Dreams of Ottumwa

After nearly 40 years in Washington, I've noticed that two things happen to people who move here: First, their sinuses are shot. And second, even the most sensible people lose touch with the real world. They begin taking their cues from the so-called thoughtful part of the nation--that is, the elites who live inside the Beltway. That's the only explanation I can find for why sensible people come to the Supreme Court and then issue irrational decisions. I'm thinking in particular of the Court's recent Romer v. Evans decision, which invalidated Colorado's Amendment 2. Now if only the Supreme Court were based in, say, Iowa, the justices might view issues like this differently. As I mused on this subject the other day, I fell asleep--and had the most amazing dream. I saw a multitude of people from every part of the country, marching on the Supreme Court. No, these folks weren't interested in making speeches. My first hint was the huge tractor they were hauling. It was the NASA crawler, the 3,000-ton platform used to carry the space shuttle to the launching pad. What are they gonna do with that? I wondered. I soon found out. A man in a John Deere cap said, "We decided that since there's no way to get the ‘Washington' out of the Court, we'd take the Court out of Washington!" "Where are you planning to put it?" I asked. "Ottumwa, Iowa," he replied. "How are you going to get the Court onto the crawler?" I asked. "Just watch!" the man cheerfully answered. Just then the justices came out. "What gives?" asked Justice O'Connor. "We're moving the Court!" roared the crowd. "Where to?" asked Justice Thomas. "Ottumwa, Iowa!" the crowd answered. "Where's Iowa?" asked a bewildered Justice Bryer. "And how are you going to get the Court there?" "That's easy," said the man in the John Deere hat. "The American people have determined that the decision whether or not to obey the law of gravity is an intimate and personal choice central to our personal dignity and autonomy." "What claptrap is this?" Justice Souter asked. Justice Scalia began to laugh. "It's from your own Casey decision, you nitwit," he said. And he added, "They've got us, so let's give the Court the old heave-ho." The other justices shrugged and complied. They put their hands on the side of the court building--and solemnly declared the law of gravity unconstitutional. The Supreme Court building rose gently into the air. "Westward Ho!" shouted the crowd. And away they went. Along the route, citizens invited the justices to potluck suppers. They picked up the tab for clam strips at an Illinois Howard Johnson's. They stopped at a Dairy Queen and treated the justices to dilly bars. They even invited the justices to sleep in their trailer parks. But just as the Court arrived within sight of Ottumwa's city limits, my alarm clock went off. The traveling Court and the cheering crowds faded away in the morning light. Yes, it was only a dream. But I've always believed that moving the Court to the heartland was a good idea. It would put the justices back in touch with ordinary Americans. And it would be far more difficult to trash 200 years of American tradition--or declare big chunks of it unconstitutional--if the justices dwelt among people who actually live, and die, by that great moral consensus.


Chuck Colson



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