Life, Liberty,…

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Above is Section One of the 14th Amendment (source).  Pretty cool stuff.  I think so because it protects the rights of ALL American citizens, and does not make any exclusions based off of any character trait, lifestyle choice, skin color, religion practiced or not practiced.  Nope, not a single exclusion.  As citizens of this country, we all have the same rights.

Which brings me to the decision that new Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring made regarding his state’s ban on gay marriage and the fact that it is a violation of the Constitution (article).  I applaud his decision to fight the ban and bring the Commonwealth into the 21st century and into compliance with the United States Constitution.

As some commenters in the article linked to above have pointed out, marriage is a civil right, and thus not subject to being voted on by any electorate, and also is subject to adherence to the Constitution.  Since we are not a theocracy, arguments pointing to a religious definition of marriage really do not stand up too well; Iran is a theocracy, so they can go ahead and define marriage how they want, but here in America, that is not the case.  Pretty simple if you ask me.

Protectors Of The Constitution?

“Don’t tread on me.”  “You can have my guns over my dead body.”  “I have the right to bear arms.”  These, and so many more arguments are made anytime someone even floats the idea of maybe tightening gun laws.  Such was the case when the recent bipartisan bill to expand background checks went down in flames, even though it in no way would have infringed on anybody’s right to own a firearm.

But this is not about guns or gun laws.  Nope, this is about another amendment that seems to be meaningless to Congressional Republicans.  That one, of course, is the Fifth Amendment.

In case you were not following, and by this point most people are not, House Republicans are still engaged in their witch-hunt regarding the supposed IRS scandal (the one that supposedly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status disproportionately, even though the evidence does not support the claim.  Nor does any evidence point to a directive from the White House to do so.) and the testimony of IRS official Lois Lerner.

When Ms. Lerner gave her testimony before a House committee last month, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions so as not to incriminate herself.  In case you are a little behind on the language of the amendment, here you go:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (emphasis mine) (source)

Now, I don’t know for sure if Ms. Lerner committed a crime or not, but she and her attorneys felt it best that she invoke the Fifth Amendment in her testimony, and that is certainly her right.  South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy does not agree.

“That’s not the way the Fifth Amendment works. You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then avoid the very process that we have in this system for eliciting the truth, which is cross-examination.”  –Trey Gowdy

Unless I am missing something in the wording of the Fifth Amendment above, Mr. Gowdy is wrong.  It seems to me that Ms. Lerner certainly can use the Fifth Amendment exactly the way that she did; I don’t see anything in the text that states that someone cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves unless they have already defended themselves first.  Mr. Gowdy is asserting that Ms. Lerner waived her right to invoke because she chose to defend herself in an opening statement.  How does he fail to understand that someone can invoke their Fifth Amendment right at any time during a proceeding?

Proclaiming that you are a “protector of the Constitution” and the rights it provides is a wonderful thing, but you do not get to pick and choose which amendments apply.  Either they all do, or they all do not.  You cannot defend your Second Amendment right while trying to infringe on someone else’s Fifth Amendment rights.  That is just not how it works.  If Mr. Gowdy wants to try to nail Ms. Lerner for a crime, he will have to do so without her help.  He cannot change the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to suit his needs.

Information for this entry was taken from the article linked here.

What Do You Think?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (emphasis mine)

1st Amendment, United States Constitution

Vanity plates are on cars all over the country.  Drivers want to promote themselves, their cause, or any number of other things, and that is most certainly their right.  More power to them.  But at what point should a state be allowed to step in and not allow a requested message to be on a license plate?  Should states be able to step in and deny a request at all?

The state of Georgia has denied a man’s request to have one of three messages on his license plate:  “4GAYLIB,” “GAYPWR” or “GAYGUY.”  It is clear that he is proud of his sexuality and his lifestyle.  The state views his requests as “vulgar or over the top.”

It’s strange that the state would deny this man’s request, especially since they allowed “G0D4EVR” and “GUNLUV” to be issued.  How are those any less “over the top” than the request that was denied?  And couldn’t someone who does not believe in God find the plate that references God as “vulgar?”

I find it funny that when the issue of guns comes up, people are quick to sound the rally cry that their 2nd Amendment rights are being abridged.  Yet when a state makes a decision that leans more toward being conservative rather than progressive or liberal, the same people who are all about the Constitution are largely silent.  Can you say “hypocritical?” (Note, this post almost became the next in the “Hypocritical Much?” series, but it barely missed the cut.)

You do not have to agree with this man’s lifestyle to be able to acknowledge that his freedom of speech or expression has been abridged.  While there is a segment of the population that may find his choice for a license plate message offensive, it certainly does not qualify as offensive or inciteful expression.  Why should his choice of message be censored?  Because of some ridiculous fear that he might become the target of some intolerant and hate-filled driver?  How is his license plate request any different or make him any more of a target of bigots than having an equality sticker or a rainbow flag sticker on his car?

What do you think about this man’s requested license plate messages?  What do you think about Georgia’s decision to not allow him to have those on his plates?  Was this man’s 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech or expression infringed upon?  What messages should be banned from license plates?  Why?

 

 

You Can’t Pick And Choose

Apparently, some county sheriffs in a few states have come out and said that they will not enforce any gun control laws that are passed.  They cite the 2nd Amendment, saying gun control laws infringe on the right of citizens to bear arms.  They are wrong, and if any new gun control laws are passed and they do enforce them, they will be breaking the law themselves.  The truth of the matter is that, regardless of whether or not they agree with any federal law, they have sworn to uphold the laws of the land, and in not doing so, would be breaking the law.  They cannot pick and choose which laws they will enforce.

It always baffles me how people, like these sheriffs, will yell and scream about the 2nd Amendment without knowing the rest of the Constitution.  There is more, by the way.  Take, for example, Jackson County, Kentucky Sheriff Denny Peyman when he says this about Kentucky:

“Kentucky is a sovereign state.”

Uh, no, it is not.  Unless the state flag and website are wrong, Kentucky is officially a commonwealth.  While there is technically no difference in the distinction of being a state versus a commonwealth, the sheriff would have more credibility in his statement if he referred to Kentucky by its official designation.  Maybe that is splitting hairs, maybe not.  What Kentucky is not is sovereign.  To be sovereign, Kentucky would have to have “supreme power over a body politic and freedom from external control” (source).  By even referencing something from the United States Constitution, the sheriff is acknowledging that Kentucky did not grant the right to bear arms with the autonomy necessary to qualify as a sovereign entity.  Did the people of Kentucky exercise their right to vote in November?  If so, they did so on an election day that is federally mandated.  So much for sovereignty on that one, too.

Whether or not these sheriffs agree with any gun legislation that is passed, they are bound by the laws of this country to enforce the laws.  They cannot pick and choose; that is not how law enforcement works.

Yes, the argument can and will be made that any new gun legislation only targets law-abiding citizens, and I guess that is technically correct.  All laws are designed to protect those who follow them willingly.  Criminals are criminals because they choose to not follow established laws, plain and simple; using that same line of reasoning, not following any new gun laws will thus make these sheriffs criminals.  Interesting.  Laws are designed and enacted for safety, much like the locks on the windows and doors of your house and mine.  Those locks only act as a deterrent for someone who is not likely to break the law in the first place.  If someone wants to break into a house right now, no lock on the door or window will stop them.  Much like laws, criminals have no regard for locks on doors and windows.

Common sense has to win the day with this debate.  Neither side is doing its supporters favors by using scare tactics.  Much like not every gun owner is out to kill people, not every gun law enacted to protect citizens is infringing on anybody’s right to bear arms.  I would love for people to use common sense, but fear is the tactic most often employed.

Much like you and I cannot pick and choose which red lights we will stop for on our commute today, these sheriffs cannot pick and choose which laws they will enforce.

 

Do They Want A Medal?

The “fiscal cliff” has been averted.  For now.  All it took was an unmovable deadline.  Spectacular.  Does Congress want a medal or something?

While they did the bare minimum, Congress did finally pass legislation to avoid the “fiscal cliff” yesterday.  It’s about time.  Up against the fact that the new Congress starts this week, they had to do something, I guess.  Maybe they could have done what they have been doing best:  nothing.

Let’s not pop the cork on the celebratory champagne because a deal was reached.  Let’s be honest about it.  The deal that was reached was nothing more than a band-aid.  Yes, tax rates will go up on incomes over $400,000 ($450,000 for families), but spending was not addressed at all.  Shocker.

Instead of tackling the spending issue, it was kicked to the new Congress to deal with in March.  How nice of them.  Republicans now think they have leverage to shoot for the stars in the next round of negotiations, which will focus on the debt ceiling.  As the party that lays claim to strict interpretation of the Constitution, they omit the 14th Amendment when it comes to the debt ceiling.  In case you are not familiar with the 14th Amendment as it relates to the debt ceiling, keep reading:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.  (Section 4 of the 14th Amendment)

Since the public debt is that which has already be incurred, under the 14th Amendment, we, as a country, are required to pay it.  It is not something that can be messed with or held hostage to get your way.  I don’t know how it is that they cannot understand that fact.  If they were serious about debt reduction, they would address future spending while paying down what has already been spent.  You and I cannot just decide that we are not going to pay our mortgage or credit card debt because it was incurred in the past as a way to address our current and future budgets.  Life does not work that way.

I am not going to hold my breath that the new Congress will be much more productive than the previous one.  If they accomplish even the most modest of tasks, they will be, but that is not likely.  It is likely to be more of the same.

 

It’s All About Context

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

I started my post this past Friday with the wording of the Second Amendment, and I have been thinking more and more about what it says in the days since.  This is not meant to fuel a gun control debate or anything like that, but it intended to act as more of a “take them at their word” kind of thing, since I often hear Second Amendment backers arguing that our right to own guns is in the Constitution.  Clearly, there is something written about gun ownership there, as you can see above, but let’s dive in to the actual words a little deeper.

The first definition on www.dictionary.com for the word “regulate” is:  to control or direct by a rule, principle, or method.  Interesting.  By that definition alone, and when you put “well” in front of it, seems to say that there should be adequate and strong rules and regulations in place.  What about “militia?”  Try this definition on for size:  a body of citizens enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for drill but serving full-time only in emergencies.  So if we took three of the first four words, it seems that there would be strict regulations in place for our citizens enrolled for military service.  Then there is the word “security” in there, which to me would infer that it was written as a provision that guns be owned for security purposes.  Fair enough.  The Second Amendment ends with phrasing that the right “shall not be infringed,” basically meaning that gun ownership, for those enrolled and serving in the military shall be regulated (well I might add), but shall not be taken away.  So the military is cleared for gun ownership.  Excellent.

Even if the Second Amendment was meant to apply to ordinary citizens, and not just the military (remember, the definition for militia above), if we are taking the writers at their exact words, shouldn’t we also take them at their word for what guns were in existence in 1789?  Wouldn’t that be fair, too, since we are saying their intent was for citizens to own guns is granted therein, that it was meant that citizens can own guns like they had in 1789.  Like a long-barrel rifle, or flint-lock pistol.

Revolutionary WarDo you think that gun violence would be reduced if people owned either of the guns pictured?

american-revolution-pistolWhat about mass murders like the one that happened Friday?  Could he have gotten off over 100 rounds with either of these weapons before being stopped?  I doubt it.

I am not saying we should ban ownership of all guns, or even that we go to the extreme of owning weapons from 1789, but I am just asking you to think.  If the most fervent supporter of the Second Amendment wants to sit there and tell us that ownership of as many guns as we want is clearly defined, is it unreasonable to ask them to also realize the period when the document was written?  If you want to say that something is “clear” when it was written in 1789, shouldn’t you also consider the context of the weapons available at the time?  If we acknowledge the clarity of the Second Amendment when it comes to gun ownership, we must also admit that maybe Thomas Jefferson really meant that the right of the people to own long-barrel rifles and flint-lock pistols shall not be infringed.  That is one of the troubles with trying to blindly apply the original intent of a document written in 1789 to the 21st century.

While we are at it, let’s dive a little deeper into the wording.  “Arms.”  What does that mean?  Since guns were not specifically mentioned in the Second Amendment, what is to stop us from believing that our right to own a nuclear weapon shall not be infringed?  What about a tank?  Are those not “arms?”  If not, who are we to differentiate?  If those are not covered, why not?  Am I to believe that Jefferson’s intent was limited only to guns and not all arms?  While these examples are ridiculous in nature, don’t they at least somewhat point to the absurdity of the entire argument?

The gun control/gun rights debate is heating up after the shootings in Connecticut.  I think there is room on both sides to negotiate and find common ground.  Outright banning of guns is both unreasonable and unrealistic, and I have yet to hear a compelling reason as to why anybody needs to own a functional AR-15 in their house.  It is time for our politicians on both sides to come to the table with ideas for real solutions.  They need to stop letting the NRA dictate gun policy in our country.

A Little Random

A little post-election randomness, because sometimes I just cannot help myself.

*Some Republicans have drawn a line in the sand regarding raising taxes on those earning over $250,000, saying that it is not wise to raise taxes on the “job creators” during what has been a drawn-out recovery.  That made me wonder, if the tax rates that are in effect, and have been in effect since the Bush Presidency, then the “job creators” have had about a decade of lower tax rates.  That being said, shouldn’t they be creating more jobs than they have been, thus lowering the unemployment rate?  Or are Republicans hiding behind “job creators” to shield their wealthy backers from having to actually pay a fair amount of taxes.  This is not about socialism or redistribution, this is about those who have more paying a little more.  Why should those in the middle and bottom pay more, as a percentage, than those with the most?  Our country will not see an increase in revenue by cutting spending alone; just like with your household budget and checking account, the balance rises when you spend more wisely and when you make more money.  And how does the government make money?  From tax revenues.

*Not to keep bringing the subject up, but I stumbled on an interesting take on abortion the other day, one that I am still uncertain of my position on, but one that I thought I would share.  (This touchy subject has been the topic of a lot of posts on here recently, and if you check out this earlier entry, there are multiple links available.  Or you can just browse the archives on this site.)  But back to the topic at hand, and that is the elimination of a woman’s right to choose.  There are some who believe that forcing a woman to carry a baby to term amounts to a violation of the 13th Amendment, which, in addition to abolishing slavery, also abolished involuntary servitude, which is a person laboring against their will to benefit another (not laboring in the sense of labor before delivery, labor as in work).  If that is the case, then it can be argued that the 13th Amendment protects a woman’s right to choose, regardless of any court ruling to the contrary (since the only way to undo that provision would be a Constitutional Amendment).  I really do not know what I think about that argument, to be honest with you, so I will commit to research it some more and dedicate a future post to it.

*Forgiveness is a neat character trait of the human race.  I have written a lot about my feelings when someone uses the term “retard” the way that Ann Coulter freely does (search her name in our archives).  I got a text from my mom yesterday morning that said “what’s with Jimbo?” referring to FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher.  At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was interested to find out what she was asking me.  It turns out that Coach Fisher, in a press conference Monday, referred to the BCS ranking system as “retarded,” and I think she was testing me to see if I would speak out about his remark the way I have about Ann Coulter.  I did.  And not that it matters to Coach Fisher, but I have also forgiven him for what he said, in part because he quickly realized his mistake and apologized, and I believe him.  It’s not that I am giving him a free pass, but I also am one to forgive when someone recognizes they have messed up.  Coach Fisher is a good man, a good husband, and a good father, and I know that his remark was made in error and that he is deeply sorry for saying it.  The ability of humans to show compassion is what sets us apart from other species, and to forgive is a measure of that compassion.

*What is more important, the “scandal” with General Petraeus, or the fact that we are still in Afghanistan and losing troops on a regular basis?  I am going to go with Afghanistan.  Unless it is proven that General Petraeus revealed any classified information during his extramarital affair, the issue should remain between him and his wife.  But to see it on TV, it is way more important than our troops still needlessly in Afghanistan.  Our priorities are messed up in this country to where a public official’s affair garners more attention than does a prolonged war.  Yes, some people still put on a sad face when they show the flag-draped coffins being offloaded at Dover Air Force base, but they forget real quick by the next commercial break.  When a service member is killed in action, the pain does not stop with the arrival of the remains or with the conclusion of the funeral.  Family and friends feel that pain every day, yet are forgotten (I am more referring to family here).  I am a firm believer that we should honor all members of the military at all times, and we should always honor those who have fallen defending our country.  When was the last time you thanked a member of the military?  If it was more than a few days ago, you should be ashamed of yourself.