Independent Commissions to Solve Climate Crisis and More?

By Robert Bernstein   |   July 26, 2022

Our system of government was deliberately set up to make change and action very difficult. Unfortunately, reality does not care about our inability to govern. Notably, the Climate Crisis marches on, with action urgently needed to avert unprecedented disaster on a global scale.

The President, House of Representatives, and Senate are rarely in alignment. And, when they finally are aligned, the Supreme Court often steps in to destroy what little has been achieved. The Supreme Court has been a force against progress for most of the history of the U.S.

The Supreme Court infamously declared in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that Black people were property with no rights as human beings. Forcing the Civil War to start and never really end to this day.

During the New Deal of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, the Supreme Court began to destroy each of the New Deal programs one by one. Roosevelt threatened to add members to the Court if they didn’t back down. They did and he got to keep some key programs. Proving that the Court was a political organization capable of political calculations.

There was one brief exception from the 1950s to the 1970s. That was the period that gave us the right for Black students to get the same education as white students. It gave us freedom from religious indoctrination in the schools. And it gave women reproductive rights.

But, once again, the Supreme Court has returned as a regressive force. Not just blocking progress, but actually reversing what little progress has occurred in the way of civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice.

Notably, the Supreme Court just ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the power to protect the environment. It is not as if that power is in the name of the agency, is it? Meanwhile, our home planet is on fire and no adults are in charge of putting it out.

I am reminded of the end of the Cold War when the U.S. was operating a vast array of military bases that were no longer needed. Everyone agreed many of them needed to be closed. “Just don’t close the one in my district.” The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission was the result. An independent commission given the power to decide which bases actually were needed versus which ones were being run as pork barrel projects. It worked. Many bases were closed by the power of this commission.

Independent commissions have also been used in many states to redraw Congressional districts to minimize gerrymandering. They work when used and should be mandatory everywhere. The 9-11 Commission was an independent commission to determine fault after 9-11 and to make recommendations for security going forward. So far, no more major attacks.

Unfortunately, sometimes these commissions are set up and not given the power to enforce their findings. After the Watts Riots of 1965, Wikipedia explains:

“The McCone Commission identified the root causes of the riots to be high unemployment, poor schools, and related inferior living conditions that were endured by African Americans in Watts. Recommendations for addressing these problems included ‘emergency literacy and preschool programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, more job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, more efficient public transportation, and many more.’ Most of these recommendations were never implemented.”

The most urgent and important problems facing our country are a lot like the base closings. Almost everyone agrees on the need for action and the outcome that is needed. But nothing happens because moneyed special interests block progress.

Most Americans want true universal health care. Medicare for All would provide the best outcomes at the lowest price. But the insurance industry buys elections to stop this. Most Americans want college and vocational training to be free. Most Americans want to invest in the technology and development of sustainable transportation, energy and agriculture needed to avert the Climate Crisis. Even in the divisive case of reproductive rights for women, the overwhelming majority of Americans support reproductive choice.

Contrary to popular belief, we do not have three equal branches of government. The Legislative Branch is the primary branch of government. Congress has the power to rein in the Supreme Court. Congress has the power to create independent commissions to solve problems. It just needs the leadership to do so. And it needs to give these commissions the full power to carry out their missions.  


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