I have frequently written some strong criticisms of judges who take matters in their own hands, inventing new law out of the penumbras, emanations and miasmas of their own imaginations. Judges like Justice Blackmun of Roe v. Wade infamy, or the most recent example, Judge Walker, who struck down Proposition 8.
I like to call them, derisively, our “Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts”, to highlight their high-handed disregard of the rule of law, their replacement of their own political views for the plain meaning of statutes or the Constitution, and their establishment of a virtual judicial oligarchy in place of our constitutional republic. I’m a bit cynical when it comes to judges.
But all is not hopeless, because occasionally, a judge will actually come along and do what judges are supposed to do.
Namely, read the law, and interpret its plain meaning.
And so, we come to a decision handed down today by Judge Royce Lambert of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. A case was brought before him, challenging the Obama Administration’s much-heralded relaxation of restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The basis for the challenge was a law called the Dickey-Wicker Amdendment, after its original sponsors. This law is passed annually by Congress as part of the budget process, and it bans federal funding for any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”
The wily lawyers representing the Administration claimed that their new regulations didn’t violate that law, because they only paid for research after the embryos were destroyed. In another context, it would be like arguing that the stolen property received by a fence was legitimately his own property, because somebody else had stolen it.
Now, many creative judges would undoubtedly have bought into the “logic” of that argument, and upheld the Administration’s position. But not Judge Lambert. He actually read the law, saw what it meant in its plain language, and discerned the undeniable scientific fact that any research on stem cell lines derived from human embryos necessarily and always relies upon the destruction of a human embryo. As a result, Judge Lambert logically and sensibly concluded that the Administration’s policy violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, and had to be put on hold for further review.
I would expect that, in the next few days, we will hear and read all the usual denunciations of opponents of embryonic stem cell research as being “anti-science”, even though we all support research with adult stem cells, which is producing cures and therapies virtually every week. We will also likely read criticisms of the judge for alleged ideological bias — from those who never find a voice to say anything about courts that routinely substitute their opinions for the duly-enacted laws of our land. No matter what, the struggle to defend the value of human life at its earliest stages — the embryonic stage — will go on.
But for one day we can take some satisfaction that there is at least one judge who does not hold himself out to be one of our unelected rulers, and who did the right thing.