Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Supreme Anachronism

With so much that needs to be accomplished on this shrinking planet, it’s discouraging to hear about yet another set of contentious, regressive 5-to-4 decisions from the Supreme Court. With two recent Bush appointees on the bench, the nation can only watch as the Court blithely turns history in its head, undoing decisions previous courts have made in the past (such as the recent decision effectively outlawing school desegregation). It’s depressing to think what kind of damage may be done in coming years to important legislation protecting the environment, human rights, and free speech.

The Supreme Court (which, incidentally, did not spring forth fully fledged from the minds of the Founding Fathers but rather evolved into its present form) needs a little work in my opinion.

First, we should increase the number of justices. There’s nothing magic about the number 9. Given the gravity of the decisions the Court has to make, I think the committee should be larger. Also, there should be an even number of justices so they have to listen to each other, negotiate, and compromise in order to reach a decision. The practice would be good for them.

Second, there should be term limits and health standards. Since we don’t get to vote on the justices, we shouldn’t be stuck with them for decades—especially when they’ve become dotty or decrepit to the point where they can’t find the bathroom or stay awake during arguments. (Click here for more about term limits.)

Finally, let’s get some people on the bench who know something about something besides the law. Laws don’t exist in an idyllic universe, like Plato’s forms. They’re entwined with the material world in which things are happening that would have astonished the authors of the Constitution. Shouldn’t we have people involved in making important decisions who have deep knowledge—doctors involved in making decisions about medicine, teachers about education, scientists about science, engineers about technology?

If we want truly impartial Supreme Court Justices to thread the modern world through the eye of the Constitution, we’d best start programming robots to do it. If we want human beings to make decisions that will move us along toward greater civility and enlightenment, we’d better make sure they’re as a-political, well-adjusted, well-informed as human beings can be.

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