Constitutional interpretations that change with the tides of society are not reliable

Columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. brought forth a truly important topic recently. “Permit me a question to every truly fair-minded person in our country,” the piece began. “Imagine that one party packs the Supreme Court with ideologues and the other party does absolutely nothing in response. Isn’t this abject surrender to an unscrupulous power grab?”

He’s absolutely right: how can they, and we, just sit by and watch as this terribly un-American process goes forward? How can we allow justices to take the bench and act to impose their own political will on the country?

“This inquiry can no longer be ducked. Even those in the deepest denial can no longer ignore Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s nakedly political aim of cramming the Supreme Court with justices who will undo more than seven decades of precedent,” Dionne continued.

When interpretations of constitutional principles and laws become fluid, we find our national stability afloat in a sea of the unknown. What may be a popular view today may become the opposite in ten or so years. Constitutional interpretations that change with the tides of society are not a reliable foundation.

The nation requires stability to endure.

And then Dionne wrote this: “They’ll do the bidding of corporate interests, undercut voting rights and empower billionaires to buy elections.”

What he is suggesting is that Republicans want to pack the court with conservative justices who will do Republicans’ bidding. However, when applied to judicial matters and judges, the term “conservative” does not carry a political context. It refers to the inclination of judicial conservatives to interpret Constitutional and legal language as it was understood when created. On the other hand, “liberal,” when applied to Constitutional and judicial matters, means that judges’ interpretations of such issues matches the political left’s current preferences, rather than original intent.

Dionne accuses Republicans of doing what Democrats do: trying to stack the court with ideologues. But the ideology of conservative judges is to stay true to original principles, not to interpret them colored by the changing standards of the times. Stacking the court with people who hew to the original principles the Founders deemed critical to a successful nation is something to be supported, not criticized. If the Constitution or laws really need to be changed, there is a process for that, and that process is not stacking the court with justices whose legal judgment will flap in the wind.

To improve the method of selecting Supreme Court Justices, Dionne endorses the idea advanced by Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and supported by other Democrat candidates.

“It would involve enlarging the court to 15 members, with five justices chosen by each party and the last five picked unanimously by those 10 from the lower courts.”

So, improve a system into which politics sometimes creeps with a system that is largely based on politics that would increase the size of the court by 67 percent?

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Criticism of Congressional “lifers” is nothing new.

Even though their voters select members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Founders did not envision those positions as life-long careers.

Their idea was to seek election to the House, or – before the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was approved in 1913 – be selected by a state legislature for the Senate, spend a few years there and return to your previous vocation.

From 1789 to the mid-1870s the average length of service of members of the House was two to three years, and for the Senate it was a bit more than four years. Then things changed.

When “careerism” peaked in 2007, House members averaged 10 years and Senate members averaged 13 years. While the average in both houses has fallen to seven and 10 years, respectively, there are still many members of Congress who have made it a career.

Data from rollcall for 2015 listed 79 members of Congress who had been there for at least 20 years and 16 who had been there for at least 30 years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been there since 1987, while House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has been there since 2007.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. was first elected in 1984, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was first elected to Congress in 1981.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney have proposed an amendment that would impose term limits on members of Congress, as reported by the Independent Journal Review.

“For too long, members of Congress have abused their power and ignored the will of the American people,” Cruz said. “Term limits on members of Congress offer a solution to the brokenness we see in Washington, D.C. It is long past time for Congress to hold itself accountable. I urge my colleagues to submit this constitutional amendment to the states for speedy ratification.”

The amendment would put a limit of two six-year terms on senators and three two-year terms on representatives. In order for the amendment to take affect it must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote, and then be ratified by 38 states.

Will our elected representatives vote to limit their terms?

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.