Friday, May 6, 2011

Robert Shetterly's op-ed published in this week's Ellsworth American

The Court, the Mural, the Governor, the Law

In court today, April 22, 2011, Judge John Woodcock defended the right of an ideologically mean spirited man, Maine’s governor, to suppress the truth of Maine’s labor history depicted in Judy Taylor’s mural, ruling against the plaintiffs who sought a Temporary Restraining Order to have the mural re-hung in the Department of Labor. Often a strange relationship exists between rights and justice. They can be terribly out of sync. Frequently, in the courts, rights trump justice. The governor can now exult in his right to replace truth with propaganda. What good can come of this? How is democracy served by this outcome? What does it say of a nation of laws? And how can it be remedied?

The kind of right that protected the governor’s action is not included in any idea of unalienable rights. Unalienable rights flow from a philosophical notion about the dignity of all human beings and their equal claim for decent lives. That’s what the labor movement was all about. The governor’s right flows from a political system making laws to protect the right of people in power to insist on formulations of history and policy that are convenient to them regardless of the truth. This right has the same relationship to justice as a law that allows a multi-billion dollar US corporation to register in the Cayman Islands and pay no US taxes. Or, a law that allows a coal company to blow up the Appalachian Mountains. How do laws like these serve the people and serve justice.

They don’t.

I think any fair minded person would view Judge Woodcock’s decision as a triumph of rights and a travesty of justice. Are we a better, a more honest, a more free society now? Hardly. It’s a curious thing to be in a courtroom and listen to a smart judge sift through precedents that bear on his case. One would hope that the previous cases accumulate over time in a process of adding wisdom and justice to complicated situations. Instead, we often find layers of loopholes, exceptions and Orwellian logic meant to obfuscate justice and bewilder wisdom. Such is the law that protects “government speech.” Just to say those words makes one cringe with cynicism.

When a simple, accurate portrayal of history is determined to be partisan speech and is removed, we are in dangerous territory. When a court bolsters this prejudice with its legal prestige, we are in worse trouble. The remedy for us as citizens of Maine is not in the courts. Rarely, in situations like this, has the law been helpful. The people must insist on what is right because of its relation to justice, not its convenience for power. Sadly, the court has spoken. It’s time for the people to speak --- powerfully. That’s the only speech that would serve democracy. I urge you all to not let this issue disappear. It’s not just another embarrassing insult from our loose cannon of a governor. His action was another crucial step in the ideological process of making democracy into plutocracy.

Robert Shetterly

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