Even more generally, there are other examples of equally basic contradictions that qualify under the adherence-to- governing-law standard. Despite the official Supreme Court interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the First Constitutional Amendment, U.S. currency still features the words "In God We Trust." Similarly, several states still enforce Sunday blue laws such as prohibiting the sale of alcohol on the Christian "Sabbath." Many legal experts suggest that both violate the Establishment Clause (Dershowitz, 2002).
However, the unethical practices in connection with special interest lobbying of political representatives are a much more important problem in modern American society and politics. The traditional excuse used to justify the lobbying process is that monetary contributions to election funds merely provide access to legislators but not influence. In theory, no lobbyist has any greater influence on political decisions than any private citizen who e-mails members of Congress or the White House; in reality, that is a fiction easily demonstrated by voting records and campaign contribution history. This "back channel" of (largely) corporate and special-interest-group communication with representatives and legislators conflicts with some of the most basic ethical obligations of government to protect the interests of the public.
Specifically, the recent collapse of the private real estate market followed by the mortgage and loan industry that triggered the current recession is just the most recent example of some of the consequences of political lobbying. Throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations, the investment banking and insurance industries lobbied (successfully) for deregulation that a decade or more of exploitation within those industries were at the root of the historic current economic recession.
Even more recently, President Obama signed legislation to address the results of similar lobbying successes of large banks and other corporate lending institutions during the last decade. On May 21, 2009, President Obama signed into law important credit card industry reforms to repeal many of the successes in that industry attributable to industry lobbying efforts of successive presidential administrations. Ironically, on the same day, that administration also expressed the intention to institute prolonged indefinite "preventative" detention policies that seem to stretch the limits of constitutional requirements, to say the least.
On one hand, the modern United States might be the freest and most ethical government in the recorded history of human society on earth. On the other hand, even current U.S. laws and other conditions prevailing presently qualify as ethical failures, particularly to the extent the definition of ethics includes adherence to established formal rules of law that pertains to government action.
Many aspects of modern U.S. law make logically unjustifiable distinctions between behaviors that are equally harmful (or un-harmful) others. The state's ethical obligation to protect society is applied inconsistently, resulting in unethical prosecution of conduct that is no less innocuous than other forms of permissible conduct. Individuals may freely smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol but risk criminal prosecution for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their homes. In several different respects, modern U.S. law also violates fundamental issues of constitutional law. Deistic language appears on U.S. currency in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and blue laws still enforce religious morality from the Colonial period.
By far, the most serious ethical violations of government in recent U.S. history involve corporate and special-interest-group political lobbying. This mechanism is a fundamental violation of democratic principles and the current U.S. economic recession is direct evidence of the potential consequences to society when government violates its ethical obligation to protect all of its citizens equally. The current presidential administration of Barack Obama has made considerable efforts to reverse some of the unethical decisions of previous presidential administrations. It remains to be seen whether the administration will analyze its own decisions as critically as it did those of its predecessor.
Dershowitz, A. (2002). Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. New York:
Little Brown & Co.
Schmalleger, F. (2008). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st
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Sekine, S., Wakabayashi, J. (2005). A Comparative Study of the Origins of Ethical
Thought: Hellenism and Hebraism. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield.