The Despotism of an Irrational Oligarchy

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a prosperous merchant, in which he discussed his views about the proper role of the judiciary in the American constitutional system.  In his letter, Jefferson made a famous observation:

You seem … to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions;  a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.

In his first inaugural address in 1861, Abraham Lincoln echoed these sentiments, in reference to the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in the Dred Scott case:

… the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court… the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

In 2015, it is now more clear than ever, that Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s predictions have been fulfilled, most recently with the latest ruling on the redefinition of marriage.

The Supreme Court’s impatience with the democratic process is well-established, and it has long arrogated to itself the presumed authority to substitute its political judgement for that of the people or Congress.  One need only recall the astonishingly arrogant passage from the Casey abortion decision, in which the Court claimed almost sacred significance to its own lawless decisions:

Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

Of course, the Court’s rulings in its abortion cases have no basis whatsoever in the actual Constitution, or the tradition of American law, much like their bizarre rulings that essentially re-write acts of Congress to better suit their preferred result (e.g., the Affordable Care Act cases, NFIB v. Sibellius and  King v. Burwell).  Just so with the series of Supreme Court decisions relating to the radical redefinition of marriage — first in United States v. Windsor, and now with Obergefell v. Hodges.

Little needs to be said about this latest decision by the Court. This Court has a propensity to make things up as they go along, to satisfy their policy preferences or to follow public opinion.  Reasoned legal argumentation really has no great sway over the Court on these issues, so there’s no reason to treat their decision as if it had anything to do with law at all.

There is no question that over the past few years, public opinion has shifted strongly in favor of redefining marriage.  But the resolution of such a weighty policy argument should not be left to the least democratic branch of the government.  It should be hashed out in the rough and tumble of politics.  That is what was happening, prior to the Supreme Court’s first usurpation, in the Windsor case.  But democracy is apparently no longer an option, when the post-modern Zeitgeist of sexual liberationism demands its way.

And so, we should really stop pretending.  When it comes to certain important issues about the nature of the human person and our society, we really no longer have a rule of law or of reason, but a rule of lawyers — a majority of five, to be precise, all of whom attended a few elite Eastern law schools.  Jefferson’s fear of the despotism of an oligarchy has fully come true.

6 Responses to “The Despotism of an Irrational Oligarchy”

  1. DottieDay says:

    Frankly I don’t care what the whole country/culture/society does at this point. I must live and speak as a Roman Catholic. It is clear that we are a sick, sick country. We have turned our backs on God, defiantly rebelled against his natural laws, embrace this disobedience under the banner of a deadly sin and demand that our mayhem be celebrated and approved.

    St. Peter Damian, pray for us. Protect our priests who lead through the narrow gate. Give us the grace to be faithful in the face of what is to come.

  2. Peter Rox says:

    The decision by the US Supreme Court has no influence whatever on the fact that young persons have fled the Catholic Church, and in droves have decided not to marry in the Catholic Church, and in many cases not to marry at all. Today’a decision had nothing to do with the majority of births occurring outside marriage. The Court had no influence on the Catholic Church over the years turning away people from marriage because one was not Catholic, because they were not contributing enough in collections, because one was divorced to get away from an alcoholic or abusive spouse, because the bride was pregnant, because they would not take a full six month course from a priest about marriage, even though the Church has no credibility on sexual matters. The Court’s decision today had no influence on those who won’t get a Catholic wedding because their consciences tell them that birth control is ok, and that they do want two children, and by the way Father, why is the Cathollc Church fighting so hard against affordable health care for me and my family when all you clerics always have had the best health care available? The Court decision had nothing to do with all the mockery that clerics have made of civil marriages saying that they were not real in God’s eyes.
    The reasons are a great many of converging factors, but many of these are the fault of those who rule the Church, too often out of touch with their flocks, and too unwelcoming and judgmental on baptized Catholics who should be always welcome without requiring spiritual perfection.
    The hierarchy and clergy are totally wrong in working to convince civil authorities to do their work for them. So what if a court, or a government enacts a law or comes to a decision? Civil laws do nothing to cause a SPIRITUAL conversion of a person to a policy or a doctrine or way of life. Our Church stupidly gave up long ago on seeking spiritual conversions of individuals, and looks instead for compulsory adherence to law enacted by government. Isn’t the Church’s job to work with individuals on their interior lives? Why bother with parishes at all when we can just have the bishops and their lobbyists try to enact and enforce laws that they want.
    The many causes that have led us to the condition that laypersons are no long staying in the Church or listening to it need to be admitted. Wagging pointed fingers is not a remedy. Look at the recent CARA study from Georgetown University, only 4% of Catholics attend church weekly. Although there never have been numerically more US Catholics than today, Cathollc marriages are now only 34% what they were in the 1960’s. Too many of our bishops entered “junior seminaries’ right after 8th grade. They marched on through their clerical and hierarchal ranks with real world experiences, totally insular. The work of the Holy Spirit among the laity was totally stifled or discouraged, with our cleric always maintaing total control. Present management has left a mess.
    The Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland wisely encouraged thoughtful reflection by Church leaders to examine what they are doing wrong to bring about all of the above. Lay persons are resoundingly rejoicing the way things have been done. They will not return until the leadership admits wrongs and mistakes, and develops a better model of governance and administration, and is pastoral “like a field hospital” and with “mercy”, to quote someone now in the Chair of Peter. We all need to learn more tolerance in the church, and to accept more variation on all levels. Spiritual conversion is a process, and the spiritual life is progress, not perfection.
    Let’s get back to basic pastoring, and forget all this looking to the government to enforce our spiritual agenda. And please, we need to kern to live as Americans in a diverse society. The Catholic Church can not claim to have so many answers for all of society. A great many religions come to different conclusions on many issues, and we need to respect that.

  3. Peter Rox says:

    correction: They marched on through their clerical and hierarchal ranks WITHOUT ANY real world experiences,totally insular.

  4. Peter Rox says:

    correction: 2 ; Lay persons are resoundingly REJECTING the way things have been done.
    # 3 LEARN to live as Americans in a diverse society.
    My apology for doing this late at night without my contact lenses.

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