3The Government Can Kill Any Court Case by Claiming It's a State Secret
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As is the case with any superpower, the U.S. has secrets that are ridiculously sensitive: What do they really do at Area 51? Can the presidential limo survive a blast from a rocket launcher? What's the nation's zombie contingency plan? Keeping secrets is a necessity, and it always will be as long as there are bad guys in the world.
We may never truly defeat all the alien terrorist zombies.
But here's the big question: If the people aren't allowed to see the secrets, who decides what is and is not considered a secret? In other words, who's to say that the government won't do something embarrassing or illegal and then avoid scrutiny by saying, "Sorry, that's a state secret!" You know, like if someone were to sue the government, could they just declare all of the evidence a state secret and walk away?
Meet the state secrets privilege, the government's official "get out of jail" card. It can be pulled out any time the president damn well likes in order to protect the things his administration deems secret. When the privilege is called, the case is immediately dropped ... no questions asked. Now, again, we can totally understand the use of a policy like this: For instance, terrorists don't need to be told that the government knows where they're hiding. Sadly, you don't get this kind of power without abusing it.
Power corrupts; absolute power [redacted].
The privilege's high profile recognition hails from a McCarthy-era lawsuit in 1953, when a B-29 crashed and killed the crew on board. Three widows tried to sue the government over their deaths, but the case was thrown out when the government stated that revealing some of the evidence would be damaging to national security and invoked the privilege. Fifty years later, researchers uncovered said "dangerous" evidence and found out that the only thing it would have damaged was the government's own ass. They were just covering up for their own negligence that ultimately caused the crash.
The post-9/11 world has seen the privilege on the table more than ever, and the reasons are often just as sketchy. The George W. Bush administration used it many times to insta-kill civil cases that challenged the more pungent aspects of the war on terror. If you were a victim of Bush's secret eavesdropping program, too bad -- your only legal right is to watch the telecom companies you sued for ruining your life waltzing away scot-free, thanks to the state secrets privilege. The Obama administration seems to be a big fan of the tactic as well.
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Stop hounding him! Copyright law is totally a matter of national security.
The state secrets privilege has recently been under pretty heavy fire from the courts and Congress alike. Still, it's hard to see it revoked any time in the near future. After all, how can you prove that a rule has been used incorrectly when your opponent can just say, "No, it hasn't" -- and then end the discussion by applying said rule?
And while we're talking about the courts ...
2 Who Decides if the Supreme Court Has a Conflict of Interest? They Do
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At the very end of this whole process in the U.S. you have the Supreme Court. Congress can pass a law, and the president can sign it, but if the Supremes decide it is unconstitutional, it's dead. So the idea is that, regardless of all of the political chicanery that might get bad people elected and bad legislation passed, these nine impartial judges, the greatest legal minds of their time, are able to keep things from going too wrong.
"A law letting the government quarter soldiers in American homes? That sounds above board."
As you can imagine, this means these judges have to abide by an incredibly strict set of ethical standards: For instance, they must recuse themselves from presiding over cases if they have a conflict of interest (like if they stood to personally gain or lose a bunch of money based on a ruling). For all of the lower judges in the system, this code of conduct is enforced by the higher courts -- from the lowliest backwater judge all the way up to the judges directly under the Supreme Court, everyone has someone watching over them.
But hey, who's watching the top dog judges on the Supreme Court?
Sadly, they don't combine into a giant justice Voltron to enforce the code. It's up to each individual judge to decide on their own whether they have a conflict of interest. Of course, if a Supreme Court justice clearly has a conflict of interest but fails to step down from the case, the consequences are dire ... and by "dire," we of course mean "nonexistent." There are no consequences. Legally, no one else is required to give a shit.
Even the Galactic Court is powerless. America denies its authority.
Luckily, the Supreme Court judges are people of extremely good moral standing. It's not like they'd preside over a case argued by a partner at their law firm, or take a case they have personally worked on and publicly said should be dismissed, or go on a hunting trip with the subject of their case.