By Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Albert Camus, a mid 20th century existentialist writer penned the words; “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice”. It is a fitting mantra for all those who see our democracy as a living fabric, continually woven and rewoven, tested and torn only to be reworked and repaired. History is replete with examples of this process and we are a better nation for remembering them and learning from them. The Supreme Court of the United States has, in its history, approved segregation, the creation of prison camps for innocent Americans of Japanese heritage, ignored the breaking of virtually every Indian treaty we ever made and numerous other gross depravations of even basic civil liberties thought to be guaranteed by the Constitution. In the process they have also approved gerrymandered voting districts, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, and indeed a whole range of affronts to our present concepts of justice and due process of law so as to make one pause when thinking of that venerable institution.
Many of those ‘mistakes’ have been corrected by later Justices who were enlightened and courageous enough to see in our Constitution that precepts like fundamental fairness must transcend their own notions of parochial partisanship even though it was precisely the partisanship of their prior conduct that often secured their appointment to the Court in the first place. Once there however, they came to value intellectual integrity over partisan politics when vested with the fragile fabric of our democracy in their hands. These were usually remarkable men, and we can be proud of the fact that many of them were Jews; Justices Brandies, Cardozo, and Frankfurter to name a few. What is most significant about that group and others like them is that they were men of towering intellect and integrity.
To them the law was a not the ‘jealous mistress’ of common lore but was the very machinery of civilization itself; each opinion they signed onto, a bolt or gear in a huge intellectual engine designed by our forefathers to deliver the benefits of liberty, democracy, justice and freedom to a people all too often willing to compromise those ideals for nearer and more immediate goals. To know the law is to also possess a painful awareness of the frailties of those entrusted with its care and who, for whatever reason or context, choose to replace intellectual integrity with sophistry. Such is the stuff of those justices who, with a stroke of the pen, took away the potential voting rights of 43,000 Floridians.
Such was the effect of those justices of the Supreme Court who issued a stay of the counting of the ballots that were not counted by the machines when the original tabulations were made. To the Republican Presidents who valued political loyalty over judicial competence and integrity they have sown the wind. It is left to the American people ultimately to reap the whirlwind.
The lack of intellectual integrity of those opposed to a full count is found in the rational of those who wish to stop the process. There can be no irreparable harm of this count because the results of a full and complete count do not benefit one candidate over another. No matter what the standard is for examining each uncounted ballot, that process will apply to all ballots equally and the result will land wherever the chips fall. Those five justices, in refusing those voters their right to have their vote examined for possible recordation; have, by that action alone, sown the seeds of political partisanship within the Supreme Court which will denigrate its moral authority for generations to come.
It is not by accident that the five are all Republican appointees. By repaying their sponsors at the expense of the most profound liberty we possess they have dealt a blow to our democracy much more telling, much more lasting, than the short term benefit they have conferred on a candidate whose legitimacy will forever be in doubt.