Thursday, June 27, 2013

Just what does Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia think the Supreme Court is SUPPOSED to do?

In his scathing dissent in the minority opinion on Windsor v. United States Scalia wrote (and spoke) this statement, which left me scratching my head a little bit (emphasis mine):
The Court says that we have the power to decide this case because if we did not, thenour “primary role in determining the constitutionality of a law” (at least one that “has inflicted real injury on a plaintiff ”) would “become only secondary to the President’s.” Ante, at 12. But wait, the reader wonders—Windsor won below, and so cured her injury, and the President was glad to see it. True, says the majority, but judicial review must march on regardless, lest we “undermine the clear dictate of the separation-of-powers principle that when an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution, it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted).

That is jaw-dropping. It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and every- where “primary” in its role.

This image of the Court would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter. They knew well the dangers of “primary” power, and so created branches of government that would be “perfectly coordinate by the terms of their common commission,” none of which branches could “pretend to an exclusive or superior right of settling the boundaries between their respective powers.” The Federalist, No. 49, p. 314 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (J. Madison). The people did this to protect themselves. They did it to guard their right to self-rule against the black-robed supremacy that today’s majority finds so attractive. So it was that Madison could confidently state, with no fear of contradiction, that there was nothing of “greater intrinsic value” or “stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty” than a government of separate and coordinate powers. Id., No. 47, at 301.

For this reason we are quite forbidden to say what the law is whenever (as today’s opinion asserts) “‘an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution.’” Ante, at 12. We can do so only when that allegation will determine the outcome of a lawsuit, and is contradicted by the other party. The “judicial Power” is not, as the majority believes, the power “‘to say what the law is,’” ibid., giving the Supreme Court the “primary role in determining the constitutionality of laws.” The majority must have in mind one of the foreign constitutions that pronounces such primacy for its constitutional court and allows that primacy to be exercised in contexts other than a lawsuit.See, e.g., Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Art. 93. The judicial power as Americans have understood it (and their English ancestors before them) is the power to adjudicate, with conclusive effect, disputed government claims (civil or criminal) against private persons, and disputed claims by private persons against the government or other private persons. Sometimes (though not always) the parties before the court disagree not with regard to the facts of their case (or not only with regard to the facts) but with regard to the applicable law—in which event (and only in which event) it becomes the “‘province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’” Ante, at 12.

In other words, declaring the compatibility of state or federal laws with the Constitution is not only not the “primary role” of this Court, it is not a separate, free standing role at all. We perform that role incidentally—by accident, as it were—when that is necessary to resolve the dispute before us. Then, and only then, does it become “‘the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’” That is why, in 1793, we politely declined the Washington Administration’s request to “say what the law is” on a particular treaty matter that was not the subject of a concrete legal controversy. 3 Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay 486–489 (H.Johnston ed. 1893). And that is why, as our opinions have said, some questions of law will never be presented to this Court, because there will never be anyone with standing to bring a lawsuit. See Schlesinger v. Reservists Comm. to Stop the War, 418 U. S. 208, 227 (1974); United States v. Richardson, 418 U. S. 166, 179 (1974). As Justice Bran- deis put it, we cannot “pass upon the constitutionality of legislation in a friendly, non-adversary, proceeding”; absent a “‘real, earnest and vital controversy between individuals,’” we have neither any work to do nor any power to do it. Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 346 (1936) (concurring opinion) (quoting Chicago & Grand Trunk R. Co. v. Wellman, 143 U. S. 339, 345 (1892)). Our authority begins and ends with the need to adjudge the rights of an injured party who stands before us seeking redress. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560 (1992).
Is Scalia really saying that the Supreme Court is not there to judge whether a law passed by Congress is constitutional or not if the specific offended party gets a positive decision in their case? Is Scalia really saying that the Supreme Court isn't really there to determine the compatibility of state and federal laws with the Constitution? I'm sorry, but whaaaa?

First of all, I don't really see this rationale in the decisions he makes in striking down legislation and court decisions that he doesn't agree with. So he's not being consistent in his framework. Or, as the Daily Show's Samantha Bee reported, "It's what lawyers call 'the Principle of Waaaaah!'":

Second of all, perhaps Scalia needs to take a refresher course in civics, because the role of the Supreme Court is often defined as follows:
[The Supreme Court] can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution. It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer a law. It can also tell the government of a state that one of its laws breaks a rule in the Constitution.
Maybe, though Scalia should contact (and all the other textbook publishers) to inform them of what the real role of the Supreme Court is (right after he figures out a way to make it consistent with his own past judicial positions as well as those of the Supreme Court through time).

Maybe, too, Scalia could jump in his time machine and explain to the writers of the US Constitution what they meant when they wrote the following about the role of the judiciary (and the Supreme Court):
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; ...
Of course, maybe Scalia doesn't think that the Constitution actually says what it means to say.

(I also think that this is the first time that the phrase "argle-bargle" was used in a Supreme Court opinion, but I could be wrong here.)

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