Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Separate But Equal: The Lunch Counter Deja-Vu

Before you start reading you should know something. This is satire. It is intended to make a point without being serious, and may be both amusing and uncomfortable. If you are angered by things like "South Park" then this probably isn't for you. 

I love trivia. If you need a solid member for your trivia team, let me know. But, there is a current piece of trivia that has unsettled me. It goes like this: What do the states Arizona, Missouri, and Kansas all have in common? All three are trying to pass laws making it legal to exclude people from businesses based on a personal characteristic. Yes, there are actual legislators, in actual states, trying to pass actual laws that would purposefully allow for the total exclusion of people from businesses based on personal differences. It makes sense, right?

It's being touted as a protection of religious freedom. You see, in America we have been discriminating against business owners for a long time, based totally on their religious beliefs by forcing them to open businesses that may violate their religious beliefs. These people provide jobs, goods, services, and keep our economy running yet they have to do something that freedom shouldn't tolerate. They (the business owners) sometimes might be taking money (and putting it into their pockets) from... gay people.

Needless to say when I learned about this I was outraged. These people, gay people, are entering into and patronizing the same places I go and spend my money. Is my barister really going to have to serve a latte to a homosexual? Why shouldn't my favorite sandwich shop be allowed to tell that gay woman that she can find a turkey club elsewhere? It just makes sense. See, they don't want to keep gay people from having the same things, they should just get those things at another place. Why should we all eat at the same place for lunch? Even if we did, I shouldn't be expected to sit at the same lunch counter as a man or woman with a different sexuality than me.

Why not have two counters? I love sandwiches, and I love my local sandwich shop. Why should I feel uncomfortable that the person sitting next to me might only be thinking about the ways they can influence all the people around me, including me, to be like them? It's just not fair to me and it certainly isn't fair to the business owners. So, have two counters, or just allow the business owner to tell the gay person they can't come in. It will be easy since all gay people are so easily discerned from all straight people.

Two lines for the movies, really just have two theaters. Two restrooms, two baseball leagues (wait... I'm thinking of something else), two grocery stores. They should have all of the same things as me, and the people like me, just not actually be the same. It can be totally separate, but totally equal. There is no reason a business should have to provide goods and services to a person that doesn't share their exact traits, including if they are gay or straight.

After all, freedom of religion includes my right, and certainly a the business' right to not have to be around people that I think are different. I don't want a special separate space for adulterers, or thieves, but certainly for gay people. We cannot stand for gay people being in the same places of business as straights, because to do so would be too far, it's just not time yet.

In many places these people have already been given the right to marry, they already have the right to vote. Why should we have to have them sitting next to us on the bus? They already have enough rights. It's a simple solution. Separate, but equal, and a natural avoidance of integration. After all, we don't want them to encourage our children to make the same choice they made.

Besides, what could go wrong?

-Adam Sommer

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Off Target: How Missouri's proposed legislation SB613 is shooting without hitting the mark

In recent years the idea of a "liberal elite" has conjured up images of an educated snob that values the name on a degree more than the person that earned the degree. It has fed a notion that formal education is somehow bad because you can simply gain the same knowledge and expertise by going to the local library or using the internet. Additionally, that calling someone out for being uneducated/ignorant of the truth is a villainous undertaking that should be met with that label: Liberal Elite. It's an unfortunately circular line of logic, and it has greatly devalued the level of expertise a good teacher can lend. Education is not a precondition to success (we all know Bill Gates is a college drop out, and he is doing just fine) but there are certain fields where education really does make us better at our job, or really is a prerequisite. Government is one of those.

You can't just show up and become a doctor because you read all about it. You have to go to medical school. You can't take the Bar Exam unless you first obtain a law degree from an accredited law school. You can't be a history teacher just because you read history books, a math teacher because you know the quadratic equation, or an english teacher because you can spot a gerund.

Yet, you can run for public office by just being old enough and living in the right place (or born there if you're going for the big seat). Good or bad, you don't need anything more than to meet the age and citizenship requirements to run for office. This allows for representatives that, on average, are more likely to be like their constituents, to understand the needs of the local population. You don't have to go to a specific school to become a legislator. Such a system also allows for legislators who may not have a firm understanding of constitutional law because they run on emotional topics that don't require the voters to look beyond skin deep.

Plenty of people have opinions on the U.S. Constitution. One of the great features of the U.S. is that ability of any person to obtain the documents necessary to understand the function of our government, and for those same people to disagree on how to interpret those documents. However, interpretation of the Constitution is not a new task, and is one that has 250 years of history. That history comes in the form of writings, and most importantly in the form of Supreme Court decisions. Many people rely on the Federalist Papers, on the full writings of Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin, and the scant writings of Washington. Yet, these writings are not decisions. These writings don't contain the Article III power of the judiciary. That's reserved to the courts, and most specifically in constitutional issues the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

In that 250 year history there have been plenty of cases involving the first two amendments, though certainly far more on the first than the second. There have also been countless (not really, you could count them, but I'm not going to) cases on something called "Preemption" created by the Article 6, Section 2 "Supremacy Clause."

The specific portion reads:  "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Emphasis added.

The basic understanding goes like this: If the federal government has already addressed the issue, and intended for that rule to be THE rule, then the state's don't need to address it and their rules can't create any more restrictions than the federal rule already does. 
Enter Missouri Senate Bill 613.  The Bill is not the first of its kind in Missouri, but it is gaining popularity and needs to be addressed for one very specific reason: Our legislators should not be spending their time (and your money) on legislation that is, on its face, unconstitutional. 

That's right, SB613 is unconstitutional, most specifically for this line: "This act declares as invalid all federal laws that infringe on the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution."  Basically the state law is declaring that all federal laws are invalid. Let that language sink in.

Now, let's go back to Preemption and the Supremacy Clause. Compare that language with the SB 613 language. Who wins? 

It's simple. This Bill cannot survive a challenge under the Supremacy Clause. It will fail at all levels, most importantly at the highest level under Preemption. The state cannot simply dismiss federal law, period.  

The sponsor is Missouri's District 26 Senator, Brian Nieves along with several co-sponsors. These people are stewards of the public trust, and elected to go to the state congress to represent the people while getting paid a wage to do so. Yet, they waste time. They waste their time by drafting this bill. They waste the rest of the state congress's time by introducing this bill, and they waste their constituent's time by collecting a pay check while attempting to pass legislation that cannot survive a court challenge. 

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your right to bear arms. Yes, there are limitations, just like there are limitations on your speech rights (think "Fire!" in a crowded theater... can't do it). Some people want an absolutist outlook, no regulation. I get it, the document is clear just let it speak for itself. Here's the problem: Over 250 years of precedent. The 2nd Amendment isn't absolute, it has reasonable regulations. Deal with it. The real purpose behind a bill proposal like this is very simple. 

There are voters that actually think Obama will come to their home and take their guns away and this bill makes those people happy. Never mind the simple reality that since Obama's inauguration in 2009 U.S. gun laws have essentially remained the same. Never mind that the reason you can't find ammunition isn't because the government took it, but because your neighbor bought twice what he normally bought out of fear Obama would take the rest, if he didn't buy it. This bill makes that group of people very happy, and it allows people like Brian Nieves to keep their seat without actually doing anything substantive. This bill is the political equivalent to a news story about a water skiing squirrel. It's fluff. The worst part is, Nieves knows it. 

It takes a well informed citizenry to have a well informed government. Rather than be skeptical of those with the education based on government, perhaps we should be skeptical of those whose only real contribution is trying to pass unconstitutional legislation, just to trick you into voting for them again. We pay these people to run our state, and our country, so let's hold them accountable for wasting our money. Regardless of party, legislators acting this way is an abuse of the public trust, and it's time to hold them all to a higher level.

-Adam Sommer