Posts tagged with: constitution

June 17, 1996

Rev. Robert A. Sirico & Justice Scalia – June 17, 1996

Over the weekend, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, a giant of conservative jurisprudence, stalwart champion of originalist interpretation, and as such a true friend of the Constitution.

He was also a friend of the Acton Institute, and we are proud to share the address he delivered on June 17, 1997 at the Acton Institute’s Seventh Anniversary Dinner in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He titled his remarks “On Interpreting the Constitution,” and in them he explained his originalist approach to Constitutional law, and the severe drawbacks that he saw with any alternative method of interpretation. He described himself thusly:

I am one of a small but hardy breed of interpretists left in the world who are called “textualists,” or “originalists”… People ask me, “when did you become a textualist? What caused you to become a textualist?” You know, sort of like “when did you begin eating human beings?” As though it’s some weird thing, you know? I mean, I—when did you begin to become not a textualist? You know, you have a text, you should read the text! …I’m not kidding, I’m always baffled at the amazement of these people – “well, what a novel idea! You’re a textualist!”

I treat the Constitution the way laws, statutes have always been treated – we try to figure out what it meant when it was adopted.

Scalia’s pointed and witty observations reveal a man with a brilliant legal mind coupled with a wonderful sense of humor, and the arguments that he laid out in 1997 are just as relevant today, if not more so. During his address, he expressed a sense of pessimism about the state of the American legal culture and jurisprudence; but if he was a pessimist, he was surely a very jovial pessimist. His wisdom, his wit, and his steady presence on the Supreme Court will be deeply missed. We have remastered the audio of his 1997 remarks, and present them via the audio player below.

Conservatives are known for arguing about the ill effects of over-regulation, reminding us how it stifles innovation, cramps entrepreneurship, and harms small businesses. Where we’re less effective is connecting this reality to the more fundamental abuses it wields on human dignity in general and the poor and vulnerable in particular.

In a 45-minute talk given at Heritage Action, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska offers a detailed critique of over-regulation in America.

Pointing first to the proper scope of regulatory policies, Sasse proceeds to note the increasing overreach of the federal government and the range of reasons to oppose it. Watch an excerpt here:

Although arguments about over-regulation and taxation are bound to involve in depth discussions about numbers and econometrics, Sasse reminds us that our focus must remain on the preservation of freedom and human dignity. (more…)

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that it is unconstitutional for a state to declare that marriage is only between one man and one woman. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires states to redefine marriage, but the Court decided that the Due Process Clause prohibits defining marriage as it has been defined for millennia just as it found a right to an abortion in the same Due Process Clause over 40 years ago.

The role of the Court is to rule on the merits of a case based on prior case law and the Constitution. The Court is not to legislate or find ways to make something legal that they personally believe is better for society. When the Court removes an issue from the realm of democracy and imposes its will based on what it perceives as the best public policy, there is a natural resentment that occurs from the people and states opposed to the ruling, particularly when such a ruling has no real basis in constitutional law.

“Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” writes Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.”

(more…)

On this edition of Radio Free Acton, we talk with Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, about what exactly we mean when we say “religious liberty.” Is it simply the freedom to worship and order one’s private beliefs, or does it entail something more robust than that? We also discuss Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation in Indiana and elsewhere, and the media’s open animus toward supporters of such legislation. You can listen to the podcast in the audio player below; the editorials and columns referenced in the podcast are linked after the jump.

(more…)

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently gave a speech at a seminary. That – an archbishop addressing his seminarians – is in itself hardly noteworthy. However, Chaput had some profound and substantial things to say regarding freedom and faith.

Our public discourse never gets down to what’s true and what isn’t, because it can’t. Our most important debates boil out to who can deploy the best words in the best way to get power. Words like “justice” have emotional throw weight, so people use them as weapons. And it can’t be otherwise, because the religious vision and convictions that once animated American life are no longer welcome at the table. After all, what can “human rights” mean if science sees nothing transcendent in the human species? Or if science imagines a trans-humanist future? Or if science doubts that a uniquely human “nature” even exists? If there’s no inherent human nature, there can be no inherent natural rights – and then the grounding of our whole political system is a group of empty syllables. (more…)

o-SUPREME-COURT-BUILDING-facebookOne of the core principles of the Acton Institute is the importance of the rule of law: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights.”

While most conservatives would agree with this sentiment, there has recently been a lot of confusion about what defending the rule of law requires and entails. The most troubling mistake is the confusion of the rule of law with judicial supremacy, the view that the Supreme Court gets to have the “final say” on the meaning of the Constitution and that the other branches of government may not contradict it.

As Carson Holloway says, conservatives should defend the Constitution and the rule of law, but they should not defend judicial supremacy. The Constitution—not the Supreme Court—is our country’s highest authority:

(more…)

The Acton Institute was privileged to host William B. Allen earlier this week as he delivered a lecture as part of the 2014 Acton Lecture Series. His address, entitled “American National Character and the Future of Liberty,” was a powerful examination of America’s national character, beginning with George Washington’s declaration in 1783 that “we have a national character to establish,” to Frederick Jackson Turner’s work 110 years later on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” to the progressive project to shape and shift our national character throughout the 20th century up until today. Allen’s lecture is truly a university-level class on American history and political philosophy, and bears repeated watching in order to fully grasp the depth of his presentation.

William B. Allen is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Political Science and Emeritus Dean, James Madison College, at Michigan State University. He served previously on the United States National Council for the Humanities and as Chairman and Member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Additionally, he serves as Veritas Fund Senior Fellow in the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University and also as Visiting Professor, Ashland University, Ashbrook Center, Master’s in History and American Government.