Thursday, August 23, 2007

Madison and Judicial Activism

I often consider the charge of judicial activism from the right to be a canard as no one seems to have any specific definition of it, and it seems only to be flung when conservatives think that the judicial branch has invalidated a law that they think the majority of people want implemented. The ridiculous and thought stopping phrase "the vast majority of the American people" is thrown by both sides but it seems that Laura Ingraham has a specific fetish for it, as if it actually meant that a policy was right, constitutional, and that the wishes of the minority can be summarily discarded.

Lately though I have been readng Gordon Wood's Revolutionary Characters and have learned of the views the founders of this country especially Madison, which centered around the need to protect minority rights. The men who founded this country were not believers in democracy but favored a republicanism which would prevent what is oft referred to as the tyranny of the majority. James Madison was chief among them. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he proposed that Congress have a veto power over state laws. This was an impractical proposal then and would be today if only for the fury that giving Congress such authority would unleash, never mind the enormous increase in useless deliberations. Nonetheless Madison was perennially concerned with minority rights and wanted to create some check to protect them against the Constitutional abuses of the majority. The judicial branch over time filled this role and it is doubtful that Madison would have looked unfavorably upon the concept of "judicial activism" and it is obvious now that the right- having become little more than religious populists- little understand why their numbers don't put them on the side of the Constitution or the founders whose names they appropriate so liberally.

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