Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court Nominees’

The Supreme Court Nominee’s Error about Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

We are once again in the midst of the circus leading up to confirmation hearings for the new Supreme Court nominee. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is making the rounds of the Senate, speaking to the Senators who will consider his nomination, and seeking to woo some of the potential swing votes in his favor. It’s the standard ritual, with all the usual photo ops, pre- and post-meeting press comments, etc. Little of any substance usually comes of these things.

But today, something of significance came out of the meeting between the nominee and a Republican Senator who considers herself to be “pro-choice”. After the meeting, the Senator said that the nominee called the infamous Roe v. Wade decision to be “settled law”. Presumably this is an accurate account of their conversation, because neither the nominee nor his handlers have disputed the Senator’s account.

This is very unsettling to hear from a Supreme Court nominee. We have heard it before, and it is a clear indication that the nominee has no real interest in overruling Roe. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch both called Roe “settled law” during their own confirmation hearings, and Justice Alito has said that it has added strength as a precedent because it has survived prior challenges and people have come to rely on it.

This is a terrible way of thinking, and it fails to recognize the fundamental duty of a judge to do justice and to decide cases correctly. An unjust law, or one that is clearly wrongly decided, can never be considered “settled”. And there is no question that Roe v. Wade was wrong as a matter of morality and legal reasoning, and that it is profoundly unjust. Its progeny, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (which really is the controlling law now, not Roe), was also wrongly decided. Both of these cases ruled that there is an entire class of human beings who have no constitutional rights – they have been judicially defined as non-persons, in effect outlaws, and they can be subjected to violence and killing with impunity. It is deeply troubling that the nominee has signaled that he would uphold such a law.

The nominee likes to consider himself an “originalist”, meaning that he believes that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original public meaning at the time of its ratification. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to understand that judges of that time would never have viewed a wrongly-decided case as “settled”. Instead, they would have understood it to be their duty to correct the injustice.

The giant of English legal thinking, William Blackstone, wrote that prior decisions are not controlling if they are “flatly absurd or unjust” or “contrary to reason”. In the words of an great American legal scholar, Chancellor James Kent, “If, however, any solemnly adjudged case can be shown to be in error, it is no doubt the right and the duty of the judges who have a similar case before them, to correct the error”. Throughout our history, the Supreme Court has overruled prior decisions when it is clear that they were wrong or poorly reasoned. Judge Kavanaugh’s originalism clearly is not in keeping with these “settled” legal principles.

In another interview with a Senator, the nominee declined to say whether he thought Roe and Casey were correctly decided. One can understand his reticence, given the politicization of the confirmation process. But his failure to take a stand is incoherent. To believe that a case is “settled law” necessarily means that one believes that it was correctly; if one does not believe that a case was correctly decided, then it cannot be “settled law”. The nominee’s failure to take a stand is simply illogical – it violates the Law of Contradiction (a thing can’t be both A and not-A at the same time) that even lawyers understand very well. In any event, the nominee’s non-position certainly does not show any burning desire to overturn Roe.

So what is the final significance of all this? I have long been certain that the Supreme Court is not going to overrule Roe any time soon. Only Justice Thomas has ever said that he would do so, and all the other “conservatives” are now all on record saying that they believe Roe to be “settled law” or binding precedent. So, regardless of the assurances and wishful thinking of his supporters, I don’t believe that the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh brings us to the verge of Roe’s much-deserved demise.

That is not to say that I think Judge Kavanaugh will make things worse. I fully expect that he will show respect for the separation of powers and federalism, and that he will vote to permit states to have greater leeway in regulating abortion. That may begin the process of at least limiting the malign effects of RoeCasey. It may also contribute, in the long term, to the rebuilding of a culture of life in the law.

But in the meantime, the idea that the abortion decisions are “settled law” is an awful way of thinking, one that violates the fundamental duty of everyone – including judges – to do justice and act in accordance with the universal natural moral law. That law is “settled” – one may never deliberately take the life of an innocent person and the government has a solemn duty to ensure that all lives are protected from unjust violence.

Realism about the Supreme Court and Abortion

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

The President is about to announce his nominee to fill the newly vacant seat on the Supreme Court. That will set off a bruising confirmation battle that will stretch into September at least. The rhetoric will be heated and likely ugly, and may even include a large dose of religious intolerance. As this maelstrom kicks off, it’s important that we have realistic expectations about what this will mean for legalized abortion.

It is a clear sign of the debasement of our American political society that so much energy and effort are going to be devoted to a Supreme Court nomination. The loss of a proper understanding of natural law and the dominance of a sense of moral agnosticism have left our government and courts without a moral and legal compass to guide them in interpreting and making civil law. The centralization of power in Washington, which was never envisioned by the Founders of our nation, has given the federal government and especially the courts a disproportionate control over public policy, when compared to the states. One consequence of this has been the constitutionalization of what should be political questions, as we have seen in the issues of abortion and marriage. Another consequence has been the increasing intrusion of politics into areas that are rightly protected personal liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, religion and association.

The worst consequence has been that the Supreme Court — and particularly the “swing vote” that was exercised by the retiring Justice Kennedy — has become our de facto ruler when it comes to essential questions of the separation of powers between the branches of government and crucial social issues relating to life, family and religion. It is truly bizarre that the last few weeks in June is a time of great anticipation, as the Supreme Court’s term comes to an end and we citizens passively wait for rulings that will define our lives. This is why I often derisively refer to the Court as our “Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers” — a role that Washington, Hamilton and Madison would be horrified to see.

These trends are so deeply rooted that we have to have realistic expectations. None of the nominees to the Court will change this sorry situation. None will restore the correct separation of powers or the federalism that were built into our constitutional structure as a defense against the abuse of power. None will stop the trend of constitutionalizing political questions.

We particularly have to be realistic when it comes to the momentous issue of abortion. There is no question that Roe v. Wade decision was wrongly decided as a matter of morality and legal reasoning, and that it has had a corrupting effect on the law, the legal profession and the judicial confirmation process. It is imperative to see it and its progeny overruled (particularly Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which really is the controlling law now, not Roe), and for the constitutional rights of unborn children to be recognized and protected. But that isn’t going to happen any time soon, no matter who the President selects.

Regardless of who the nominee is, it is far from clear that that there would be enough votes on the Court to overrule Roe and Casey. Of the current judges on the Court, four are certainly never going to vote to overrule or even meaningfully limit abortion; only one, Justice Thomas, has ever said that he would vote to overrule; Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch both called Roe “settled law” during their own confirmation hearings, and Justice Alito has said that it has added strength as a precedent because it has survived prior challenges and people have come to rely on it. So it’s not as if Roe and Casey are hanging by a thread and just need one more vote to be overruled.

It’s also important to understand that the “conservatism” of some of the Justices would suggest that they may actually shy away from overruling Roe and Casey, even if they believe that it was wrongly decided. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, and it would already appear Justice Gorsuch, have a strong tendency to minimalism in their rulings — deciding questions on the most narrow grounds available, and choosing, as Justice Alito once wrote, to “leave broader issues for another day.” You can see that trend in some of the major decisions of the last term, for example the Masterpiece Cakesdecision, where the “conservative” justices supported a narrow ruling and completely ducked the critical free speech issue.

This minimalism is particularly important when one realizes how deeply embedded Roe and Caseyare in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Roe didn’t spontaneously emerge fully formed from the brow of Justice Blackmun, nor did the infamous “mystery of life” passage in Casey come out of nowhere. They were the result of decades of prior decisions, reaching back to the 1920’s, in which the Court recognized or invented “privacy” and other rights that are nowhere enumerated in the Constitution, many of which have no basis in history, tradition or natural law. Some of these decisions were actually correct, but many were perverse (like the contraception decisions Griswold and Eisenstadt), and all of them laid the groundwork for Roe and Casey. They also stemmed from a theory of absolute personal autonomy that evolved from the political liberalism on which America was founded and that produced the culture of sexual libertinism and moral relativism that we currently inhabit.

Overruling Roe and Casey would thus mean that the “conservative” Justices would be repudiating an entire body of law and a political and moral philosophy that is so deeply entrenched in our society that most people find any alternative view virtually incomprehensible. They would also set off a political explosion that would undermine the legitimacy of the Court in the eyes of a large number of Americans and many powerful elected officials. Such a momentous decision would be virtually unprecedented in American history, with the only prior examples that I can think of being Brown v. Board of Education and Roe itself.

Even if the Justices mustered the fortitude to overrule Roe and Casey, abortion would not suddenly be made illegal across the United States. The issue would then return to the states for regulation. A number of states already have laws on the books that would essentially permit abortion on demand for some, if not all of pregnancy. New York’s statute, for example, permits abortion on demand prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy. According to one expert on abortion law, if Roe and Casey were overruled, only eleven states have laws that would completely outlaw abortion, and over 80% of Americans would live in states where the situation would be essentially unchanged — abortion would still be legal for all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason and with little effective regulation.

It is also likely that state courts would step into the breach and declare a constitutional right to abortion. Iowa’s Supreme Court did so just last week, and as many as twelve other states had previously done so. We would also expect increased pressure in solid liberal states like New York to expand abortion rights through legislation.

This is not to say that we should expect that nothing will change for the better. I fully expect that the new Justice will be a legitimate constitutional originalist, which means that they would interpret the Constitution according to its actual original meaning. I also expect that they will show greater respect for the separation of powers and federalism. And I believe that at least in the short term they will vote to permit states to have greater leeway in regulating abortion, and to protect religious liberty and freedom of expression. Those would all be good developments, and may begin the process of rolling back Roe, Casey, and the terrible decisions that underlie them.

A new nominee to the Supreme Court will not be a magic bullet that will make all things new. Our challenge is to continue to press for social and legislative change that would increase respect for human life. We also have to work harder to create a social infrastructure that would replace the culture of contraception and abortion and promote a vision of women’s health that truly respects her fertility and genuine freedom. We still have a lot of work to do.

Failing the Dred Scott Question

Friday, March 24th, 2017

As I have already written, I have great concerns about some of the answers given by Judge Neil Gorsuch during his confirmation hearings. I consider his originalist legal philosophy to be perfectly sound and likely to produce decisions that are favorable to the cause of human life. But when asked the most important question, his answer was an utter failure.

One of the Democratic Senators, Richard Durbin, was questioning Judge Gorsuch about a book he had written about assisted suicide and euthanasia. In the book, Judge Gorscuh proposed a principle that could be used to justify laws against suicide and euthanasia, which he called the “inviolability-of-life principle”:  “All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Senator Durbin then asked the judge how he could square that principle with legalized abortion. This exchange then took place:

Gorsuch: Senator, as the book explains, the Supreme Court of the United States has held in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment—and that book explains that..

Durbin: Do you accept that?

Gorsuch: That’s the law of the land. I accept the law of the land, Senator, yes.

I appreciate Judge Gorsuch’s respect for precedent and the original meaning of the Constitution. But I wonder if he realizes that in his answer, he was echoing one of the worst possible Supreme Court precedents — the infamous case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. In that decision, the Court held that, based on their reading of the original meaning of the Constitution, African-Americans were not “persons” within the meaning of the Constitution:

They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…. [and the provisions of the Constitution] show clearly that they were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government then formed.

In a concurring opinion, one of the Justices said this:

The correct conclusions upon the question here considered would seem to be these: That, in the establishment of the several communities now the States of this Union, and in the formation of the Federal Government, the African was not deemed politically a person.

Is that really the kind of precedent that we want Supreme Court justices to respect?

What’s especially disheartening about Judge Gorsuch’s answer is that he didn’t have to say that at all. He could have easily deflected the question — as he did with pretty much every other substantive question — by saying that the issue of the personhood of unborn humans was likely to be litigated before the Court and that it was thus inappropriate for him to comment. The fact that he did give a substantive answer means that he considered the non-person status of unborn humans to be so clearly and finally settled that it is uncontroversial.

I still think that Judge Gorsuch should be confirmed, and that he will likely rule positively on incremental pro-life regulations of abortion. But any hope that he would overrule Roe v. Wadeappears to be a mirage.

The most important threshold legal question in any case is whether someone can count on the protection of the law to defend their basic human rights. Judge Gorsuch failed that question.

“Precedents” and Justice

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

We are now in the midst of yet another set of hearings on the nomination of a new justice of the Supreme Court. As with prior hearings, it has been considerably less than edifying, given the political grand-standing and speechifying. But once again, some of the more illuminating exchanges have centered on the concept of “precedent”.

“Precedent” is a legal term for a previous judicial decision. In many cases, courts will consider precedent to be the controlling legal authority. For example, lower courts must follow the precedents of higher courts in all similar cases. This is an important feature of a common law-based legal system, like ours. It means that once a legal issue has been resolved, there is a strong preference for respecting and giving deference to that decision, so that there can be some clarity and predictability about what the law is. The fancy Latin term for this respect for precedent is “stare decisis”, which means, basically, “maintain what has been decided”.

Of course, not all previous judicial decisions are worthy of being followed. It has always been understood that prior decisions are not controlling if they are “flatly absurd or unjust” or “contrary to reason” (to quote the great legal scholar William Blackstone). Courts frequently overrule prior decisions when it becomes clear that they were wrong or poorly reasoned. In fact, in the words of another great legal scholar, Chancellor James Kent, “If, however, any solemnly adjudged case can be shown to be in error, it is no doubt the right and the duty of the judges who have a similar case before them, to correct the error” (emphasis added).

The Supreme Court has overruled prior cases, or declined to follow them, many times. The most famous example is Brown v. Board of Education, which overruled the earlier erroneous decision by the Court that endorsed legal racial segregation. There have also been other cases that are universally seen as unworthy of being followed, even if the Court has never formally overruled them. For example, we have the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford, which held that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”, or the case of Buck v. Bell, which upheld the involuntary sterilization of mentally handicapped persons since, as the Court said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough”. Clearly, those “precedents” are not worthy of any respect.

This brings us to the current confirmation hearings. The Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee are repeatedly asking the nominee about his views on the cases of Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and their ilk. They have invented a term, “super-precedent”, to indicate that they believe these decisions are beyond any further judicial review and can never be overturned — a concept so foreign to our Constitutional order and to the rule of law as to be laughable.

However, in response to one of those questions, the nominee said: “”Once a case is settled, that adds to the determinacy of the law. What was once a hotly contested issue is no longer a hotly contested issue. We move forward.”

That is a very unfortunate way of thinking. Roe, Casey, and their progeny have excluded unborn children from virtually any legal protection, declared them not to be “persons” under the law, and permit their destruction with impunity. They have established the unborn as a virtual underclass, whose rights no man is bound to respect. They violate the fundamental principles of natural law and justice, and the promise of universal equality under the law and the right to life as expressed by the Declaration of Independence. They are widely recognized as being poorly reasoned, even to the point where legal scholars who favor abortion rights have derided them.

It is therefore very troubling that the new Supreme Court nominee has called these decisions “precedent” and “settled”, and that we have to “move forward”. When a law — either a statute or a judicial decision — violates the inherent, inalienable rights of any human being, that law can never be considered to be “settled”. It can never be respected or given deference as a binding “precedent”. Such a law is not really a law at all, but is instead a usurpation of power and an act of violence. A true respect for authentic justice means that it must be opposed and changed.

Justice must take precedence over “precedents”. Otherwise we do not have an authentic rule of law for all, and we will never fulfill the dream of respecting the inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, particularly the right to life. I hope that the nominee will consider this more carefully when he is on the Supreme Court, and take seriously his right and duty to correct the injustice of the Court’s abortion decisions.

Judges — Not Tribunes of the People

Monday, February 6th, 2017

The President has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court. This has excited and inflamed many people, and the battle over his confirmation will be a wild one. Filibusters and nuclear options are all on the table, and it will be very interesting to see what happens.

One thing that has already become clear, though, is that a great many Americans have no idea what a judge is really supposed to do. It may sound too trite to even be mentioned, but the fundamental truth is that a judge’s job is to decide cases. Nothing more.

A great deal of the commentary that you will see from the opponents of Judge Gorsuch is startlingly uninformed. After the announcement, people were already labeling him as “dangerous” and “extreme”, even though they hadn’t heard of him five minutes before. They were portraying him as some kind of wild-eyed maniac who somehow had managed to get on the Circuit Court of Appeals. Never mind that he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate for that position and that he has served there for the last decade without the Republic collapsing or anyone moving to impeach him.

The reality is that these advocates couldn’t care less about who Judge Gorsuch is (a pillar of his church and community), what his background is (both Columbia College and Harvard Law School, a few years behind me), or his years of outstanding public service (clerking on the Supreme Court and in a high position in the Justice Department). The reality is that these advocates only care about having a Supreme Court Justice who will enact their favored policy positions from the bench. And based on their rhetoric, the only issue that really seems to matter to them is abortion — they desperately want to keep abortion on demand legal in this country, and they don’t care how many people they have to calumniate and destroy to do it.

This campaign against Judge Gorsuch also betrays a complete lack of understanding about what a judge is supposed to do, and it illustrates how important it is for a judge to have a coherent philosophy of the law and a firm grasp of the essential principles of the American constitutional order.

Judges are not supposed to be super-legislators who make sure that their favored policies are embodied in their interpretation of the Constitution and statutes. Policy-making is the province of Congress and the President — the political branches that are subject to oversight by the electorate. The only job of the Supreme Court, as anyone can see in Article III of the Constitution, is to decide cases and controversies that arise under the Constitution and laws as well as certain other specific cases (like disputes between states).

Our Supreme Court has been violating that limited role for a very long time now. At least since the Progressive Era and especially since the New Deal, the Court has seen itself almost as a body of Platonic Guardians who can discern new meanings in the Constitution that nobody saw before. This is the body of judges who had the gall to say in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood:

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.

What gaseous nonsense. I defy anyone to find even a hint of such a role for the Court in the Constitution or in any of the writings of the Founders of our Republic. Madison, Hamilton and Washington would be appalled by such a pronouncement.

This highlights the importance of a sound judicial philosophy and a coherent understanding of the structure and principles of our Constitution. Too many Justices are on the bench already who lack this, and instead are ideologues (like Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor), smart but lock-step liberals (Justice Kagan and Breyer) or vacuous pragmatists (Justice Kennedy). They appeal to a non-existent entity they call the “living constitution” and use that to make up new laws as they go along. If you want to see how it’s done, see Obergefell v. Hodges. And in doing so they hijack the proper roles that the Constitution gives to Congress and the President.

Judge Gorsuch, on the other hand, is an “originalist” and a “textualist”, which means that his philosophy is to discern the actual meaning that Constitutional provisions had when they were adopted and the actual meaning of the words that appear in laws enacted by Congress. Then, in the common law tradition, he would see his job as applying those principles to decide the actual case or controversy that is before him. No vaporous pronouncements about grand roles of the Court, and no discoveries of new rights and liberties hiding in invisible ink in the penubras, emanations and miasmas of the Constitution.

This restrained approach to the law is what actually scares the advocates who oppose the judge. They have become so used to judges enacting their favorite policies that they can’t imagine one who does otherwise. They are desperate to hold onto their policy gains, and they dread putting them before the elected branches for an open democratic debate.

In ancient Rome, there was an office called the “Tribune of the People”. He had the power to veto any law or government action, and he was absolutely unaccountable to anyone — nobody could overrule him or even lay hands on him. That is not what our Constitution envisions when it gives the Supreme Court its “judicial power”. Judges should decide cases and controversies, give effect to the laws that were actually enacted by “we the people”, and not set themselves up as unaccountable rulers.

Secularism in Action — In the Supreme Court

Friday, September 30th, 2011

On October 5, the most important religious liberty case in decades will be argued before the United States Supreme Court.  It is yet another instance of the influence of secularism in America, and it may result in a substantial reduction in religious liberty.  At stake here is the ability of churches to operate without interference and control by the government, or whether churches will be treated as if they were mere secular organizations.

The case is entitled Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  To understand why it is so important, I have to take a step back and explain a bit of constitutional law on religious freedom.

The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the United States Constitution, but the basic concept is embodied in two clauses of the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court.  In a nutshell, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees that the government cannot intervene in the internal affairs of religous organizations, and the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from any “excessive entanglement” in religious matters.

These principles are essential to the guarantee of religious liberty — they protect churches from becoming mere creations of the state, subject to interference by the government.  So, for example, under current law it would clearly violate both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause if the government were to interfere in a church’s selection of clergy, over how doctrine is taught, or how a church resolves internal ecclesiastical disputes.  The First Amendment thus requires that religious organizations enjoy a considerable amount of freedom — a zone of privacy, if you will.

These basic principles have a direct impact on the ability of religous organizations to select their key staff members.  The courts have long understood that religious organizations must have considerable autonomy in the selection of clergy and other staff members who have religious missions.  They have also recognized that this autonomy occasionally conflicts with the provisions of anti-discrimination laws.

To address this tension, the courts long ago recognized what is called “the ministerial exception” to the anti-discrimination laws.  This exception permits churches to select their spiritual leaders — even if that decision would have violated anti-dicrimination statutes had it been done by a business.  So, for example, the Catholic Church’s cannot  be sued for sex discrimintion based on her all-male clergy.  The courts also recognize that this should not be limited to formally-ordained clergy, since many lay staff members play crucial roles in the religious mission of churches — just think of the central role of parochial school teachers, directors of religious education, pastoral associates in parishes, etc. in spiritual life of the Church.  Of course, not all employees of a religious organization are “ministers” .  For instance, one could not justify classifying a school janitor as a “minister”, since his job is clearly not spiritual in nature.

This brings us to the case before the Supreme Court.  The facts of the case are fairly straight-forward.  It involves a dispute between the Hosanna-Tabor School and one of their former teachers.  The teacher alleged that she was fired in retaliation for threatening to file a disability claim, in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.  The school responded that she was a ministerial employee, whose job entailed a specifically religous mission for which she was commissioned by the church, and that as a result, the school’s decision to terminate her was an internal matter and was not subject to the anti-discrimination laws.

The Supreme Court will be wrestling with those facts, and also with larger questions — whether to recognize the ministerial exception, determining what part of the Constitution it rests upon, and giving guidance on how it is to be defined.  The biggest challenge is how to do all this without infringing upon the religious liberty of churches, and without getting the government entangled in internal religious matters.

Virtually every major religious organization — including the U.S. Bishops — has filed a brief in support of the Lutheran school, arguing for a broad definition for the ministerial exception rooted in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Administration, however, has filed a brief that advocates for the virtual elimination of the ministerial exception.  In the Administration’s view, the exception — if it exists at all — is so narrow that it would only apply to clergy and disputes about doctrine.  Moreover, the brief denies that the exception is rooted in the Establishment or Free Exercise clauses, but is instead supported only by a much weaker constitutional principle that is subject to being overridden by any neutral, generally-applicable law.

In short, the Administration is advancing a position that would treat religious organizations as if they were merely secular groups, subject to virtually any government oversight and control — no different from banks, oil companies, or airlines.   If the Administration’s position prevails, churches will be subject to endless litigation and regulation, aimed at influencing and changing their internal doctrines and practices. This is a radical and dangerous argument.

Religious liberty is one of the founding principles of our Republic.  It is the reason that many of our ancestors came here, and the reason that many immigrants still long for our shores.  We must all pray for wisdom on the Supreme Court — and await with trepidation the decision in this momentous case.

Here Comes Another Anti-Life Judicial Ruler, Thanks to Our President.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

So, the President has nominated yet another Ivy League college/law school product to be one of our Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Supreme Court.  Another person who is committed to a legal regime that has no regard for the protection of unborn human beings.

Is anyone surprised?

Remember, this is the same President whose spokesman said, last year:

Q: Looking back to November of 2007, when he was a candidate, he said that he would not appoint somebody who doesn’t believe in a right to privacy [i.e., the right to abortion]. Does he stand by that now that he’s President?

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely…. I think he believes that the right to privacy in the case of Roe v. Wade… was settled and was in his mind settled correctly.

And the same President who said just two weeks ago that he was looking for:

“somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women’s rights. And that’s going to be something that is very important to me…. somebody who believes that women should have the ability to make often very difficult decisions about their own bodies and issues of reproduction.”

The President, of course, mouths all the usual pieties about not having a “litmus test” for judges, particularly when it comes to abortion.  But try a thought experiment for a second.  Can anyone imagine this President considering the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice who might overturn Roe v. Wade?

To ask the question is to answer it.  Of course he wouldn’t.  The President is so deeply immersed in anti-life attitudes and beliefs that it would never even occur to him to appoint such a person.  Remember, this is the man who is so incoherent in his legal thinking that he can be 100% pro-abortion in all of his policies and positions, and still say this:

“I want my Justice to understand that part of the role of the court is to look out for the people who don’t have political power. The people who are on the outside. The people who aren’t represented. The people who don’t have a lot of money; who don’t have connections. That’s the role of the court.”

Above the main entrance to the Supreme Court building,  where this new nominee will likely rule us for decades, there is an inscription: “Equal Justice Under Law”.

That statement is a lie, and as long as this President makes appointments to the bench, it will continue to be a lie.

Nominees and Code Words

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The President will soon be announcing his nominee to serve as the next Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who is retiring at the end of this term.

Over the past half-century, the Supreme Court has developed into an institution that bears no resemblance to the role originally envisioned by the framers and ratifiers of the United States Constitution.  Rather than being a neutral arbiter of disputes under federal law, it has evolved into board of Platonic Guardians Rulers who undemocratically settle significant policy disputes, all under the guise of interpreting the Constitution.  For a demonstration of this, just take a look at any of the Court’s decisions on “social issues” like abortion or “gay rights”.  In fact, this development has gone so far that some have speculated that we no longer live in a democracy, but in a system where ultimate authority rests not in the people or in their elected representatives, but in unelected, life-tenured judges.

Given this situation, it is clear that the policy preferences of prospective Supreme Court Justices becomes an appropriate area for inquiry and discussion. After all, if they are going to act as our de facto rulers, perhaps we should get to know them better.

To that end, I thought it would be useful to look at some of the code words that will be used during the discussion of the new nominee, and especially during the confirmation hearings in the Senate.

  • “Precedent” and “Settled Law” — I have written before about these phrases, which are used by nominees to suggest that they are careful to respect existing law.   In reality, they mean that the nominee can be expected to overturn previous decisions that they don’t agree with, and sustain those they favor.  Or, to be more specific, these phrases mean that the nominee will support the Court’s abominable abortion decisions.
  • “Empathy” — This phrase was used by the President to describe what he was looking for in a nominee — somebody who would be sensitive to how law affects the lives of regular people.  This is a troublesome phrase, since to apply that standard in decision-making would violate a judge’s oath of office, which says: “I, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as Justice of the Supreme Court under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.” (28 U.S.C. section 453)
  • “Women’s Rights” — This phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nineteenth Amendment (which guarantees women’s suffrage) or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which bans discrimination based on sex).  All it means is that the nominee can be counted on to support the right to destroy unborn human beings in the womb.
  • “Right to Privacy” — This has nothing to do with the Fourth Amendment (which guarantees the security of your person, home and papers from intrusion by the government).  It means that the nominee will support abortion rights.
  • “Right to Choose” — Nobody even pretends anymore that this means anything other than the right to abort unborn children.
  • “Judicial Activist” — As used by those who actually care about what the Constitution says and means, this phrase refers to judges who make up new rights and dress them up in Constitutional language — or those who invent new rights, like the right to abortion, and hide them in nonsense like the “penumbras” and “emanations” from the Bill of Rights (Griswold v. Connecticut), or “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” (Casey v. Planned Parenthood).  For those who don’t care about what the Constitution says and means, but instead adhere to the more flexible concept of the “living constitution” (i.e., it means whatever the current “wisdom” desires), the phrase is used to attack anyone who might overrule Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights or other social issues, or who might strike down statutes for exceeding the authority granted to Congress in the actual Constitution.
  • The public debate over nominees to the Supreme Court offer us an opportunity to re-assess where we are as a constitutional republic.  The use of code words deflects from that important consideration.  In the upcoming months, as the Senate deliberates over the new nominee, we should be very careful to pierce through the fog to the truth about what the nominee believes, and what the consequences will be if that person becomes our newest Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Ruler on the Supreme Court.