Regaining public trust

Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 7/7/23

In this From the Mound, the writer discusses the loss of trust in the Supreme Court

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Regaining public trust


“You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”
“Imagine” — John Lennon

A bit of history that will be hard to believe: Lennon’s “Imagine” finished recording sessions on July 4, 1971.

So, while it is completely appropriate to cite the song this week due to its date tie to Independence Day after celebrating the holiday on Tuesday, as well as fitting my theme to a “T,” it is incredibly difficult to believe that the song was released more than 50 years ago!

“Imagine” is one of the most covered songs in modern music, with more than 200 artists releasing recordings and even more having performed the song as a cover during a live performance. My children know the song best from a cover done by Pentatonix, where the group members lay down white poster boards with their identifying characteristics (Black, Latin, White, Jewish, Christian, Married, Bisexual, Straight, etc.) on a center table before holding up signs at the end that simply spell out, “Human.”

Lennon’s masterpiece is beautiful in its simplicity, asking what it’d be like to have no boundaries, no greed, no hunger, and all people sharing the world equitably.

The big thing that would need to happen to even begin to approach Lennon’s vision is a hard word for many to accept ... change.

However, we experience change around us all the time. My grandfather is in his 90s. In his youth, it was not typical for a home to have indoor plumbing, let alone enjoying multiple bathrooms in a single home.

My parents are in their 60s. When they were young, a computer occupied an entire floor of a military or collegiate facility. No one had one in their homes, let alone had one - with many millions times the computing power that those multi-room monstrosities had in their youth - that was portable and could be carried from place to place to facilitate a more global economy for all industries.

I am in my 40s. In my lifetime, the phone has gone from something that not every household even had - and it was a landline version - to something that can be held in one’s pocket with an onboard computing ability greater than even the best home computers that existed when I was in college.

Our phones can connect to our vehicles to allow for safe driving while speaking; can send and receive information in multiple different formats - voice, video, text, data, and more; and have allowed for monstrous leaps forward in access to emergency services for the worldwide population.

All of those advancements took change. Change that was often awkward and inconsistent in its pace of advancement, but always change was required for advancements that aided society.

One major change has become evident in our society over the last decade-plus - our court system within this country has become infected with political and financial influence, and it’s become extremely evident at the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court.

The Court has been changed multiple times in its existence, yet the idea that it is in need of an overhaul is off-putting to people on both sides of the aisle, but we’re going to attempt to do a two-step discussion on why and how this is needed.

This week, we’re going to explore some of the “why” with a look next week at some “how” options moving forward.

Quickly, before anyone gets too extreme and believes that this is going to be a piece advocating for the removal of the Supreme Court, that’s not at all the case.

The Supreme Court is a vital piece of the checks and balances that were designed into the country by its founding members. The judicial branch as a check on the actions of the executive and legislative branches is a vital piece of a functioning republic.

However, the Court has undergone changes throughout history. The first court, nominated by George Washington in 1789, had six justices.

That early court did a tremendous job of finding its way, and it established some significant ground rules that the highest court in the land has adhered to ever since.

One particular precedent has been judicial independence, which came out of the impeachment and eventual acquittal of Justice Samuel Chase in 1804. Judicial independence established that the Supreme Court and the judicial body as a whole should act without influence by outside sources and especially not other branches of the government.

And it is judicial independence that has seemingly taken a significant hit over the last 15-20 years.

The big case that initially brought into question the influence of outside forces and other branches upon the court was the Citizens United decision. This decision essentially allowed corporations to act as individuals as far as supporting political candidates and causes.

The implications of this ruling are now being felt throughout the country. In a town of 8,000 in Delaware in 2022, one business owner - who doesn’t even reside in the town - voted 31 times in a municipal election.

How was this possible?

The man in question owned many different residential properties within the community as well as a few retail stores. Each one was registered independently, and in that city’s laws, a corporation is allowed to cast a ballot as well as the primary owner, whether or not he or she resides within the municipality, therefore, he legally cast 31 votes for a local election, despite not living in the city.

The state of Delaware is considering making corporate voting a statewide thing in this year’s legislature.

For anyone who believes that this is purely an issue of the right or Republican party, understand that Delaware has 62 legislative seats between its Senate and House, with 41 of those seats occupied by a Democrat - and the primary sponsor of this bill is a Democratic party member.

The extreme influence of politics on the courts has been overwhelming for decades, but the corporate influence has been brought to light more recently with revelations about Supreme Court justices accepting trips and gifts from wealthy business owners, many of whom have interest in or are directly involved in a case that is about to come before the Court.

In recent Gallop and Politico polling, the Supreme Court had a 54% disapproval ranking - and that was consistent among all party affiliations. Larger variances were found in varying demographics, but political affiliation had only a 3% variance.

For reference, at the end of their terms, Gallop has polled approval and disapproval ratings of every U.S. President since 1950. A 54% disapproval mark would rank just behind Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman and would only trail three other Presidents in disapproval rating upon exit from office.

In other words, the public has lost faith in the court due to the political influence on its decisions and the corporate influence on decisions - none of which give the average voter a voice.

So how does the common voter get his or her voice back?

Change is required, but change is constant in our world. Imagine how much better the Supreme Court could represent the country with a few minor tweaks.

Just imagine - and come back next week for one possible solution.