“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,” according to the ruling elite in George Orwell’s social parody Animal FarmDespite Thomas Jefferson’s adoption of the statement that “All men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, our country’s history and current circumstances provide little support for that claim.  As the Attorney General for New York, Letitia James, and the Attorney General for the United States, Merrick Garland, repeatedly announce, “No one is above the law,” one must wonder how they maintain their somber demeanor. They must be tempted to at least wink at the cameras recording their silliness. We, the people of the United States of America, know that many of our fellow citizens are above the law. We may not like it unless we are amongst those privileged few not answerable to the rules by which most of us are told to live, but we must at least recognize it.

One option for getting “above the law” is to dictate what the law is. Heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences are routinely meted out to those foolish enough to try to enrich themselves through “insider trading.” This involves information about a company or an industry that is not publicly available and that has consequences for that company or industry.  Martha Stewart told her broker to sell a stock that was, according to confidential information, about to lose most of its value. Ordering that stock sale, allegedly on the basis of “insider” information, got her five months in prison, two years of supervised release, and a $30,000 fine. She chose poorly, since that stock eventually did well, but her real mistake was not being a member of Congress.

Members of Congress sit on committees that decide the ultimate fate of businesses and entire industries.  Committee members have access to information only available to company or corporate executives.  They recommend, draft, or otherwise formulate laws that can create, expand, or destroy industries.  They can use this privileged information with impunity to invest in companies or sectors of the economy for which they are drafting legislation. They are not subject to ‘insider trading’ laws that us less equals must abide by.

Another option for skirting what is generally considered illegal is to be a member of the Judiciary deciding what activities are actually illegal. Recently the largesse bestowed upon Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family by the billionaire Harlan Crow has escaped from the shadows.  Thomas and his family received millions of dollars worth of gifts, luxury vacations, and inflated property sales over the course of the past decade or two.  Thomas has had little to say about this financial support, but those concerned about his retaining his ‘conservative’ vote on the Supreme Court have insisted that these undisclosed gifts were never connected to any cases being decided by Thomas as a Justice.

These defenders are apparently unfamiliar with some of the landmark decisions supported by Clarence Thomas that benefited or greatly increased the legislative influence of our billionaire brothers and sister.  One need only recall the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissions decision of 2010 in which Thomas supported interpreting monetary gifts to political campaigns as examples of “free speech” that the government was banned by the First Amendment to the Constitution from restricting. This allowed billionaires, like Harlan Crow, to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to support candidates who shared his viewpoints and concerns. The vote was 5-4 with Clarence Thomas concurring with the majority (and thereby making it a majority decision).

Harlan Crow is an outspoken supporter of Republican candidates and programs, but Clarence Thomas got to the Supreme Court with considerable Democratic support.  At the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding his nomination to the Supreme Court, an exceedingly articulate (and courageous) young woman, named Anita Hill, came forward to testify regarding behavior she had witnessed and to some extent been the victim of by Clarence Thomas that was inconsistent with the temperament and judgment expected of a Supreme Court Justice.  Her testimony was derided and dismissed and her character impugned by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Joseph A. Biden.

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist also had embarrassing revelations during his tenure on the high court.  He owned a property that included a “Covenant” attached to the deed that barred the owner from selling the property to “Negroes or Jews.” He argued that the covenant was unenforceable and that if a “Negro or a Jew” offered the asking price for the property and was denied possession because of the covenant, that prospective buyer could take his claim to court and have the covenant deemed illegal.  That of course presumed that the property was not sold to someone else in the time it took to get the suit heard by a sympathetic court and the potential buyer had thousands or potentially millions of dollars to pay for legal fees needed to pursue his claim.  Rehnquist relented and used his influence to get the ‘whites only’ clause removed from the covenant.

Speaking of the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment bars anyone who has fomented insurrection from becoming a Congressperson or President. It says: “Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath … to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof…”

The leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, the twice impeached former President, is precisely the type of former “public servant” this amendment was drafted to exclude from office.  Nonetheless, whether or not any of the legal proceedings targeting him and advancing at a glacial pace achieve a conclusion prior to the 2024 election appears to be irrelevant. No one, Democrat, Republican, Independent, or otherwise, appears interested in applying this prohibition to someone supported by tens of millions of Americans.

I do not mean to single out the few individuals mentioned here. There are, after all, thousands of wealthy, well-connected, politically influential Americans secure in the knowledge that they are, for the most part, above the law and will continue to be so as long as they retain their wealth and power.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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