America’s Real Treasure

US Supreme Court Justice David Souter
US Supreme Court Justice David Souter

Here is a commencement speech that every American (and every culture vulture, for that matter) should read.

In this important speech retired U.S. Justice David Souter defends the U.S. Supreme Court against charges of “activism” and explains why a simple-minded “fair reading of facts” approach to Constitutional law won’t do. He explains (in a manner that even I can understand) why INTERPRETATION of the law is a necessary ingredient of serving the American people since different articles of the Constitution need periodic reviews due to the fact that social values that guide such articles themselves change.

Souter dives into two concrete cases — the Pentagon Papers and Brown vs. the Board of Education decisions. After reading his explanation I now understand why the Justices cannot just read the “law”, look at the “facts”, and decide whether the facts violate the law or not. If that were the case, we would’ve constructed a computer, feed all the law articles into the machine and hit the green START button!  Presto! No need for lawyers or judges or law schools.

To understand what Justice Souter is talking about is important for two different but equally crucial reasons:

(1) Some of the issues we discuss day-in day-out and regard as “artistic freedom” or “freedom of speech” issues are actually serious Constitutional issues at heart. Without arriving at a correct interpretation of such cases we cannot resolve the related artistic or cultural issues either.

(2) These very same issues have bearing on other discussions going on around world. In many other countries the judges are attacked with similar accusations of “activism” by all kinds of governments who would rather end the principle of “separation of powers” and rule their countries as they wish through sheer executive fiat.

Thus for the future of DEMOCRACY at a global scale we again need to understand the non-mechanical nature of Constitutional Law interpretation and the great care, erudition, patience it requires to come up with a true “fair and balanced” resolution of these hot issues.

Stepping back and looking at the the brilliant contributions of scholars like Justice Souter makes me say that this the real treasure of America. The real strength, the Real Light and Promise of this great land is not its monetary treasures or material wonders and possessions but the sharp and compassionate minds of cultural beacons like Justice Souter. I offer my heartfelt thanks to him for his guidance and wisdom.

(Photo courtesy of Harvard Gazette)

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