Debating the moral and/or constitutional issues of our time using social media, memes, and news-generated sensationalism has to be one of the greatest creators of entropy and discourse in modern America. All too often we quickly turn to our political leaders, our favored talk show hosts, or perhaps more disheartening, our favorite late-night comedy show, and use their opinions as gospel to what is right or wrong on a topic that deserves more than just a 30-second soundbite to disseminate the true greatness and complexity of our constitutionally given rights.
This past week, the United States Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision in the protections offered by the 8th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Considering that we often only discuss these appointed justices as being conservative or liberal, to have a unanimous ruling on what our Constitution protects the people from is inspiring!
In Timbs vs. Indiana, Mr. Timbs was arrested for dealing a controlled substance — $400 worth of heroin. The police department seized his $40,000 Land Rover, which had been purchased using money from his deceased father’s insurance policy. The State of Indiana attempted to use civil forfeiture on the Land Rover, claiming since he had transported the drugs with the vehicle, they could take the car as a form of monetary “penalty” against Timbs.
The lower state courts disagreed with Indiana, saying this was an excessive fine, and therefore his 8th amendment rights had been violated. However, the State Supreme Court held that this constitutional protection only constrained federal action, not the states.
Apparently, Indiana court had forgotten that the 14th amendment made applicable the Bill of Rights protections to the states, and all nine justices at the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.
While the Supreme Court has consistently held we all have the right to due process when we are charged with committing a crime, no such protection is offered in the court of public opinion.
Without fail, newsfeeds and social media reports espouse personal feelings and narratives masquerading as truth and convictions. One recent and extremely publicized example of this was the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
When the allegations came forward about past sexual misconduct by Ms. (Christine Blasey) Ford, and later Ms. (Deborah) Ramirez, the “public opinion” trial took hold, with elected officials, political groups, and even just the casual observer, were sucked into choosing sides and taking stances based solely on allegations.
Sadly, the political and journalistic circus that ensued had less to do with the vindication of Mr. Kavanaugh or finding justice for these two women, and more to do with Democrats wanting to keep another “conservative” judge off the Supreme Court.
In the end, Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed; the FBI interviews did not substantiate the accusations. Irrespective of the final conclusion, each political group tried to spin the results to validate their biased posturing.
It is not only elected officials and Supreme Court justices whose accusations can further devalue the necessity of due process and patience when discussing and debating extremely sensitive and important moral and constitutional issues of our time.
Less than a month ago, the cries of racism and divide were blaring very loudly when Jussie Smollett emoted, in detail, how he, as an openly gay black man, was the victim of a hate crime by two men wearing red hats and chanting “this is MAGA country.”
Many, including me, were appalled to hear that citizens of this great country would demean, denigrate and assault people simply because of the color of their skin or who they lay next to.
Shortly, the media and the political posturing quickly joined in the discussion, once again comparing the idea of “MAGA” to racism, hatred and bigotry. Conversely, those who find “MAGA” to be a symbol of Americanism, a love of country, and a belief in our spirit of exceptionalism, were appalled to find an instance where their symbol was used as a lighting rod for bigotry.
Flash forward one month, Smollett has turned himself in, was arrested and charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. Evidence and reports now indicate Smollett paid two brothers to stage the assault after he wrote and allegedly mailed, a letter to the “Empire” set in Chicago to, purportedly, increase both media attention and his salary.
It won’t be long until the “I told you so” battle starts again.
When we argue over right and wrong solely from our political camps, we simply help hypocrisy reign forward in the storm of our own blindness.
Let’s take a lesson from the U.S. Supreme Court this week, and instead of governing and dictating righteousness on emotion and personal agenda, let us govern, discuss, and debate within the confines of the Constitution.
Jason Gibbs is a Santa Clarita resident. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among several local Republicans.