Friday, April 29, 2005

They're Gonna Need More Toes

Reading a WSJ editorial this morning reminded me of this thought that has been bugging me lately. The main thrust of the piece concerned the historical rise of conservative opinion and the efforts of the Left to reinstate the old "Fairness Doctrine".

The editorial contains a world of thought, not the least of which is the observable fact that the Left is so devoid of appeal to the "marketplace of ideas" many of them actually wish to limit right-wing speech. All in the interest of "fairness", of course.

Well, we know about wishes, don't we? Sometimes they come true... in spades.

Which brings me to today's thought: the Left claims to be the friend of minorities, and wants to protect minority rights. Hence, they want to block appointment of so-called extremist judges who might interpret the Constitution as it is actually written. To which I say this:

The best friend of the minority is the United States Constitution. Exactly as written, not as interpreted by judicial whim.

As a member of a religious minority, I happen to have a special concern when someone like Al Gore spouts off about "religious zealotry" and intolerance. Somehow I suspect he means to limit someone's ability to either follow a spiritual path or to discuss it openly. Or, to apply it to daily life. I'm sure he would deny my suspicions, but what else could he legitimately mean? Limits on public prayer, perhaps? No head scarves in school?

I think the folks on the Left seriously believe it is good when some judge ignores American voters and instead opts for the unqualified opinions of Belgians. If it helps them win one case they favour, then such a judicial opinion must be good. But such thinking is dangerously short-sighted-- those court decisions have tails. Once a Supreme Court decision is handed down, all lower courts are obliged to abide. Law is made.

And each time those on the political left celebrate another whimsical legal implementation of social engineering, they blow off another toe. And they may well run out of toes at exactly the moment some judge decides to turn the tide, based on yet another unlegislated personal opinion. Maybe the euthanasia ordered for Terry Schiavo will become "settled law" and be applied to your family. All for the greater good, of course.

So why is it bad when law is synthesized by judges? Why shouldn't a judge "flex" the law to suit "evolving" social ideas? Because that legal personality who so favours your viewpoint today will eventually die, and may well be replaced by another personality who is not so favourably disposed. If we are to be truly a nation of laws and not men, then rule-by-whim cannot be acceptable.

Especially to minorities.

It was just such an illogical, yet popular opinion that gave us the infamous Dred Scott case, holding that a slave could not be a citizen. Was the decision that slaves had no standing to even bring a case before the court good for black Americans? Hardly.

I happen to be a minority within a minority. I am no doubt one of the very few Zen Buddhist conservatives in this nation. Nevertheless, that is who and what I am. As a Buddhist, I am part of a religious minority so small we don't get mentioned when lists of religious minorities are rattled off by the pundits. In order to get noticed, we practically have to set ourselves on fire.

But, I have no complaints. Nor do I feel threatened by any burgeoning right-wing Christian fanaticism. On the contrary, most Christians in this country are entirely respectful of my path. I think when I am protesting in favour of their right to religious self-expression, I am protecting my own interests.

What I do find threatening is the notion that the law may or may not apply, depending on what judge I happen to get. We have three branches of government, ostensibly separate but equal. Legislatures write the laws, the courts interpret them, and the executive branch enforces them. But, in this day and age, our judges do all of the above, as they see fit.

The enemy is not religion or even zealotry. The United States Constitution protects my self-expression, explicitly. No individual-- judge or otherwise-- has the right to find implicit limits on that protection.

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