Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Against Legal Pillow Forts

She is probably racist, possibly insane, and definitely stupid, but when Sally Kern proposes a good piece of legislation -- even if it is meant to paper over some of the deficiencies in one of her earlier pieces of shoddy, paranoia-stoking legislation -- I am willing to acknowledge it:

State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, is the author of House Bill 1552, which would ban the use of foreign law in Oklahoma courts. It declares that any court action will be “void and unenforceable” if the decision is based “on any law, rule, legal code or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the United States and Oklahoma Constitutions.”
ThinkProgress, with which I disagree roughly as frequently as I agree with Sally Kern, gamely lays out the bitter consequences of constitutional equality for all:
HB 1552 “will actually target all religions” by denying “people the use of Jewish Law, Catholic Law, or any other religious law” in private contracts “while also jeopardizing international business contracts that include forms of arbitration, choice of law clauses, or foreign law clauses” — just like SQ 755. Indeed, SQ 755 is so poorly written that would ban the long-standing rights and sovereignty of Native Americans.
I gather the above is offered as an argument against the proposed law, but to succeed as such, it needs to spell out why anyone in Oklahoma, or even in a civilized part of the USA, would want to be subject to Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or other religious law. It doesn't say why it would be undesirable or unjust to subject all people, whatever their religious attachments, to the same body of laws.

It hints at the downsides in the mention of "long standing rights and sovereignty" of Native Americans, but if Native Americans are being sovereign, they're hashing out legal questions in their own sovereign courts, not in US courts. US courts have the competency and responsibility to enforce and interpret US laws, and even that sometimes proves too much to ask of them.

More fundamentally, the insidious thing about unequal laws is that someone has made them unequal to privilege his own interests over someone else's interests. The eradication of Jim Crow laws was commonly decried as an effort to degrade the long standing rights and liberties of (white) people, but African Americans and their supporters rightly saw this eradication as an equalizing move, and as such a move toward greater justice for all.

I grant that there are people who do in fact want to place themselves under separate legal codes while living within the territorial USA -- and too often they're hell-bent on dragging everyone else with them -- but that's not how it is supposed to work here. After age 12 or so, nobody gets to build pillow forts where they make up new laws while enjoying the benefits and protections of the household.

(pillow fort image source)

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