Tuesday, August 02, 2005

27. What is the history of how judges and lawyers got so much power in America?

Understanding how judges and lawyers got so much power, may be a help to victims, in understanding their own struggles within the USA legal system.

Americans often used to say they 'love' their 'great Constitution', but were usually not entirely clear on what part of that document they loved - certainly not the parts that accepted human slavery as a legal reality.

What people probably love, most likely, is not so much the original Constitution that took effect in 1789, but more likely the Bill of Rights of 1791, the first ten 'amendments' or changes to that Constitution, that enshrined as law the basic freedoms that people think they have: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and so on. These first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, indeed contain some wonderful words, which sound as if they may help serve to protect people. Regrettably, USA judges no longer take the Bill of Rights very seriously, and will just twist and turn these words to mean whatever they want.

The original USA Constitution was regarded as defective even by some of the people involved in writing it - the Bill of Rights was the first 'bug fix', almost immediately after it was enacted, and just one sign of the problems that people would have with the Constitution over the nearly quarter-millennium since then.

Although US citizens might be very reverent in talking about the 'Constitution', if you read the original document, it is not very inspiring. It is not very nice about the full human rights of either black slaves, or native Americans, and these issues are still being fought today. But beyond that, the American Constitution basically is a diagram of government organisation, theoretically 'checks and balances' in bureaucratic machinery, that the writers claimed would help preserve freedom.

But this machinery had problems, right from the beginning, and has continued to show more problems with age. The people who wrote the US Constitution were actually afraid of democracy; they worried about the 'mob', the rabble, the general public, whom they thought might be manipulated into electing a tyrant - or perhaps vote for some kind of re-distribution of wealth, taking things away from the generally rich kind of people who were writing the Constitution as USA 'founders'.

Knowing that popular revolutions against government are likely to start in cities, the early US founders quickly developed a plan to set up the capital city in a then-remote region, far away from the USA's biggest and most important city of the time, Philadelphia, and even farther from the also-important New York or Boston.

The key problem in installing a vision of bureaucratic machinery of government, is that, whoever controls the machinery, controls the government itself. The people who wrote the Constitution were afraid of too much democracy, so they included some elements of monarchy and aristocracy in it. They made the President a strong figure, a little like a king or chief of aristocrats, independent of the Congress. And even stronger, they put judges and a Supreme Court in a very high position near the top of the machinery, as if they were a bunch of priests serving the aristocrats and merchants. A lot of the people who helped write the Constitution were rich lawyers, so they thought it was only natural to put lawyers, judges and the legal system near the top of the whole machine.

The danger that some people saw from the beginning, including Thomas Jefferson himself, was that eventually America would become a tyranny of the lawyers and judges, denying democracy to the people. And of course, that is what has happened today in the USA.

The USA 1789 Constitution did, rather weakly, make Congress in theory supreme over the USA Supreme Court Justices, allowing for their impeachment and removal by Congress for lack of 'good behaviour', with impeachment by House and trial by Senate. But in a country making such a cult of 'the law' whose leading figures were often lawyers, this proved to be a very weak, under-used provision, given that the Congress needed to be fairly united and not divided about removing such judges.

One of the delegates to the original Constitutional convention, Robert Yates, denounced the document and wouldn't sign it. You can find his writings from 1788, in the Anti-Federalist papers (quoted in various places on the web). Yates predicted that the American Constitution and its granting of ultimate power to un-elected judges, "created a dangerously unaccountable branch that would usurp power and ultimately grant itself more power" than the people's elected representatives in the legislatures. Yates turned out to be absolutely right, but it would be a while before the disaster became fully visible. In the final years of his life, Thomas Jefferson as well came to have the same view.

The great advantage of the USA in its early period, is that it was more like modern Europe. Between 1789 and 1863, the United States was only partly a single nation, because individual states were almost independent countries, each with their own culture and laws. People were loyal to their own states, more than to the USA as a whole. The power and influence and identity of the states, prevented the USA from becoming too much of a centralised power. The federal government was restrained, because the individual states had a great deal of power and identity, and the ability to secede was always there as a background possibility, even if the Constitution had made the mistake of not giving states that right explicitly, as exists in the treaties of the European Union which enabled Brexit to occur..

The USA civil war of 1861-1865 is now thought of a war to free the slaves, but what was really driving the war, was a big economic push to make America a centralised and expanding empire based in Washington DC. Abraham Lincoln himself made clear his priority was the united USA, and he would himself work to preserve slavery if that would help his imperial goal. When the tide of war turned at Gettysburg in 1863, and the states effectively lost their ability to oppose Washington, it was really the end of the original USA. A new national empire was born.

During the 1860s civil war itself, some basic Constitutional freedoms were suspended, whilst hundreds of thousands died. With states now unable to resist, old USA freedoms began to be more uncertain, and USA courts had greater authority to assert increasing control over the people.

In the late 1800s, in the new America, the traditional rights of the American jury started to die away. Judges began to limit the use and power of citizen juries in court cases. Judges began to give juries more 'instructions' which sounded like orders, so the citizens no longer felt they were as free to decide as they thought was right. Americans started to forget their old rights as citizens.

Under the rule of the judges as 'high priests' of USA life, Americans forgot that they had a right to let an innocent or good or righteous person go free at trial, regardless of what the judge said, or the way the law was written, they forgot the classic right of 'jury nullifcation' of the law.

Judges, ever seeking to increase their power which they could exercise on behalf of the oligarchy, worked to keep people ignorant of their right to give their independent verdict if they thought a law was unjustly written, or if they thought the judge was behaving badly.

The late 1800s also saw the rise of the 'robber barons', the really wealthy people, who wound up wielding enormous power in America. Some of the descendants of those original robber barons, are still among the wealthiest and most powerful people in America today. And the American courts became more and more active, in protecting the growing national financial interests of the newly powerful corporations.

Basic American democracy remained vibrant for a long time, despite the rising power of the wealthy people and corporations, and a certain high point was reached in the national election of 1912, where there were actually four major political parties involved, including one quite radical party that got a lot of votes. It was the high water of America being a multi-party democracy, before the two parties settled into their final comfortable control of American politics.

Around that time, there were more changes to the Constitution and the laws, which really sealed the dominance of centralised power in the new USA empire. In the 1910s, a national income tax was established, along with central government banking, giving Washington the greatest taxing-and-borrowing machine the world has ever known.

And World War I came along to jump-start America's armaments industry, what President Eisenhower would later call the "military-industrial complex", now able to be funded by the Washington money machine. Civil rights were again curbed amidst the war fever during and after World War I, followed by the radical extremism of changing the Constitution to ban all alcohol drinking in the USA during 1920-34.

As Washington became ever more powerful, the courts became more important for managing and imposing that authority. The old Constitution, where supposedly the federal government had 'limited powers' and the individual states had all remaining power, was really and truly dead, although few people admitted it. The old Constitution had died in the Civil War, along with extinguishing the rights of the individual states to rebel against Washington.

America's judges got used to bending and twisting the Constitution just to make things work, as a practical matter. Sometimes this was well-intentioned, as in social welfare programmes amidst the great Depression - the federal government had the big money, and seemed to be in a position to help people. So most people didn't worry too much about old words on paper, and the old ideas that went with them. Although other parts of the 1930s court-approved legislation - such as the USA government banning private gold ownership 1934-75, the new item of 'Prohibition' - made it clear that the USA was no longer quite the 'land of freedom'

As judges assembled more power, they also began to even take power away from individual lawyers. During the 20th century, the legal profession slowly changed from an independent body in each state, and instead became a group of people who were under the thumb of the judges, and forced to play along with whatever games the judges were playing. It was all part of the slow death of the old American freedoms.

The 'radical lawyer' making a bold case for a client or class of client, survived into the 1960s, but at the end of the 20th century had become essentially extinct, lawyers across the USA losing their right to practice, law, being bankrupted and even jailed, for daring to speak against judicial misconduct.

After World War II, with the USA now the richest and most powerful nation in the world, it was just natural to the big corporations to give increased power to judges and to the USA legal system. It was a way to control things, to keep radicals and socialists and populists from getting power, as was happening in other countries. It was a sweet deal for all the powerful forces associated with rich people - the judges got bribes, the lawyers got rich, and the corporations maintained their profits.

As the USA continued to get splash its world-historic wealth, the power of USA judges and lawyers expanded. As USA society changed, those changes were often imposed by the judges, instead of through political activity in the legislatures, because legislators elected by voters, did not want to do things their voters still hesitated about.

So, from the 1950s onwards, major changes in civil rights, women's rights, and abortion rights, for example, were often led by judges and court decisions, instead of by laws voted on by legislatures. The big corporations actually favored things like civil rights, women's rights, and abortion rights, because they helped make the workplace more efficient, and got more people into the workplace on a flexible basis - and helped to lower the wages of workers, given there were more people seeking the same jobs.

The big corporations likely preferred things to be changed by courts, instead of by legislatures. There is a problem with democracy: If you give people the idea that the legislature will pass laws they want, people might start asking for all sorts of things - like better wages and national health insurance and government-assisted child care. Such things were happening in Europe and Canada, where corporations made smaller profits but people received a lot more benefits out of the taxes they paid.

In the USA, however, where judges were in charge, corporations and rich people ruled the country like no where else, and made bigger profits. Americans started to get used to the idea that they were mostly helpless to change society, and should just wait for the judges to change things.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the USA seemed en route to becoming more like Europe or Canada, with more social benefits, though lesser profits for big companies and investors. But, in the end, America took a different path, and by the late 1970s, you could see the USA turning in a different direction than other advanced nations. After the USA lost the Vietnam War, and suffered through the early 1970s energy crisis followed by high inflation, the USA began to be managed by a climate of subtle fear, that turned it into a very different country.

America wound up being the only developed nation in the world, without a national health policy, so tens of millions of people could remain afraid of losing health care if they lost their jobs, or being bankrupted by medical bills. This fear helped the worker loyalty and submissiveness, and health care company profits, at the expense of the poor health of USA citizens. Other nations still find this shocking about the USA.

But the largest part of how the USA became a different place, is in its use of the law and the legal system. While other countries became kinder and gentler, America became a place of crime, lawyers, lawsuits and fear - and a place where huge profits can be made, from bending, twisting and bribing 'the law'.

The 1970s saw the beginning of the big explosion of the USA lawsuit culture - lawyers and lawsuits filled the news and people's thoughts and lives, and the entire medical care system was transformed with all the endless malpractice lawsuits by lawyers. This led USA people to think that lawyers and courts are the only ways that things could be handled or changed.

Judges and lawyers created a big booming industry in divorce, child custody and alimony cases, so that tends of millions of working Americans would have their lives all tied up in knots in the courts. People would be drained of money, and be in courts for years and years fighting over children and money. The system was designed to drag down people's lives into endless legal battles that would prevent them from doing anything else, such as organising for a better and fairer life in the USA. Generations of children have suffered from the consequences of what their parents lived through in USA courts.

USA streets flooded with drugs - some even saying these drug-flows were secretly co-sponsored by government agencies. Crime skyrocketed, prison populations boomed, particularly after 1990, to the point that now the USA has the biggest prison gulag in the entire world. With over 2.2 million prisoners - 25 per cent of all the prisoners anywhere in the entire world - about 1 out of every 150 USA residents is in jail.

The USA has more crime, more prisons, the longest prison sentences, and more lawyers; they all go together. With something like around 1.3 million lawyers, there is one lawyer for every two prisoners ... although many in prison never had a real lawyer help them, and many of those people in prison are innocent, not the actual individual who did the crime.

The court and prison business became a giant industry - lots of work for slimy, dishones lawyers, helping send poor people to prison. The public has become afraid both of being a victim of crime, and also subconsciously afraid of getting arrested for some false or trivial reason, and sent to America's awful prisons. Fear and more fear, which is very good for inhibiting democracy, for abuse of power by a dictatorial oligarchy.

A significant symbol of the different USA path from other developed countries, is the practice of the death penalty. Much of the world no longer allows the death penalty; outside of the USA, most other developed nations consider it barbaric and cruel. It has been outlawed in the European Union for a long time.

Many people don't know that the USA actually ended the death penalty, too, for nearly 10 years, from 1967-77, when the USA put no one to death judicially. The USA was on the same track as Europe, thanks to USA judges back then who could no longer stomach what they saw as barbaric cruelty, often imposed with racist bias, and more against poor and working people than against the rich.

But the USA oligarchy began taking steps to change the kind of people who were appointed as judges, and to intimidate remaining judges into bringing the death penalty back, and so it was restored, with the USA now one of the leading cultures of executions and death in the world. Being put to death is after all, the ultimate terror of law and lawyers and judges. What better way for a judge to feel powerful than by ordering a killing, with 'murder in his heart', as some ancient religious texts have warned?

But perhaps some USA people, made so fearful in their daily lives, and so full of anger, feel a great need to take the blood of some of their prisoners, whereas other nations have let this pass into history.

The monster of American judicial and legal corruption, however, gives a special perspective to America's many executions, its thousands of prisoners waiting for death. Once you realise the deviousness and corruption of America's judges and lawyers, it is frightening to give such gangsters the power of imposing death. The abuse of this power is proven by the significant number of innocent people, who have been sentenced to die in America, and later shown to be innocent
, some of them only after being killed.

In perhaps the most disgusting USA Supreme Court decision in history, in 1993 that court satanically declared that it was perfectly all right to put to death an innocent man - with the evidence of the man's innocence right in front of the judges - so long as the man was sentenced to death following 'proper procedure'. Laws in some USA states absurdly block court appeals based on new evidence, if presented after brief time limits, such as 30 days after the original trial. In this case of Latino US Navy Veteran Leonel Herrera (1947-93), witnesses had come forward to say another man was guilty of the murder, and had even confessed it.

But the USA Supreme Court 'Justices', claimed they could not 'find' any Constitutional right not to be put to death, just because you are innocent. They denied it was 'cruel and unusual' or a 'violation of due process'. Although 84-year-old Justice Harry Blackmun led the angry dissenters, suggesting his colleagues were 'murderous', the court voted 6-3 to order that Herrera be sent to his death, and Texas governor Ann Richards seemed to relish putting this Latino to death too, despite the evidence he was innocent.

Bear in mind that these are the same USA Supreme Court Justices who seem to be able to twist and turn the Constitution to 'find' all sorts of alleged things that were not even remotely discussed by the Constitution framers - the Supreme Court has 'found' that the Constitution grounds abortion rights, gay rights, and so much else. Yet these same Justices could not 'find' a right to not be put to death when you are innocent?

As the new 21st century began, America is a bizarre nation compared to others, its legal and prison system and gangs of lawyers, the biggest of all. Its legal system dominates USA political life like almost nowhere else, even though nearly all who know this system well, find it disgusting, dishonest, and full of horror.

America's legal system is what replaces its stagnant politics, where not much happens in Congress aside from what is wanted by the big corporations.
What people worried about in the 1780s, has come true. The judges and lawyers in America are the tools of tyranny, democracy now a fading ideal in the USA, trampled upon by the judges in black robes, making tyranny 'legal' because they said so.

Only the naive and uninformed, those who haven't yet been victims, still believe in the old fairy tales about the American legal system. Only the naive and uninformed, still believe that American judges are calm, serious people like in those Hollywood movies and TV shows, when instead they are often perverts, grinning and smirking at their lawyer friends serve the oligarchy just like the judges.

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