Monday, March 31, 2008

Quiet Injustices

There are many arguably unjust aspects about American society. Some of them are quite hotly debated in the public arena, but others seem to maintain themselves more quietly. For example, I consider the denial of marriage equality to gay and lesbian citizens to be a grave injustice, but it certainly is not absent from our public deliberations about what it means to live in a just America. However, other topics which seem to equally implicate our fundamental values, such as felon disenfranchisement or the status of American colonial possessions (e.g., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and yes, the District of Columbia), manage to exist without being the subject of intense public debate.

I say this because, despite being of obvious moral and ethical import, I've yet to read a convincing justification for the current status of the District of Columbia. The last time the topic came up in Congress, the main argument deployed against it was constitutional, not moral. It's not that I don't think constitutionality matters, but it does raise the question -- why not amend the constitution? The point is, there's really no argument that the status quo is radically undemocratic vis-a-vis D.C. (and Guam and American Samoa and the Marianas and all our other colonial possessions). But this is not considered to be a "problem". At least with gay marriage, which I also think is a rather clear case of definitive injustice, the topic is recognized as being within the realm of politics and debate. But nobody is grilling our presidential candidates about whether they support Puerto Rican representation. By and large, even civic-minded voters don't have this issue at the front of their minds. There is no groundswell of outrage that we're depriving millions of American citizens of their voting rights for no discernible reason.

Why not?


PG said...

Federalism: if you don't like it, move to another part of the U.S.

I realize that in real life, this is very difficult, particularly for people with limited income, but you shouldn't let real life get too much in the way of constitutional law.

In contrast, it's rather difficult to leave the geographies of one's race, sex, sexual orientation or criminal record. The first two are accepted as inborn and thus not something that ought to be a basis of discrimination; the third is beginning to be assumed to be inborn on the ground that it sucks so much to be persecuted that if there were an off-switch, people would flip it; but the general thinking is that one can avoid being a felon, which may explain why felons' rights are less popular. Aside from the fact that they're, y'know, felons. Of course, this assists in the feedback mechanism of increasingly idiotic tuff on crime measures, but there it is.

David Schraub said...

I feel like the federalism argument, insofar as it works at all, works because of valuing local autonomy. But DC citizens WANT representation, they're just denied it by the feds. The "move somewhere else" argument still applies, I guess, but it still begs the question of why we the policy exists in the first place. If we were to initiate a federal policy of arbitrarily beating Bostonians, we could also tell them they could move, but it'd still be an extraordinarily dumb and unjust policy.

Andrew said...

I'm pretty sure most people in Puerto Rico do not want to become a state. At the very least there are arguments on both sides. Right now, they do not pay federal taxes aside from Social Security, but they do get SS and Medicare benefits. They get the benefit of US protection, but no voting rights. Since they don't pay the taxes, that seems fairly standard, no?

Anonymous said...

Building off what Andrew just said here's an interesting question. Because Puerto Rico enjoys a special relationship with the United States (as opposed to a D.C. Style, all costs of living in a state but no representation) vis a vis their tax status would it be legitimate for the Federal government to convert their status to statehood against popular wishes (for example if a referendum was held on statehood and it failed to garner over 40% of the electorate).

I think we can largely agree that in the case above, it would be wrong to impose statehood to correct our perceived injustice.

Thus the implications would be that any attempt to change the legal status of the island would be most legitimate if it was initiated by residents themselves.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and in the case that a majority of Puerto Ricans are opposed to a change in legal status, I think PG's arguments about personal relocation stand in just the same way that we would tell someone who disagrees with a state law that they have the option of relocating if there is no foreseeable possibility of changing the law.

Rob Misek said...

The "Debate Link" eh?

I can't wait for another crack at abortion, so debate this.

Liberals support the killing of helpless babies.

Liberals don't value the truth or have a conscience.

Life begins at conception.

Here is another example of discerning the truth through honesty, intelligence logic and science.

It is insane to believe something when contrary proof is available.

Now I will prove that the fetus is a unique life.

I challenge you to find any error in my proof or accept it as the truth.

The fetus is alive by all scientific definitions of life. It grows through metabolism, adapts to its environment (the mother) and will be capable of reproduction if left to mature naturally.

The fetus is unique. It is not the mother's body. DNA fingerprinting that is recognized and relied upon in law proves that the fetus is unique.

Disprove or accept. Then we can move forward.