Saturday, April 09, 2005

Ex-exterminator takes on pointy-headed judiciary

Tom DeLay said this week that Congress needs “to reassert [its] constitutional authority over the courts” and that “the judiciary branch of our government has overstepped its authority on countless occasions, overturning and in some cases just ignoring the legitimate will of the people.” (1)

Those of the radical right have now taken on the Constitution and the founding principle of the separation of powers - the only kind of judiciary they want is one that is submissive to the will of the Congress, at least until Congress changes hands when of course these same people will scream for judicial independence.

We keep hearing about so-called activist judges who are out of control, because the complainers don’t like their rulings. But does anyone ever actually read the rulings, or the laws upon which they’re based?

All we get are the sound bites - that the judges refused to return Terri’s feeding tube or whatever. But judges are required to base their rulings upon legal codes and years of case law, and in every case, judicial reviews showed that they did exactly that.

So what is really going on here? I think it is deeper than these folks simply disagreeing with the rulings; I think they dispute the need for detailed rulings at all. I think they believe that judges should just say yea or nay, based upon the way the winds of public opinion are blowing, and that if the majority wants something, that’s what the judges should rule (see DeLay’s comment about “legitimate rule of the people,” above). Unless of course, it’s something like the Schiavo feeding tube which the majority of the public supported removing. Then the judges must kowtow to the will of the (so-called) right-to-lifers, because Tom says so.

As are so many things these days, the present attacks upon judges - and I’m talking about verbal attacks such as DeLay’s - are emblematic of a larger societal trend that has been sweeping through for some years now, and that is a disgust with intellectual enterprise. The work of a judge is the epitome of an intellectual enterprise, steeped as it is in book-learning and weighing of pros and cons, and based upon history and philosophy and ethics and lots of - - - words - - - carefully crafted into paragraphs and pages of cogent and complex thought, an art form accorded ever-lessening value by those possessing wee attention spans.

Ours is a culture whose motto might as well be “cut to the chase” for all the focus given to intellectual endeavors, which are instead seen as highly suspect. Using more than two short sentences to describe anything is damned as overly verbose, while judicial opinions can run a hundred pages or more - and in such high-falutin’ language too!

Make no mistake: the war on judges is only the latest stage in the trend of anti-intellectualism that continues to build in this country. At all levels of our educational system, administrative pressures fostering “social promotion” and “student retention” have become far stronger and vastly more fashionable among education administrators than can be resisted by the professorial countervailing forces of “maintaining high standards.” Meanwhile, Band-Aids like Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative only make matters worse, by eliminating what was left of the encouragement to think independently and critically and instead spending all classroom energy toward “teaching to the test.”

It is not an accident that our students have fallen so far behind in the world. All the intellectual vigor has been bled out of our schools, and teaching has too often become a job of last resort by those whose lack of intellectual rigor leaves them incapable of greater things. [Yes, there still are gifted, even genius teachers toiling in the educational fields, but they have a difficult time making up for the deficiencies of all the others.] Meanwhile, every cultural influence heaps ridicule on those who would like to use their minds for anything other than the accumulation of material wealth.

Judges and their intellectual endeavors are only the latest, and not the last, of the intellectuals to be scorned.

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(1) “DeLay Says Federal Judiciary Has ‘Run Amok,’ Adding Congress Is Partly to Blame”, by Carl Hulse and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, April 8, 2005.

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