THE REPEAT BUTTON …
I thought once we learned it, we knew it.
At least that’s how I understood education in school. Once we learned 2+2 = 4 we didn’t need a refresher course on it. I thought Science and Math and English and Civics were all in the same category of settled truths. And that once we knew it, we knew it.
As it turns out, we have to keep learning things over and over again. And we have to keep hearing them over and over again. And we have to keep experiencing them over and over again. And sometimes we still don’t completely have it …even when we’re old and full of (supposed) knowledge.
I left high school (not college, mind you, HIGH SCHOOL) understanding what the Supreme Court of the United States was supposed to do and what it was NOT supposed to do. I thought everyone knew what it did and did NOT do. And yet, as I age, I realize that most people don’t know a lot of what I left high school assuming everyone knew.
As we stand on the precipice of Donald Trump appointing a yet another new Supreme Court justice, I’m watching people wring their hands and clutch their pearls and writhe in fear and trepidation about what a new justice might mean. And honestly, it doesn’t ring true to me, given what the court is supposed to do …and NOT do.
First of all, let’s define our terms: the Supreme Court does not MAKE laws. Surely, we all understand that. Right? The justices make constitutional judgements on the definitions and applications of laws. But they don’t MAKE laws.
Here’s where it has gotten tricky …they DO establish legal precedent. That means if an action is challenged in a court, there will be a legal precedent from the highest court in the land, upholding a certain decision, and basically backstopping any decision otherwise. However, there is a legal authority higher than the Supreme Court …it’s the constitution. So, if the people decide to add a constitutional amendment that supersedes a previous amendment, the court rulings (using that amendment) will be rendered null and void.
In other words, there were probably dozens of legal cases pre-13th amendment, where one slave-owner had a beef with a different slave-owner about poaching his slaves and what were the legal ramifications of stealing slaves and what laws on the books had precedent over such matters? Well, after the passing and signing of the 13th amendment, none of those cases mattered anymore because slavery ITSELF was illegal. And the PEOPLE decided that …not a court. So, while the court could rule on something related to slavery (see Dred Scott), the court didn’t decide that slaves were free. It took the entire country to do that.
I love our form of government. It’s wonderfully genius in its checks and balances. And if applied correctly, it evenly distributes power in a way that guarantees balance. Now, obviously, it’s not always applied correctly. Plus, it is run by human beings. So there are two strikes against it right there. But the goal of our form of government is to provide equal justice and standing among every individual citizen of the United States. We sometimes forget that that isn’t the goal of much of the rest of the world.
I was recently in a conversation with a young film maker who has been documenting a politician from a third world country. Her big takeaway, so far, is just how insidious and evil communism is and how much life it ends senselessly, in its devouring of power and liberty. And it makes you realize that this elusive “idea” we constantly talk about as America, is a real thing. It’s a real GOOD thing. And it makes you realize how hard we must continually fight to maintain it.
For people on the left, they feel that abortion is one of those inalienable rights that was never really spelled out in the Declaration or the Constitution, but is inherent to keeping women basically, personally free. And so, if they see a Supreme Court nominee who might not be a huge fan of Roe V Wade, they feel like the country, and freedom itself, is moving backwards.
But for some of us, that very notion in and of itself, maybe the problem. The fact that we’ve never truly had a national conversation about abortion, but rather, one side won ONE court case, is the nagging problem. And that case was essentially decided by 5 people. The fact that five (5) people made a decision and handed down a decree to three hundred million people, runs almost counter to what this country was founded on.
The fact is, we don’t have any national abortion laws. We have a lot of state laws, but there is no overarching national law governing the act of abortion. What we have is a Supreme Court ruling. And we’ve used that legal precedent as makeshift law. We’ve done the same thing with several other rulings through the years. And when people talk about “activist” judges, they are referring to judges who overstep their boundaries as judge and decide to set precedent in lieu of non-existing law …essentially creating law from the bench.
Let’s calm the air a bit and understand that even if ALL nine judges on the Supreme Court disagree with Roe V Wade, they can’t just decide to overturn it by themselves. A case would have to be brought forward that relates to it. And even if that happened and it did get overturned, it wouldn’t necessarily make abortion illegal. Because, as I said, there are no national abortion laws on the books. There is certainly nothing specific about it in the Constitution (although people cite the fourth amendment and privacy).
But if your life is completely tied to government and what it does, you will constantly be biting your nails over a Supreme Court nominee. I suppose I understand that. The profession I have been in for the last 28 years, has always been completely tied to the government and its actions. And let me say, I’ve hated every single piece of that. It has caused me (and my family) pain and suffering in ways you cannot understand unless you’re directly dealing with it.
Because of this, I always wonder why people want more government in their lives. I wonder why they want to be at the mercy of courts and justice nominees and elections and decisions by elected officials. Because hanging by the thread of a court case is a dicey proposition. If the freed slaves had been constantly worrying about presidential elections and court appointments, to know if they were going to be slaves next year, that wouldn’t have been justice. And it wouldn’t have been American.
That’s why it is so important for citizens to be informed and involved. And it’s important for them to understand what all the branches of the government do. That’s why we teach that stuff in high school and that’s why it’s important to learn it.
The problem is, we seem to have to keep learning it over and over again.
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