I watched presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s appearance last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS). It was an even handed interview, friendly in tone but few of Cruz’s political assertions were left unchallenged. At one point the audience started to boo Cruz and Colbert kindly instructed them not to boo him, because Cruz was his guest.
Near the end of the interview Cruz lifted his puppy-dog eyes to the audience and the TV cameras as he is often want to do, and he complained without naming them that the Supreme Court are nine unelected lawyers who without justification write legislation into law with their decisions. That single erroneous assertion went unchallenged as Colbert ran out of time for the interview. But here’s where Ted Cruz and many other conservatives get that assertion wrong.
The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t write legislation or law. It interprets the merits of cases. It decides what is constitutional. And its members don’t need to be elected, the institution and its functions are provided for by Article III of the U.S. Constitution as originally written by the founding fathers. While the president alone decides who to appoint for the highest court in the land, they only sit on the bench with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, who are elected, and thus Supreme Court justices are in a sense “elected” by the representatives of the people. Moreover, it is Congress who decides how many justices will serve on the bench.
Thus, contrary to Ted Cruz’s assertion, the Supreme Court doesn’t pop in out of the clear blue sky to seize power. They are there because the founding fathers provided for them, the president appoints them, and the Congress approves them. Even if individual members of Congress like Ted Cruz may not vote for individual members.
Most justices of the Supreme Court are have law degrees, studying in the most prestigious law schools in our nation. The Constitution doesn’t set down any qualifications for justices as it does for president or members of Congress, but it does make sense that justices have a background in law since they must interpret and decide on the law.
While most of us will find some Supreme Court decision or other to disagree with over time, the founding fathers created the institution as part of its genius method of balance of power between the branches of government. Without the Supreme Court there would be continual war between the executive and legislative branches.
The cases that come before the Supreme Court vary in complexity and subject matter – some seem mundane and others are indeed controversial. But as the highest court of the land, and often the last court of appeal, they function as the court that settles the final question on matters of law and the constitutionality of law. That we sometimes don’t agree on their decisions should not be an indictment of the institution but on the law itself and how it is often used or abused by those in power – men like Ted Cruz, who seek to demonize American institutions to further their ambitions.
Ted Cruz got it wrong about the Supreme Court. They don’t try to legislate from the bench. Legislators write weak or erroneous laws in pursuit of egregious agendas and when the Supreme Court corrects them, those legislators blame the justices. I really wish that Stephen Colbert had corrected Cruz one more time.
A further point about the Supreme Court and how it is misused. Men like Ted Cruz who have an agenda often bring cases before the court in order to “enact law” through judicial activism, forcing the court to decide an issue the court itself would never have brought up itself. Again, this isn’t the court being activist, it’s those who bring the case to court being activists. Sometimes the case goes their way, sometimes it doesn’t.
Read More About the Supreme Court:
- Article III of the U.S. Constitution
- A Brief Overview of the U.S. Supreme Court
- 7 Things You Might Not Know About the U.S. Supreme Court
©2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.