You might think that being a Supreme Court justice would be the top of the line job for someone in the legal profession. But, many Supreme Court decisions suggest that too many justices are not satisfied with their role, and seek more sweeping powers as supreme policy-makers, grand second-guessers or philosopher-kings.
The latest example of this is the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Graham versus Florida. The issue was whether the Constitution permitted a state to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole when the criminal was a youthful offender. The Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 that this was a violation of the Constitution.
If your copy of the Constitution doesn't say anything about youthful offenders, do not worry that you have a defective copy. There is no such statement in the Constitution. What the justices cited as the alleged basis for their decision was the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments."
Since 37 out of the 50 states permit sentences of life without the possibility of parole, such a sentence is not unusual. How about cruel? If it is cruel, then why is it OK to impose that sentence on people who are not youthful?
The case of Graham versus Florida involved a 16-year-old repeat offender, who was convicted of a home invasion robbery while on probation from a previous felony. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court then over-ruled that decision.
The role of an appellate court is not to simply second-guess the decision of the trial judge and jury, much less usurp the responsibility of legislatures to make social policy. But the pretense of applying the Constitution gives appellate judges the power to do both.
The bolder justices go further, citing practices in other countries as supporting their decisions that are supposedly based on the Constitution of the United States. If justices can pick and choose which legal principles and practices they will follow, from the many widely varying principles and practices in countries around the world, then they can find a basis for doing just about anything they feel like doing.
This too goes counter to the very basis of American government, as a system in which "We the people" ultimately govern ourselves through representatives of our own choosing and the officials appointed by them. Once appellate judges are free to base their rulings on what people do in India, Egypt or Germany, Americans are no longer a self-governing people.
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