Thanks to flatlander for sending me a link to this article about Utah state Sen. Chris Buttars and his latest attempt to seize the title of America's looniest state legislator away from Alabama's Gerald Allen. Buttars is back with two new bills. The first would take a stab at "defining the separation of church and state outlined by America's and the state's founding document." The fact that a state legislature's opinion on the meaning of a Federal constitutional provision has no bearing on how that provision is interpreted by Federal courts seems not to matter much to him. His rationale for the bill:
"It's gotten ridiculous. We have Christmas wars and White Cross wars," said the chairman of the Judicial Confirmation Committee, referring to battles between atheists and the state. "The state has become hostile to religion."
Of course, the "Christmas wars" are nothing more than the fevered imagination of demagogues and fools. They do not exist in reality. And the framing of the issue as between "atheists" and "the state" is absurd on both counts. One need not be an atheist in order to advocate strict separation of church and state. None of the founding fathers who argued for strict separation were atheists, nor were many of its staunchest advocates in our founding day. Indeed, many of the most prominent voices for strict separation were clergymen, particularly Baptists. The same is true today, when the advocates of strict separation include a large number of Jewish and Christian clergy.
The second bill is even loonier than the first. That bill would give the Utah state legislature the authority to require a new confirmation hearing for any judge that rules in a way they don't like. Utah already has a rather unique process for choosing state judges. The governor appoints a judicial nomination commission, which then provides a list of 3 to 5 qualified nominees for each open judicial seat. The governor then selects from that list a single name, whose nomination is then sent to the state senate for confirmation. But here's the twist: at the end of each judicial term, the voters of the state get to decide whether that judge gets to retain his position. They can vote him or her out, which would then start the process over again.
Apparently, even this level of accountability to the voters isn't enough for Buttars. He wants the legislature to be able to decide arbitrarily, at any time, to hold a new confirmation hearing whenever a judge issues a ruling they don't like, and to be able to throw them out of office as a result. This makes a mockery of the notion of judicial independence (as do most state systems of electing judges, I would argue). The founding fathers were careful to make judges as independent of the electoral process as they possibly could when designing the Federal judiciary, and the states ought to replicate that. And here's my favorite part:
Buttars acknowledges he has not reviewed whether such a law would be constitutional.
Yeah, why worry about a minor little detail like that?
Wow. Can't Donnie and Marie keep in line? Where's Jefferson Hope when you need him?
A couple western states (at least Alaska) use that system of the voters deciding whether to keep judges. I think it was meant as a compromise between elected judges and executive appointment.
None of the founding fathers who argued for strict separation were atheists
But they were certainly thought of as such by many. :-)
That method of judicial appointment is known as the Missouri Plan. It or variations is used in several states including Missouri.
In Georgia all judges are elected, including the supreme court judges. However, a tradition has emerged on the supreme court to get around this: they retire mid term, which allows the governor to appoint their replacement. Their replacement then goes into the next election as the overwealming favorite.
"The state has become hostile to religion."
Yeah, of all the states in the union, Utah is the first that comes to my mind when someone mentions hostility to religion.
Utah - Where the separation between church and state is about two blocks.
Speaking as a resident of Utah, Buttars is an idiot. His entire purpose seems to be introducing ridiculous, unconstitutional, untenable bills that are intended simply to stir up controversy and make him look holier-than-thou. He accomplishes that mission handily, and in the process he makes my home state look even more provincial and theocratic than everyone in the rest of the world already thinks it is. Of course, I am one of the small handful of agnostic Democrats that somehow manage to hold on in this rarified atmosphere of righteousness, so my opinion probably doesn't count for bupkis.
Jason, while it's awfully pretty in Utah, I really don't think that Buttars is actually contributing to the Theocratic Impression Quotient--that market has been saturated for some time.
During the radio interview host Tom Grover noted that courts historically have been used by minority groups "to ensure [their] rights are protected."
"I don't know of an example where the minority is being jeopardized by legislative action," Buttars replied.
Grover then brought up the Kansas desegregation case that resulted in the busing of black students to white schools and vice versa.
Â "I think Brown v. Board of Education is wrong to begin with," Buttars shot back.
When Grover attempted to press him on the reply Buttars refused to be more specific, saying only "one day call me again and we'll take a half hour on that one."
Buttars refused to returns calls from the media for an explanation but in a subsequent interview on another station he denied he is a racist. He said he meant to say that there was a downside to the Supreme Court ruling.
Speaking slowly and deliberately he said the court decision "was a great step for integration in many ways. But in other areas, I think it hurt a lot of minority kids."