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Legal Interpretation by Popular Culture

June 20th, 2007

This from a legal conference in Ottawa:

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent’s rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.

Scalia drawing legal frameworks based on popular culture are nothing new. Ignoring the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he cites Fox Entertainment and the completely unsupported idea that torture elicits useful information to essentially circumvent the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, not to mention a slew of international laws and treaties.

And this is not the first time Scalia has done this. He was one vote short of voiding the separation of church and state, and based his legal argument (PDF) of the basis of religious incursions in popular culture:

Presidents continue to conclude the Presidential oath with the words “so help me God.” Our legislatures, state and national, continue to open their sessions with prayer led by official chaplains. The sessions of this Court continue to open with the prayer “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Invocation of the Almighty by our public figures, at all levels of government, remains commonplace. Our coinage bears the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.” And our Pledge of Allegiance contains the acknowledgment that we are a Nation “under God.” As one of our Supreme Court opinions rightly observed, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” …

With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that “ ‘the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between . . . religion and nonreligion,’” … and that “[m]anifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally,” … is unconstitutional?

In other words, because minor violations of the First Amendment have gone unchecked in the past, we should simply chuck the whole idea. Which is kind of like saying that since a shopkeeper didn’t have a shoplifter arrested when they stole penny candy a few times, he has no right to call the police when the same person robs the store of thousands of dollars. Religious advocates get all hot and bothered when people challenge “small” and “insignificant” religious incursions, saying that things like mentioning God in the Pledge simply isn’t worth getting upset about. But when the Supreme Court is on the verge of removing our most vital protection against theocracy based upon that “small” and “insignificant” incursion, it takes on a whole new light.

Of course, the overriding problem is that we have an ultra-right-wing nutjob on the Supreme Court, someone who should never have been allowed near the institution. Thomas is little different, he’s simply been more quiet about it.

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  1. Tim Kane
    June 20th, 2007 at 13:09 | #1

    I call it the ‘rascalian pretext’.

    From the saying: “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrals”, you might say the same of religion.

    Scoundral, Rascal, the same thing. The pretext is the thing.

    Using one lofty principal or concept as a pretext to trump and therefore destroy all other competing virtues.

    Take a look at the pedigree:

    “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles, you want to make that illegal” – Scalia

    “We take an oath to God, you want to make God illegal”? – Scalia (never mind that the Christian God said no to mixing religion and civics)

    “Murder of the Unborn trumps the sovereignty of the inviduals right and free will” – Catholic Church

    “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” – Barry Goldwater – 1964

    “As for myself, I would never tell a lie, but for the sake of Germany I would tell 10,000 lies” – Adolph Hitler (per ‘Hitler’s War’ by Hitler Appologist, David Irving).

    It’s a combination of intellectually lazy people, huckster opportunists and authoritarians desire to end the Democracy, individuals rights and the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty one has over ones personal self.

    That’s the rascalian pretext. And Scalia wants to shove it down our throats.

  2. Manok
    June 22nd, 2007 at 02:46 | #2

    Well, it’s Hollywood! In reality he probably would have cut off the ears of quite some guys before any of them had anything to tell. How many lives have actually been saved by the Abu Grahb or Gitmo interrogations?

    Or what about shooting some Brazilian plumber in the head because he was foreign and had a back pack? It did not save the day…

    In Hollywood they can rough up 1 guy and save the world, in reality 100’s of people are being tortured, and even if a plot were to be prevented, it would save 3000-4000 people, not hundreds of thousands.

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