Monday, October 20, 2008

Justice Thomas on Constitution & Judging

Justice Thomas has some excellent points to make about the judiciary and the Constitution. He notes that people were comfortable with making sacrifices when JFK asked what you could do for your country - due in no small part to the Great Depression, World War Two and the Civil rights movement. People were used to making sacrifices for the good of society and the nation, but attitudes have changed since that time, it's all about the individual today. What's in it for me. Most discussion of sacrifice involve "spreading the wealth around" by way of increased taxation from those who earn their way to those who do not. What must your country do for you brings to mind the proper role of government in society. Thomas also notes that many citizens talk endlessly about their rights, but have almost no clue as to what those rights actually are as enshrined in the legal system.

"I have been astounded just how many of our fellow citizens feel strongly about their constitutional rights but have no idea what they are, or for that matter, what the Constitution says. I am not suggesting that they become Constitutional scholars -- whatever that means. I am suggesting, however, that if one feels strongly about his or her rights, it does make sense to know generally what the Constitution says about them. It is at least as easy to understand as a cell phone contract -- and vastly more important."

The framers established, to the best of their ability, a government with limited powers to best preserve the liberty of the citizens and allow them to prosper. Toward this end, they wrote the Constitution, which has been amended but not signifigantly changed over the history of our nation. The document provides for a government by the people with distributed powers between the three branches of government at the national level and leaves all powers not explicitly mentioned in the document to the states under the principle of federalism. The two political branches were constrained by the people due to the elective process, but the judiciary was viewed as the least dnagerous and given lifetime appointment to confirm their independence and impartiality from the political process. However, this also insultes judges from accountability.

This leads to the question of how to measure the performance of judges and how to interpret their role. As Thomas relates, there is no definitive way to do interpet the Constitution, and some persons believe that the best way to determine this is whether or not they personally find the policy being favorable. This belief is certainly behind the contention in the selection of judges throughout the confirmation process. He points out the flwa in the thinking, and then sums up the two ways to interpret the most important legal document in the land:

"Those who think this way often seem to believe that since this is the way they themselves think, everyone must be doing the same thing. In this sense, legal realism morphs into legal cynicism....there are really only two ways to interpret the Constitution -- try to discern as best we can what the framers intended or make it up. No matter how ingenious, imaginative or artfully put, unless interpretive methodologies are tied to the original intent of the framers, they have no more basis in the Constitution than the latest football scores."

Amen to that.

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