Baffled by the law of unintended consequences

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Column by Jim Flynn

The pull of gravity, spin of our planet, or trips around the sun may cause the U.S. Supreme Court to render occasional decisions with predictable long-term unintended consequences.
One such decision was Dred Scott in 1857. As you recall from high school history, Dred Scott was a slave owned by Peter Blow, who sold him to John Emerson, an army doctor. Emerson was posted to several states, including Missouri, where slavery was illegal and slaves were permitted to purchase their freedom.
When Scott’s offer of the $300 freedom fee was rejected, he sued. Four years and several courts later, the Supreme Court, with five justices who had been slave owners, decided that slaves were neither people nor citizens of any state. In his “house-divided” speech in 1858, Abraham Lincoln predicted the Dred Scott decision would lead to war. It did, nearly destroying the nation.
Roe v. Wade in 1973 was another decision influenced by the spins and pulls of planet earth. You’ll recall that Roe sued the State of Texas for violating her right to an abortion. None of several courts was brave enough to play the coward card - duck the tricky case by declaring it moot. Case dismissed because Roe was no longer pregnant.
Instead the Court declared that Roe and every female have a right to abortion until the unborn is viable outside the womb. After rummaging the constitution for a reason, the Court decided abortion must be a privacy right, implied but not stated in the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.
A more recent dizzying decision was the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The Court said government has no authority to restrict the right of corporations to express themselves in elections, provided money isn’t given directly to candidates as campaign contributions - a distinction without a difference.
Corporations are no longer artificial persons created by statutes. In Citizens United five justices said corporations are real people who can exercise their voices to influence elections. We consider the finding asinine.
What voices? Will stockholders be asked for their opinions on candidates and issues? Not likely. Modern corporations are run for the enrichment of executives and their hand-picked directors. Corporation managers will now get two votes, one at work and the other at the polls.
By a power not vested in the Supreme Court the Super Pac (political action committee) was born. In an outbreak of naiveté five justices convinced themselves that Super Pacs would be independent from campaign committees and would not lead to political corruption. Pretenses of Super Pac independence from candidates and campaign committees evaporated quickly in recent presidential primaries.
What next? The Super Pac decision won’t start a civil war or encourage more abortions, but the Court has created another monster which could influence elections all the way down to county clerks. Despite its high level of legal learning, our Supreme Court seems permanently baffled by the law of unintended consequences.