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And Another Thing...

Doesn’t the Senate have a few more pressing matters? Last time I checked, they were neck deep in unconfirmed federal judges and a UN ambassador. There is also the pesky fact that Social Security could be defunct with a generation or two. Obviously, the Senate has a lot on its plate, and there is a certain good to be derived from little ceremonies like the lynching apology. However, take a look at the Senate's Legislative and Records website. It essentially lists what our elected officials have been up to this session.

A quick glance shows that the Senate is currently grappling with some serious issues. Abortion laws prohibiting the transportation of a minor across state lines to circumvent parental notification requirements and to require that women who seek an abortion be informed that their fetus can feel pain are in committee. Also, stem cell research and human cloning are under consideration. They have already dealt with laws concerning bankruptcy reform and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And there have been the usual proposals for constitutional amendments defending traditional marriage and protecting the flag from desacration. Serious matters, all, and worthy of great attention.

However, this list of active matters also reveals that the Senate is tackling the illusory issue of drug testing for professional athletes. Also, the Senate is debating what words or phrases constitute indecency so they can tell the FCC what to punish on broadcast TV. And finally, the “Cheesburger Bill” is under consideration, dealing with somehow limiting civil damage awards stemming from obese “victims” of fatty food.

Also, the Senate issues an awful lot of resolutions. Besides the lynching apology, the Senate just last week proclaimed “National Military Families Week,” a federal expression of gratitude to the Small Business Administration, a resolution recognizing “the importance of sun safety,” and another resolution “recognizing the historical significance of the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo.”

Beyond poking fun at the Senate, however, there is a serious issue to be considered. The list of active matters this session features the following listing:

S.686 Title: A bill to provide for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo.
Latest Major Action: Became Public Law No: 109-3

Of course, that does not tell the entire story, since Ms. Schiavo’s parents received no federal relief. Instead, a federal court simply did not feel compelled to abide by the law. The bitter irony in the Senate issuing these non-binding resolutions is that the federal judiciary appears to feel that all legislative acts are non-binding resolutions. Some recent non-binding resolutions include the Child Pornography Prevention Act and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. A recent federal decision in Nebraska (discussed here) shows that the Defense of Marriage Act is also considered non-binding.

With every act of judicial usurpation, the Senate and Congress as a whole diminish, taking the influence of the people with them into the sunset. There must be space for the Senate to dispense with accolades and inconsequential diplomatic gestures as their collective wisdom dictates. These are not destructive or improper endeavors. However, unless the Senate wants to become exclusively a ceremonial institution, it will put aside the “business as usual” resolutions and other gestures and focus its collective energy on asserting its constitutional power against an ascendant judiciary. When the proper balance of political power is restored, the Senate can return to making apologies


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