In July of 1996, a TWA 747 took off from JFK airport in New York, bound for Rome, It never got there. The 747 like all other 747’s was a workhorse aircraft of the airline industry. The 747 has proven after decades that it is a reliable and safe aircraft. The engineers who designed it intended for it to be safe and reliable. Sure there were some minor design flaws, but when they were discovered, they were quickly changed or repaired. This particular 747 had thousands of hours of flight time without any major incidents. There was however a very minor design flaw. It was so insignificant that it had never been detected on any 747’s in service. An unforeseeable glitch, a tiny wrench in the works that had gone unnoticed and yet on that July night it created a huge fireball cascading down to the sea. It would end the lives 230 people. When the 747 was built it had a fuselage, wings, engines, avionics, safety systems, and thousand other details too numerous to mention. All of those things were connected to each other by hundreds of miles of wire. The aircraft successfully made thousands of flights over its life span. During every hour of its operation the engines caused a vibration in the aircraft. That vibration is what indirectly destroyed the aircraft. During it’s life span there was a wire that rested against something else inside the aircraft. Thousands of hours of vibration lead to that wire rubbing against something else, causing the protective coating on the wire to gradually wear down to bare copper. Nobody knew about it, it was a tiny issue. The 747 lifted off the ground with 230 people on board, and thousands of pounds of fuel in its tanks right next to that bare wire. Thousands of feet in the air, the there was a spark that ignited fuel vapors. An aircraft longer than a football field, 600,000 pounds in weight exploded in mid-air. The huge aircraft was doomed by a tiny piece of wire. The Devil was in the details
I was reminded of that tragedy today by a legal ruling from the supreme court. It was a ruling today, and another previous ruling that upheld the affordable care act (Obamacare). The ACA was a huge law, 2,700 pages long. Many citizens and lawmakers alike wanted a thorough and careful review of the law before it was put to a vote. Instead of careful deliberation it was rammed through by a political majority without knowing what was in the bill. The bill was passed, and signed into law by the president. After the law was passed detractors, and proponents alike read the minutia of the law. Hidden in the 2,700 hundred pages were 2 legal flaws. The first was that the government could force you to engage in commerce or be fined by the government, this was the individual mandate. The second was a statement that states could choose not to participate in subsidized exchanges. The first case went before the Supreme court, where the majority opinion ruled that the fines were not actually fines, but were in fact taxes. Fines would make the law unconstitutional, but taxes would be legal. The Justices ignored the english language and redefined fines as taxes. In the second ruling handed down today, the majority opinion ruled that states were not in fact states. Once again they ignored the common sense meaning of the english language to make an unconstitutional law, magically constitutional. One of the dissenting justices wrote in his opinion that by this ruling, “words have no meaning”. Laws are a carefully crafted construction of words, if those words have no meaning to the supreme court, then laws have no meaning to the supreme court. Laws mean whatever they want them to mean at that moment. This is the justice of whims, and fads.
My Intent was not to argue for or against Obamacare as most people’s opinions are rather deeply set on that matter. What is important is that if a law is poorly written then it creates loophole for it to be struck down. This might encourage legislators to write bills of a more manageable size so that the flaws could be easily spotted and corrected before the bill is voted upon. Today the supreme court set a precedent for legislators to craft enormous bills thousands of pages long. This should discourage opponents from reading these large bills looking for mistakes or loopholes. It doesn’t matter now what you put in the bill. From now on if it passes, that’s it. There’s no point in arguing the language of the bill. You can cut and paste Martha Stewart recipes into the key pages of a bill and the Supreme court can simply rule what your intent was, not what you actually wrote.
If the justices of the Supreme court were 747 mechanics, it was once their job to find those bare wires and ground the plane until proper repairs were made. Now those mechanics at the Supreme court are climbing inside the plane and stripping the wires bare because they assume that is what the engineers who designed the 747 meant to do. To add insult to injury they are pouring jet fuel on those bare wires and calling it preventative maintenance.
That safe and reliable 747 exploded in mid-air. The crossed wires in our legal system just sparked, do you smell jet fuel?