Friday, October 17, 2008

The US Supreme Court's Role in the Culture Wars

Richard John Neuhaus has the best reflection on the current state of American society I have read in a long while. In reflecting on the fact that the Supreme Court has taken one side in a deeply religious debate, it has interfered with the democratic process and brought its moral authority into question. This is something for everyone concerned about civic peace and order to reflect on soberly. Here is an excerpt:

"It is time to focus again, and this time relentlessly, on the question of the protection of innocent human life and the related and inseparable question of the role of the courts in our political order. Many who are sympathetic to his argument were nonetheless inclined to hope that Justice Antonin Scalia was exaggerating when, in his dissent from the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which he was joined by Rehnquist, Thomas, and White, he developed the analogy between that case and the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857. What happened then is, in ways ominously parallel, happening now, Scalia said. Claiming to “resolve” a question in passionate dispute, the Court simply takes one side and demands that the nation follow. It did not work then, Scalia argued, and it will not work now.

What in the last several decades came to be called the “culture wars” runs very deep, and there is no end in sight. Nobody who cares about this constitutional order can be happy with our present circumstance. Politics is supposed to be about persuasion, deliberation, and decision-making through the process of representative democracy. It is not supposed to be warfare conducted by other means. And yet it is hard to suppress the impression that we are two nations in conflict. The alignments are not always clear-cut and there are overlappings on some issues, but the general picture is evident to all who have eyes to see.

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side."

Read it all here:

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