June 2006 Home   Newsletters

August 2006

Winter 2006

President's Message: Convention Highlights
League Receives ABA Award
Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (HCALG) (Grace Furukawa)
National Convention (Marianna Scheffer)
League Attends Special Drug Policy Forum Event (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Whither Goes Our Republic? (Jean Aoki)
Sad News (Carol Whitesell)
Explanation Worth Considering (Valere McFarland)
Voter Owned Elections (Kory Payne)
On Voting and Not Voting (Carol Bain)
Other Voting Facts
BOE Election (Mary Anne Raywid)
Report of Convention 2006 Action (Sue Irvine)
Growing Movement for National Election of President (Jean Aoki)
Chapter Report - Kauai (Carol Bain)
Chapter Report - Honolulu (Piilani Kaopuiki)
Chapter Report - Hawaii (Marianna Scheffer)

Whither Goes Our Republic?

From the extreme partisanship in the public debates by citizens, in the halls of Congress and at the executive level; campaign funding excesses where money determines contests; increasing lack of transparency and accountability on the part of government and its agencies; to the widening of the gap in incomes between the middle class and the top 10%, and alas, the withdrawal from the polling booths by too many of our citizens, there are signs that point to the deteriorating condition of the health of our democracy.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing of trends is the increasing assault on the judicial branch of our government by both special interest groups and the executive and legislative branches of our government that threatens to undo the balance required among the three branches of government for our democracy to endure. As created by our founders, the judicial branch was meant to be independent, free of political influence, and accountable only to the constitution and the laws of the land.

In the year 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recounting of the ballots in Florida thus helping to decide the presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. This, in itself, aroused great controversy and angered half of the nation. There were editorials and commentaries by scholars and members of the legal community and others on the appropriateness of the U.S. Supreme Court interfering in what many felt should be the jurisdiction of states.

But divided as the country was at that time, and with emotions at a peak among partisans on both sides, there were no riots in the streets, no marches to the Supreme Court doors, no mass burning of flags, no mass national demand for a recount. We still respected the rule of law and the role of the Supreme Court of the nation as the final arbiter.

The Rule of Law

At the American Bar Association convention in Honolulu in August, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stressed the importance of making clear to the rest of the world the meaning of the phrase "rule of law" in order to spread the cause of freedom to other countries. He said that the rule of law has three parts: it must be binding on all government officials; it must respect the dignity, equality and human rights of every person; and it must guarantee people the right to enforce the law without fear of retaliation.

It would seem that the meaning of the phrase "rule of law" needs to be made clear to all of our own citizens and to our government leaders if it is to resonate through the rest of the world. It seems that since the year 2000, the assaults on the judiciary have escalated although they did not begin then – assaults based on misunderstanding of the role of our courts. This is not to deny that some of the criticisms are based on substance.

Assaults on Our Court

Angered over court rulings on different issues, and encouraged by special interest groups, Congress has sought to pass laws that would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over issues like flag burning, the words "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance, same-sex marriage, and the like. There has been a proposal to appoint an inspector general to monitor the federal courts and even one to give Congress the authority to veto any Supreme Court ruling.

Most frightening are some of the ballot initiatives being considered in various states. Examples are an attempt by citizens of Montana who already elect their judges to allow for recall elections to "oust" judges over specific decisions. In Colorado there is a push for retroactive term limits, and in South Dakota an attempt to amend the constitution to allow for a special grand jury which would sue judges and others for their decisions. In an attempt to control the courts, mandatory sentencing laws and "three strikes" laws have been enacted, removing the court's discretion in sentencing based on the facts and circumstances of the case, the prisoner's prior record, and other pertinent data.

Citizens Need to Be Involved

Some of you may have read the commentary by Michael S. Greco, president of the American Bar Association. Two paragraphs from the article which appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser depict what every citizen must remember.

"The patriots who created our government divided it into three parts that have held together like a delicately balanced watch: a president to defend us, a Congress to represent us, and a court system to ensure justice and interpret the law.

"But the greatest function of these three branches is to hold one another in check, to make sure no one branch, and no man, is above the laws of the land."

In setting our national League program for the 2006-2008 biennium, one of the resolutions that was passed at our convention states in part, " Elevate the restoration of our System of Checks and Balances and Separation of Powers to a top priority by specifically adding it to our Democracy Agenda for advocacy and education."

That is exactly where restoring and protecting the balance of power between the three branches of government belongs – in our Democracy Agenda – not only because this agenda commands League's highest priority, but because keeping the proper balance between our co-equal branches of government is crucial to the preservation of our republic.

Jean Aoki
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