A country’s highest elected representative warns its most important judicial body that their review of a controversial piece of legislation against the terms of the constitution is judicial activism and an attack by an unelected body on the needs of his government. He promises to set up a judicial review to look at and, potentially, rewrite the powers of that judicial body.
Barack Obama before the Supreme Court? Almost. South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma before the Constitutional Court.
And that is the real danger when America or European countries threaten the judiciary or free speech in these terms; it creates the moral authority that real bastards crave to justify their own attacks on the rights and protections afforded their people.
“I’d just remind conservative commentators that, for years, what we have heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism, or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” Obama said.
“I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
Obama’s choice of words is unwise and deeply troubling.
The purpose of any Constitutional Court is to act as a check on the power of the majority to overwhelm the law of the land with numbers. The court’s powers are heavily circumscribed and are one of the key pillars of a viable democratic state. Regular elections are insufficient to maintain public trust or ensure politicians take account of all needs, not just those of their supporters. The courts are there to ensure that anyone may seek justice, not just the popular, wealthy or powerful.
Undermining the credibility of the Supreme Court by dragging them into the midst of the Culture Wars does not serve America and poses a devastating blow against the common law and political accountability in countries far more fragile than the United States.
Not a good day’s politics Mr President. Not at all.