Judicial Tyranny at Work

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/03/03 at 12:00 AM

When a New York judge ruled earlier this month that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, she bucked the state’s ban on gay marriage, overrode the will of most Americans and ignored the universal, millennia-old understanding of marriage.  But in one respect, at least, she was adhering to tradition: Her decision was only the latest in a series of controversial rulings issued by activist judges who have been reshaping American sexual mores from the bench for more than three decades.

As citizens who believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people, we should be concerned that a small cabal of judicial elites is making nearly all of the important decisions that face us as a nation, and they are too often making them with a flagrant disregard for our most fundamental values.  Their decisions are increasingly rooted not in the self-evident truths of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, but in a morally relativistic worldview that rejects ethical absolutes, opposes religious values and fails to defend our most fundamental rights and institutions – especially faith and family.

The Founding Fathers never wanted it this way.  They established the separation of powers to prevent any of the three branches of government from overstepping its bounds and exercising too much influence over society.  Judges were to be neutral interpreters of the law, their authority limited by the words of the Constitution and the intent of the legislature.  They were not to usurp the power of legislators or to interfere with the most basic principle of our democracy: our right to govern ourselves.

The vision of the Founding Fathers is confirmed by Catholic teachings.  In his 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus (“Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II argued that a free society must honor the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.  Subsidiarity holds that the government should not do for the people what they can and must do for themselves.  Solidarity ensures a defense of the weakest among us.

The Pope said that both are necessary for the proper functioning of a free society.  He also emphasized the importance of a vibrant moral culture that teaches citizens the virtues they need to govern themselves and acts as a counterweight to government power.  After living under Nazi and Communist occupation in Poland, the Pope knew the dangers of a government that grows too powerful, too intrusive and too hostile to the religious and moral values of its citizens.

In considering what sort of judges belongs on the bench, Catholics should heed the teachings of their faith and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.  The activist judges who legalized abortion 32 years ago violated the constraints of our Constitution, the self-governance principle of our democracy and the right to life of the unborn.  Now a new breed of judicial elites is aiming to radically redefine marriage as a private affair for the gratification of consenting adults rather than a public institution geared toward the bearing and rearing of children.

Social science has shown again and again what the Catholic faith teaches as a matter of principle: that children lead healthier, happier lives when they are raised by their married, biological parents.  If activist judges use their power to separate marriage from procreation in the public mind, children will be the first to suffer in a culture that no longer encourages their parents to get married and stay married.

For the sake of the next generation, and in deference to the generations that came before us, we have a duty to defend the moral culture that sustains our democracy and demand judges who will do the same.

Our Sunday Visitor

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. 


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