Friday, July 4, 2014

Divided Roberts court endangers the Constitution

     America’s highest court last week chose a religious justification for allowing an exemption to federal law, a particularly dangerous and divisive challenge to the validity of our whole governmental system, which until now has rested on a division between church and state.

     The activist judges of the Roberts Court, Chief Justice John Roberts himself and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy, formed the majority on yet another 5-4 ruling, handed down this week in the Hobby Lobby decision. Though considered “conservatives,” they seemed to see no need to consider restraint when restraint was clearly needed. In abdicating restraint, they endangered the very foundation of American government.

     The role of the justices of the Supreme Court is powerful, but also very limited in the balance of powers among the three units of government, a unique characteristic of the American system. Members of the House of Representatives are required to stand for election every two years, every six years for senators, and every four years with only two terms allowed for the president.

     Members of the high court are appointed for life. That guarantee of position is meant to insulate them from political pressure, no matter how extensive or limited their qualifications, or how wise or absurd their rulings.

     In Hobby Lobby, the slim majority constructed a tortured logic that stemmed from religious beliefs rather than persuasive legal, fact-based thinking.

     This has not always been true.

     When the Warren Court was faced with replacing the sanctioned school segregation of Plessey vs. Ferguson with the equal rights of Brown vs. Board of Education, which banned segregation, Chief Justice Earl Warren recognized that the result would change the very fabric of American life. So, he worked to craft a unanimous decision that left no doubt about its constitutional validity. Today’s justices didn’t apply the same care in the Hobby Lobby case, which put decisions about female contraception into the hands of employers. The shockwave will likely be huge as it rolls through society.

     When the legislative branch of government is divided, voters eventually can decide which side should prevail. Not so with the judicial branch because of the justices’ lifetime appointments.

     The court majority in Hobby Lobby failed the nation. The court is now firmly identified with the political positions of the Republican presidents who appointed them and not with the sanctity of their positions. For those who love the law and the Constitution, and for freedom-loving citizens, it is not only a sad situation, but a grave danger to that venerable document and to our society.

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