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Gaveling Down the Rabble

How "Free Trade" Is Stealing Our Democracy

Jane Anne Morris


In Gaveling Down the Rabble, author/activist Jane Anne Morris explores a century and a half of efforts by corporations and the courts to undermine local democracy in the United States by using a "free trade" model. It was that very nineteenth-century model that was later adopted globally by corporations to subvert local attempts at protecting the environment and citizen and worker health.

Gaveling Down the Rabble is essential reading for understanding the background of the current struggle for U.S. democracy — local, state and national — against growing corporate power and how we can challenge it.

Since the late 1800s the U.S. Supreme Court has been cutting our local, state and national democracy off at the knees — in the name of "free trade" — by usurping the power to make public policy from our elected representatives in the Congress and the state legislatures and by giving power to corporations over citizens.

By erecting a "free trade" zone in the U.S., corporations and their champions on the Supreme Court have seen to it that "we do not have a chance of building a democracy." Morris looks at what substantive democracy should look like, and how far from that ideal the Supreme Court — without consent of Congress — has moved us.

As presidential candidates are deploring the loss of American jobs from the global trade agreements that were supposed to bring us new prosperity, a public debate is finally opening about the consequences of the last decade of global corporatization. In contrast, we do not debate the internal "free trade" at home that is hidden from view.

This urgent new book reveals one hidden source of the corporate power that has been steadily crushing our self governance: namely, the U.S. Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution, implemented by nine unelected Presidential appointees.

Most significant: Morris shows how environmental, labor and civil-rights cases using Commerce Clause arguments, rather than Constitutional Rights arguments, have distorted citizens' rights by defining them in terms of their value to commerce. But just as alarming is how tenuous the major legislation protecting our democratic rights becomes when based on the Commerce Clause and not grounded in legal rights.

Morris also shows how the courts have ruled time and again against local attempts to control large corporations. From efforts to protect public health in the face of slaughter house abuses in the nineteenth century to attempts at regulating wages and hours of migrant workers in the present, the Commerce Clause has been used in favor of corporate interests.

Gaveling Down the Rabble describes the development of this national "free trade" zone through Supreme Court decisions over many decades The idea that we live in a "free trade" zone is a commonplace among legal historians. "Supreme Court Justices have been intoning it like a mantra for over a century," Morris writes.

She makes the case that the U.S. Supreme Court has subverted our representative government through narrow rulings based on the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause — creating a hidden domestic "free trade" zone as undemocratic as the global "free trade" zone. Using this clause, the Court has incrementally built a large — and growing — body of law favoring large corporate interests over the rights of states, municipalities, labor, minorities and the environment.

She finds it astonishing that "a fact so present in legal discourse" is so absent from public debate. This book is her attempt to stimulate that debate.

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers / Apex
Pages: 196
978-1-891843-39-6 • Paperback • June 2008 • $18.00 • (£11.95)
Jane Anne Morris is a corporate anthropologist with a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Texas. Her 1994 book Not In My Backyard: The Handbook (Silvercat Publications) was based on her work on energy issues in Texas during the 1980s. She has been active in anti-war, women's and environmental struggles since the 1970s. She is author of several issues of Rachel's Democracy and Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly) including HELP! I've Been Colonized and Can't Get Up... (2004), and Fixing Corporations: Legacy of the Founding Parents (1996). A former member of the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy, she authored several chapters in the POCLAD classic work, Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy (The Apex Press, 2001).