Lakeville Journal, 6.12.14
We’ve reached that part of the year when the Supreme Court throws down a dozen important decisions all at once, and then disappears.
These final rulings from the bench are often those most eagerly awaited. Some or more will have lasting effects on our nation. That is why the Supreme Court hides.
After all, each of the Justices has sworn before their Senate confirmation committees that they will uphold the current laws of the land, try to interpret them in the light of earlier rulings, and that not one of them is a judicial activist. Rather, each claims to be an “originalist,” i.e., what Antonin Scalia allows may possibly have been the original intent of the first Congress as it designed the court itself.
It’s instructive to return to the US Constitution, to see how much importance was placed on the Court at its inception in Article 3. What do we find? A scant 29 lines outlining the Court’s responsibility in adjudicating disputes.
Nowhere in our esteemed document does it say where the Court must be located, what its hours must be, how often each year it must meet, what its ideal caseload will be.
In the past five years the Roberts Court has handed down some egregious decisions, decisions that have not only been judicially active but have altered (we hope not forever) the freedom of the nation to vote its heart and mind. It has made it more difficult for individual citizens to bring their cases to court, put the onus on them to prove (against gigantic corporations with unlimited resources) that they were maltreated or lied to or displaced because of age or gender. They have made the voice of the individual voter less than a fraction of the voice of any corporation or PAC in America. They have strewn the path to the front steps of our polling places with landmines.
To be just, there has been some thoughtful work done by the court, as opposed to reflexive, political reaction.
But what has struck us most often is how separate, distant, unreal the atmosphere must be within the Court’s walls for the it not to recognize corruption when it is evident to the nation, not to mention the value of one man’s vote against another. Nor, indeed, even the economic burrow in which most of us live and have to do our daily decision-making.
So I thought it might be worth a few seconds examining not only what the Constitution does actually say about the responsibilities of the Court but also to proffering a solution to what most ails it. If we can’t be positive, we can’t be taken seriously.
Among other things Article 3 does not address are number of sessions per statute year, actual locale of said court, length of Court sessions in terms of weeks or months of any year. Nor does it state that the Court members must meet in the same room at the same time.
Since the Court has immured itself in a bubble through which membrane common sense, human value, uncomplicated thinking and reasoning cannot permeate, we have a solution.
I propose that the members of the Supreme Court be mandated (by Congress, bi-partisanly) to hold its sessions at irregular times of the year, separated by journeys of each Justice back to his or her place of origin in order that the Justice may see the conditions, feel the sentiments, understand the needs of the people over whom it holds such sway.
This, after all, WAS part of the Founding Father’s original vision, i.e., that the national legislature should meet irregularly and, during such times as it was not in session, its members should return to the places from which they came to live, work, and worship. It was not envisioned that representatives nor senators be full-time employees of an imperial government.
What this would mean today for our Justices is, for example, that Justice Kennedy would return to Sacramento where he might get some fresh insight into farming, water shortages, the future of agriculture. Both Justices Alito and Scalia would return to Trenton, New Jersey, where (we suspect) they would be astounded at how “the other half lives.” And it would mean that Justice Thomas would have to return to Pin Point, Georgia once or twice a year to get a firm reading on how his contemporaries view their lives, their troubles, their country.
Being exposed to real life living and real time situations of immediate need, anger, redress and hope ideally would affect the understanding of the entire Court and offer them recognition of what it does mean to be one of three hundred million Americans who are not necessarily always part of that fabled one per cent.
This solution is a simple one, amounting to nothing more than allowing our Justices a little time off for a refresher course in humanity. With luck, the idea might bloom in at least nine gardens.