"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
The Supreme Court Vents
Column by Emmett Harris.
Exclusive to STR
In a surprise move following their recent decision to hear the case of Salinas vs. Texas later this year, the Supreme Court has opted to address a silent, but deadly serious issue that has been percolating for some time. While the Salinas case will determine whether the refusal to answer police questions or to show sufficient verbal shock at police accusations can be used as evidence of guilt in court, essentially relegating the 5th Amendment to the graveyard where most of its Bill of Rights brethren have been interred, the other issue is sure to go down in the anals of American jurisprudence. This issue, of course, is whether silence can used as proof of guilt in the area of flatulence.
Now, you may think the people in black robes have no business weighing in on such a topic, but the Court, through cases ranging from Salinas to Martin, has shown that nothing is off limits. No topic is too great or too trivial for their brand of wisdom. As Justice Scalia remarked in the Martin case, “It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States . . . to decide What Is Golf.” And if the Supreme Court can vent on that, who could have a beef with them considering the rules of etiquette when passing gas? It's a brave new world and the winds of change are blowing.
The problem of taciturn toots, or flatus silentium, is especially prevalent in courtrooms, where anal acoustics can disrupt the formality of proceedings. Therefore, defendants, plaintiffs, and especially members of the court resort to more circumspect means of butt belching. A bottom eruption lacking in decibels, however, can still assault the senses. Worse still, unlike trouser coughs, the perpetrator often gets away with it, a sure indication that our justice system has failed. This simply can't be tolerated.
There are concerns that a silence-equals-guilt ruling will have unintended consequences. Firstly, Shinta Cho is considering a new book called The Guilt We Pass, which would be timed for release with the decision. Children everywhere could be corrupted. Secondly, an entire segment of society could begin trumpeting with abandon, assured that the very volume of their enthusiastic expulsions would deflect accusations toward more restrained bystanders. Lastly, it is one thing to deflect guilt to the innocent when an actual windward crime has been committed, as long as someone pays, societal desires for thoughtless vengeance are satisfied, but what about cases where the proverbial duck has not been stepped upon? Should innocent people be put at risk by someone afflicted with borborygmus? Or will they be counted as collateral damage in Operation Stale Wind?
Enforcement would be another problem area for the Court to consider. What if a noiseless match-lighter begins curling nose hairs, but everyone remains silent? Would the people of this nation stand for mass arrests? Perhaps Quantum Sniffers(TM) or anemometers could employ pinpoint precision in identifying the offending sphincter? I'm sure it won't be long before the Oval Orifice floats an air biscuit to gauge the public's reaction.
Despite the concerns and problems, the court has been all too willing in the past to concede more power to the executive and legislative branches. Chief Justice Roberts even transformed an individual mandate into a tax to find it constitutional, so it seems likely that whether it's homicide or flatucide, the accused will no longer be able to hide behind a wall of silence. And anyone who thinks that is a bad idea must be a real stinker.