By Darren Smith, Weekend contributor
Nearly eleven months after holding the State of Washington in contempt for failing to provide an adequate funding plan for financing primary education in the state, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order fining the state $100,000.00 per day until the legislature satisfies the Court’s judgement in its landmark McCleary decision.
After three special sessions, the Legislature failed to provide a clear and fully funded plan. The Court acted, much to the chagrin of many of the state legislators. A few of which had some rather interesting solutions to address their failures to act.
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The Greenpeace vandals who trespassed at Parliament, climbing up to put signs down the front in flagrant disregard of the most ample possible options for peaceful protest right outside at least had the integrity to plead guilty. That shows some sort of fidelity to law and an acknowledgement that what they did was a criminal offence.
John Rawls makes the point that the purpose of civil disobedience is not to impose your will upon others but through your protest to implore them to reconsider their position and change the law or policy you are disputing.
Rawls argues that civil disobedience is never covert or secretive; it is only ever committed in public, openly, and with fair notice to legal authorities. Openness and publicity, even at the cost of having one’s protest frustrated, offers ways for the protesters to show their willingness to deal fairly with authorities. Rawls argues:
- for a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law being done (usually) with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government;
- that appeals to the sense of justice of the majority;
- which may be direct or indirect;
- within the bounds of fidelity to the law; and
- whose protesters are willing to accept punishment. Although civil disobedience involves breaking the law, it is for moral rather than selfish reasons; the willingness to accept arrest is proof of the integrity of the act.
Rawls argues, and too many forget, that civil disobedience and dissent more generally contribute to the democratic exchange of ideas by forcing the champions of dominant opinion to defend their views.
Legitimate non-violent direct action are publicity stunts to gain attention and provoke debate within the democratic framework, where we resolve our differences by trying to persuade each other and convince the electorate.
Too many acts of non-violent direct action aim to impose their will on others rather than peaceful protests designed to bring about democratic change in the laws or policies of the incumbent government. That ‘might does not make right’ is fundamental to the rule of law. As United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said
The virtue of a democratic system [with a constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech] is that it readily enables the people, over time, to be persuaded that what they took for granted is not so and to change their laws accordingly..
Both sides passionately but respectfully attempt to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views. Win or lose, advocates for today’s losing causes can continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss today can be negated by a later electoral win, which is democracy in action as Justice Kennedy explains:
…a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices…
It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.
The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature.
Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people. These First Amendment dynamics would be disserved if this Court were to say that the question here at issue is beyond the capacity of the voters to debate and then to determine.
John Rawls’ view that fidelity to law and democratic change through trying to persuade each other is at the heart of civil disobedience reflects the difference between the liberal and the left-wing on democracy and social change as Jonathan Chait observed this week:
Liberals treat political rights as sacrosanct. The left treats social and economic justice as sacrosanct. The liberal vision of political rights requires being neutral about substance.
To the left, this neutrality is a mere guise for maintaining existing privilege; debates about “rights” can only be resolved by defining which side represents the privileged class and which side represents the oppressed…
Liberals believe that social justice can be advanced without giving up democratic rights and norms. The ends of social justice do not justify any and all means.
More British English, Scottish and Welsh police (68) have been murdered by gunfire than British police have shot people dead (52) in over a century.
This suggests to me that the ledger is in the wrong direction. This list does not include British police stabbed or beaten to death nor are Northern Ireland deaths.
According to the FBI, from 1980–2014, an average of 55 law enforcement officers are feloniously killed per year in the USA. Those killed in accidents in the line of duty are not included in this number.
More law enforcement officers are murdered every year in the USA than ever murdered by gunfire in Britain. Police have the same common law right as any other to defend their own lives and the lives of others.
Figure 1: Doing Business in the USA, Canada, World Bank rankings, 2014
It’s easier to do business in the USA and Canada because of the difficulties with construction permits and getting electricity and few more problems with enforcing contracts and registering property. It is easy to open a business in Canada.
Figure 1: Doing Business rankings, Russia and Italy, 2014
Source: World Bank Doing Business 2015.
It is rather disturbing that it is a lot easier to register property and enforce contracts in Russia than in Italy and far harder to pay your taxes in Italy. Once again, Italy’s saving grace is the ability to trade across borders Because of its membership of the European Union.
Figure 1: Index of Economic Freedom rankings for legal systems and property rights, Greece, Russia and USA, 2012
Overall, there are not that many differences between Greece and Russia in the quality of their legal systems and property rights. Don’t go to the police in Russia and good luck trying to enforce contracts in Greece.