US Civics lesson, anyone?
Okay, this post is born out of a discussion with my sister regarding the merits of checks-and-balances in the Government of our nation. To be specific, we were talking about what defines a “Neo-conservative”, leading unto a discussion about a limited scope of government, tweaking the healthcare system as a whole, and finally, lowering the overall cost of medical care. It was at this precise moment that she asked me the dangerous question of, “can the legislature limit the judgements of the judiciary?” I was delighted….
In a rare stroke of “on the spot” brilliance, I came up with an explaination… “An over-simplified explaination of the government, is that the government is intended to be like a game of rock-paper-scissors. To be stated more accurately, it is a game of rock-paper-scissors where we ask ourselves, ‘if the rock has a pocket knife, the paper has a hammer, and the scissors have bottle of superglue, what is the price of tea in China?'” Aren’t I smart?
To give an ACTUAL answer, yes… the legistlature can give a limit to benefits rendered by the judiciary. For example, there are limits given to criminal judgements for most smaller crimes… because nobody likes the idea of getting the death penalty for spitting on the sidewalk. To be sure, the judiciary’s place is to be rendering judgements based on the Constitution and the other laws that have come to be underneath it… so technically, the laws that be should be dictating the actions of the court, rather than the actions of the court dictating the law (such as setting precedents and declaring certain laws unconstitutional). The fun bit is that if we had one of these kinds of deals where the Supreme Court justices could be removed at any time, we wouldn’t get anything new done because we would spend all eight years of the president’s two terms undoing everything the last crew did (firing and re-appointing Justices, repealing and reinstituting laws… letting the Christian kids back into public schools…).
The legislature can legally suggest ammendments to the Constitution (which negates the power of the court to declare something unconstitutional) and is saddled with the power of authoring supplemental laws that address every day life (things like a twenty year statute of limitation on armed robbery). The President is given the power to sign these laws and to nominate/appoint the Justices on the Supreme Court. Ideally, the Court should be passing impartial judgement on individuals and singular situations based on the law rather than making decisions on the merit of national law or domestic policy based on personal impetus. If this had been the case always, I highly doubt there would be as much restriction on displays of religion (specifically Christianity) on public property as there is now. Remember, the 1st Ammendment says that “Congress shall make no laws respecting the ESTABLISHMENT of a religion, nor prohibiting the free excersise thereof.” Last I checked, that meant that Congress wouldn’t make a law saying that we had a national religion (like the Church of England).
Now, this tug-of-war between the judiciary and the legistlature means that if Congress wants to make any changes to the codified laws that is exempt from judicial scrutiny, it needs to be a Constitutional ammendment… which means that a majority of people in 3/4 of the states need to think it is a good enough idea to force state legislatures to ratify it… which means that a majority of voters (or at least the most vocal of them) think it is the right thing to do. I’ll admit, I feel a little uncomfortable with how near to 100% immune the justices are from consequences of their decisions (no threat of being fired), but there needs to be at least SOME solidarity within the court to allow for a semi-consistent reading of the Constitution. Perhaps we need to get a Constitutional Ammendment passed allowing for the impeachment of Justices… that would be a political firestorm to be witnessed…
Explore, educate, vote… Peace out.