Monday, May 11, 2009

Big Government Conservatives and the Supreme Court

By Glenn Melancon
2008 Democratic candidate
U.S. House of Representatives,
TX 4th Congressional District

Washington politicians and lobbyists are already lining up for a Supreme Court confirmation fight. The buzz words are flying fast. Their jargon is meant to rally activists for or against any nominee. As citizens, however, we need to take a step back and look at the issues more closely. Who is pushing for “big government"? Who wants less?

Conservatives will make the abortion debate at the center of the confirmation process. How much control should politicians have over a pregnant woman? The 1973 Supreme Court Case Roe v. Wade limited state and federal control. Ever since then, conservatives have been fighting to reinstitute a larger role for government.

According to Roe v. Wade, legislators had to take into account two separate interests when regulating abortions—the right of a woman to make medical decisions and the potential for human life. The court reached a compromise. In the early days of pregnancy the government has to leave the woman alone. In the later stages of pregnancy the government can outlaw abortion to protect the unborn as long as a woman is free to defend her life and health.

The debate centers on the right to privacy. Do Americans have the right to make medical, moral and personal decisions free from government interference? Or, do the federal and state governments have the authority to make medical, moral and personal decisions for us? “Strict constructionists” say there is no right to privacy. “Activist judges” say there is.

Strict constructionists rightly point out that the word “privacy” does not appear in the constitution. The founding fathers didn’t list—nor enumerate—it in the Bill of Rights. Activist judges, however, point to the Ninth Amendment. It states that the people retain rights even if the Constitution doesn’t enumerate them. Our founders knew some future politician would try to expand the power of government over the people and wrote the Ninth Amend to protect us.

The right to privacy extends beyond surgical abortions. In Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that the states cannot outlaw birth control pills. The Court declared that women had an expectation of privacy in their doctors’ office and the state needed to stay out unless it had a compelling reason.

Conservatives argue that there is a compelling reason—the preservation of life. If life begins at conception, then the state can, and should, outlaw the pill. Not only does it impede ovulation, but the pill also hampers a fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the uterus.

Should states and the federal government have the power to outlaw the pill? Is this a matter of individual conscience or a matter for the police? Conservatives want to surrender this power to the government; liberals do not.

The right to privacy also keeps the government out of our bedrooms. Most of us never really think about this issue very much. It just seems so unreasonable that the government could control what happens behind closed doors. In fact, however, the government had the authority to regulate all forms of sexual relations until Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).

The state of Texas had made it “a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct.” The US Supreme Court, dominated by Republican jurists, decided that Texas overstepped its authority and couldn’t punish two consenting adults for behavior in the privacy of their own home.

Roe, Griswold and Lawrence are the prime examples of “judicial activism.” In each case, the Court limited the authority of the government and held that individuals have the right to exercise their own moral judgment. In the coming Supreme Court debate, big government conservatives are sure to fight against allowing people to make their own moral decisions.

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