The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

The threat of a power-hungry judiciary

A very real threat to our liberty has slowly been growing over the last few decades. This threat does not come from the traditional sources: dictators, rebels and other social malcontents. Rather, this threat has evolved from our own orderly institutions and is, curiously, a direct product of our respect for the law and rights. It is not a warlord or political kingpin which is undermining our freedoms, but the very courts of law themselves.

The idea that the judiciary is an imminent threat to freedom may sound absurd but is not surprising. It does not possess the traditional means of exerting authoritarian power. It commands no armies, controls no resources, and simply lacks the power to assert its will on the populace at large. Its authority is limited to overseeing cases arising under laws passed by the Legislature.

Yet this seemingly powerless branch of government exerts enormous influence in our society. The courts are able to make rulings on a multitude of social issues and have made a tremendous impact on a variety of fronts. The most famous example of this is Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling declaring a it constitutional right to obtain an abortion. That ruling created a social upheaval that continues to this day.

The courts have banned prayer in public schools, prohibit the display of religious monuments on public property, and denied state funding to private religious schools. They have allowed the regulation of contributions to political parties and upheld the prohibition on broadcasting privately funded political ads before an election. Last year, the supreme court of Massachusetts ordered the state’s Legislature to rewrite its marriage laws in order to accommodate homosexuals.

Whatever side you find yourself on with regard to these issues, it is clear that the courts wield tremendous power in our society. One only has to look at the bitter battles being waged in the Senate over nominees to judicial posts to realize the importance of judges. But how is it that the judiciary, what Alexander Hamilton called “the weakest of the three departments of power” in government, has gained so much influence?

In theory, the courts only contain the power of judicial review. This is the process by which judges determine whether or not a law passed by the Legislature is constitutional. If a law oversteps the authority granted to the legislature in the constitution, the court declares that law void.

This is a seemingly weak power, given that the courts have neither the power of the sword nor the power of the purse to back it up with. What makes the courts powerful is the people’s willingness to respect the decisions made by the judges. A president or governor who defied the courts, by prosecuting doctors for performing abortions, for instance, would likely face the wrath of the public at the ballot box for flaunting the rule of law.

This public respect for the rule of law has made judges nearly invulnerable to retaliation from the other branches of government. But like any power, the power of the courts can be abused. Many judges in this country have used the courts to promote their own opinions or to advance a political or social agenda. Rather than look to the Constitution as the ultimate authority, these judges twist its meaning or create rights out of whole cloth in order to justify their opinions.

The result of this combination of power and judicial irresponsibility has led to the courts becoming increasingly politicized. The fights in the Senate over judicial nominees are no longer about the quality of judges, but about what side will control the power of the courts. Instead of being a bulwark against the power of elected officials, the courts have become yet another political institution which seeks to control our lives.

If we are to ensure that our freedoms are protected, we must adapt our approach to this new, politicized judiciary. This new approach and its consequences will be examined more closely in next week’s “Right As Always.”

Sean Paroski, whose column appears every Thursday, is a senior applied mathematics major.

More to Discover