Jonah Goldberg

Last time I checked, activist federal judges weren't riding into towns on horseback, whoopin' and a-hollerin', burning crosses on lawns and lynching folks for no good reason.

I bring this up for the benefit of James Dobson, who needs to spend a couple minutes breathing into a brown paper bag before he does his next radio show. The other day, while discussing federal judges, Dobson had this to say: "I heard a minister the other day talking about the great injustice and evil of the men in white robes, the Ku Klux Klan, that roamed the country in the South, and they did great wrong to civil rights to and to morality. And now we have black-robed men."

Uh, yeah. We do have black-robed men. But - I want to be perfectly clear - the robes really aren't the interesting part. Dobson is committing what logicians call a "category error." Lots of folks wear robes. Hugh Hefner wears one all day. That doesn't mean he lynches people, nor does it mean he's freelancing the meaning of the constitution.

Dobson's hyperbole is a symptom of the runaway nature of the fight over judges in Washington. I say "in Washington" rather than "in America" in part because this is a debate about the division and nature of federal power.

On this score, the Democrats deserve far more blame than the Republicans. It's simply a historical fact that liberal Democrats (and the progressives before them) have empowered the courts to run roughshod over democratic and republican principles. It's almost impossible to think of a major area of life in America where a judge somewhere hasn't ruled in flagrant defiance of the democratic will of the people as expressed in a referendum or through the state legislature.

Sometimes this is necessary, of course - but only sometimes. In the last few decades, however, judges have often seemed less inclined to defer to the will of the people than to indulge their own sense of what's good for them. And several Supreme Court justices, unable to find their own views reflected in American laws, have even claimed the prerogative of fishing in the laws and court decisions of foreign nations for useful precedents.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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