Editorial: Supreme Disappointment 3/29/02

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David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 3/29/02

The Supreme Court ruling this week permitting the federal government to evict all residents of a public housing unit if any resident of the unit uses drugs anywhere, with or without the knowledge of the other tenants, is disappointing but not surprising to those familiar with the Court's short- and long-term history. Just last week, for example, a good number of Justices expressed views seeming to indicate that they lean toward allowing public school systems to drug test all students, with or without probable cause.

These are not the first times the Supreme Court has supremely failed to uphold the Constitution. In the infamous Dred Scott decision, for example, a previous generation on the Court upheld slavery, the only ruling on slavery the Court has ever issued. A subsequent constitutional amendment, of course, abolished slavery in the United States. The Court, hence, never again ruled on the issue, never pronounced slavery, and state sponsorship of slavery through laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, to be the abomination and violation of fundamental human rights that they were.

It might be rhetorically interesting to ask the current Justices if, in their opinions, their Court of a previous generation was legally mistaken and morally corrupted when Dred Scott was handed down. That is, did the Constitution in fact require slavery to be banned, even before the abolitionist amendment got enacted? Did all three branches of the US government -- executive, legislative, and courts -- engage in massive, violent lawlessness directed at a large segment of the population under the control of another segment?

If they say yes, Dred Scott was legally and morally wrong, then the next logical question is whether the Court can be legally and morally wrong again. If they answer no, if they say that Dred Scott was legally correct even if slavery was morally wrong, that the Court shouldn't have intervened to abolish slavery, that could also shed some light on the Court's current modus operandi.

I'm not equating evictions from public housing nor even the drug war as a whole with slavery. But if the Court is in essence a political institution -- which few serious legal scholars doubt is the case, and which Dred Scott illustrated with brutal clarity -- then the possibility of Constitutional violations by those who safeguard the Constitution cannot be ignored. The possibility that massive government repression, that brutal violations of human rights, that unjust treatment by powerful bureaucrats, may go unchecked by judges who should know better, must be acknowledged. Understanding this, some may regard the Supreme Court as a mere instrument of power, for good or for evil, necessary for practical reasons to obey but not meriting any special respect or moral stature beyond that.

The federal bureaucrats responsible for evicting poor grandmothers and disabled people from their housing because of drug use over which they had neither control nor knowledge behaved with barbarism and senseless cruelty. But a majority of Supreme Court justices, just like the bureaucrats, are blinded by drug war extremism and consider it legally acceptable. We must continue to seek justice from the court, but we can never rely on it.

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Issue #230, 3/29/02 Editorial: Supreme Disappointment | John W Perry Scholarship Fund for Students Losing Financial Aid Because of Drug Convictions Holds Initial Fundraiser in NYC | Supreme Court Upholds Zero Tolerance in Public Housing -- Officials Can Evict Families Over a Member's Drug Use | Justice Department Fights to Maintain Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparities | The November Coalition Critiques Sessions-Hatch Sentencing Bill | State Medical Marijuana Update: Maryland, Vermont and Connecticut | DC Federal Court Declares Ban on Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure Unconstitutional, Opens Way for New Initiative Effort | Vancouver Mayor Calls for Marijuana Legalization | Marijuana Politics Hits French Presidential Race -- Jospin Plays It Both Ways | DRCNet Files FOIA Request for Justice Department List of 52 Internet Drug Menace Web Sites | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana | The Reformer's Calendar

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