Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Open Letter To Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia

Dear Justice Scalia,

It is with great pleasure that I imagine you deigning to read this letter. It is not lost on me what a legitimate honor that would be, seeing as how you are the longest-serving justice on the Court. After earning a Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard, you built a successful private practice, but then heard the call of public service and failed to miss the opportunity to ride Ronald Reagan's disgraceful coattails to your current august position.

Before delving into the substance of our discussion, I want to acknowledge the caliber of your legal acumen. I want to recognize your mind as a direct lineal descendant of the Magna Carta. And then, I want to crumple that recognition into a ball, and wipe my ass with it, you warthog-faced buffoon.

It may have penetrated the dimly-lit sphere of your Cialis-fueled consciousness that there is a Constitutional battle brewing in the state of Mississippi, where the unfortunately named "Personhood Amendment" is being debated by a representative subset of that spineless species of asshole we continue beyond all reason to call "legislators." (If any so-called legislators happen to be listening in -- fuck you, assholes.) The citizens of the Mississippi Delta Nuclear Family Waste Containment Area, exhibiting a degree of thoughtful civic deliberation remeniscent of ancient Athens, have proposed that legal personhood be granted to human fetuses.

I have a hunch this case will make it to you at some point, and since you sat on the Court during the recent Citizens United case, you presumably have built up some experience navigating the tricky ontological waters of legal personhood. So, as repugnant as I find you personally, I must overcome this defect in my compassion and actively seek out your expertise.

If the Supreme Court holds that the status of legal personhood can be granted to both corporations and fetuses, then the Supreme Court will create an ontological crisis that will be as devastating to the practice of American law as the Greek debt crisis is turning out to be to the commerce of Europe.

By "ontological crisis" I mean, two things that are both (stipulated to be) real, but are in fact completely fucking different from each other, will be indistinguishable from the perspective of Constitutional protections. Corporations, as you may have heard between pig roasts and rounds of golf, are vast agglomerations of physical objects and human beings, distributed in potentially many geographic places at once, using technology to exchange information amongst each other. Fetuses, on the other hand, are lumps of tissue that are basically indistinguishable from your appendix except for the magical property that they will, left to their own devices, turn into human beings. These two objects, corporations and fetuses, are arranged in an ontological opposition best described as diametric.

Not only are the ontological essences of corporations and fetuses diametrically opposed to each other, but they are both diametrically opposed to the folk notions of personhood prevalent in the American electorate -- y'know, the John Q. Public commonsense notions of what the word "person" means. These notions are hosted in, and originate from, the minds of sentient beings (presumably somewhat like yourself) that our friends and our families have seen fit to call "persons" without a second thought, for generations and generations, long before anyone felt a burning need to give that term legal primacy.

By "ontological crisis" I mean, it will be impossible to contrive a reliable test for determining whether a given ontological entity that might be referenced in a legal proceeding does or does not constitute a person. Such basic ontological tests as "Is it alive?" will fail: this answer is "yes" for fetuses and for the folk notion of person, but is "no" for corporations. "Can I converse with it?" yields "yes" for the folk notion of person and for corporations, but will yield "no" for fetuses. "Is it capable of love?" yields yes for the folk notion of person and for fetuses, but will yield "no" for corporations. "Is it capable of being sued?" will yield "yes" for corporations and for the folk notion of person, but will yield "no" for fetuses. "Can I readily determine how much money it's worth?" yields "yes" for corporations and for the folk notion of person, but "no" for fetuses. "Can it be owned?" yields "yes" for corporations (and maybe fetuses, depending on how our hillbilly fucktard brethren in Mississippi want to play it) but "no" for fetuses and the folk notion of person.

The only ontological tests that can reliably succeed for all three flavors of legal person are so general as to be useless: "Can it die?" Yes in all cases. (Note how "Can its death be mourned?" yields "yes" only for fetuses and the folk notion of person.) "Is it made of matter?" Yes in all cases. "Can it experience the passage of time?" Yes in all cases. Surely a mind as keen as yours sees this Boschlike landscape of hellish ontological chaos. Words (which I understand are used heavily in law) would literally cease to convey meaning reliably, regardless of whose mouths they emerge from.

The way I see it, a strict constructionist like yourself has only one honest option: you get to pick one. Either corporations enjoy legal personhood, but not fetuses; or fetuses enjoy legal personhood, but not corporations. But hear me loud and clear, you bitch motherfucker: YOU DON'T GET BOTH. If you were to get both, that would mark the moment when the entire population of this country realizes that the law has become completely self-referential and untethered to the ontological realities that constrain us all. This isn't a political ax I'm trying to grind, either: I don't give a fuck which one you pick. Leave Citizens United intact, at the price of smacking down this dreadful "Personhood Amendment"; or give the Personhood Amendment the thumbs-up, at the price of overturning Citizens United. BUT YOU DON'T GET BOTH.

So my question is this: what ontological test, or set of tests, do you plan to rely on in this eventuality? What "strict constructions" will you use to express your strict proclivities while orienteering through these thorny wildernesses? What set of guiding principles will you use to map the abstractions of law back to the ontological catalog from which this world is populated with objects? Articulate for me, if you will, your underlying legal philosophy for approaching these questions in the future. Give me a glimpse of the heated conversations you have with yourself when these matters intrude on your CPAP-enabled sleep. Thrill me with your acumen.

No comments: