Thomas Sowell

You expect a corrupt politician to do corrupt things, so when Senator Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., withdrew as a candidate for re-election after ethics charges led to his falling behind in the polls, that was hardly surprising. Nor was it particularly surprising that New Jersey's Democratic Party chose a substitute -- even though this was in direct violation of a New Jersey law which forbids the substitution of candidates this close to Election Day.

What was astonishing was the spread of the corruption to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which unanimously approved this action in defiance of the plain words of the written law. When the late Justice William Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court "interpreted" a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mean directly the opposite of what its plain words said, the dissenting opinion of Justice William Rehnquist likened this "interpretation" to the great escapes of Houdini.

There should be an annual Houdini award for this kind of judicial corruption. The New Jersey Supreme Court would win this year's award hands down.

Like Justice Brennan and others who have turned laws upside down for the sake of imposing their own will, the New Jersey Supreme Court claimed to be applying the "spirit" of the laws, rather than the words. Spirits don't talk back, so you can never prove the judges wrong, no matter how plain the words of the law.

If Houdinis on the bench can escape the laws that are on the books and substitute their own personal preferences as the basis for their rulings, then democracy becomes an illusion and the reality becomes a judicial ad-hocracy, overruling whatever laws the judges don't like, whether explicitly or by free-ranging "interpretation."

Laws do not enforce themselves. If courts are too corrupt to enforce them, then our last line of defense is the press, which can alert the public to what is happening and let the voters decide what they are going to do about it. But if both the courts and the press are willing to turn a blind eye to those illegalities which meet their political approval, then the corruption is complete.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal from the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling, even though the Constitution of the United States explicitly provides that state legislatures -- not state courts -- are to prescribe the methods for the selection of each state's representatives in Congress and in the Electoral College which elects the president of the United States.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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