Scalia ducks high court’s responsibility

Anyone employed knows every job comes with responsibilities that must be fulfilled in order to keep the job. The U.S. Supreme Court has the responsibility of ruling on the constitutionality of laws and must ensure that rights of state and federal governments, as well as those of voters, are protected. Apparently, however, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia feels this is only a requirement when convenient.

In a recent speech at Lewis and Clark College, Scalia said Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which is expected to come before the Supreme Court, should be left in the hands of Oregon voters, arguing that since it is not a federal law it should not be the subject of a constitutional battle and the Supreme Court should not be troubled with it. The law is under legal scrutiny because of attacks from the Bush administration and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who attempted in November to circumvent the law by legally penalizing doctors who prescribe lethal doses of federally controlled drugs. Unfortunately, in his statement Scalia disregarded several important functions of the Supreme Court and, consequently, principles of our country.

First, we do not live in a country with a government by referendum. People control government through election of representatives, not by directly selecting laws. Representatives protect society from popular opinions that can be rash and misinformed. Sometimes states choose to have people directly vote on laws or policies, but this is when evaluation by high state courts and the Supreme Court is vital to ensure they are appropriate.

The Supreme Court needs to first look at the law and evaluate it before determining there is no constitutional issue at stake. The 10th Amendment guarantees that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to states, but the Ninth Amendment states no law shall be misconstrued to impugn individual rights. It is up to the Supreme Court to interpret how these amendments apply to the law, and it is impossible to determine there is no constitutional issue at stake without carefully reviewing the law.

Ashcroft’s underhanded attempt to override state law makes dutiful evaluation by the Supreme Court even more pertinent. It is undeniably a constitutional issue when federal power tries to usurp state power, or vice versa. The Supreme Court exists to make sure this never is allowed, regardless of how busy it is with other issues.

Most important, if the Supreme Court defers this battle to the state without so much as an evaluation, it sets a wary precedent for what powers fall under state control. Such a deference will make it harder for future decisions by the state and the people to be kept in check by the Supreme Court, thus jeopardizing the rights of all levels of power – state, federal or individual.