Saturday, May 03, 2003

Judicial train wreck

Yesterday a three-judge federal court issued a ruling in the numerous challenges to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), popularly known as McCain-Feingold. I’d discuss the decision, except that I’m still not sure what was actually decided. The court’s “opinion” is a mess, stemming a combined 1,625 pages and featuring separate writings from each of the three judges. Judging by the size alone, and without having read a single page, I can safely label this case a travesty. In a nation that requires juries to render unanimous verdicts in even the most routine of criminal cases, we are somehow unable to find three life-tenured federal judges who can agree on a single opinion in a major constitutional case? While I understand the complexity of the law at issue, the court’s voluminous production here is a mockery of common law and judicial review.

As to the merits of the case, I express no great interest. Both sides of the political argument hold reasonable views. BCRA supporters argue politics is corrupted by money, while opponents emphasize free speech triumphs over any such concern. These views are justifiable, but ultimately both miss the mark. The campaign finance system is a problem, but not because the system is causing corruption. The corruption of American government stems from a breakdown in ideological principles, not the fact that interest groups are raising soft money for political parties. John McCain, BCRA’s chief architect, is himself one of the most corrupt members of the United States Senate. In recent years, he’s championed numerous causes promoting the government’s violation of individual rights. Indeed, “campaign finance reform” is merely the latest assault on the Constitution perpetuated by Senator McCain. His corruption has nothing to do with the campaign finance laws, and everything to do with lusting after power.

On the other hand, I simply can’t get that upset over the campaign finance issue. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will strike down the blatantly unconstitutional parts of BCRA, and whatever remains will be ineffective. If there’s one constant in American politics, it’s that smart operatives can get around any dumb, ill-conceived restriction. The BCRA is nothing more than a case of politicians regulating other politicians. At best, it’s a fools’ errand. And, frankly, this whole fiasco may yield a positive benefit: Once people realize that campaign finance laws won’t “improve” the government, people may just stop looking for scapegoats, and start addressing the underlying ideological problems with the modern welfare state.

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