Med­dlers with money

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion - TIM RUT­TEN ti­mothy.rut­ten@latimes.com

Louis Bran­deis and Wil­liam Bren­nan — who prob­a­bly thought as deeply about law and so­ci­ety as any two 20th cen­tury Amer­i­cans — both re­garded the states as our “lab­o­ra­to­ries of democ­racy.” If they were to re­visit that fa­mous con­cept to­day, they’d al­most surely have to con­clude that many states’ dis­tinc­tive ex­per­i­ments in so­cial progress are be­ing frus­trated by the con­tam­i­na­tion of out­side pathogens.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the case of Iowa, where a lit­tle more than a year ago, a unan­i­mous state Supreme Court rec­og­nized the right to mar­riage equal­ity. This Novem­ber, three of the court’s seven jus­tices will ap­pear on the bal­lot, and Iowans will have a chance to vote on whether they should re­tain their seats. The state’s judges are ap­pointed by the gover­nor, but vot­ers get a chance to ap­prove the se­lec­tion within 12 months and ev­ery eight years sub­se­quently. In the half­cen­tury since Iowa adopted the so-called merit se­lec­tion sys­tem, no jus­tice of the Supreme Court has been voted off the bench.

Now that may change be­cause na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions af­fil­i­ated with the re­li­gious right are fund­ing and di­rect­ing a cam­paign to un­seat the three jus­tices, two of whom were ap­pointed by thenRepub­li­can Gov. Terry Branstad, as was the opin­ion’s author, Jus­tice Mark Cady. That hasn’t kept a va­ri­ety of GOP pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls from weigh­ing in against the jus­tices. Nor has it dis­suaded the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mar­riage and the Tu­pelo, Miss.based Amer­i­can Fam­ily Assn.— tra­di­tional Repub­li­can al­lies — from pour­ing in money to de­feat them.

In part, they fear the suc­cess of Iowa’s demo­cratic ex­per­i­ment with mar­riage equal­ity be­cause the state court’s rul­ing so di­rectly ad­dressed the proper role of re­li­gious con­vic­tion in this ques­tion. As Cady wrote for a unan­i­mous court, there is a “re­li­gious un­der­cur­rent pro­pel­ling the same-sex mar­riage de­bate,” but Iowa’s “con­sti­tu­tion does not per­mit any branch of govern­ment to re­solve these types of re­li­gious de­bates and en­trusts to courts the task of en­sur­ing that govern­ment avoids them. This ap­proach does not dis­re­spect or den­i­grate the re­li­gious views of many Iowans who may strongly be­lieve in mar­riage as a dual-gen­der union, but con­sid­ers, as we must, only the con­sti­tu­tional rights of all peo­ple, as expressed by the prom­ise of equal pro­tec­tion for all.”

Brian S. Brown, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mar­riage, frankly told the New York Times re­cently that his or­ga­ni­za­tion wants to force the Iowa jus­tices off the bench as a les­son to judges in other states. The cam­paign “sends a pow­er­ful mes­sage,” he said. So much for Iowans’ right to man­age their own state’s con­sti­tu­tional af­fairs.

Cal­i­for­nia is all too fa­mil­iar with this sort of cor­ro­sive in­tru­sion. The cam­paigns for and against Propo­si­tion 8, which over­turned the recog­ni­tion of mar­riage equal­ity by this state’s Supreme Court — and was, in turn, rolled back by a fed­eral court rul­ing — were the most ex­pen­sive ever waged any­where in this coun­try over a so­cial ques­tion. Most of the money sup­port­ing the mea­sure, par­tic­u­larly in the cam­paign’s cru­cial early stages, came from out­side Cal­i­for­nia. Utah was the biggest source of do­na­tions with $2,774,809; of that, $1mil­lion came from a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, soft­ware mag­nate Alan Ash­ton, a de­vout Mor­mon with fa­mil­ial ties to the church hi­er­ar­chy. Con­necti­cut was next with $1,422,854, $1mil­lion of that from the Knights of Colum­bus, a Ro­man Catholic fra­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Now, out­side en­ergy in­ter­ests are pro­vid­ing cru­cial back­ing for Propo­si­tion 23, which wants to gut Cal­i­for­nia’s at­tempt to take ac­tion against the emis­sions fu­el­ing global warm­ing. Two Texas oil re­fin­ers — Valero En­ergy Corp. and Te­soro Corp., both based in San An­to­nio — al­ready have con­trib­uted $4 mil­lion and $1.5 mil­lion, re­spec­tively, to the mea­sure’s cam­paign. An oil­re­fin­ing sub­sidiary that be­longs to Charles and David Koch, nei­ther of whom lives in Cal­i­for­nia, has thrown in an­other $1mil­lion, and they are sup­port­ing GOP sen­a­to­rial can­di­date Carly Fio­r­ina, who backs Propo­si­tion 23. As the Wall Street Jour­nal re­cently re­ported, Charles Drevna, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Petro­chem­i­cal & Re­fin­ers Assn., sent his mem­bers an e-mail so­lic­it­ing still more con­tri­bu­tions: “I am plead­ing with each of you — for our nation’s best in­ter­est and for your com­pany’s own self-in­ter­est.”

The in­ter­ests of Cal­i­for­ni­ans, or of res­i­dents of other states that might want to em­u­late a suc­cess­ful demo­cratic ex­per­i­ment here, are of lit­tle in­ter­est in these cal­cu­la­tions. If those heed­less and ve­nal in­ter­ests are al­lowed to pre­vail, Amer­i­can democ­racy’s lab­o­ra­to­ries soon will be empty shells.

Ted Rall

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