July 4th is the day that we remember our 1776 Declaration of Independence from the British. Many Americans have paid the supreme price to ensure the continuity of that independence. But the struggle is not over, and it never will be over. In a free society, every day is independence day.
The US Constitution and the separation of governmental powers appear—on paper—to be the perfect solution. In practice, it is not sufficient. No system is people proof. Although many people have sacrificed their lives to protect our system of government, others work, intentionally or not, to subvert that system. An invasion by a foreign power is physical and visible; internal tyranny creeps hardly noticed until it is too late.
The United States Supreme Court held that telling a lie is a 1st Amendment Constitutional right. Therein lies a fault. Democracy requires trust. The problems caused by false and misleading statements have long been recognized, an admonition against that behavior even appearing in the biblical Ten Commandments. This Supreme Court decision along with another 1st Amendment decision that opened the flood gates for political spending, including secret funding, is surely eroding our trust in our political systems. The Court decision approving lying did have some limitation, but declaring lying to be “freedom of speech,” was flawed. A government that can lie, spy, and operate secretly is not a government we can trust.
Dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court occurred earlier in our history. To influence Court opinion, the US Congress changed the number of seats on the Supreme Court seven times. The number of seats was changed from the original six to five; then from five back to six; then from six to seven; from seven to nine; from nine to ten; from ten to seven; and, finally, from seven to the current nine. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. During the Great Depression when the Congress was writing new laws to alleviate the Depression problems, the Court frequently found those laws unconstitutional. A law was proposed that would have established a mandatory retirement age for Justices. It didn’t become law, but the threat changed the behavior of the Supreme Court.
Government officials lied to Americans to justify a disastrous war, lied about a massive unlawful domestic spying program, and they now shroud themselves in secrecy. Nothing better defines tyranny than pervasive government secrecy.
Perhaps it is time to encourage the Supreme Court to review its decisions more carefully. The preferred modern method is a constitutional amendment. Even the threat of a constitutional amendment might cause the Court to remember the price of freedom.
Our children and grandchildren deserve to inherit a government in good working condition.
Jack Stevenson served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently, he is retired and reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary.