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home : insight & opinion : guest columns
May 21, 2019

7/3/2018 10:47:00 AM
Sky not falling with high-court choice
For the Daily News

We will have a new Supreme Court Justice. It is not a cause for alarm. The conservatives cannot claim a "victory" nor the liberals a "defeat." The sky is not falling. We have three branches of government; the court is the most conservative and is given a single mission - to decide whether actions taken by the other branches of government are in compliance with the meaning of the written rules by which our country is governed. I'm not making this up, and neither can they.

Our Constitution is a baby compared to others in the world, and while we like to think it is the best, there are times when one has to wonder. It once recognized slavery, condoned segregation and denied minorities of all sorts, including women, their rights. There was very little about it as originally written that would be considered "fair" today, so we changed it - by amending it, not by replacing justices with those willing to foster a particular view.

It's important to remember the court has been wrong about things, too, while being technically correct. The Dred Scott decision, which led to the Civil War, effectively said slavery was proper and that slaves were slaves no matter where they went in our country. That was wrong, but the words of the original Constitution allowed slavery. To fix that, we amended it. It would not have been legally sufficient to just pack the court with abolitionist justices willing to say the opposite.

Now we have a set of circumstances where a conservative group is in the majority in congress and has the presidency. The president nominates justices and the Senate approves the candidates or not, as they see fit, and those approved sit on the court for a lifetime.

It is an honor to be a Supreme Court Justice, but every word you write and every decision you make will be scrutinized and criticized for your entire career and beyond, so it is not a place where justices can do as they please. Justices can be impeached by the same process as other federal appointees. Samuel Chase was impeached in 1804, but was acquitted at his trial in the Senate and served out his term. No justice has ever been removed from office, although it can be done.

While we hear from some that the Constitution is "sacred," it is not, nor was it our first. Under the Articles of Confederation we did a great deal of effective governing, including the creation of the Northwest Territories and the ordinances to govern them which include our own state, Illinois and most of her neighbors. We have the governments we do in these states thanks to them, and slavery was not allowed here. Ultimately the national government grew to require a more effective set of guidelines for embracing the diversity that was coming with the addition of more and more territory in the West, and that is the Constitution we have today. It can be amended, and some say it should be, but it is not an easy process.

So whether you believe life begins at conception and abortion is murder, or a woman's body is her own and she has the right to choose what happens to it - including the right to abort an ongoing biological process that offers the potential life of another - it is currently a personal choice allowed by law. I respect the law, and when free to choose I take the responsibility gladly and try to be intelligent about how fast I drive or the tax deductions I claim and the things I do to help my community. I don't denigrate others for seeing things differently because, after all, we are free to do so here, which is what liberty means to me. 

No one gets to be a suitable candidate for the Supreme Court without being ready to shoulder the responsibility of making legal decisions responsibly. I am sure whoever is nominated and confirmed will do an honorable job and I am equally sure that we will all be able to live with it.

If we don't like the way things are going, then we can vote to change it, which brings up an issue about the way things are now. Did you vote? Did you get what you wanted? Would you do it again? That's democracy. Name-calling hatred on social media is nothing new in politics, and I try to ignore it and focus on what's really going on. 

The Pope did not run the country when Kennedy was elected, Lincoln was not a baboon, and FDR was not a socialist; well, maybe a little. Throughout our history it has been difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of the popular will and the proper course of action for the country.  

Every citizen needs to inform themselves with the truth of things. To do that I read my local newspaper. The people that put it together are our neighbors and I trust them and believe what they tell me. So should you. After all, you read this here, didn't you?

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