Perhaps the most telling moment of Sandra Day O'Connor's nearly quarter-century career on the Supreme Court came on her last day. In her opinion on the Kentucky Ten Commandments case, O'Connor wrote that, given religious strife raging around the world and America's success in resolving religious differences, why would we "renegotiate the boundaries between church and state. . . . Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"Hat tip: Betsy Newmark.
This is O'Connorism in its purest essence. She had not so much a judicial philosophy as a social philosophy. Unlike a principled conservative such as Antonin Scalia, or a principled liberal such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, O'Connor had no stable ideas about constitutional interpretation. Her idea of jurisprudence was to decide whether legislation produced social "systems" that either worked or did not.
But that, of course, is the job of the elected branches of government. Legislatures negotiate social arrangements. Judges are supposed to look at their handiwork and decide one thing and one thing only: whether the "system" the politicians produced comports with the Constitution. On what other grounds do judges have the authority to throw out legislation? Do they have superior wisdom about what works, superior capacity to decide which social boundaries require negotiation and which do not?
Friday, July 08, 2005
The Trouble with O'Connor