Abraham Lincoln, address in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1861: “I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
“That sentiment in the Declaration of Independence . . . gave liberty . . . to the people of this country. . . . Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? . . . If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”
Lincoln’s first inaugural address, March 4, 1861: “The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was ‘to form a more perfect Union.’”
Elena Kagan, June 30, 2010, in Senate testimony: “To be honest with you, I don’t have a view of what are natural rights independent of the Constitution, and my job as a justice will be to enforce and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
“I’m not saying I do not believe that there are rights preexistent [to] the Constitution and the laws. But my job as a justice is to enforce the Constitution and the laws. You should not want me to act in any way on the basis of such a belief [in an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness] if I had one.” (Kagan’s response after being asked if she disagreed with the Declaration of Independence’s enunciation of inalienable rights.)
Justice John Marshall, Fletcher v. Peck, 1810: “[It is not simply] the particular provisions of the Constitution of the United States [that nullified the Georgia statute but also] those general principles which are common to our free institutions.”
Apparently unbeknownst to Kagan, from the very beginning, it was the inalienable rights of the people that made the people sovereign and thus permitted the people to form the Constitution and continue to guide its application.
The very reason for the American experiment was — and is — to establish the principle and reality that no man or government may alienate a person’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.
Anyone who has experienced the expectation of the imminent loss of any of those conditions knows profoundly their value — and thus the value of our form of government, which exists to protect those rights.
It does not take a legal scholar to know that. But it could be said that no one can rightly be called an American legal scholar who does not understand that the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the animating purposes of all our laws — of the law. They are the soul of our Constitution. Without these rights, the body of law is a corpse — a soulless, purposeless, manipulable, disposable, dead, material thing. If Kagan does not know that, then she knows nothing of our law.
Even more to the point, the right to remove those conditions from a man must always lie exclusively in the power of Him who gave them. The judge or politician who does not understand the source of those rights is likely to presume — at some useful moment — that a mere man or woman or government may act to deny such rights. Indeed, if that were the case, they would not be rights, but mere temporary grants of privilege from an all-powerful state.
We have seen in the current congressional session how indifferent our government is to even the formalities of positive law and procedure. Less than two weeks ago, the House decided to “deem” a federal budget passed — though it had not been passed. A few months ago, it was prepared to “deem” a transforming, socializing health-care scheme passed without voting on it.
Our Founders, in the opening decades of our national life, built into our governing fundamentals many redundancies, or fail-safes, to protect us from tyranny, either of the creeping or the sudden kind. First, a Congress of the people, two branches to check each other, an executive branch itself in check with the others, and the states in sovereign balance with the federal powers. And all those powers subordinate to the undergirding sovereignty of the people.
The very power of the Supreme Court to exercise judicial review derives precisely from the Court’s being empowered by the pre-constitutional sovereignty of the people, who have an inalienable right to protect themselves from any undue state restraints on such sovereign rights (see Empire of Liberty, Gordon S. Wood, pages 443, 448 — 451).
And now, proposed to be intruded into that temple of justice — that last fail-safe of freedom — comes the form of Elena Kagan: cold to the very passion of our Declaration of Independence. Ignorant of its animating powers. Insentient of its still-governing force. And — thankfully — oblivious even to her need to attempt to hide her true scorn and indifference.
It is a dead certainty that, if she is admitted to the High Court, the day will come when she will cast aside — carelessly, indifferently, and without pause, and with a leering smile and a chuckle on her lips — our sacred birthrights as so much nuisance and interference with the government’s right to direct our lives as it, or she, sees fit.
She must be barred from the Court.
Forty-one filibustering senators can save the Republic this week, or all 99 will surely be condemned by history for their failure to act when they had the legal power to do so.
The senators have had their warning: Side with Abraham Lincoln and the Republic or with Elena Kagan. Which will it be?