Tag: Constitutional rights

Big Talk

When I was a kid, my mom volunteered to get the ERA passed. She was disappointed (actually, quite pissed) when the Equal Rights Amendment ran out of gas near the finish line.

The ERA was fairly popular, but it couldn’t get past the high hurdle that proposed Constitutional amendments face: Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must pass it, and then three-fourths of the states have to approve it. There’s an alternative method of approving amendments that involves a Constitutional convention, but that route is less common.

In recent months, we’ve heard that another change to the Constitution is imminent. Yes, conservatives have their hearts set on revoking Amendment 14. This pesky amendment, among other things, establishes that people born in the United States are full citizens.

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A Fundamental Misunderstanding

On this Independence Day, let’s acknowledge a truly patriotic viewpoint. Yes, regardless of our political orientation or cultural viewpoint, we can all agree on one thing: most Americans are stupid.

People on the left think that of people on the right, people on the right think it of people on the left, and we all have disdain for the wimps in the middle. Because most people don’t agree with us on a given subject, they are stupid.

Of course, if we really think about it, it could not possibly be true that a majority of our fellow citizens are mouth-breathing neo-Neanderthals. But even the most kind-hearted among us has, at one point or another, bemoaned the inability of the thick-headed masses to comprehend our opinion.

The exception to this rule is when we find, to our surprise and joy and even alarm, that the majority concurs with us. Then we’re quick to say, “Hey, most people agree with me, so back off.”

The fact that we so easily fluctuate between praising and rejecting other people’s opinions should tell us something. But all it really does is entrench our positions. I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

The reason I bring all this up is because that infamous tool of totalitarianism – the public-opinion poll – shows that more Americans support Arizona’s new anti-immigration law than oppose it. In Arizona itself, the law is popular with an overwhelming 70 percent of the population.

Well, that should do it then. The law stands. The debate is over. We live in a country of majority rule, after all.

There’s just one problem: We don’t vote on rights.

Either Arizona’s law is unconstitutional or it’s not (frontrunners for its eventual overturning are the Fourth and Sixth Amendments). In either case, it’s not left to a popularity contest.

The truth is that America is more about minority rights than majority rule. I know I tread on dangerous ground when I invoke “the Founders,” but I will do so now. The framers of the Constitution were pretty damned touchy about the tyranny of the majority. That’s why they came up with that pesky Bill of Rights.

As such, we can’t just deny rights to groups we dislike, be they Latinos, gays, or Nickleback fans (actually, that last one may pass Constitutional muster). This concept seems difficult for Americans to understand. So let’s go with a historical example.

No doubt, in 1950, most Americans would have voted against letting black people enjoy the privileges that the majority culture enjoyed. Change came about not only because people got educated and the younger generation took control, but because of things like Brown vs. Board of Education. The Supreme Court, in what can only be called an activist decision, said that basic rights are not dependent upon the generosity of the majority.

Again, we don’t vote on rights.

But setting aside that basic concept, let’s look at the reliability and immutability of public opinion itself. Remember that on the eve of the Iraq War, polls showed that upwards of 80 percent of Americans supported George W. Bush’s policy of “regime change.” Somehow, I doubt that decision garners this kind of enthusiasm today.

That was way back in 2003. What will Americans of, say, 2017 think of our opinion?


Rights for You and Me and Them

I haven’t written about immigration in, I don’t know, about nine minutes now. So despite my wish to move on to Latino-themed subjects that are more fun (i.e., wouldn’t a post about the chupacabra myth be cool right now?), events in the real world have conspired to once again force me to address this lighthearted, jovial topic.

You see, recently, the Supreme Court ruled that certain Constitutional rights don’t cease to exist just because the accused person is a noncitizen.

The cases didn’t even involve illegal immigrants. The Latino at the center of the first decision, Jose Padilla, has lived legally in the United States for forty years.

By the way, this isn’t the same Jose Padilla who is currently locked up for supporting Al-Qaeda. But maybe there’s something sinister about the name, because this Padilla was convicted of running drugs.

His lawyer failed to tell him that he would be kicked out of the country if Padilla pled guilty, and sure enough, deportation proceedings began against him. But the Supreme Court said that Padilla’s Sixth Amendment rights, which call for adequate legal representation, had been denied. The vote was 7-2, with that lovable duo of Scalia and Thomas dissenting.

In the other case, the Court was unanimous (a rarity these days) in overturning the deportation of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a legal resident. The guy was busted for holding a miniscule amount of pot and then, a year later, was caught with “one tablet of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax without a prescription.” The Court said maybe this was not the aggravated felony that is required to kick out a legal resident.

The cases are basically reaffirmations that Constitutional rights are not reserved solely for citizens. This might not seem like it has to be emphasized every now and then, but another news event showed that some Americans don’t believe that immigrants deserve basic human rights, let alone Constitutional ones.

On Long Island, a man named Jeffrey Conroy was recently convicted of manslaughter for stabbing an Ecuadoran immigrant to death. According to prosecutors, Conroy was part of a gang that “targeted Latinos for assaults – part of a sport they called ‘beaner-hopping.’ ”

The fact that Conroy wasn’t convicted of murder is intriguing, as one must wonder if the lesser charge of manslaughter would have even been an option if he had stabbed, say, a white woman to death. But of course, Conroy and his thugs had no interest in attacking their fellow whites.

He was part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a pattern of ethnic intolerance going back ten years” on Long Island. The Center adds that Latinos there live “in an environment of intolerance and violence directed at them. The atmosphere of intolerance was stoked in part by anti-immigrant groups and some county leaders, along with an indifferent police department.”

These events show that it will be some time before certain Americans agree that Hispanics have a right to live among them. And it will be even longer before a few others agree that Hispanics have a right to live at all.


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