Monday, March 29, 2010

Due Process versus Desired Results

Tibor R. Machan

Human justice is directly concerned with process, indirectly with results. This appears to have escaped President Barack Obama, especially during the recent political battle over whether Obamacare may be implemented or is it perhaps in violation of the U. S. Constitution. And was it perhaps enacted without regard to justice, to due process?

I am no constitutional scholar but it seems to me that in America it is perfectly proper to inquire about whether a piece of legislation has been enacted in a way that does violence to due process, the method of making law that free men and women are due. So when during the final hours of the debate about Obamacare Mr. Obama himself derisively dismissed the concern of many about the process by which it was being made into law--for example in his 11th hour interview on Fox TV--the American citizenry gained an important insight into just how his administration plans to govern. What the president was insisting upon is that what matters to him and his team are results, not process. He wanted the bill to succeed, whatever process would bring this about and it is quite likely that this is how he plans to pursue the rest of his agenda.

Now life, of course, is itself a process. Human life in society manifests itself in innumerable processes, aiming at innumerable results. There is only one common result all human life ought to aim for but it comes in a great variety of forms, which is human happiness. This is supposed to be the reward of the morally good life of the individual human being. For this reason a good society has a system of legal justice that protects the processes whereby men and women will not have anyone around them obstruct their pursuit of happiness. It is the protection of that pursuit that is crucial to the law, not the result itself which is the citizenry's own business, their own task to achieve.

A parallel situation obtains concerning attempts to adjudicate dispute among members of the citizenry. A criminal trial is such an adjudicative process. And here again the result is only indirectly the concern of the legal system, the process is the crucial factor. And this is clear from the fact that the system often leaves the result in the hands of a jury, private citizens with no political and legal office. The system is supposed to ensure that every trial follows sound procedures--due processes of law!

But the tenor as well as the aims of our legal system have been changing. Politicians, including their legal appointees, are focused not on process but on results. The country is in danger of becoming a semi-civilized lynch mob. This could be appreciated from watching the news reports of all the fuss associated with the how dismissive President Obama was toward concerns expressed about the process that finally produced Obamacare.

And all this should not surprise us too much. Although the United States of America was conceived in terms of a legal system focused on due process, in time the government began establishing too many specific goals for us all to pursue. If the proper processes of the law do not produce an educated public, relief for the poor, environmental purity, total racial harmony, decent speech, or health insurance for all, then let's just drop them and charge ahead anyway.

When such a role is conceived for our government, is it surprising that the people are willing to throw out due process as they protest the ensuing results? What many wanted from the recent debate about Obamacare is to make sure that bringing about the result does not do violence to individual rights (as, for example, coercing people to buy insurance certainly would). Did the American political process manage to abide by the principles to which all political maneuvers must conform? Or did those who wanted Obamacare proceed without regard for the principles on which the government is supposed to rest?

In the eyes of most protesters, for example members of the Tea Party, it could very well look as if due process was tossed to the side. Supporters of Obamacare made it clear they couldn't care less about how the legislation made it into law so long as it did so somehow, with some semblance of legitimacy. This is a very ominous sign of where the country is headed. Hugo Chavez would find it promising.

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