Sunday, November 20, 2005

Our own wedge issue

There is a significant new movement developing for a Constitutional Amendment and it bears watching--and support. I first saw it mentioned on Echidne of the Snakes, attributed to Seattle columnist Dan Savage in a New York Times Op Ed piece. It is now also appearing on A-list blogs like DailyKos and MyDD. Whoever came up with the idea, I think it is important, both tactically and as a matter of principle.

We're talking about a Constitutional Amendment for the Right to Privacy. This, from Savage's Op Ed:
Will Estelle Griswold ever be able to rest in peace? Although she died in 1981, the poor woman gets kicked up and down the block whenever someone is nominated to a seat on the United States Supreme Court. But few people remember who Griswold was or what she did.

In 1961, Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opened a birth-control clinic in New Haven. She was promptly arrested for dispensing contraceptives to a married couple and was eventually convicted and fined $100. She appealed, and when her case reached the Supreme Court in 1965, seven of nine justices voted to overturn the conviction, striking down Connecticut's law against selling birth control (effectively overturning similar laws in other states). Americans, the court ruled, had a fundamental right to privacy.

Much of American jurisprudence since then flows from Griswold - including Roe v. Wade, which found that women had a right to abortion, and Lawrence v. Texas of 2003, which found that the right to privacy prevents the government from banning sodomy, gay and straight.

Problematically, however, a right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. The majority in Griswold held that it was among the unenumerated rights implied by the Constitution's "penumbras" (which sound like something a sodomy law might keep you away from). The Griswold case didn't settle the matter, and the right to privacy quickly became the Tinkerbell of constitutional rights . . . . (New York Times)
Since both Griswold (the right to buy and sell contraceptives) and Roe v. Wade were based on the right to privacy, this would be an important constitutional backstop for reproductive rights. But it would have other effects as well, perhaps putting a stake through the heart of such pernicious legislation as The Patriot Act and other gross violations of privacy now practiced routinely by the Bush Administration and large corporations.
. . . if the right to privacy is so difficult for some people to locate in the Constitution, why don't we just stick it in there? Wouldn't that make it easier to find?

If the Republicans can propose a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, why can't the Democrats propose a right to privacy amendment? Making this implicit right explicit would forever end the debate about whether there is a right to privacy. And the debate over the bill would force Republicans who opposed it to explain why they don't think Americans deserve a right to privacy - which would alienate not only moderates, but also those libertarian, small-government conservatives who survive only in isolated pockets on the Eastern Seaboard and the American West.
That's what I call a wedge issue!