Making Laws Is Dirty Work, But Someone Has to Do It

When the legislature stops legislating, the Supreme Court rushes in.

By SHARE
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One is the loneliest number and only one in 10 Americans trusts the United States Congress. And who can blame people?

The most visible congressional failure was the Senate vote that killed background checks on people who want to buy guns. It was a perfectly reasonable proposal. No one's guns would have been taken away and national polls showed that nine in 10 Americans supported the proposal.

But that didn't matter because the Senate was more responsive to pressure from the National Rifle Association than it was to public opinion. Gridley, damm public opinion, full speed backward!

The same tragedy is about to unfold with immigration reform. The Senate passed a compromise immigration proposal under which undocumented immigrants would have to get over a series of hurdles higher than the border fence to become citizens. To get the measure passed, Democrats agreed to GOP demands to hire 20,000 more border control agents. That's enough of a force to conquer Mexico and more than enough to guard the border we share with our neighbor to the south.

Despite these concessions, House Republicans are doing everything they can to stop reform, and they will probably succeed even though national polls show strong support for citizenship for undocumented people if they meet a long list of requirements.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

I could go on and on and on. What happens to a democracy when democratic institutions aren't democratic anymore? Nothing good.

What if they gave an election and no one came. Well, we almost found out in two recent elections. Turnout was abysmal in the race for mayor in Los Angles and in the special Senate election in Massachusetts to select a replacement for John Kerry. Voters don't see the point in going out to vote to elect people who can't or won't do anything to tackle the challenges facing the nation.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the Supreme Court.

When democratic institutions fail, undemocratic institutions step in. When the legislature stops legislating, the unelected Supreme Court rushes in to fill the vacuum. Someone has to make laws, and if Congress doesn't legislate the federal court system will step in to fix problems. Like it or not, unelected or not, the Supreme Court has filled the vacuum that Congress created.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Historically, the Supreme Court has always been reluctant to void laws passed by the peoples' elected representatives. But the court did just that on successive days last month. On day one, the high court nullified part of the Voting Rights Act. The next day, the court consigned the Defense of Marriage Act to the dustbin of history where it belonged.

The high court's message to Congress was do something, just don't stand there. Standard operating procedure in Congress these days is don't do anything, just stand there. The world does not come to a grinding halt to accommodate Congress when it can't get its act together.  

When he ran for president in 1996, Ross Perot proposed the idea of having national referendums to make decisions on issues. Americans like the idea. A recent Gallup survey showed that two in three Americans supported it. Somebody has to make decisions. It's a dirty job,  but someone has to do it.

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