Last week’s announcement that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is retiring created the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than 11 years and set off a high-stakes, high-profile battle over who will replace her.
The media, ever-anxious to report the most sensational and divisive angle on the story, immediately sought to put the focus squarely on social issues. And while there are many Americans on both the Left and the Right who feel strongly about these issues, they are ultimately secondary both on the Court’s agenda and in their everyday impact on Americans.
That’s not to say that the Supreme Court doesn’t matter. It surely does. Over the years, the Court’s decisions have done as much to shape our society and our government as any other social or political force.
For example, do you own a home? Do you aspire to own one?
If the answer to either question is “Yes,” the Court’s recently-announced decision in the Kelo case has an immediate and direct impact on your life and, perhaps, your most valuable asset. By a 5-4 vote, a bare majority of the Court decided that the government could use its eminent domain power to take your home (or other property) and hand it over to a private developer in the name of economic development. With its decision, the Court effectively nullified a key provision of the Constitution protecting private property rights, dramatically expanded the government’s power and put your home at risk.
It’s impossible to understand how five well-educated, intelligent jurists -- Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer -- could have concluded that their ruling in the Kelo case was consistent with the law, the Constitution, common sense or basic decency. Yet they did.
The Kelo decision starkly illustrates how judges impact our society by substituting their own views for the plain language and understanding of the Constitution.
Indeed, the explosion of frivolous lawsuits is due, in large measure, to judge-made law that has evolved, tolerating and promoting abuses of the justice system. To be sure, the upsurge toward the current level of lawsuit abuse wasn’t intentional. But over time, too many judges have chosen to overlook, set aside or get around the law and the Constitution in order to reach what they believe to be the “correct” result. The consequence has been an explosion of lawsuits that bankrupt good companies, put Americans like you out of work, jeopardize billions of dollars of pension benefits, run up the cost of medical care and increase the cost of everything we buy.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court continues to undermine personal liberties guaranteed in the Constitution by allowing restrictions on political speech, questioning the plain meaning of the Second Amendment and canceling private property rights, just to name a few.
Each year, through each case it decides and perhaps only a small step at a time, the Supreme Court impacts your life and your freedom. So if you think the Supreme Court doesn’t matter or if you believe the choice of the next Supreme Court justice is only about social issues, think again.
And if you want to protect your freedom and ensure the next justice will be a friend of the Constitution, now is the time to speak out.July 7, 2005
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