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The Militant, 28 February 1949

Fred Hart

A Lesson in Democracy

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 9, 28 February 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


How are the laws of this country made, anyway? Every school child is taught that our laws are exclusively the product of the democratic process. Whenever the majority of the people decides in favor of a particular law, the matter is settled. At least, this is what the school books say.

Well, the people of Oregon, have just received a different lesson in law-making. At the last election, the majority of the Oregon voters cast their ballots in favor of old age pensions, securing $50 a month to every man over 65 and every woman over 60. This meager sum was to be paid by the state.

The sponsors of this measure apparently obtained some excellent legal advice. Here is how Newsweek, Feb. 21, reports some of the clauses of this pension law:

“The drafters had tried to make it airtight: Apparently, it provided that any conflict with the (state) constitution was null, it forbade future amendments by the legislature, and it outlawed judicial review by the courts. Finally, it provided that any state funds, whether previously earmarked by law or not, could be dipped into to pay the pensions.”

But although the people voted for all this, there will be no old age pensions paid in Oregon. Why not? Because of a “ruling” made by Attorney General George Neuner. Placing himself above the constitution and above the courts, this gentleman “ruled the pension measure to be ‘incomplete, inoperative, and not self-executing.’ Labelling it merely a ‘statement of policy’ he said it had no effect unless the legislature acted.” The legislature, of course, refused to act.

From where did this individual derive his powers to flout the will of the majority? The office of Attorney General does not even delegate authority to review laws (which is the function of the courts) but only to enforce them.

For his part, George (“I am the law”) Neuner has merely taken his cue from the U.S. Attorney General, Tom Clark. On a national scale this lawyer has been doing much the same thing as was done by his colleague in Oregon. Clark has just “ruled” that the office of the President has “inherent powers.” The same Clark had previously “ruled” that a whole number of organizations and minority parties (among them the Socialist Workers Party) were “subversive.” If Clark could do this, why couldn’t Neuner rule null and void a pension law?

Apparently it is the Attorney Generals — federal and state —who have decided that they have the power to make and unmake laws at will. What we have here are multiplying instances of individuals who claim the right to act as do fascist rulers and other dictators, namely, to proclaim themselves to be the law.

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