Imagine for a moment the entire Supreme Court was wiped out in an asteroid strike, or maybe they ate some really bad clams. Whatever.
With the Supreme Court temporarily out of the picture, could Congress and the White House ignore the Constitution, shutting down newspapers and locking up tea partiers or ACLU members?
“I have been fascinated by [Delaware GOP Senate candidate] Christine O’Donnell’s constitutional worldview . . .” Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick confessed. O’Donnell had said in a debate, “When I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.”
To which Lithwick, a former appellate law clerk, Stanford Law grad, and widely cited expert on the Supreme Court, responded, “How weird is that, I thought. Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn’t that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?”
Newsweek’s Ben Adler was aghast at the clause in the GOP’s Pledge to America that Republicans will provide a “citation of constitutional authority” for every proposed piece of legislation. “We have a mechanism for assessing the constitutionality of legislation, which is the independent judiciary,” Adler wrote. “An extraconstitutional attempt to limit the powers of Congress is dangerous even as a mere suggestion, and it constitutes an encroachment on the judiciary.”
A progressive blogger, meanwhile, writes in U.S. News & World Report that such talk of requiring constitutionality is “just wacky.”
Before we get to the historical niceties, a question.
Does anyone, anywhere, think legislators should vote for legislation they think is unconstitutional? Anyone? Anyone?
How about presidents? Should they sign such legislation into law?
Yet, according to this creepy logic, there’s no reason for congressmen to pass, obey, or even consider the supreme law of the land. Reimpose slavery? Sure! Let’s see if we can catch the Supreme Court asleep at the switch. Nationalize the TV stations? Establish a king? Kill every first-born child? Why not? It ain’t unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says so!
And of course, that means the president can’t veto legislation because it’s unconstitutional, because that’s apparently not his job. Wouldn’t want to “encroach” on the judiciary!
Of course, reasonable people understand how absurd all of this is.
There’s nothing in the Constitution — nothing! — that says the Supreme Court is the final or sole arbiter of what is or is not constitutional.