Take Down! The Supremes Battle The Justice Department

US Supreme Court (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Did you see this?

No, not the photo above of the facade of the US Supreme Court, as impressive as it is. But the event that took place in late April during oral argument before the Supreme Court.

In today’s heated political climate that’s some time ago.

But I am still struck by what happened during oral argument in the case of Maslenjak vs US, a case testing the limits to which the federal government can go in denying citizenship to those who make any falsehood, intentional or not, minor and mundane or significant, in filling out an application form that asks whether the applicant has ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.

Not many made much of what happened during argument. But I found it quite stunning.

Here is the New York Times report of the exchange that took place.

“Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. tried to test the limits of the government’s position…by confessing to a criminal offense.

‘Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone,’ the chief justice said, adding that he had not been caught.

The form that people seeking American citizenship must complete, he added, asks whether the applicant has ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.

‘If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all?’ Chief Justice Roberts asked.

Robert A. Parker, a Justice Department lawyer, said the offense had to be disclosed.

Chief Justice Roberts seemed shocked. ‘Oh, come on,’ he said.”

This, it should be noted, is Justice Roberts objecting.

Justice John Roberts Jr. is the chief justice of our Supreme Court, the highest court in our nation. He has served for some twelve years, having been appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005.

He is, by all accounts, a conservative on the bench.

As are other justices–Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer (considered centrist by some)–who objected to the government’s hardline stance that any “lie”, no matter how trivial or immaterial, could result in revocation of citizenship. Liberal justices, such as Justices Elena Kagen, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, were also clearly appalled.

Readers, these are conservative judges, justices who are reported to be members of, or aligned with, the Republican Party, justices who rate “low” on the scales of judicial liberalism.

But they are now conservative justices recently reported to be “shocked, surprised, horrified, and alarmed” by a position taken by the Justice Department.

This is the mind-set of the government that we are dealing with: rigid, punitive, self-serving, authoritarian.

That our judiciary is playing a key role in protecting our rights during this time is something I am grateful for, but, frankly, quite amazed by. I never thought I’d live to see the day when our storied separation of powers would be so absolutely needed!

I don’t often discuss politics here, on a blog created with the intent of writing about writers and writing. But this development–conservative Supremes ‘taking on’ authoritarian elements in the Justice Department–strikes me as so ominous that I feel I have to.

There is so much bad news that it is tempting to crawl back into bed each morning, pull the covers over one’s head, and refuse to come out.

But this, of course, we cannot afford to do. The mind boggles at the myriad ways by which the Trump administration is attempting to dismantle everything and anything in our country subject to federal control that is progressive, fair, right-minded, and compassionate.

How can one not speak out on what is happening? Countless people are marching, letter writing, attending meetings, signing petitions, and more.

But, I have been struck recently by how many I know who are not acting.

I’ve wondered, are these folks closet Trumpers and I didn’t know it? That doesn’t seem likely.

Or, are they just a type of person who does not easily or readily take action, particularly action that is political? Or do they feel that their efforts are not needed or wanted?

While I know that not everyone wants to, or can, march or attend meetings, I believe that each one of us should be doing something, no matter how small–who is to say what has the most impact?–that registers dissent.

We simply cannot afford anymore to act as if our individual actions do not have impact, do not make a difference, are not needed.

They are needed. Now more than ever.

Don’t be deterred from taking action by thinking that one must make big dramatic gestures to have impact.

Not so. Every petition signed, postcard sent, letter to the editor penned, or two-minute call placed to a representative makes a difference.

Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed with the endless action one might take, or to shrug one’s shoulders saying, well, I don’t even know where to begin. There are individuals, groups, organizations, political sites and publications galore ready to make suggestions. Many are new, many are old and established, but all are active and working to channel action, activity, and dissent.

The main thing is do something, anything.

To not retreat. To not pretend it’s going to get better (it’s premature to conclude that now, despite our recent encouraging news). To not sit back and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

To take what is happening seriously, and to take your role in fighting it seriously. To recognize that every action, no matter how small, combines with countless other actions, gathering energy, momentum, and impact along the way.

I’ve concluded that, as with just about everything in life, there is no one way to approach political activism.

The only wrong way, I feel, is to do nothing.