It’s time for a new Magna Carta.
Eight hundred years ago, an English monarch averted a Civil War by affixing his name to the Magna Carta, a 1215 document that contained concessions to England’s barons after years of arguments over royal power. The Barons were exasperated at the king’s arbitrary rule and high taxes. The significance of this ancient document is that citizens are entitled to certain basic rights under the law and that no one is above the law. The Magna Carta was a major step toward forming modern democracies and influenced early American colonists and the formation of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.
Now, eight hundred years later, America has strayed from a basic tenet of the Magna Carta – that the government should be accountable to the people.
One reason that America is such an unequal society today is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That 5-4 decision made it unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations and unions. This decision legalized super-PACs that secretly accept unlimited sums of money from corporations and spend the money to boost a specific candidate, often through negative television advertisements targeting the candidate’s opponent. The point of these PACS obviously is to influence the outcome of elections and the policies that are enacted by candidates who are elected to serve as politicians and judges.
According to Politico, the conservative billionaire Koch brothers are expected to spend at least $889 million to support GOP candidates in the upcoming presidential race and it is likely that equally obscene sums will be secretly funneled into the election campaign to support Democratic candidates. The Koch brothers operate multi-national companies involved in transportation fuels (i.e. the oil industry), building and consumer products, electronic connectors, fibers, fertilizers, membrane filtration and pollution control equipment. Does anyone think their motive for spending $889 million is purely altruistic?
A new Magna Carta is needed to clarify that government must be accountable to people and not to artificial legal entities that are structured to advance business interests.
The Magna Charter was signed on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames River in England. One of most important and lasting provisions of the Magna Carta is a provision prohibiting the government from arresting without cause “free men” (This did not include women or poor people).
The evidence that politicians today do not represent actual people is not hard to find. In my book, Betrayed: the Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that older workers are subject to epidemic, unaddressed age discrimination that is literally built into our law. The problem got much worse in 2009 as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which Congress has never bothered to fix.