The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, speaking to around 1,500 people in New Jersey today, opined that yesterday's Supreme Court decision (PDF link) affirming the right of detainees in Guantanamo Bay to habeas corpus relief in the U.S. courts was one of the worst ever handed down:
The United States Supreme Court rendered a decision yesterday that I think is one of the worst decisions in history.
O rly? Worse even than, say, any of these greatest hits?
- Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, wrote that black people were "...beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
- Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in which the Court, virtually unanimously (save for the brave dissent of Justice Harlan) upheld the constitutionality of segregation, giving us the infamous "separate but equal" doctrine that prevailed until the civil rights era of the 1960s.
- Buck v. Bell (1927), in which Oliver Wendell Holmes (of all people!) wrote for a virtually unanimous Court that compulsory sterilization of the mentally handicapped was constitutional, closing his argument with the infamous and iniquitous phrase, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
- Korematsu v. United States (1944), which upheld the internment of American citizens and lawful permanent residents of Japanese descent without ever proving they had committed any crime.
- Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), in which an (arguably senile) Justice Byron White and a 5-4 majority upheld the right of the government to criminalize consenting sexual behavior in private between persons of the same gender.
- Bush v. Gore (2000), the infamous 7-2 per curiam decision that handed the presidential election to the Boy Who Won't Be King Much Longer, and began the eight-year nightmare which has been the Hedgemony. The justices were so embarrassed by their decision in that case that they refused to sign their names to it.
To thunderous applause, McCain went on:
We made it very clear that these are enemy combatants. These are people who are not citizens, they do not, and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have.
Well, guess what, Senator? One of the beauties of our Constitution (which I would strongly urge you to read all the way through one of these days, instead of stopping after the Second Amendment) is that it doesn't limit rights--except for sovereign franchise--to citizens. That's right, it doesn't matter if you're a citizen of this country or not. As long as you're in our territory, our legal protections and our system of jurisprudence works for you. As it should. As it always has since the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, with a few notable exceptions parsed above.
What does it say that the man the Republicans are likely to nominate to be the next president of the United States fails to grasp such a basic, fundamentally important point of constitutional law? For that matter, what does it say that there apparently was not anyone, in a crowd of more than a thousand, who either knew enough or had enough intestinal fortitude to stand up and ask that very question of the man s/he plans to support for the presidency?
This isn't an abstruse point of obiter dicta, something that only a constitutional scholar would know. This is a plain-text reading of the Constitution. In order to graduate high school in Illinois, I had to pass a test that (allegedly) demonstrated I knew enough about the Constitution and our system of government that I could be considered sufficiently well-informed to exercise my civic duties and privileges. Had I not gone to a private school for my bachelor's degree, I would have been required to pass a similar test (or course) in college. Moreover, I'm fairly certain that Illinois is not the only state in the Union to have such a requirement on its statute-book. So I would dearly love to know how it could be that so few people actually know that the Constitution protects everybody in America--citizen or alien, documented or undocumented--and no questions asked. I should also like to know how on earth we could elect (and then re-elect) to the highest office in the land a man who not only did not know that, but who continually maintains that it is not only his right but his duty to abrogate one of the most basic premises in our entire legal system--and then seriously consider as his replacement a man who agrees with him on that point.
I am reminded of some lines of Schiller's that I had occasion to look up earlier today, from his 1799 poem "Das Lied von der Glocke" ("The Song of the Bell"):
Gefährlich ist's, den Leu zu wecken,
Verderblich ist des Tigers Zahn,
Jedoch der schrecklichste der Schrecken,
Das ist der Mensch in seinem Wahn.
'Tis dangerous to wake the lion,
Ruinous the tiger's fang,
But the worst of all the evils,
Is humankind in its folly.