Bill Watterson is Mark Twain -- with a drawing pen. He is a master cartoonist, but also a sharp-witted observer of the absurd, with an impish sense of humor. From 1985-1995, Watterson penned "Calvin and Hobbes," the truly marvelous comic strip that featured six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. In Calvin's inventive and iconoclastic mind, Hobbes was a genuine tiger (and his best friend) and they shared boundless adventures that challenged conventional thinking and defied authority, often crashing right through the prescribed social order of the "real" world.
A recurring theme in the strip was a two-player baseball competition in which both the kid and the tiger simply made up the rules as they went. In one strip, Calvin has hit the ball thrown by Hobbes, and he's scampering toward home plate:
Calvin: Ha Ha! A home run!
Hobbes: You didn't touch all the bases!
Calvin: I did, too.
Hobbes: No, you didn't. You didn't touch seventh base.
Calvin: Yes, I did! I touched the water barrel right after the front porch.
Hobbes: That's not seventh base. That's twelfth base!
Calvin: I thought the garage door was twelfth.
Hobbes: The garage door is twenty-third base. You touched them all out of order, and you didn't touch the secret base.
Calvin: The secret base?? What's the secret base?!
Hobbes: I can't tell you. It's a secret.
That exchange between a six-year-old and a stuffed tiger pretty well sums up the nonsensical political gamesmanship being played out today by the five-man lineup of corporatists on the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. They are on an unrestrained ideological tear, making up their own rules to score big points for corporate power. Reasoning? Try twenty-third base! Precedent? Throw it out! History? Rewrite it! The Constitution? Slide by it! Judicial restraint? Only for liberals! Logic? That's a secret! The rule of law? The law is us!
Only, this isn't a game. Barely six years into Roberts' tenure, he and his narrow majority have thoroughly politicized the Court. The one branch of our national government that was intentionally designed by the Founders to set the rule of law above politics has been turned into another political front group to advance corporate rule. The Constitution granted life tenure to the justices specifically so they could feel free to stand up to wealthy wrongdoers -- particularly those avaricious business schemers who wanted to endanger the people's rule by establishing, as Jefferson put it, "the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations."Hiding under robes
In case after case, the five hard-core Republicans of the Roberts Court have been chopping furiously at the hard-earned legal rights of workers, consumers, voters, and others who dare to challenge the power of big business elites to reign over us, both politically and economically. There has been way too little public attention focused on (much less a sustained political challenge to) what has become a spectacular abuse of government power. A survey last year by the Pew Center found that nearly three-fourths of Americans have no idea who John Roberts is. Eight percent named Thurgood Marshall as the chief justice (and I certainly wish he was, even though he's been dead for 18 years).
It's not that the public is stupid, but that the Court deliberately hides itself. No C-SPAN or other television cameras are allowed, even in the relatively few times the justices convene in public session. The bulk of the justices' official policy-making work takes place behind closed doors. They practically never have press conferences or give interviews, and some have even refused to let the media cover their "public" speeches.
Curiously, mass media outlets show little journalistic curiosity about the doings of this tiny but enormously powerful third branch of our national government. If Obama so much as sneezes, newscasters and pundits are all over it, and hordes of reporters and analysts constantly poke into the back rooms and dark corridors of Congress. Yet, nine black-robed mandarins -- with the power to overturn the decisions of the two elected branches, as well as decisions by state governments and even of the voting public -- sit in splendid obscurity in an imposing, white marble bunker, periodically tossing out rulings that essentially make law.
When the mass media do cover the Court (usually only when a new justice is named or a major edict is handed down), the reporting is superficial, even lazy. Two months ago, for example, the New York Times ran an "analysis" of decisions in the 2010-2011 term, concluding that the hallmark of the Roberts Court is "defending free speech." Never mind that it is corporate speech that they have radically enhanced, to the detriment of your voice and mine. But the Times didn't probe.
It's time for you and me to probe, because the Roberts-Alito-Kennedy-Scalia-Thomas cabal is openly aligning itself with the all-out political push by such far-right billionaires as the Koch brothers to impose a corporate plutocracy over America (see February 2010 and June 2011 Lowdown s). "Come on, Hightower," you might say, "such learned jurists wouldn't be engaged in such extremism." Oh? Remember Bush v. Gore in December 2000? In that case, five justices abruptly shoved their way into totally unprecedented, overtly partisan territory to dictate who would be America's president. With no need to do so, they imperiously interrupted a recount of the people's vote in Florida, usurped jurisdiction from state courts, invented a legal theory out of thin air, and arbitrarily seated corporate-favorite George W in the White House.
This was so far beyond the bounds of the Court's role, such an arrogant act of magisterial extremism, that none of the usurpers were willing to claim the decision as their own. None put their name on the opinion. Also, in an extraordinary confession, the opinion itself concedes its legal shoddiness by saying that it's a one-of-a-kind decision that should not be cited as a precedent for any other case. Tellingly, it hasn't been.
Eleven years later, three of those five Bush v. Gore judicial extremists -- Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas -- are still on the bench, forming a solid core of today's corporate cabal.
Also, while it's not widely known, Roberts himself was a key member of Bush's election-stealing team in Florida. A protege of Republican attack dog Kenneth Starr, Roberts was a corporate lawyer in Washington at the time (becoming a multi-millionaire by helping such clients as Big Coal defend the abominable mining method of mountaintop removal). He was flown to Florida to polish legal briefs and do a dress rehearsal to prepare Bush's lead lawyer for getting the Supremes to seize the election for the Republican.
In 2005, George W returned the favor by entrusting the top spot on the nation's highest Court to this radical corporate activist. With the addition of Alito in 2006, Corporate America had its slim ideological majority in place.
Not only did pro-corporate decisions begin to flow, but the cabal also became brazen about its alliance with the right-wing Republican network that's now pushing aggressively in Washington, state capitals, and all of America's courts to rewrite laws so an "aristocracy of our moneyed corporations" can rise above the American people's democratic rights and authority. Jeff Shesol, author of Supreme Power (a history of FDR's fight with the Court), wrote a June New York Times op-ed about this "flurry of judicial fraternization," warning that it threatens to destroy the Court's credibility as an impartial guardian of the rule of law. Here's a sampling of their fraternization: