Friday, August 05, 2005

Column 42 - (National) Supreme Court

This month Jim and I decided to write our “national” head-to-head columns on the Supreme Court. For my part, I am not going to address the nomination of John Roberts, not because I particularly like the President’s choice but because the nomination is, at this writing a done deal and even those who are not particularly happy at the prospect seem to think that Roberts will be confirmed.
Actually, I am not quite so unhappy as many of my liberal brethren about the nomination. Not because I particularly like Mr. Roberts, and not because the President might have nominated someone much worse, but because I have a lot of faith in the system of government our founders set up.
To review, the US Constitution is almost unique in having set up a system of government self-regulation called “checks and balances” that is designed to ensure that, over the long haul, no one branch of the government can dominate or take over. The President must operate in major areas such as appointments with the advice and consent of the Senate, and cannot, for example, go to war in a major way without either a declaration of war by the Congress or at least its tacit support. The Congress can make laws, but without the President’s signature, passing these laws requires overwhelming support in the Congress, and if the President does not operate within Constitutional bounds, the House can indict him and the Senate try him and possibly remove him from office.
And overseeing all this we have the Supreme Court. So the Legislative Branch is the primary check and balance on the Executive and vice versa, and the Judiciary oversees it all and protects the integrity of the Constitution, while its members are nominated by the President are vetted and approved by the Senate. The only way the Supreme Court can be overruled is by the intentionally ponderous and difficult process of a constitutional amendment, and so the Federal Government moves forward with each branch watching over and balancing the others, a system that has, overall, kept the US government from long-term excesses and abuses of power for 329 years – a world record for constitutional government.
The job of the Legislative Branch is to make the laws, the Executive Branch enforces those laws, and the Judiciary applies and interprets the laws, chief among which is the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. That document, with its original ten amendments that were inserted to ensure individual rights not addressed in the main text, is the charter for the US democracy and forms a body of constraints on all three branches, constraints that cannot be loosened without a great deal of public debate and support.
That system is what I trust – history has shown that anyone appointed to the Supreme Court quickly comes to find that the supremacy of the Constitution is the bedrock on which the court stands, and we have seen time and again Justices placing their limitations of the Constitution senior to their personal and political views. Nominee Roberts has already done that in stating that, while he does not necessarily agree with Roe v. Wade, he would uphold it as the law of the land.
I will say, though, that it seems odd to me that the Right, which has made such an issue of what they call “judicial activism” in the past seems so anxious to have judges appointed who will be active in pursuit of the Right’s, and particularly the “Religious Right’s” agenda. Judges that will tear down Roe v. Wade, oppose gay marriage and stem cell research, etc. While I find precious little to appreciate about President Bush and his policies and actions, I have to applaud him for withstanding, at least to an extent, the pressures of the right-wing constituency that put him in office and nominating a candidate for the Supreme Court whose record suggests he can be trusted to put the Constitution first and agendas second. We can only hope he continues to do this as future seats on the Court open up.

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