First appearance in 2021 of my favorite Ethics Warm-Up intro. Maybe that’s why 2021 ethics has gotten off to such a rotten start…
In addition to its significance in the siege of the Alamo, yesterday’s date of February 24 has other important ethics markers, perhaps some more important than Travis’s iconic letter. Perhaps the most impact on U.S. history was this date in 1803, when Chief Justice John Marshall (no relation that has been shown to my satisfaction) handed down the landmark decision in William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States, establishing the legal principle of judicial revie. That’s what gives the Supreme Court the authority to limit Congressional power by declaring legislation unconstitutional. I doubt very much that the United States would still exist as a free republic had not that case been decided as it was, yet the result was probably dictated more by partisan politics than philosophy.
Marshall, in his majority opinion, declared that acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution are not valid law and therefore are non-binding on the courts, and that the judiciary’s first responsibility is always to uphold the Constitution. And if two laws conflict, Marshall wrote, SCOTUS has the responsibility of deciding which law applies in any given case. Periodically members of Congress, pundits and even academics have criticized the decision, but there can be little doubt that had Marshall not led the Court to make this stand, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would have been quickly shredded.
This is particularly relevant now, when the Democrats in Congress have signaled that they want government authorities to decree what is factual and what is “disinformation,” while they also seek to weaken Second Amendment rights. Incidentally, there is a prominent statue of Marshall at the Supreme Court, and a recast in John Marshall Park, near Judiciary Square, also in D.C. Another recast is in Philadelphia. Marshall owned hundreds of slaves, which is entirely irrelevant to his essential influence on our government and values. Clearly, many, perhaps most, of the college students in the U.S. would prefer that a non-slave owner had headed the Court, even if it resulted in a nation that slipped into allowing the virtual slavery of all citizens to a national government that “knew what was best.”
1. Oh, sure. Why not? We all know that committees are so effective at leadership. A letter signed by three dozen House Democrats urge Joe Biden to relinquish full control over the country’s nuclear weapons in favor of a committee of legislators. “…Vesting one person with this authority entails real risks,” states the letter, inspired by Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California. “Past presidents have threatened to attack other countries with nuclear weapons or exhibited behavior that caused other officials to express concern about the president’s judgment.While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so,” the letter adds. “The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S. nuclear forces, that attack would happen in minutes.”
The naivete exhibited by the letter is frightening, but not surprising. Very few members of Congress have executive experience or useful backgrounds that would assist them in dealing with international crises. Taking the most threatening weapon in the U.S. arsenal out of the hands of the President would make the United States infinitely weaker on the international stage. For example, historians now know that President Dwight Eisenhower blocked Soviet aggression at least twice by threatening to use the atom bomb, notably during the Suez crisis. The threat worked, because the USSR knew that Ike wasn’t bluffing.
A nation cannot wage a war by committee, and any elected officials who think otherwise should be kept far, far away from any substantive decisions regarding our national defense. Of course, it’s possible that the motivation behind this letter is that Democrats suspect, or know, that President Biden’s cognitive deterioration renders him incapable of safely handling the responsibilities of the Presidency. Ironically, he will prove that theory correct if he capitulates to the letter.
2. And academic freedom ensures that a racist campus newspaper column by a white student would also be published… American University announced in its spring 2021 plan that students would have the option to apply for a temporary residential housing experience for half of the upcoming semester, allowing 1,250 full-time students to reside on campus from March to May 2021. Black student Kayla Kelly recently wrote in the campus paper The Eagle that the plan is a form of “settler colonialism” because most of those taking advantage of the opportunity will be “affluent white students.”
“Settler colonialism is a form of colonialism that replaces the original population with a new invasive species,” Kelly writes in part. “The settler system takes over the space, resources and culture of the environment it encompasses, displacing the original population…The large influx of predominantly affluent white students into D.C.’s “chocolate city,” a term that refers to its large population of Black citizens, could evoke similar effects of settler colonialism and negatively impact the community.”
Kelly is welcome to her pro-segregation, anti-white, bigoted views. (“Species”?) She should not be welcome to circulate them in a campus newspaper. The paper’s editors, staff, and university administrators should be roundly condemned for encouraging racial division on campus. Yes, any adverse action taken by white students or their parents would be immediately labeled as “white supremacy,” just as principled opposition to “Black Lives Matter” propaganda has been shut down by the retort, “So black lives don’t matter, you racist?” But at some point, those concerned about fairness, equity and true “inclusion” need to show some spine and refuse to be intimidated by dishonest rhetorical tricks.
3. After all, professors must have a right to be “reprehensible”…Last summer, I wrote about University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Sarah Parcak, who tweeted detailed instructions and diagrams on how to topple an obelisk as George Floyd rioters in the college town tore down a statue of Charles Linn, a Confederate Navy captain and one of the founders of Birmingham. In her post she suggested that “there might be’ an obelisk in downtown Birmingham,” and that the obelisks “might be masquerading as a racist monument.” There was a Confederate monument in Birmingham, and it is an obelisk. Sure enough, it was quickly attacked by rioters.
Twitter, of course, left her tweet up, because what she was inciting were good crimes and good violence that the Twitter “community” approved of, presumably. If Donald Trump had tweeted diagrams of the best way to breach Capitol security, I would rush to be first in line to demand his impeachment, conviction, and prosecution.
Parcak has continued to be vile force on the Birmingham campus. Her most recent outburst on Twitter was to write that she hoped that conservative figures like the late Rush Limbaugh “suffered until their last breath.” Nice! And why would any conservative-minded student feel comfortable in her classes? Why would one feel welcome at a university that employed such a vicious bigot? Professor Turley writes,
Parcak’s words are particularly concerning since she extends her desire for suffering to the broader array of conservatives. This includes viewpoints that are likely shared by many faculty and students at her university. It reflects a type of raging intolerance and hatred that undermines the faith of many that they will be treated with respect and civility in classrooms and on campus.UAB President Ray Watts issued a Wednesday night statement that said the university is “disgusted and extremely troubled” that Parcak engaged in such speech that is “so unprofessional and blindly inhumane and cruel.”
Then Turley writes,
However, what concerned me was the statement that the university was “reviewing the matter.” Parcak’s public commentary is vile and extremist but it is also, in my view, protected as free speech. She has a right to speak her mind about figures like Limbaugh even when her views are grotesque and offensive for many. We do not need the First Amendment to protect popular speech. Popular speech is not targeted precisely because it is popular. The test of our commitment to free speech is to protect speech that we find objectionable and wrong.
This is a theme with the professor, a Constitutional law specialist. Perhaps he is biased by the fact that he is also a professor who has sometimes seen his positions spark calls for his dismissal. However, there is no First Amendment right to be a professor at an institution when one’s irresponsible public statements undermine and injure that institution and its ability to educate its students. Turley calls the Parcak’s statements “reprehensible,” and an individual who habitually says reprehensible things is reprehensible. A university that continued to employ a reprehensible employee is therefor negligent, incompetent, and irresponsible.