Truth, Justice, and the American Way

(11 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Today is Constitution Day.

Once upon a time, Superman — arguably America’s most famous and popular superhero — fought “a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way”. Back in the 1940s and ’50s, truth and justice were seen as quintessential American values as American as mom, baseball, and apple pie.

But today, the belief that truth and justice is something America values is fading and along with it the United States Supreme Court’s global influence is waning too, reports Adam Liptak of The New York Times.

Since the Second World War, Superman has been fighting for “truth, justice and the American way” and since that end of the war, judges worldwide have been seeking out Supreme Court decisions “for guidance, citing and often following them in hundreds of their own rulings.”

But no more. Fewer foreign courts “seem to pay attention” to the opinions coming from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“One of our great exports used to be constitutional law,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. “We are losing one of the greatest bully pulpits we have ever had.”

Why has this happened? The answer largely comes down to conservatism and George W. Bush.

The United States no longer appears to have much moral legitimacy in cases involving human rights, note legal scholars.

These days, foreign courts in developed democracies often cite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School. In those areas, Dean Koh said, “they tend not to look to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Courts in other “developed democracies” are generally more liberal than the U.S. Supreme court has been under William Rehnquist and John Roberts. Therefore, they are less likely to cite the writings of the Supreme Court justices.

“The diminished reputation of the United States” around the world is another reason why American jurisprudence is ignored. The Bush administration’s policies have made the United States unpopular in other countries. So, “foreign courts are less apt to justify their decisions with citations to cases from a nation unpopular with their domestic audience.”

“It’s not surprising, given our foreign policy in the last decade or so, that American influence should be declining,” said Thomas Ginsburg, who teaches comparative and international law at the University of Chicago.

The U.S. legal system has influenced many countries in the world from our written Constitution to our Bill of Rights. But when the power-hungry executive branch ignores the Constitution, the complacent Congress erodes our civil liberties, and the conservative Supreme Court makes a mockery of rights, other democracies are saying ‘no thanks’ and turn, instead, to the opinions of liberal courts. “Sending American ideas about the rule of law abroad has long been a source of pride”, Liptak notes.

Another reason why foreign courts are ignoring U.S. Supreme Court opinion, is because some Supreme Court justices are ‘adamantly opposed’ to citing foreign law in their own legal writing. So, in turn, foreign judges are not citing the decisions from the American court.

Many judges and legal scholars “consideration of foreign legal precedents in American judicial decisions is illegitimate, and that there can be no transnational dialogue about the meaning of the United States Constitution.” They may be right, however, even conservative legal scholars admit “American judges have long cited decisions by foreign courts in their rulings”.

Eric Posner, a University of Chicago law professor, says suspicion of foreign law is “American exceptionalism”. Really, I think if the United States had kept pace with the other democracy in the world, then foreign legal opinion would not be viewed so suspiciously. Instead, for nearly the past three decades the United States has been mired in the muck of conservative thinking. But according to Charles Fried, a law professor at Harvard, who served as solicitor general in the Reagan administration —

The trend abroad, moreover, is toward decisions of a distinctly liberal sort in areas like the death penalty and gay rights. “What we have had in the last 20 or 30 years,” Professor Fried said, “is an enormous coup d’├ętat on the part of judiciaries everywhere – the European Court of Human Rights, Canada, South Africa, Israel.” In terms of judicial activism, he said, “they’ve lapped us.”

Stephen Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern and a founder of the conservative legal group, the Federalist Society, believes the Supreme Court should be suspicious of citing foreign law in constitutional cases because the U.S. is exceptional.

“Like it or not… Americans really are a special people with a special ideology that sets us apart from all the other peoples.”

When it comes to respecting human rights, and cases “concerning equality, liberty and prohibitions against cruel treatment”, there is indeed a “special ideology that sets us apart” from the rest of the world — conservatism. But, when Americans deserve the same human rights that other granted to people living in other democracies. There is nothing special about being an American that makes us less deserving of the rights the American conservatives wish to keep from us.

Back in 2006 at the time Superman Returns came out in movie theatres, Erik Lundegaard wrote an op-ed for the NY Times, Truth, Justice and (Fill in the Blank). He observed that when Superman first appeared in the early 1940s, he fought “a never-ending battle for truth and justice”. “Back then, that was enough”, he noted.

But during the Second World War, in the fall of 1942, “fans of the radio show became the first to hear about Superman’s battle for ‘truth, justice and the American way.'”. But, “It wasn’t until Superman came to television in the 1950’s that the phrase became codified in the form most of us remember it: ‘a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.'”

But by the time Superman Returns was released, six years into the Bush presidency, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet asked, “Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?”

All that stuff. Maybe it was changed to make Superman more marketable to audiences outside the United States? I wonder. However, the verdict coming from courtrooms around the world is this — truth and justice is no longer viewed as the American way.

I found Liptak’s article in the NY Times fascinating and worth taking the time to read. My select quoting does not do the article – ahem – justice. He highlights an aspect of America’s loss of influence in the world, one that I had not previously considered.

In the end, it is yet another loss of prestige for the United States of America that has come at the hands of conservatives and the presidency of George W. Bush.

We must bring back truth and justice to the American way.

On November 4th, Americans can make a choice. They can choose to keep ignoring truth and justice by keeping John McCain, a lair, and his Republican Party that mocks the Consitution in power —

[Sarah] Palin drew raucous cheers when she delivered this put-down of Obama: “Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

Or, we can for vote for Barack Obama, an honest man who believes truth and justice is a vital part of the American way —

Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus corpus.

Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.'”

The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don’t always have the right person.” …

“The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It’s because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re protecting,” Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. “Don’t mock the Constitution. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t suggest that it’s not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It’s worked pretty well for over 200 years.”

Maybe this photo isn’t so far fetched after all?

Truth and Justice is the American Way. Vote Obama.


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  1. Magnifico

    than my usual writing.

  2. Shaharazade

    who’s to say where the overlaps start and end. Politics are so divorced from reality even in the reality based community it’s a hard line to define but sometimes a necessary one. I yo yo around between the two realities, politics and whats really happening. I to say vote Obama at least we will have a line to draw. The alternative is so dismal I cannot fathom what it will bring. New Zealand?  

  3. Nightprowlkitty

    … would ask both McCain and Palin questions about the Constitution.  I wonder if either of them ever read it.

  4. cumberland sibyl
  5. dharmasyd

    so many of most of our politicians don’t give a hoot about the Constitution (ie: Feinstein, Pelosi, and of course most rethugs).

    What a travesty!    

  6. Youffraita

    being blatantly political.

    We cannot afford to do nuance at this time.  Too many of our fellow citizens cannot even spell it, much less define the term.

    Thanks, Magnifico.  Great essay.

  7. Meteor Blades

    …too? Because it ought to be read there as well.

  8. JayV
  9. Youffraita

    No, they didn’t, and you know it as well as I do, NPK.

    The Constitution should be required reading for all pols–they should have to take a test on it! and if they get less than 85%, they should be ineligible for public office!–yeah, ok, like that’s gonna happen–but it should.

  10. Magnifico

    My essay is now cross-posted on Daily Kos.

  11. Magnifico

    The more anxious I get about this election and our economy, the more I need to write to channel the stress. Lately, as you might guess by my productivity, I’ve been pretty damned stressed out.

  12. cumberland sibyl
  13. Magnifico

    “Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you can succeed.” – Nancy Pelosi

    “And if they were poor, and they were sleeping on my sidewalk, they’d be arrested for loitering, but because they have ‘impeach Bush’ across their chest, it’s the First Amendment.” – Nancy Pelosi

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