The essential irrelevance of the Constitution to contemporary constitutional law should be clear enough from the fact that the great majority of Supreme Court rulings of unconstitutionality involve state, not federal, law; and nearly all of them purport to be based on a single constitutional provision, the 14th Amendment--in fact, on only four words in one sentence of the Amendment, "due process" and "equal protection." The 14th Amendment has to a large extent become a second constitution, replacing the original.
It does not require jurisprudential sophistication to realize that the justices do not decide controversial issues of social policy by studying those four words. No question of interpretation is involved in any of the court's controversial constitutional rulings, because there is nothing to interpret. The states did not lose the power to regulate abortion in 1973 in Roe v. Wade because Justice Harry Blackmun discovered in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, the purported basis of the decision, something no one noticed before. The problem is that the Supreme Court justices have made the due process and equal protection clauses empty vessels into which they can pour any meaning. This converts the clauses into simple transferences of policy-making power from elected legislators to the justices, authorizing a court majority to remove any policy issue from the ordinary political process and assign it to themselves for decision. This fundamentally changes the system of government created by the Constitution
The basic principles of the Constitution are representative democracy, federalism and the separation of powers, which places all lawmaking power in an elected legislature with the judiciary merely applying the law to individual cases. Undemocratic and centralized lawmaking by the judiciary is the antithesis of the constitutional system.
The only justification for permitting judges to invalidate a policy choice made in the ordinary political process is that the choice is clearly prohibited by the Constitution--"clearly," because in a democracy the judgment of elected legislators should prevail in cases of doubt. Judicially enforced constitutionalism raises the issue, as Jefferson also pointed out, of rule of the living by the dead. But our problem is not constitutionalism but judicial activism--the invalidation by judges of policy choices not clearly (and rarely even arguably) prohibited by the Constitution. We are being ruled not by the dead but by judges all too much alive.
Because most of the Supreme Court's activist rulings of unconstitutionality purport to be based on a 14th Amendment that it has deprived of specific meaning, the problem can be very largely solved by simply restoring the 14th Amendment to its original meaning, or by giving it any specific meaning. The 14th Amendment was written after the Civil War to provide a national guarantee of basic civil rights to blacks. If a constitutional amendment could be adopted reconfining the 14th Amendment to that purpose or, better still, expanding it to a general prohibition of all official racial discrimination, the Court's free-hand remaking of domestic social policy for the nation would largely come to an end. If the justices lost the ability to invalidate state law on the basis of their political preferences, their ability and willingness to invalidate federal law on this basis would likely also diminish.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Rewrite The 14th Amendment
Lino Graglia in Opinion Journal: