Attention Americans, we lack standing. What does that mean? It means that although the framers worried about corruption, developing a system of checks and balances to guard against grifters and autocrats, they failed to codify the system in such a way that actually gave citizens the ability to do anything about that corruption.
The founders feared the power of kings, distrusted political parties, and sought to prevent the country’s leaders from enriching themselves personally. And yet, according to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, neither citizens nor their representatives have legal standing to challenge the corruption that is endemic in the Trump era.
In legal terms, one needs “standing” to sue someone. You must be able to show the way in which you have been harmed by someone’s actions. And yet, the Courts have read this in such a way, certainly in the matter of the emoluments cases, that neither regular citizens nor even business holders disadvantaged by Trump’s shady business practices, have been granted standing.
All of this leaves us in a curious place where, despite ostensibly having a government “for the people by the people,” we are left with no recourse when the government does not act in our interest.
The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances and online petition after online petition and endless calls to my members of Congress certainly speaks to that right. However, in so many ways the Courts have essentially neutered the intent of Constitution to mean that we can protest the behavior of our leaders, but we have no rights to actually do anything about it.
Of course, one might argue that the courts are not the correct venue for this- that the political arena is where we should seek remedy. We should vote out those who would violate the spirit (if not, according to the Supreme Court, the letter) of the law. But such an argument rests on the idea that we have a functional political system.
However, no fair reading of our current political moment would lead one to the conclusion that we actually have a functional political system. Between voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, and a politics of obstruction that allowed them to stack the courts, Republicans now control not only the three branches of government, but also the process by which citizens can actually elect and hold their government accountable. Republicans have sought to make our lack of standing permanent.
Having suppressed the power of the people to be a check on government, Republicans have abdicated their constitutional responsibilities to be a check on the corruption and mendacity of the Executive branch. Willing to sell out their country to foreign dictators and their morals to pedophiles, rapists, and Nazis, Republicans have betrayed their country for the promise of tax breaks and minority rule.
Of course, if you are a woman, a person of color, or a member of the LGBTQ community, the news reminds you all the time that you lack standing in our society. Whether we are watching our rights being stripped away or fighting for the rights we have never had, we confront daily the way that even in its most generous interpretation, the Constitution wasn’t really talking about us in that whole “for the people, by the people” ideal.
I’m not sure how we fight back. But what I do know is that if we actually manage to wrest power from the hands of Republicans, we are going to need to start codifying the rights of citizens so that we actually have standing.
It’s something for which we should stand up and fight, because if we don’t we might as well lay down in defeat.