all white evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.

I could tell them that they are wrong – wrong all down the line. Jesus reminds us that God “desire[s] mercy, not sacrifice.” He commands us to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” As promised in Jeremiah, Jesus dethrones the law, eliding it to “Love God and your neighbor.”

Why does he do this? Because the Law is not God’s word. Read the covenant with Noah: “By man shall man be judged.” The whole of the Pentateuch is a lesson in natural consequences – that threatening people doesn’t lead them to do good, it just corrupts those that mete out punishment. It’s not God’s Law, it’s man’s law propagated under the authority granted by God. This is why Jesus casts the law aside.

Look even at “Thou shalt not kill.” What does that mean? Only people, or does it also include other forms of life? And what about the capital punishments of Leviticus, or the genocide of Deuteronomy? The only conclusion to be drawn from the progression is that human priorities were present in the Law from the beginning.

So why was the Law allowed to persist? Because it served the purpose of building the capacity to reason in God’s chosen people. That fragile tool allows us to overcome our animal instincts, discerning and strengthening creative behaviors.

Jesus came when enough people were prepared to recognize the lesson delivered by the law of natural consequences – the religious and political practices of his era were a terrible abuse of faith. The people’s hunger for truth and justice caused many to accept the invitation to “follow.”

So what about our world today? There are still those that need the discipline of reason, and should they chose to follow some version of the Bible’s ethical code, that’s good for them. But there are also those that envision bringing a child into this world, and dread the prospect that that child will live a life twisted by fear and want, or casually crushed by violence. They know what it’s done to their lives, and they can’t imagine that anyone would want to repeat that experience. And then we have those that wish to have a child, but want to do it under the right circumstances, when all the benefits of family and community can be at their disposal as they grow.

None of us are inerrant. Even Jesus protested “Why do you call me ‘Master’? There is only one that is good.” We all make mistakes, and those mistakes cause us pain. Love is the tool that heals us of the consequences of our mistakes. Jesus tells us to love God because it calls that healing power closer to us. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors because that allows God to see them clearly, and so to heal them most effectively.

The soul of the aborted child will find a loving family capable of providing for its security and growth. Is that not what it would desire?

Maybe, then, we should think of the “Word of God” in the way the John invoked it: the logos that was and is with God. The source of all creative power, the force that amplifies all that is good. Simply and wholly: Love. In its infinite possibilities, love overwhelms any law of human reason. It leads people through error into repentance, and thus to wisdom. It prepares them to do better next time, rather than denying them the right to try at all.

From this perspective, all the dross of human vanity and folly falls away from Scripture. It reads as Jesus characterized it: the effort of a loving “daddy” to guide his children into maturity.

We shouldn’t be in such a hurry to write perfect laws, for love undoes the strictures of government. It is an error to chain it to law, for when the Kingdom arrives, government will fall away. We will all have the benefit of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and so no law except the song of compassion in our hearts.

The Philosphical State

I studied my moral and ethical philosophy with Albert Tussman at U.C. Berkeley. He taught there well into his 70s, I believe, and resolved to give it up when a coed popped her bubble gum before his lecture. I guess that her action crystalized his sense that nothing was sacred to the generation he was teaching.

His wisdom to me was granted one Spring day when he broke out of his office hour to take me out on the lawn under the clock tower. He allowed me to unburden myself of my concerns for the future. When I finally realized what a great honor he had granted me, I asked what he considered to be the most important source of philosophical understanding in our age. His response is relevant to this discussion: the decisions of the Supreme Court. He supported the judgment with the observations that they decided matters that had to be implemented by systems that were critical to the survival of the citizens of the nation, but that they had absolutely no power to effect change. Thus their decisions had to be crafted in a way to build consensus between the parties in the matter.

Philo sophia“, indeed.

So what about academic philosophy? Well, these are people involved in far more abstract issues regarding the accessibility of truth and the nature of human experience. These become esoteric for at least two reasons.

The first is the categorization problem. As in the sciences, we start with coarse categories of experience and then, when that coarseness frustrates our powers of explanation, we refine. That means a never-ending progression of inventive vocabulary that ultimately leaves the common man standing out in the hallway (metaphorically). What becomes even more interesting is when thinkers in two traditions of philosophy try to reconcile their categorization schemes. Ach! Me noggin!

The second is the desire to maintain lineage so as to preserve as much from the past as possible. Now the Supreme Court is going through an activist stage in which this principle is less important, but in general philosophers are wary of throwing anything away. This means that they tend not to reclaim words used in the past, but rather to invent new ones.

My clearly stated intention at everdeepening.org was to buck this latter trend. I set out to reclaim words in common usage to try and help people out of the moral and ethical morass that imprecision of everyday use has bequeathed to us. First and foremost of those words was “love.”

Imprecision in everyday use is mostly a problem when power is conditioned upon avoidance of responsibility. When the shit hits the fan, a typical sound bite is “Well, that’s not what I understand the word to mean”, or “But that’s not what I meant.”

I was put onto this by the confusion regarding the phrase “I love you”, which I realized meant, in most usage, “I love myself.” In other words: “I feel good when I’m around you – let me  use this token to bind you to me.”

While the power of precision has been valuable to me in managing my personal relationships, it’s been essential to me in surviving my spiritual engagements. When we know what it means to love others, we know what it means to love ourself. That understanding has protected me from a lot of harmful associations that presented themselves with a great deal of shiny glitter.