A Time of Riled Waters
THE WATERS ARE RILED
The Supreme Court decision concerning the overthrow of Roe versus Wade is riling the media waters, and pro-choice and pro-abortion people are now feeling the frustrations pro-life people have felt for years. How can this decision be changed? How can my disagreement be registered? How can this institution feel my wrath and take back what they have just done? I don’t wish opponents of the decision good luck, but I do wish them realism. Whatever your reactions to SCOTUS decisions, it takes a long time to turn them around.
As I listen to the rage and rants, I realize some people have a very naïve view of how the Supreme Court works, and why its function is so valuable and problematic. Some fail to understand the relationship between culture and politics and what brings about change in our country. People make assumptions about “settled law” and precedent and confuse that with settled opinion and/or acceptance. Some people consider this a religious issue and that the pro-life arguments are simply one group trying to foist a religious view of conception and birth upon them.
Part of this storm is the claim that the conservative justices lied in their Senate hearings, and thus are illegitimate; compounded by the fact they were appointed by Donald Trump. In addition, their confirmation was backed up by a partisan and obstinate Republican controlled Senate which had previously denied President Obama his SCOTUS nomination.
By way of disclosure, I did not vote for Trump, nor did I vote for the Democratic nominee; in either election. I am pro-life, but I am an independent idealist and not a pragmatic ideologue. In other words, I wrote in a candidate that did not bother my conscience, even though I knew they would likely lose.
I am happy that the Supreme Court made the decision to overthrow Roe v Wade. I was dismayed by the decision that the court made almost fifty years ago that made abortion legal. Though I was offended and disgusted by many of the things Donald Trump did he was not always wrong. Some of his choices for Justices can certainly be questioned and scrutinized, but I am still glad the Court made this recent decision.
These Justices, the conservative constitutionalists, made their decision based on a philosophy of law and as a result of political ascension. When people make the assertion that justices are not accountable and out of step with our democracy they don’t seem to understand our system of government. It was in fact a triumph of democracy that finally saved the day when it comes to the lives of unborn children.
What I mean by a triumph of democracy is that elections have consequences; even though one of the reprehensible things Trump did was to try and overthrow democracy by his attempted coup. In his first election campaign he made no secret of his desire to appoint justices who would adhere to the constitution. He won that first election.
Probably no other philosophical distinction divides progressive liberalism from conservatives as much as this one over the Constitution. Though in their Senate hearings the nominees were all careful to say Roe v. Wade was precedent and settled, they never said they accepted its reasoning, (at least as far as I can recall). Nor were they able to discuss that very freely as it was indeed a current issue for the Court. This is always frustrating, and what gives Senate confirmation hearings a sense of the surreal. It is a walk through a minefield with judges not quite telling us what they will do if appointed.
Where democracy prevails in this scenario is that when the people elect a President, and a Congress, then that President gets to choose justices. If the President can get them through the approval process, because he has the votes in the Senate, that is a result of democracy at work. Since we have so much political division it has been hard for either party to obtain a sure majority and have their political will established. Trump had a Senate that would back him. In this case I am glad they prevailed, and dismayed they failed to impeach the man.
As a believer in a biblical view of morality and ethics I don’t accept SCOTUS decisions as revelation from God. The Constitution is a great document, but not divinely inspired. It had to be improved, and it has been, by democratic process through amendments. The rights that are described in it are approved by the will of the people, through their votes.
The Dred Scott decision was a horrible decision by the Supreme Court. It kept black people, who were then slaves, in perpetual slavery as property. Though it was based on precedent and settled law, enshrined in the original Constitution, it was morally wrong. So wrong that by force of arms and through the Emancipation Proclamation it was overthrown. Then by the democratic election of Radical Republicans (and the concurrence of the States,) amendments were added to the Constitution; finally making what had been wrong – right.
Those amendments are now part of a more perfect Constitution. The political opinions of right and wrong, what is just and unjust, did not come from the Constitution itself but from the moral and ethical judgment of the people. That opinion can sometimes shift, be wrong or right, depending on place and time.
The right to abortion is not in the constitution, nor is the right to homosexual marriage. Those rights were “invented” by reading a “right to privacy” into the amendments that gave black people their rights as full citizens. This is not the same as Civil Rights, nor the right to inter-racial marriage, which do flow from the Constitution and it’s amendments. Culture and politics informed these recent Court “right to privacy” decisions, and therein is its weakness.
The Court, when it made decisions to strike down laws against abortion and homosexual marriage, felt those laws were unjust. However, the people, by their votes, didn’t have the opportunity to approve this new direction of law. When the Court imposed their view on the nation it inevitably led to conflict. This has now been solved by the democratic process and not through civil war, at least so far.
Along the way various States voted against homosexual marriage, and the Court dismissed those democratic votes. Along the way various States voted against the “right” to abortion and the Court dismissed those votes. The Court struck those votes down not because the votes were clearly against the words in the Constitution, but because of a “right” the Court itself had created. Roe v. Wade was therefore a faulty decision and it created havoc in the nation and death to millions of children. When the Southern States did not adhere to the Constitution over Civil Rights their Jim Crow laws were rightly struck down. The right to full citizenship, the right to vote, and all the other freedoms we have in the “Bill of Rights” are indeed in the Constitution as perfected by amendments.
What the Court did when it invented new rights was to create a culture that assumed this was the path of progress. This assumption created a situation where one part of the nation, and mostly the younger part, thought that these were accepted freedoms of our culture. They are now in shock to realize that another part of the nation never accepted those changes as progress but as a theft of their democratic voice and as a Court directed overthrow of their sense of morality and justice.
It is the right of each person, in their conscience, to decide if laws are right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair. Surely everyone can agree that sometimes laws are wrong or wrongly applied. Our conscience has to be informed by a “higher law,” the place where we get our personal understanding of morality and justice. This is our American tradition as expressed in the phrase, “we hold these truths to be self-evident...” It is our conscience that drives us in a democracy to change what is wrong or ill conceived.
We live in a society where we must obey even bad laws, no matter what any individual may think, or pay the consequences. Some citizens, by conscience, engage in civil disobedience to protest unjust laws. People who engage in such protest face arrest, fines, or imprisonment. I admire their courage, even if I might think a particular reason for a protest, or the is wrong. Pro-life people have been doing this for decades and many did it because they felt a higher law, a greater authority than the Supreme Court, had already chosen life for human beings over the personal choice of older individuals.