The Place of the Courts

Stop The ACLU has a great post on the place of courts in the legal process.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that a female employee who sued for what seemed to be obvious discrimination in her wages could not bring suit because she took longer than the statutory 180 days to bring the complaint. In her defense, she did not know of the discrimination that took place over the course of 20 or so years until late in the game. Predictably, women’s rights groups cried foul saying the Court was stripping protections from women and was enshrining the wage gap. Was the decision misogyny at its worst? Hardly.

The law, as passed by Congress, required that complaints be filed with 180 days of the discriminatory act regardless of when it is discovered. Common sense dictates, certainly in the case of wages (which are often held in confidence), that sometimes it takes more than 180 days to discover an act of discrimination. The law as passed by Congress certainly has its flaws. Even the Bush Administration (which argued in favor of the woman’s position) sees the flaws and argued against them.

That said, the argument of the lawyers and the woman’s groups was that what the letter of the law says does not matter. If the law is deficient, the Court should simply ignore the law and impose a fair solution. It doesn’t matter what the law is; what matters is what the law should be. A fair question would be why such groups believe a Congress or legislature is even necessary or desired.

There are several dangers with this position. First, it attempts to insulate and elevate the judiciary above and beyond the reach of the principle of checks and balances. This was most clearly seen in the case of Terri Schiavo, regardless of where you stood in the case. The legislature and executive at both the state and federal level attempted to check the judiciary in that case, and the judiciary told them to go to hell.

People complained about violating checks and balances, yet two branches tried to stop an action of the judiciary. It betrays the idea that checks and balances only apply to the executive and legislature, yet the judiciary is somehow immune. They also complained of interference in a “private matter”, yet the matter was already fully vested in the government before any law was passed… the judiciary is government and a public body.

The legislature writes laws based (in theory) on the lobbying and influence of the people. There are few cases, namely those strictly involving the Constitution, where those laws should be overturned. However, imprudent or even stupid laws aren’t unconstitutional. It’s up to the people to get their elected officials to change the laws. Bambenek’s Third Law might perhaps elucidate a principle here:

Read the whole thing.

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