The House of Representatives later this week is expected to begin debate on the so-called Pledge Protection Act, which would strip federal courts of the power to hear challenges to the words that constitute the Pledge of Allegiance. The proposed legislation from the House leadership is as politically crass as it is insincere, but it does serve a useful purpose — reminding the majority of American voters of our nation's bedrock, bipartisan political values.
The Pledge Protection Act, peddled by the House leadership even though it knows the proposed legislation is unlikely to ever become law, is an unapologetic political stunt designed to draw a certain type of religious voter to the polls in November. It’s all part of the radical right's narrow "values" agenda, a grab bag of divisive legislation designed to splinter rather than unite America.
This legislation is certainly not necessary to protect the Pledge of Allegiance. It is a response to a single case (Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow), in which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the 1954 addition of "Under God" to the Pledge violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ducked the question by ruling that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the case. There has been no stampede since then to strike down the Pledge.
But the legislation is part of a series of legislative maneuvers by the radical right to strip the courts of their historic and crucial role as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Other legislation of this ilk includes the Marriage Protection Act, the Constitution Restoration Act, and the Congressional Accountability for Judicial Activism Act —- all of which boast titles mostly at odds with what they would actually achieve but which together reveal a dangerous political agenda.
The vote this week on the Pledge Protection Act could serve America well if members of Congress and their constituents consider the real American values that underpin the many reasons to reject the proposed law and other court-stripping legislation. Our federal courts exist to protect our individual rights and political principles that are too important to put to a vote. And our political process requires us from time to time to vote to protect the independence of our Judiciary — to ensure that the checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution are preserved.
Conservative, moderate and liberal members of Congress understand the importance of our nation's independent Judicial Branch, which the late Chief Justice Rehnquist called the "crown jewel" of our system of government. Opponents of repressive regimes around the world recognize this truth. So, too, do most Americans. The radical right, however, wants to assault our judiciary to foist their narrow agenda upon all Americans, targeting the Pledge of Allegiance, of all things, as a suitable vehicle.
The Pledge Protection Act together with other court-stripping legislation would undermine two centuries of judicial review of acts of Congress, giving Congress the last word on whether the laws it passes are constitutional. That's simply not an American value. Members of Congress who oppose this raid on the Constitution should stand proud in opposition, and should let American voters across the land understand the importance of that vote.
To read more about the efforts of the Center for American Progress to protect our nation's Constitutional freedoms, please see the following columns:
To read more about the real values that Americans feel are threatened today, please see the Center's Faith and Progessive Policy initiative, including a recent poll that outlined what American values the majority of our nation believe need to be reclaimed for the common good of all citizens: