Wednesday, July 19, 2006

U.S. House votes to place limits on judiciary

Yahoo headlined this story "House votes to keep 'under God' in pledge," but that's not accurate. The House passed a bill (H.R. 2389, the "Pledge Protection Act of 2005," on a vote of 260-167) which prohibits the courts from hearing challenges to the presence of "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, which strikes me as an unconstitutional action by the Congress. (Congress does have the power in Article I, Section 8 "To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court" and "To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof," which gives them at least some powers of regulation (to the extent that it is "necessary and proper") over the courts. But circumscribing the topics which the Supreme Court can address would seem to me to be something only the Constitution can do. Any constitutional scholars care to comment?

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is quoted in the story saying, "We're creating a fence. The fence goes around the federal judiciary. We're doing that because we don't trust them."

Yet it's Congress, more than the courts, that can't be trusted to be remotely responsible, rational, respectful of the Constitution, or of the people. We'd be much better off putting a fence around the Congress, such as by ending the First Amendment after the fifth word.

"Under God" was added to the pledge of allegiance by act of Congress in 1954 for explicitly religious reasons (to distinguish the U.S. from the godless communists in the Soviet Union), and the U.S. Supreme Court avoided making a ruling on the issue in Michael Newdow's case by throwing the case out on a technicality--the issue of standing, since he didn't have custody of his daughter. He's currently pursuing the case through the courts again with other plaintiffs.

All but one of Arizona's Republican Representatives signed on as sponsors of the House bill: Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, J.D. Hayworth, Rick Renzi, John Shadegg. The one Republican exception was Jim Kolbe (R); the two Arizona Democrats, Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor, did not. I suspect their voting went along these same lines.

The Senate version of this bill is S. 1046, introduced by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl. While the House bill attracted 197 sponsors, the Senate bill has only attracted 16 and Senator John McCain is not among them. The Senate bill is stalled out in the Judiciary Committee.

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