Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Karelian Fever: Idealistic Americans Suffer under Soviet Rule

From the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and from the time of the founding of the USSR in 1922, a small but steady stream of well-intentioned people from both Canada and the United States migrated to Russia, hoping to establish a communist utopia.

That stream continued over the decades.

One demographic segment within this trend was a group of Finns. People had migrated from Finland to both Canada and the U.S., settling and establishing homes and families.

After living in North America for many years, some of these immigrants, and some of their children, formed a movement known as ‘Karelian Fever.’ They migrated back to Finland, where they intended to build a socialist society.

Fueled by visions of economic justice, they did not understand that Soviet propaganda was manipulating them. The communists in Russia and in Finland saw the idealistic migrants as cheap labor.

Finland was not on good terms with the USSR. After the 1917 revolution, Finland, a former Russian possession, declared its independence from Russia. Military conflict resulted as the Finns asserted their autonomy.

Although Finland was opposed to the Soviet Socialists, there was a significant minority of communists and socialists within Finland.

When the Finns from North America arrived in the USSR and in Finland in the 1930s, hoping to build a socialist paradise, they did indeed work diligently. But Stalin did not believe that they were trustworthy, having lived in North America.

Ultimately, Stalin chose to eliminate most of them, as history John Earl Haynes reports:

The tragic end to Karelian Fever might be worth some attention. In the early 1930s, thousands of idealistic Finnish Americans and Finnish Canadians migrated to the Soviet republic of Karelia to help construct communism. Estimates vary from at least 4,000 to as many as 10,000 of these migrants. Most had been born in Finland, migrated to North America, and then migrated back eastward to Karelia. But in their second migration they took with them their children who had been born and raised for some time and in the USA and Canada.

Stalin was paranoid. His secret police fabricated false allegations, arrested many of the Finns, and executed most of them.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, archeologists discovered mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Finns. They had been executed by firing squad, starved to death, or died of disease in internment camps.

Many of these victims were U.S. citizens. The USSR’s actions in this case constituted an act of war. Questions remain about the degree to which the U.S. government was aware of the situation and why it failed to respond in any significant way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Judiciary’s Task: Textual Interpretation

The history of the United States can be understood through the lens of textual interpretation. Rights and freedom are defined and listed in documents, primarily in the Constitution.

One central assignment for a judge or a court is, then, to examine, explain, and apply the foundational texts both of the Constitution and of various individual laws and regulations.

If a citizen’s liberties are codified in these documents, then carefully examining the words is the activity which will protect a citizen’s freedoms and civil rights. We can see how, over the years and centuries, these texts have protected citizens and their rights from the government.

Citizens of the United States, wishing to limit the government’s power and thereby protect themselves, wrote the Constitution in 1787. It was ratified by the various states during the several years following.

In 1789, the citizens further clarified their rights by proposing, and ratifying, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

These texts, along with numerous other statutes, are interpreted and applied in court. Four principles have emerged which guide legal interpretation. Attorney General and former Senator Scott Pruitt explains the first principle:

The law, whether statutes or the Constitution itself, must be applied according to its text. In other words, judges should not apply the law based on what is good policy or what they suppose Congress may have intended (but did not express) in passing legislation.

The task of a judge is to examine words on paper. The judge is not to operate out of his own opinion about what should happen, nor is the judge to guess about what Congress may have thought when it wrote the words.

The rules of a board game, or of a sport, are similar: the people playing the game, or the referees and umpires, must apply the rules as they stand and as they are written. The officials cannot make calls according their own opinions about what should happen; nor can the officials make calls based on guesses about what other people might believe.

Scott Pruitt continues with the second principle of interpretation:

The words of the law should be understood as they were understood by the people when the law was enacted.

Words and phrases can change their meaning over time. For example, the Constitution speaks of Congress issuing a “letter of marque,” a phrase which is no longer common in our language. The phrase refers to a document which authorizes a private citizen to stop pirates and turn them over to the government.

Judges must become familiar with certain words and phrases which have changed their meanings, or which are no longer often used. Why? Because rights, freedoms, and liberties are contained in those words and phrases.

The meaning of laws is fixed by the meaning ascribed to their words at the time they were enacted.

The first two principles relate to words. A notion called ‘popular sovereignty’ is contained in a third principle of constitutional

jurisprudence: an unwavering respect for the idea of popular government. Laws, including the Constitution, receive their legitimacy from the people.

The authors of the Constitution were familiar with the writings of John Locke and other philosophers. Based on such views, they argued, in the Declaration of Independence, that “the consent of the governed” lent legitimacy to a government.

The Declaration of Independence, in turn, was the philosophical foundation for the Constitution. The Constitution formulates mechanisms whereby “the governed” – i.e., the citizens – can give or withhold consent. Scott Pruitt writes:

Judges should respect the constitutional prerogative of the people to pass laws through their representative legislatures, limited by the restraints imposed by the Constitution – which was itself ratified by popular means.

The fourth and final interpretive principle for judges and courts is that the one should read the Constitution as a document which articulates, and provides defensive mechanisms for, the individual’s political liberties:

The rights actually guaranteed in the Constitution should be tenaciously defended, from the right of free speech to the rights of criminal defendants.

This is especially clear in the ninth and tenth amendments. The citizens pointedly withheld their ratification of the Constitution until those amendments were added to it.

The ninth amendment states that a citizen not only has the rights which the Constitution specifically designates to citizens, but that a citizen also has other, unenumerated, rights.

The tenth amendment states that the government has only those rights or powers specifically given to it in the Constitution, and no others. Scott Pruitt comments:

The Constitution’s primary protection of liberty is its structure of checks and balances between branches and its division of powers between the federal government and the states.

One important task for a judge or for a court, then, is to determine ‘questions of law’ – to ask about the meaning of a piece of text.

Not all of a legal process is linguistic. There are also ‘questions of fact’ – determining a physical circumstance or event.

The United States legal system was able to develop toward an increasing amount of personal liberty and toward a desired objective neutrality because it directed its judiciary to view their task linguistically. The codification of legislation in text is a public process, making the law accessible to all.

Two of the several values on which a free society bases its legal system are objectivity and neutrality.

When the interpretation of law is seen as a linguistic task, and not a political task, the legal process is nudged toward objectivity. When the judge and jury are asked to view themselves as interpreters of a text, and not expressers of conviction, then the process is nudged toward neutrality.