Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Republicans Believe in the Exact Interpretation of a Constitution – Except When It Doesn’t Work to Their Benefit

Then They Want to Substitute Their Own Judgment

One of the constants of the world is the Republican belief that the Constitution should be narrowly interpreted.  They hate the fact that it is possible in part to view the Constitution as a set of principles, rather than a set of fixed laws.  Of course in some cases the Constitution is a set of fixed laws.  For example the terms of the Presidents and member of Congress are fixed by the Constitution and there is no judicial review. 

So at least in the area where the Constitution sets out specific terms Democrats and Republicans have no disagreement.  No, that’s not the case.  If a provision in, say, a state Constitution conflicts with Republican goals then Republicans apparently feel they have the right to go against that explicit provision and argue that it says something else.

Justice Johnson of Louisiana
Everybody See the Problem Here
Such is the case in the state of Louisiana.  In that state the person on the state Supreme Court who has served the longest becomes Chief Justice.  In Louisiana this meant Bernette Johnson became Chief Justice.  But Ms. Johnson had three things going against her as far as Republicans were concerned.  One she is a Democrat, two she is a woman, and three she is an African American.  Yep, three strikes.

So the next senior Justice, a white, male Republican objected.  Here was the basis of his objection.

Justice Johnson and Justice Jeffrey Victory, and their respective supporters, differed on who has seniority, with Justice Victory contending that a portion of Justice Johnson's tenure shouldn't count because she was initially appointed to the court.

Justice Johnson, 69 years old, joined the court in the fall of 1994 following a settlement of a civil-rights lawsuit that alleged that the state's method of electing Supreme Court justices diluted minority voting power. She was later elected to the court.

Justice Victory, a 65-year-old Republican who joined the court a few months later, contended in a court filing in August that he had technically served longer as an "elected justice."

Ok, so here we have an issue of basic Louisiana law.  And quite frankly, it is easy to resolve.  One merely has to go to the Louisiana state Constitution and see what it says.  And here it is.

§6. Supreme Court; Chief Justice
Section 6. The judge oldest in point of service on
the supreme court shall be chief justice. He is the
chief administrative officer of the judicial system of
the state, subject to rules adopted by the court.

Yes there it is, nothing about the longest serving elected judge.  No reason not to choose the longest serving judge as Chief Justice. 

The Republican justice took the issue to court, and ultimately the Louisiana Supreme Court itself elevated Ms. Johnson to the position of Chief Justice.

As for Republicans, yes the search is still on to find at least one principle they are unwilling to abandon when the concept works against.   Yep, still looking.

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