Political Decisions and the “Human Element”

Blind justice is a concept inherent to most Americans’ thinking about the nation’s legal framework. Equality comes from dispassionate analysis: judges and juries are not to consider the person standing before them, but the facts and circumstances of an alleged aggression. Does analysis of these facts and circumstances rationally lead to the conclusion that the accused has committed the crime with which they are charged? The age, race, gender and personal creed of the person on trial is irrelevant. Justice is empirical and reactionary. It does not pass judgment on a man, but on a specific action which he has taken.

But it is not just the legal system that operates on these axioms. The Constitution too is meant to be concerned only with the equal rights of citizens. Politicians, entrusted with applying the axioms of the Constitution to public policy, ought to disregard age, race, gender and personal creed and consider only the facts of how their actions impact the free exercise of sovereignly held rights.

They shouldn’t see people—entities to be pitied or championed or rebuked in any way—in the sense that they are thinking, feeling beings whose lives are impacted by public action, but as rights-holding entities.

When politicians sympathize with people in the polity, they violate the egalitarian framework of government in two ways. First, they elevate the concerns of certain aggrieved groups and give a greater air of legitimacy to their needs by orienting public policy around finding a solution to them. This creates a hierarchy within the citizenry: all members of the polity are expected to contribute to the federal coffers, but not all their needs are given equal attention. This amounts to the federal government passing judgment on the claims of citizens and makes true egalitarianism impossible.

Second, when politicians sponsor bills that look to give special protection to a group they’ve deemed worthy of federal attention and aid, they subvert the law and instead elevate personal judgment. The law, then, becomes a function of the sympathies of a small group of elected official, molded and moved by their predilections.

Regardless of whether it is the people who humanize the government or the government which humanizes the people, the end result is an investment of broader, stronger powers wielded by an executive, legislative or judiciary body which now feels the heady power of moral righteousness.

It is these considerations that come to guide political actions. And as life is individualistic and views on moral conclusions and compunctions differ greatly depending on one’s perspective, value-judgments as a catalyst of government action are guaranteed to go against the ideas of some citizen or another. Life is lived through the lens of personal experience. One’s rational processes cannot help but be reflective of the self; it is the individual, synthesizing this information, that determines what strains of moral thinking are valid. When elected officials legislate on the basis of morality, it is therefore their own views they impose over the rest of the polity, which not only delegitimizes competing systems of thought, but takes away from citizens the right to make such decisions for themselves. And this is precisely the kind of tyranny the institutional design of the federal government attempts to avoid.

When moral compunctions underlie political actions, there is also effectively nothing beyond the scope of government.

In context of the Senate’s impending confirmation vote on would-be Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently said in an interview that he feels compelled to consider the “human side” of the issues in determining how he will ultimately vote.

From an interview with Al Jazeera:

“I am looking at the gentleman as an adult from 22 to 53, 31 years of professional service. I am looking at him as a father,” [Manchin] added. “As a person in a community, how he interacts with his community. I am trying to put the human side to it.”

But nowhere in the document from which Manchin draws his justly exercised powers does it enable him to, god-like, pass judgment on Kavanaugh’s humanity. Even if an objective view of a judge as a “good” or “bad” human could be established, there is no empiric correlation that can be established between such a metric and the bearing it has upon the juridical qualifications of that same person.

Examining Kavanaugh’s record of professional service is entirely in keeping with the advice-and-consent function delegated by the Constitution to Senators when presidential appointees are at issue. But consideration of how a person’s life has been lived in the community are entirely improper. They turn oversight processes into courts of inquisition, substituting empirical and egalitarian standards with the judgments of those who comprise them.

Manchin’s impulses are no doubt laudable, but they over-exaggerate his own importance to the confirmation process. As a Senator, he plays a crucial role in ensuring qualified individuals are assessing the Constitutionality of laws. As an individual, his judgments are relevant only to his own personal life. And while he has the same right of every individual in the nation to pursue that as he sees fit, he does not have the right to set his standards of judgment over the rest of the nation by codifying them through those official actions he discharges in his capacity as an elected official.

By doing so, he sets a precedent that empowers elected officials to codify their own judgments in the form of duly enacted laws. And this cannot be done without infringing upon the rights of those in the polity.

If government is to be humane, it is the human element that needs to be removed from the political decision making process.


Also published on Medium.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.
%d bloggers like this: