Monday, November 07, 2005

Judicial Modesty: From today's WSJ opinion page:
The following is an extract of a book review by Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court, of "Law's Quandary," by Steven D. Smith, co-director of the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the University of San Diego. The review appears in the current issue of the journal First Things.

Justice Scalia writes:

[In] a democracy, it is not the function of law to establish any more social policy than what is fairly expressed by legislation, enacted through prescribed democratic procedures. It troubles Smith, but does not at all trouble me -- in fact, it pleases me -- that giving the words of the Constitution their normal meaning would "expel from the domain of legal issues … most of the constitutional disputes that capture our attention," such as "Can a macho military educational institution dedicated to what is euphemistically called the 'adversative' method admit only men? Is there a right to abortion? Or to the assistance of a physician in ending one's life?" If we should read English as English, Smith bemoans, "these questions would seemingly all have received the same answer: 'No law on that one.'"

That is precisely the answer they should have received: The federal Constitution says nothing on these subjects, which are therefore left to be governed by state law. Smith's response is revealing: "We have not been content with this sort of modesty in our law." The antecedent of the pronoun is unspecified, but I fancy it refers to the legal academic community which establishes the permissible boundaries for Smith's thinking, or at least his writing. Many Americans outside that community yearn for this sort of modesty. Indeed, it was something of an issue in the last election…

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