Sunday, April 12, 2015
Ian Millhiser’s exposé of the Supreme Court, Injustices, reviewed.
INJUSTICES - Ian Millhiser’s exposé of the Supreme Court, reviewed.:
by Mark Joseph Stern // Slate
"In America at the dawn of the 20th century, 25,000 little boys spent 10 hours a day in the living hell known as a coal mine. Charged with pulling detritus out of coal shipments, boys as young as 8 hunched over an ever-flowing stream of minerals, plunging in their hands to pull out slate and other rubbish. Many lost fingers or had limbs torn off by faulty machinery. Some fell down coal chutes and were smothered to death. Most, later in life, experienced horrific medical conditions like black lung. For this work, they were paid 40 cents a day.
Disgusted by these savage working conditions and vexed by individual states’ refusal to take action, Congress passed a law in 1916 that forbade the interstate shipment of any good produced in a factory that employed children under age 14. Conservative activists quickly contrived a lawsuit against the act—and won at the Supreme Court, where five justices declared the child labor law unconstitutional.
Although the Constitution explicitly grants Congress the power to regulate commerce between the states, the court explained, Congress here had illegitimately used this power to ban child labor. Why was that exercise of constitutional power illegitimate? Because five justices said so. The law was invalidated, and the 8-year-olds went back to the mines. As Ian Millhiser illustrates in his trenchant, persuasive, and profoundly dispiriting book Injustices, the Supreme Court has consistently and unapologetically used its authority to thwart progress and perpetuate inequality.
The child labor disaster is, if you can believe it, one of the less appalling stories in the book. For as long as the court has held the power to strike down laws—a power it created—its justices have used this authority to impose their own antiquated, antidemocratic ideas on the country at large. Millhiser repeatedly ponders why the court has so persistently hindered self-rule and social progress. The better question to ask about the court, however, is a more basic one: Why do we still put up with it?"
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