Commentary by DANIEL HOROWITZ | May 06, 2022
Leftists do not like legislative bodies and believe they should wield the least power precisely for the very reason Madison said: “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Legislators are elected by the people, constantly stand for re-election (most state legislators are in cycle every two years), all the proceedings are publicized, there are several layers of public votes, and the process in every state (except Nebraska) is bicameral. This is why leftists instead love the courts and bureaucracies, because they can achieve their goals without the disinfecting power of public scrutiny and without the deterrent of public reprisal.
Anyone who supports democratic values should embrace the opportunity to steer contentious issues away from the courts and toward legislative bodies. Obviously, state legislatures are the best suited to deal with contentious issues – not only because they are the closest to the people but also because there are 50 states. We have a divided country and can easily sort out our divisions through a degree of political and even physical self-separating. The reality is that not a single Democrat-controlled state will vote to curtail abortions, because the Supreme Court did nothing but reverse the judicial interference in the issue to ensure that legislatures are free to deal with it.
In light of the fallout from the impending reversal of Roe, there is an uncanny and somewhat perverse political dichotomy unfolding between the two parties. Republicans seem to be defending the “independence” of the court and exalting it to this supreme status above the other branches. Democrats, on the other hand, are trying to delegitimize judicial power because of the perception that they will face a long-term conservative majority on the court. However, if both sides really placed democratic values over politics, they would agree to a grand bargain to devolve power on every contentious issue to the states. This would mean that all cases adjudicating novel rights that only leftists believe in would be dealt with in the respective states. But it would also mean that cases dealing with gun rights would be up to the states.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that there is a difference between bogus rights and foundational rights spelled out in the federal Constitution, such as self-defense, and that should be binding on the states. Ideally, we have the right to petition a federal court for redress if our gun rights are infringed upon. But if that is going to allow courts to perpetuate judicial supremacy and use it as a cudgel over red states, I’m more than glad to devolve all these issues to the states.
Such an arrangement would unfortunately cement the status of blue states as incorrigible Marxist dictatorships, but they are already there anyway. The courts – including the so-called conservative Supreme Court – have barely laid a glove on the COVID fascist regime in blue states. And many courts have prevented red states from blocking these tyrannical laws, such as federal courts requiring red states and counties to have mask mandates.
Conservatives would be naive not to push for a grand bargain ending judicial supremacy. We would benefit so much more than we lose. At present, we rarely benefit from judicial oversight when blue states violate foundational rights, yet we get crushed in red states by the courts vitiating every commonsense policy by creating phantom rights. As of now, we have a “conservative” Supreme Court that has prevented red states from cleaning up homeless encampments, from defining marriage, from keeping the sexes separate in private bathrooms and dressing rooms, from keeping sports sperate, from enforcing immigration law, and from many aspects of fighting crime.
However, let us not forget that for those who still like judicial oversight over broadly political issues, it’s not like the state legislatures won’t have competition. Overshadowed in the politics of the U.S. Supreme Court is the fact that all 50 states have their own constitutions and state judiciaries, including courts of last resort. Let’s not forget, it wasn’t until 1875, in the twilight of the Reconstruction era, that Congress transferred authority over most constitutional questions from state courts to lower federal courts, and it wasn’t until 1914 that Congress granted the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction over all cases heard by state supreme courts.
Thus, all these decisions we see from the federal courts creating phantom rights can still be done on the state level with regard to the state constitutions – for better or worse. If Democrats so fervently want to enshrine their morals and political aspirations into constitutions, they can do so in the states they control.
Except there is one difference. State judiciaries, for the most part, are elected either initially or through retention ballot. There are only seven states where the voters never get a crack at judicial selection: Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Most of them are solid blue states, and Rhode Island is the only state that mirrors the federal system, in which the judges are never subject to review by the voters and serve a lifetime tenure. In four of those states, the judges are subject to a specific term and must at least stand for re-nomination before the legislature, and New Hampshire and Massachusetts have an age tenure limit of 70.
Inevitably, given the polarization of our society, we disagree not only on policy but on the Constitution itself. This is why any case implicating a constitutional right will invariably be political. Thus, if we are going to place politics in the courts, it’s better to do it in the bodies that are elected and closer to the people.
Collectively, this will make state judicial elections great again and will make state legislatures more consequential and powerful. If we are going to have the courts decide every political and social issue, let’s at least have this debate at the local level. Yes, there will be times when the labyrinth of state laws and constitutionally protected rights might get confusing and even clash, but I’d rather a patchwork of law than uniformity of tyranny.
This is also a wake-up call to conservatives in red states. Many conservatives focus solely on congressional elections, but they need to pay attention to state judicial races. A lot of red states have non-partisan elections, which allows stealth leftists to glide into office. It might be a good idea to make these elections partisan. Let’s face it: There is nothing in politics that is not partisan, especially as it relates to the most consequential legal questions. Let’s be open about it and sort out our disagreements through the diversity of the 50 states. That is the only way to agree to disagree in an agreeable fashion.