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The Politics of Good Governance: Getting It and Keeping It


Practical Politics

To begin with, I was wrong. I said last week that the Klan Dog master would not be fired: he was.

No other punishment, and he’ll just get another police badge in a nearby jurisdiction, but he was fired for his deliberate faux pas of siccing his dog on a Black man who was already surrendering.

Score one for forward progress, such as it is.

This week, let’s talk about governments. Americans are getting a daily dose of American democracy in the newspapers, podcasts and cable shows. For most of us, we keep trying to remember those various school lessons on how governments are supposed to conduct themselves, and how monitoring works to insure governmental maintenance.

The various picadilloes of Donald Trump---a twice impeached, numerously charged and four-time arraigned, and over 19 times indicted former POTUS---keep us enthralled daily with his latest episodes.  He’s just been federally indicted with election fraud and other crimes, though, as usual, he loudly boasts he’s done nothing wrong…that it’s all political. The real issue —as it usually comes down to---is who’s in charge and do they have the necessary authority to hold people to account. It’s not just: “The King is not the law. The law is king.” It’s only if you can hold them to account.

In the sundry cases of Mr. Trump, the various plots will continue to thicken and he will or he won’t eventually be sent to prison.

Today, I’m more concerned about the 3rd branch of government: the Supreme Court. Who has jurisdiction over holding the 9 justices accountable when they demonstrate human failings? Left to their own devices, most, if not all, humans will commit moral turpitudes of some sort. Currently, the only people in charge of the Supreme Court are the justices themselves. That, in and of itself, is a certain recipe for skullduggery and disaster. Players very rarely, if ever, call fouls on themselves.

And, to be frank, if the Supreme Court falls, so will American democracy.

The popularity of the Court is currently in the toilet and sinking. Justices Thomas and Alito demand to be allowed to accept the generosity of billionaire friends and associates who frequently have interests in cases before the Court. Chief Justice Roberts, who has the authority to enact an Ethics Code for the Supreme Court, won’t. All other U.S. courts except the Supreme Court have to adhere to Ethics Rules long established. Corrupt judges can be and have been removed from the bench. But in the 236 year history of the U.S. Supreme Court, only one sitting justice—Samuel Chase in 1805---has ever been successfully impeached, but he was not removed. It is a fact that the current Court is fast losing public support because it refuses to be held accountable, as if selection to the Court makes one guiltless. What is undeniable currently is the growing idea that the Supreme Court’s judges are on the take, and that cannot be good.

As a lesson in modern political science, what can be done? Although the Court claims Congress does not have authority over it (the Supreme Court is an equal branch of government), Congress asserts that it does have such suzerainty, since it has budgetary authority over all of the federal government. Currently (and for the last six years at least), there has been a pending congressional action, now called the Supreme Court Ethics Act, which will, if finally passed,  require the Supreme Court of the United States to promulgate a code of ethics that its justices must all follow.

With a Republican-led House of Representatives, this bill will not likely get passed this session. In 2024, as the American public is voting on new and current governmental officials, let us remember to put into office representatives who will pass this much-needed legislation.

If we allow the continuation of the loss of faith in Supreme Court judges, we really risk the complete failure of American democracy.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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