Sunday, July 01, 2007

Zack Hill and the Unelected Judges

Q. When is “unelected” a pejorative term?

A. Whenever a court makes a decision that right-wingers don’t agree with, at which point they insist that “unelected judges” are a threat to the very fabric of society. The people who blather on about unelected judges would have you believe that anyone off the street can stumble into a courtroom and declare himself the judge.

They’re absolutely silent on the issue of not being elected when it comes to decisions they support, of course. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that schools could restrict the speech of students at school-sponsored events (the infamous “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case), but those who agreed with the decision somehow forgot to mention the five “unelected judges” who wrote the majority opinion.

It would never occur to me to take issue with unelected judges. I paid enough attention in Mr Hart’s junior-high history class to know that judges are appointed—and that they’re appointed by Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and whoever else happens to be holding the office in charge of appointing judges. It is absolutely irrelevant that judges aren’t elected: You might as well complain about unelected umpires at your local Little League game.

Which brings me to a comic strip called Zack Hill, by John Deering and John Newcombe. Zack Hill is a funky-haired 10-year-old who makes pithy observations about life and growing up and whatnot. He has a crush on an apple-cheeked classmate named Tanja and he’s pursued by a Goth-like girl named Winona. His widowed mom runs a boarding house full of wacky characters. There’s occasional political humor, but it’s always been fair-minded—and it’s never fallen into the category of blindly partisan, hideously unfunny tripe like Mallard Fillmore.

However. Today’s strip got my dander up. (Much of the Runes has been written in a state of heightened dander.) It’s a four-panel Sunday strip and it shows the four main kid characters reciting the pledge of allegiance. (For my thoughts on the validity of forced pledges, see here.) When it comes to the part where most people reciting something by rote would say “one nation under God,” the rebellious Zack says “one nation under unelected judges who rule we can’t acknowledge God in public.”

Oh, Zack, Zack, I know you’re only ten years old, but your cartoonists have led you down the horseshit path for reasons I can’t fathom. First off, there’s the whole “unelected judges” thing I covered earlier. But then it gets worse: When did any judge ever say you couldn’t acknowledge God in public? Such a ruling would be unconstitutional, Zack—you’ve been sadly misinformed.

Forcing the words “under God” into the pledge—and forcing children to say them—was an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion. Beyond that, you’re free to evoke God and Zeus and Cthulhu to your heart’s content, and pretending you’re not is disingenuous.

The last panel shows Zack saying “…and liberty and justice for all judges.” It’s not really funny and it doesn’t make much sense, so maybe Deering and Newcombe just wanted to point out that 10-year-olds don’t have a firm grasp of political nuance.

Seems like an odd way to go about it, though.

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