The importance of the judiciary

This excursion into the conservative perspective ends with the living American I believe best describes practical conservatism–the erasable George Will. Chapter 4 of The Conservative Sensibility is “The Judicial Supervision of Democracy,” a timely read in this era of Supreme Court shockwaves.

John Marshall was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801-1835. Will said, “Without George Washington, there would have been no country. Without Lincoln, a shattered nation would never have been reconnected with the Founders’ premises. The third most important American (was Marshall).”

His leadership established the judiciary as “the epicenter of constitutional government” as it “is perpetually poised to scrutinize the content and application of the laws.” Will said the tradition of “deference to court decisions is a tradition, a practice hallowed by reiteration.” Will continues:

“Paradoxically, the tradition was strengthened by the prestige that accrued to the court as result of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka school desegregation decision, which was far in advance of public opinion, not just in the South but nationally. The prestige came because the court acted without reference to public sentiments, and by doing so addressed an injustice with which majoritarian institutions could not then cope.”

The best principles transcend labels like “conservative,” “liberal,” and “progressive,” as in Nadine Strossen’s 1991 essay, “Supreme Court’s Role: Guarantor of Individual and Minority Group Rights,” New York Law School. See also her NYLS Profile.

4 thoughts on “The importance of the judiciary”

  1. This was burned into my consciousness when I was very young. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, virtually all of Alabama’s voters were white. There was only one functioning party and much of the time the governor was an authoritarian. Judge Frank Johnson showed me the value of the federal judiciary. He was hated by many of those who wanted to maintain the status quo. The “errors of the majority” that I saw weren’t errors of judgment, but intentional, systemic injustice. It’s painful to see what’s happening today in many states. The US Supreme Court has been the ultimate backstop against repressive legislation. The flourish of legislative activity is evidence that the legislatures believe they have a window of opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw firsthand how strongly you felt about remedying the Jim Crow South situation when I was a member of the Church of the Carpenter in Birmingham that you started.


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