Thursday, March 24, 2005

Unintended Consequences (?);
A Brief Political Essay

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified. 
Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Of course, it led to a dramatic surge in the power of organized crime, which did not go away even after the Amendment was repealed in 1933.  We still are suffering from the effects of that legislation. 

Now, we are seeing something similar in Ohio:
Issue 1 conflicts with domestic abuse law, judge says
Marriage amendment makes portion of law unconstitutional, he rules
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Brian Albrecht
Plain Dealer Reporter

Ohio voters who approved a constitutional amendment last fall that denied legal recognition of unmarried and gay couples probably didn't envision the measure being successfully used as a defense in domestic violence cases.

But that became a reality Wednesday when Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman ruled that the amendment, approved by voters as Issue 1, made part of the state's domestic violence law unconstitutional.

Friedman said that because Ohio's domestic violence law recognizes the relationship between an unmarried offender and victim as one "approximating the significance or effect of marriage," it represents a direct conflict with the amendment's prohibition against such recognition and is thus unenforceable.
The similarity, of course, is that both pieces of legislation turned out to have unintended consequences.

Changing a legal constitution is serious business.  It's sort of like doing surgery on someone.  It calls for aequanimitas: without due restraint, there can be unintended consequences.  In the case cited above, the perpetrator had his charges reduced from a felony to a simple misdemeanor. Although the federal Constitution can be changed only after a lengthy process, state constitutions and other legislation can be changed quickly, by the same sort of flash mob mentality that resulted in S.653.CPS (For the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo).  

Today, my wife told me about the situation with Ohio's Issue 1.  She was upset, thinking that this could portend some kind of gradual erosion of our civilization.  I told her not to worry.  Although Issue 1 and S.653.CPS prove that stupid legislation can be passed quickly, it should not happen very often. After all, we have the protections afforded by Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and a multi-party political system.   Then I remembered that all of those protections are under attack by the Republican Party. 

I told her to start worrying again.

Sure, not all supporters of the Republican Party actually want those protections to be removed.  But they all are complicit in the process, and all will bear responsibility for the consequences.