Monday, June 28, 2004

The Forty-Year President 

More later on this morning's landmark Supreme Court decisions. Meanwhile, if your spider senses are not fully atingle and your sense of urgency regarding the November election is no longer at its zenith, here's a little worry bomb from Ed Weathers of the Memphis Flyer:
There is a good chance that the next president of the United States will get to appoint at least three, and possibly four or five, Supreme Court justices. Rehnquist and Stevens are old; they are almost certain to be replaced in the next four years. O’Connor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 71) have had some health problems in recent years; either or both could leave the court soon. Justices Antonin Scalia (68), Anthony Kennedy (67), and David Souter (64) are each at an age when serious health problems are not unusual.

What this means is that the man we elect president in November is likely to determine the fabric of the law in this country until the year 2034 and beyond. This election is not about the next four years, it is about the next forty years.

Forget foreign policy–a president can change that on a whim. (See George W. Bush’s about-face regarding the United Nations in the last year.) Forget economic policy–the economy generates too much of its own momentum to be controlled by politicians. Forget legislative policy–elections in the House of Representatives can turn that upside-down every two years . . . .

Over the next thirty years, the soul of our nation will be up for grabs. Two things make that inevitable:

1) There will be more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil–terrorists never go away–and when that happens, it is almost certain that the response of the Congress will be to pass laws that put more and more power into the hands of the FBI, the CIA, the police, and other elements of the so-called “security” establishment. Congress will also pass laws that cede more unilateral, unchecked power to the executive branch. That is what Congress has always done in the face of fear; it’s what the Alien and Sedition Acts did in 1798 and what the U.S. Patriot Act did in 2001. Today our nation is closer to an imperial presidency, with the executive branch having greater unchecked powers and more control over the dispensation of “justice,” than at any time since the Sedition Act of 1918.

2) Technology will bring Big Brother closer to reality than ever before. Progress in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, computer technology, and surveillance systems will make it possible, even easy, for the government to find out everything about us and to use it in ways we can never discover. (A relevant digression: researchers are very close to increasing life expectancy to 120 years or more. The next set of Supreme Court justices may serve for sixty or seventy years or more. This is not science fiction.)

Together, these facts mean the next Supreme Court will decide where on the scale from fascism to democracy this nation will settle for at least two generations.

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