The real fissure running through the Supreme Court is not between so-called liberals and notional conservatives, but between those who believe that judges are superlegislators empowered to impose their own vision on society and those who believe that judges are constrained by what the law actually says.
The latter is the position of the Federalist Society and many lawyers associated with it, and that this position — that the law says what it says, not what people with power wish for it to say — should be controversial is an excellent indicator of why faith in our institutions has eroded so deeply.
“If Republicans give Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat to some Federalist Society fanatic, Democrats should pack the court,” reads the line over Michelle Goldberg’s New York Times column.
Read that and ask yourself who the fanatic really is.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Didn’t Understand Her Job
If RBG wanted to be a lawmaker, she should have run for Congress.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg did a great many interesting and impressive things in her life, but she never did the one thing she probably really should have done: run for office. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t an associate justice of the Supreme Court — not really: She was a legislator in judicial drag.
You need not take my word on this: Ask her admirers. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a vision for America,” Linda Hirshman argues in the Washington Post. What was her vision? “To make America fairer, to make justice bigger.” That is not a job for a judge — that is a job for a legislator. The job of making law properly belongs to — some people find this part hard to handle — lawmakers. Making law is not the job of the judge. The job of the judge is to see that the law is followed and applied in a given case. It does not matter if the law is unfair or if the law is unjust — that is not the judge’s concern. If you have a vision for America, and desire to make the law more fair or more just, then there is a place for you: Congress. That is where the laws are made.
This distinction is an important one. As you may have noticed over the course of the summer, Americans do not agree on everything. Some of us have ideas about what is good, decent, fair, just, wise, intelligent, prudent, and necessary that are radically different from the ideas other Americans have about what is good, decent, fair, just, wise, intelligent, prudent, and necessary. Democracy is not good for very much, but democratic institutions are how we settle those disagreements. Even the antidemocratic elements of U.S. government, such as the Bill of Rights, which put certain questions beyond the reach of mere temporary majorities, came out of democratic institutions and were implemented through a democratic process. It is from that that they derive their legitimacy. Democracy has its shortcomings — mostly rooted in the fact that human beings are universally fallen and in the majority savage — but the alternative is bonking each other over the head over every disagreement.
Put another way, the alternative is might makes right — which is exactly the kind of “jurisprudence” Justice Ginsburg and others of her kind have long practiced. Continue reading “”