The Supreme Court: Our modern day ephors

It’s funny that those of us in modern times – a very context-sensitive term – look down on people and nations in the past when we felt they did something strange or foolish, or seem amused at their ignorance on a subject we now understand in the scientific realm.

But knowledge doesn’t equal wisdom. Being in the present allows us to look back at the past and analyze it, a privilege not granted to those at the time. One wonders what our descendants will think of us and the prevailing views 100 years from now.

I’m sure when people saw the film 300 they found it strange that ancient Sparta would rely on the wisdom of the ephors, bunch of old men on top of a mountain, and the oracle.

Yet that is exactly what Americans do when they accept the pronouncements delivered by the Supreme Court, comprised of nine old people in black robes. In legal circles, the majority opinions are considered Holy Writ. When engaging in a political argument, people will often retort “(fill in the blank) was upheld by the Supreme Court.” They use the Court’s decisions – at least when they agree – to argue for the constitutionality of a law.

Ryan McMaken at shows how ridiculous this idea is and how state-run schools are essential to maintaining this kind of thinking.

If there was ever any doubt that public schooling has been an immense success when it comes to conditioning children to blindly accept even the most implausible myths of governance, we only need look to the high regard in which most Americans hold the Supreme Court. The fact that nine modern philosopher kings are empowered to sit in judgment of every American law and custom, right down to whether or not a city council meeting, in a town virtually no American could find on a map, can include some bland prayer time. It troubles no school child that he is taught that democracy is the source of legitimacy for all governments one minute, and then the next minute is told he should fully trust nine lawyers in robes in Washington, D.C. to have the final word on law for 300 million Americans.

The proposition that nine people should tell 300 million people what sorts of laws they should make is rather ludicrous on its surface, but the justification largely rests on the assertion that the judges are somehow above politics and make decisions based on nearly pure reason. Political scientists and most people with experience in the legal profession no doubt know this is nonsense, but the average American is far more likely to be accepting of the long-standing myth that the court is a sort of backstop that prevents “bad” American laws from being allowed to stand. “Sure,” they might say, “Congress and the president, which are infected by vulgar politics, can do many horrible things, but the Supreme Court will dispassionately evaluate them and decide laws strictly on their legal merits.”

True constitutionalists, like Michael Boldin at the Tenth Amendment Center, believe that the correct way to view the Constitution and the Supreme Court is that the Court does not have the authority to determine the constitutionality of a law. Rather, they must interpret the law based on what it says. It is the duty of the states to nullify unconstitutional laws and so provide a check against federal abuse of powers not granted by the Constitution.

It also goes to show the absurdity of the concept of the State, in which nine people are believed to have the wisdom and clairvoyance to make fundamental decisions for millions of people, many of whom disagree vehemently.

This entry was posted in Central Government, Constitutional Law and Courts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Supreme Court: Our modern day ephors

  1. Pingback: The Supreme Court’s decision on contraceptive mandate | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

  2. Pingback: Talking Points Memo: Libertarian Movement run by Christian Right | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

  3. Pingback: California Supreme Court makes your right to remain silent a liability | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

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