Sen. Orrin Hatch met with President Obama yesterday about the coming nomination of a new Supreme Court justice. Here is Hatch’s entire statement from his official web site:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) issued the following statement today after meeting with President Obama about the current Supreme Court vacancy:
“I gave the President my perspective on what constitutes a qualified nominee to the Supreme Court. It shouldn’t be someone who substitutes their own personal views for the law of the land, and who refuses to follow the Constitution of the United States. A judicial activist would be a poor and unnecessarily divisive choice at any time. After the highly-contentious health care debate, I feel it is more important than ever that the President choose someone who will get overwhelming support from the American people and the United States Senate.”
This is an interesting statement from several perspectives. For example, he says “it shouldn’t be someone who substitutes their own personal views for the law of the land,” nor should it be someone “who refuses to follow the Constitution.”
That certainly sound reasonable, on its face. The hope for a candidate who all Americans will support is laudable.
1 — How anyone decides something is going to be the result of their life’s experience. There is no way around this. A 61-year-old white male of German extraction who was raised in Utah, Florida and New York and has spent 32 years as a journalist in a medium-sized northern Utah town is going to have a vastly different outlook on life than a 28-year-old black female legal consultant who was brought up in Los Angeles and went to Yale and now lives in Wisconson.
It is impossible to not have these different life experiences color how we look at things when trying to decide among them.
2 — The Constitution of the United States is not an “yes or no” document. It is short, and worded in general terms (What does “pursuit of happiness” really mean?) because the writers, in all their own frailty, knew that life was full of different situations that could not be ruled on ahead of time. Their goal was to set out guidelines and hope that the people who followed would have the brains to follow those guidelines. They had to know that vague guidelines meant someone would have to interpret things, which is why they put nine people on the Supreme Court. Concensus is always better that one person’s decision, so the thinking went.
If the Constitution were a black/white, yes or no, document, we probably wouldn’t need judges in the first place. A true-false test is easy to grade. A monkey could do it.
Making these decisions requires people to apply past law, current culture, the Constitution as interpreted by past judges and others, the facts of the individual case, and them make a judgement as to which way to go. This all involves very human thinking processes that involve various types of logic, including the fuzzy kind, and sometimes even a bit of gut instinct.
That’s why they’re called “judges” not “computers.”
It is never cut and dried. That complexity, combined with different backgrounds and outlooks, leads to all those 4-5 decisions.
What Hatch is doing here is playing his usual “activist judge” game — From what I’ve observed, he defines an activist judge as one whose decisions he disagrees with, based on the supposition that Orrin Hatch’s view of what the Constitution says is the only correct view, so any other view is activism and some judge trying to apply their own presonal views, not the law.
How do I know this? Well, it is my opinion, based on all my life’s experiences and education, but I’ve also never, ever, heard Sen. Hatch decry some decision that he agreed with as “activist.”
It’s always just decisions he thinks are wrong. Coincidence?
Anyone who thinks applying the Constitution is a simple process is the one playing games. Hatch’s opinions are neither right nor wrong. People whose opinions disagree with Hatch are neither right nor wrong. Opinons are just that: opinions.
When the justices of the Supreme Court hand down a decision it is the sum of nine opinions. Sometimes you or I will agree with that decision, sometimes we will disagree.
My hope is that Obama picks someone who can make good decisions, avoiding all the political and faux-Constitutional screaming going on at the moment. Fair is all we can ask for, and it is that most rare of commodities.