Is the Constitution a Suggestion Box?

In the recent end of session rulings by the Supreme Court (search), that body's greatest mind, Justice Antonin Scalia (search), made an observation that was profound and worthy of all our consideration.

Lamenting the court's double-minded approach to religious expression when it comes to displays of the Ten Commandments (search) on public property, Justice Scalia said:

"What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."

That is what has been missing from so many rulings by the court in recent decades: a consistently applied principle.

It is no longer the Constitution that is applied consistently. Rather, it is whatever a judge thinks. Rulings have become so inconsistent and even incoherent and illogical that judges now feel perfectly free to make pronouncements without any mention of the Constitution. Some justices think the court needs to pay more attention to international law and opinion in deciding cases.

This is the philosophy of judicial freelancers that the law should service public and popular opinion, instead of conforming people to an unchanging standard in order to promote the general welfare.

This is what President Bush faces with any nominee he might pick for the bench.

Is the Constitution rooted in firm absolutes or is it a suggestion box from which one may take — or not — depending on personal whims and opinion polls?

The latter seems to be the case in recent years. It will take a Herculean effort to get anyone who believes in the original Constitution through a Senate confirmation process where too many members believe in something else.

And that's Column One for this week.

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