Pubdate: Thu, 20 Jul 2006
Source: Billings Outpost, The (MT)
Copyright: 2006 The Billings Outpost
Author: David Crisp
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


In a speech in Billings in April, New York Times columnist David
Brooks said that Republicans are on a "suicide watch" and had all but
conceded that they would lose control of the U.S. House this year.

"I think they know they've strayed," he said, "and they're going to
pay for it."

But the consensus among Democrats, he said, was that they couldn't
believe they would win. And there does seem to be a certain fatalism
among Democrats. Even with an unpopular president, an increasingly
unpopular war, rising gasoline prices and an economy that has left
middle-income wages stagnant, a common sentiment among Democrats
appears to be: How will we blow it this time?

So where do Democrats go? Consider three recent votes:

.  Just before Independence Day, the Senate failed by a single vote to
pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration. Only
three Republicans voted against the amendment.

.  On June 28, the House Judiciary Committee killed on a 15-15 vote a
bill that would have stripped federal courts and the U.S. Supreme
Court from considering cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance.
Republicans cast 14 of the 15 votes in favor of the bill. Despite the
defeat in committee, an effort is expected to revive the bill on the
House floor.

.  Also on June 28, the House defeated, 259 to 163, a bill that would
have prohibited the federal government from interfering with state
medical marijuana laws. Republicans cast 206 of the votes that
defeated the bill (to his credit, Montana's lone representative, Denny
Rehberg, voted for it).

All three bills should trouble those who care about freedom. The
flag-desecration amendment would open the door to a host of legal
challenges that might undermine fundamental free speech protections.
Some smart people think I am wrong about this, but I have been on this
planet for 55 years and have covered news for nearly half that time,
and I have never seen a flag burned in anger. If amending the
Constitution to ban something that almost never happens endangers
freedom by even a tiny amount, the amendment should die. Thanks to
Democrats, it did, at least this time.

The Pledge of Allegiance bill is far more dangerous. The bill derives
its authority from Article 3 of the Constitution, which says, "the
Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and
Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress
shall make."

I'm no constitutional scholar, and I don't know exactly what the
founding fathers had in mind when they ratified those words. I'm
pretty sure they did not intend for Congress to use the provision to
override the Bill of Rights, but that's what backers of the bill have
in mind.

Already, measures have been proposed that would strip federal courts
of authority to hear pornography cases, cases involving use of the
slogan "In God we trust," gay marriage cases, cases involving public
prayer and cases involving a government official or agent's
"acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is a cosponsor of that last bill,
which could, on its face, allow state courts, without fear of being
overturned, to strike down laws solely on the grounds that they
violate some judge's interpretation of God's commands.

Even the seemingly innocuous pledge bill is worrisome. U.S. Rep.
Robert C. "Bobby" Scott of Virginia said, "The foundation of our
democracy rests on the checks and balances of power among three
coequal branches, and this bill is a flagrant disregard for that
principle. ... This bill would strip the courts of their ability to
hear cases that are clearly within federal jurisdiction because those
cases address fundamental constitutional rights and individual
liberties guaranteed under the Bill of Rights."

Rep. Scott's party? You guessed it. He's a Democrat.

Rep. Scott noted that judges who decided cases ending school
segregation, bans on interracial marriage and even mandatory
recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools were considered to
be the same "rogue, unelected, lifetime-appointed, activist judges
that many judges are being accused of today."

Had the pledge bill been passed before 1943, it could have made a
criminal of me during most of my school years. Like many
fundamentalists in the South, I was raised to believe that saying
"under God" in a rote ceremony to promote secular ends amounted to
taking the Lord's name in vain and bordered on blasphemy. When saying
the pledge, I always have omitted the words "under God."

My constitutional right to omit those words was established in a 1943
Supreme Court decision. Until then, students could be punished for
failing to recite the pledge on command.

The decision held, "The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to
withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political
controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and
officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by
the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free
speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other
fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the
outcome of no elections."

Republicans who back the pledge bill would revoke those words and
return us to a world where freedom of speech belongs only to the majority.

In certain respects, the medical marijuana bill is the most troubling
of all. By its vote, Congress asserted its authority not only to
prevent patients from deciding with their doctors the best course of
medical treatment, but also to bar states from allowing citizens that
right. The defeat of the bill struck a blow against the rights of both
individuals and the states.

U.S. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin told the Congress, "If I am
terminally ill, it is not anybody's business on this floor how I
handle the pain or the illness or the sickness associated with that
illness. With all due respect to all of you, butt out. I did not enter
this world with the permission of the Justice Department, and I am
certainly not going to depart it by seeking their permission."

He added, "When is this Congress going to recognize that individuals
in their private lives have a right to manage their problems as they
see fit without the permission of the big guy in the White House or
the big guy in the Justice Department or any of the Lilliputians on
this Congressional floor?"

Spoken like a true Republican. But Rep. Obey is, of course, a

In all these cases, Democrats can stand before the American people and
say proudly that, in three politically motivated assaults on freedom,
their party took a brave stand for liberty and the

That doesn't sound like such a bad platform.