Judicial activism troubles governor
Issue is of paramount importance to pro-family groups
May 17, 2005
Gov. Matt Blunt’s concern about a seemingly growing number of court rulings that are anti-life and anti-family is weighing heavily on his mind. In this exclusive interview with Pathway staff writer Allen Palmeri the governor addresses the issue.
Q: What is your philosophy about proper judicial behavior?
A: The judiciary ought to respect the constitutional boundaries of the “Framers” of the Constitution. People of faith believe that it is appropriate for the judiciary to interpret the law but certainly not appropriate for them to try and impose their law on the citizens of this state, or any state. As I make judicial appointments, we have a non-partisan court plan with a panel presented to me of three names. As I evaluate those three names, certainly one criterion that I will use, a critical criteria, will be their views on the proper boundary of the judiciary. Hopefully they will be people who share my belief that judges are to interpret but not to try and make the law.
We need people in public life who want to respect the values of Missourians. We ought to be concerned about judges who are out of control. I mean, judges are out of control in this country. There are lots of examples of that, and we’ve got to stand up to them. Humansville, Missouri, would be an example, with the Ten Commandments litigation. Clearly I think school districts ought to be able to display the Ten Commandments. They’re a part of Western civilization. You’re certainly not imposing some denomination or a specific creed, but you are saying these are principles that mankind has used, at least in Western culture, since they came down from Mt. Sinai.
One of the worst decisions came down recently. I’m a little bit surprised it hasn’t created more of a ruckus. The Colorado Supreme Court actually overturned a death penalty conviction because some of the jurors had gone to Scripture, looked at the Bible, as they thought about the case. I think that’s a dangerous step if you tell people you shouldn’t read the Bible in a jury proceeding when you go back to your hotel room that evening. That ought to concern every citizen. One of the judges wisely dissented in that case and said that jurors have a responsibility to look at things that provide them with moral and ethical guidance.
Q: What is your opinion of the following statement: “Judges have neither the power of the sword nor of the purse, and in order to make their decisions meaningful they have to have the support of most of the people most of the time.”
A: It takes the executive branch to carry out judicial decisions. I think judges should attempt to craft decisions that reflect the values of the taxpayers that they work for.
Q: You have called the rulings of federal judges like Scott O. Wright, who has tied up Missouri’s partial-birth abortion law and the 24-hour wait law in his courtroom, examples of “liberal, unelected, activist federal judges attempting to undermine the values of the people of Missouri.” How will you, as a Missourian and as governor, feel about Judge Wright this year if you sign a pro-life bill into law and he treats it the same way he has already treated these two previous Missouri abortion laws, the 2003 24-hour-wait law along with the 1999 partial-birth law that you voted for as an elected representative?
A: We’re going to try and make those (pro-life) bills as simple as possible, one subject, so that they can withstand these sorts of judicial challenges. I would not look favorably on any judge who kept Missourians from advancing legislation that was important to their values. It would be an example of an out-of-control federal judge who is not elected or accountable to taxpayers in our state seeking to impose a different set of values on Missourians than the values that most Missourians hold dear.”
Q: At what point should the leader of the executive branch of government, be it state or federal, follow the historical examples of such leaders as Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson and step in to defy the judicial branch?
A: “Those are great examples. Your statement that you read to me reminded me of Andrew Jackson, who said, ‘John Marshall’s made his ruling. Let him enforce it.’ I think we obviously have to exercise some caution. People that are elected to high office, be it the governor’s office or the president’s office, do swear to uphold the Constitution. Part of upholding the Constitution is carrying out reasonable judicial rulings. I think people in the executive branch need to be very thoughtful about how they deal with judicial decisions with which they disagree. They need to explore other alternatives. Refusal to carry out a judicial order ought to be the very last resort.
We’ve impeached judges in the past. For judges who consistently act in a manner that is in conflict with the law or the values of Americans, I think impeachment is a reasonable solution.”
Q: I have heard that you have studied Thomas Jefferson. Right?
A: “Right. Of course, he was subpoenaed by Chief Justice (John) Marshall. At the time, members of the Supreme Court, when they weren’t in session as the Supreme Court, were sent out to do double duty and preside over judicial proceedings. Of course, Judge Marshall had been sent to Richmond to preside over Aaron Burr’s trial for treason. From that trial, Aaron Burr’s attorneys sought to subpoena Jefferson. John Marshall did issue the subpoena, and Jefferson refused to comply with it. He said that the Constitution was clear. There was a separation of powers, and the judiciary didn’t have the right to compel the president to appear in Richmond and then the next day to appear in a different city. That would harass the president in the performance of his duties.”
Q: Is that history to you or is that potentially what you believe in your current position?
A: I think President Jefferson was correct to refuse the subpoena. It would have set a bad precedent had he not done so.
Q: What is your opinion of this statement made by Jefferson: “The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the Legislative and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”
A: In Marbury v. Madison they did rule on the constitutionality of the Judiciary Act (of 1789). That would be what he is referring to. They ruled that the Judiciary Act was not constitutional. I think Jefferson was correct in that when you allow the courts to determine what’s constitutional and what’s not, to some degree, I think it is dangerous when courts overstep their bounds and really delve too deeply into whether or not measures are constitutional and create arbitrary rights that don’t truly exist in the constitution. The idea that’s advanced by liberal judges that the Constitution and its interpretation and its meaning are evolving is, I think, a dangerous one. We have a way to change the Constitution as we evolve, and I’m glad we’ve amended the (state) constitution numerous times and in positive ways for the benefit of society. That should be the mechanism for changing the constitution—not judges seeking to impose new interpretation.