Archives

In this excellent post, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick takes a look at the insidious movement to extend and expand “personhood” and argues that the movement’s underlying tenets, taken to extremes by courts and legislatures, wind up demeaning the very essence of being human.

As Lithwick notes, corporations are people — at least for purposes of political expression — following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  So too will zygotes be if anti-abortion activists have their way with legislators across the country.

And now the Supreme Court will once again address the scope of “personhood”  in the two cases it agreed to hear last week — Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deciding whether coroporations are people for purposes of religious expression as well.

Here’s why that determination should be troublesome for people (human beings) regardless of religious views or politics:

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are ultimately so worrisome because they fuse together two of the most dangerous right-wing civil rights obsessions of our times: the ambition of large, for-profit corporations to see themselves as people, with faith, convictions, and consciences, and the attempt of citizens, using their own science and their own facts, to declare when legal personhood begins, and then impose universal laws based on those beliefs. The cases are a collision of two very insidious legal metaphors — that personhood begins when any one religion says it does and that religious personhood can be vested in corporations in ways that can be forced on workers. It simply cannot be the case that in a country of 319 million people, we are ready to recognize zygotes and Walmart as legal “persons.” We can protect animals and unborn babies and corporations without also embodying them with a humanity they don’t possess. Turning everything and anything into a “person” ultimately also serves to turn persons into things.

It’s not like this is news we haven’t heard before — that the federal courts were already limping along if not crippled by the sequester when the shutdown began.

But Dahlia Lithwick at Slate does a great job here illustrating just how dire the situation is, pointing out that the courts are just eking by with reduced operating hours, slashes to security, cuts to the federal defender corps and to personnel charged with monitoring released prisoners. And still new business keeps coming through the courthouse doors:

The courts don’t get to pick their cases. Cases come to them. And the list of critically important litigation in which stays have been requested or delays granted range from a trial over the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a major Federal Trade Commission case to the terror trial of accused former al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to a major Freedom of Information Act suit. Whether or not the courts are officially shuttered next week, the federal justice system is in deep and worsening trouble unless we correct for the mistakes of the past year. Things have become so dire, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf wrote on his blog last week, that “it is time to tell Congress to go to hell.” Pro tip? Judges don’t usually talk like that.

And to those who depict furloughed court employees as simply dispensable government workers, there’s this to ponder:

The federal court system is not just people—although real people are being hammered in the court system, as they are throughout the federal government. The problem is that these people are the country’s justice delivery system. And when their work is hampered, delayed, or impaired, it’s not just “trials” that grind to a halt. It’s justice. What happens in the courts may not be as compelling as what happens on the Panda Cam or as spiritually uplifting as the national parks, but our federal justice system is the embodiment of the rule of law, particularly at those moments when the wheels have come off the rest of the government.