Lost order in court

Columnist John Morgan

Look, I’m not a lawyer and never played one in a high school play, but I do know some basic philosophical principles for making legal decisions in democracies.

1. No one is above the law.

2. The law must be applied fairly and evenly.

3. Justice delayed is justice denied.

These principles are expressed above the main entrance to the United States Supreme Court: “Equal justice under law.” Justice is the basic concept of what justice is.

Sometimes a statue or model of Lady Justice represents her blindfolded, weighing decisions on a scale to show impartiality.

These principles of judicial decision seem simple. They are not difficult to understand, although they are sometimes difficult to apply.

Why, then, is the current US Supreme Court so low opinion, if the principles of making judgments are so clear? Could it be that they are perceived as politically biased?

Most Americans believe the current U.S. Supreme Court is more influenced by politics than the law, according to a recent Associated Press poll. It found that 7 in 10 believed that this court is more influenced by ideology than making fair and impartial judgments. Other polls have shown that the court is at an all-time low in terms of public trust.

If the Supreme Court actually had a code of ethics that could be enforced, even monitored, by an independent body, perhaps people would feel differently.

But the judges do not appear to be reviewed once they are appointed for life, and they can only be removed by impeachment. And when some of them accept trips to resorts, or their wives lobby for partisan causes, it leads to negative perceptions of their impartiality. With lifetime appointments, it is difficult to imagine necessary reforms, such as term limits or an enforceable code of ethics.

The court appears susceptible to outside forces such as the political parties that helped manage their appointments, or to outside organizations that promote a particular ideology.

And although the U.S. Senate is interviewing and approving their appointments, more than one justice has managed to avoid direct answers to some tough questions, like whether they won’t try to overturn established laws.

I have often believed that the best way to judge someone is not just by what they say but how they act. Most of the Supreme Court’s decisions are tainted by ideological bias, often these days with a 6-3 conservative majority.

What’s a poor citizen to do when faced with a recalcitrant and powerful court that seems out of touch with public opinion? Probably a little in the short term. The court exhibits all the same characteristics of our divided political climate as the parties that nominate them.

Perhaps the only way to reform the court would be to elect presidents and senators who approve them on the basis of their qualifications, not their ideological views. I can’t wait for this to happen.

At the same time, I believe in giving every President of the United States some immunity when it comes to official acts exercised as part of constitutional requirements. But the Court’s majority has violated the historic principle that our republic was founded on the principle that no one is above the law.

John C. Morgan is an author and teacher. His email: [email protected].

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