Two Fundamentally Irreconcilable Constitutional Visions

Two Fundamentally Irreconcilable Constitutional Visions. By Francis Menton.

It’s been a momentous couple of weeks at the Supreme Court. As usual, they saved the big cases for the end. This year the big three were Bruen (gun rights), Dobbs (abortion rights) and West Virginia (administrative regulation of CO2).

All three cases were decided 6-3 along ideological lines. These cases involved the most basic issues of what the Constitution is and how it is to be interpreted. On those issues there is virtually no hope of one side ever convincing anyone from the other side. There just are two fundamentally irreconcilable visions of how this should work. The two visions can be summarized in just a few sentences each:

  • Vision 1. The Constitution allocates powers to the three branches of government, and also lists certain rights entitled to constitutional protection. The role of the courts is (1) to assure that the powers are exercised only by those to whom they are allocated, (2) to protect the enumerated rights, and (3) as to things claimed to be rights but not listed, to avoid getting involved.
  • Vision 2. The Constitution is an archaic document adopted more than 200 years ago, and largely obsolete. The role of the courts is to implement the current priorities of the academic left and then somehow rationalize how that is consistent with the written document. If a right is enumerated in the Constitution but disfavored by the current left (e.g., the right to “keep and bear arms”), then the courts should find a way to uphold enactments that minimize that right down to the point that it is a nullity. If a right is not enumerated in the Constitution, but is a priority of the left (e.g., abortion), then that right can be discovered in some vague and unspecific constitutional language (“due process”). And if the left has a priority to transform the economy and the way the people live, but the Congress does not have sufficient majorities to enact that priority, then the Executive agencies can implement that priority on their own authority, and the role of the courts is to assist the agencies in finding something in the tens of thousands of pages of federal statutes, however vague and dubious, that can be claimed to authorize the action.

Suppose that you are on the Supreme Court, and you subscribe to Vision 2; and thus you find yourself time after time on the losing end of these 6-3 decisions. What’s your strategy in writing your dissents? Actually, it’s easy. The goal is to divert attention away from the actual Constitution as far and as quickly as possible. Instead, you argue that the position of the current left is the only moral position, and anyone who might oppose it is a monster. Does this have anything to do with the Constitution? No, but so what? Don’t worry — you have the entirety of the media and academia to support you and to help keep the people from figuring out what you are doing.

The first vision is attached to the modernity-science-Christianity-democracy package, while the second comes with wokeness, a might-is-right morality, big helpings of government jobs for the right people who make all the decisions, and a victims-are-sacred religion.

hat-tip Stephen Neil