Like most Americans, I don’t really toe either major party’s line. Though I’m a registered Democrat, I’m a firm believer in gun rights and the need for balanced budgets, am of the opinion that immigrants should learn English and–like most of my generation–largely unsure how I feel about abortion.
News broke today that a Wisconsin judge struck down the state’s now-notorious anti-union bill. This will, I’m sure, be hailed by many of my conservative friends as an example of the rampant “judicial activism,” that continues to plague this country.
A friend’s Facebook status about the matter got me wondering about my own ideological consistency on the matter. More so than triumphing any specific policy, I believe in the worth of intellectual honesty and civil discourse in governmental affairs. So what about SCOTUS decisions? When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporate speech in Citizens United v. FEC, I was pretty upset. I’ve never thought that corporations ought to have the same rights as living, breathing people, and it seems to me that the US Constitution does not grant those rights to corporate entities. I’ve been a pretty outspoken critic of that decision in my writings and among my friends.
And thus, my conservative friends are quick to point out my hypocrisy in my strong opposition to Citizens United but even stronger support of decisions like Varnum v. Brien, which cleared the way for full marriage equality in Iowa, or Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal challenge to Prop 8 out in California. This brings us full circle to today’s ruling about the anti-union law in Wisconsin.
Obviously, both conservatives and liberals are guilty of heralding judicial rulings as either “legislating from the bench” or “protecting our democracy” at some time or another. Something important to consider, however, is the depth of the ruling, which is to say, the voting margin. I know that conservative activists like to point at Roe v. Wade as an example of “judicial activism”, yet Roe v. Wade was a 7-2 decision. This hardly seems like the act of a few rogue justices. Varnum v. Brien was a unanimous decision, yet critics here in Iowa incessantly cite it as an example of judicial activism. Really? Citizens United, on the other hand, was a 5-4 decision. This seems a little more suspect.
5-4 and 3-2 or single-handed rulings seem, to me, far more likely to be signs of an ideologically driven decision, instead of neutral interpretation of the law. Let’s be skeptical of these decisions, including today’s ruling in Wisconsin, not unanimous ones.