While 2020 was a year of serious challenges, tragedies, and divisions, there were some bright spots. In this blog series, the IWF team looks back at the year’s highlights, silver linings, and redeeming themes as we countdown the days to 2021.
The past year was, indeed, an upsetting and difficult one. But those of us who care about our constitutional structure, and the role of the federal courts in preserving it, can take comfort in the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court.
Under our constitutional system, federal judges are supposed to be unbiased arbiters who interpret the Constitution, federal statutes, and regulations as written—not as they might like them to be. A judge must be willing to apply a law or a rule that conflicts with her political, religious, or moral views. So too must she be willing to strike down a law or a rule that conflicts with the Constitution, even if she personally supports the policy. The neutrality and fairness of the legal process is as important as the outcome. This is the essence of the rule of law.
Unfortunately, progressives today are often willing to subvert the legal process to obtain their political objectives. If the people oppose their agenda, or if the legislature is simply slow to act, progressives turn to the courts to impose their will by judicial fiat. When constitutionally prescribed rules prevent them from acting, or when the Constitution limits the ways in which they can do so, well . . . Constitution be damned!
Such progressives prefer results-oriented judging, whereby judges interpret the law based on contemporary notions of fairness and equity, rather than on the basis of what the law commands. This view of the courts may deliver short-term victories for the Left, but it threatens to do grave harm to our country and its democratic institutions in the long run.
Thankfully, the newest member of the Supreme Court understands that her role is constitutionally restrained. Justice Barrett, as most know, was a protege of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. This means that she is an originalist, or someone who regards the Constitution as a binding text with fixed meaning, alterable only through the amendment process outlined in Article V. Justice Barrett understands that, while the Constitution will always be applied to new circumstances, the meaning of the document itself does not change, nor is it to be used as a springboard for her personal policy preferences.
Originalism, as Justice Scalia taught, has no political motive. In some cases, an originalist interpretation can lead to a politically “conservative” result. In others, it can lead to a politically “liberal” outcome. Political conservatives, therefore, may not be happy with all of Justice Barrett’s rulings. But, if she remains true to her judicial philosophy and stays in her constitutionally prescribed lane, she will help to protect our country’s constitutional structure and preserve for us the fundamental right to govern ourselves.
In a year with too many unwanted surprises, the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice who promises consistency and fidelity to law should give us confidence in the road ahead.