Balkinization  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bad Mr. Obama Was Very Very Mean to the Poor Poor Supreme Court

JB

Randy Barnett is shocked, shocked that Obama would spend a paragraph of his State of the Union Address criticizing the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United. I suspect that reading Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1937 State of the Union Address would probably make his head explode.

About a fourth of Roosevelt's 1937 State of the Union Address was devoted to criticism of the Supreme Court for striking down New Deal legislation and asserting that the Court should adopt a different method of constitutional interpretation. As Randy puts it, what a "shocking breach of decorum"! The nerve! The nerve! We should take this man off the dime immediately!:

The statute of N.R.A. [the National Recovery Act] has been outlawed [by the U.S. Supreme Court]. The problems have not. They are still with us.

That decent conditions and adequate pay for labor, and just return for agriculture, can be secured through parallel and simultaneous action by forty-eight States is a proven impossibility. It is equally impossible to obtain curbs on monopoly, unfair trade practices and speculation by State action alone. There are those who, sincerely or insincerely, still cling to State action as a theoretical hope. But experience with actualities makes it clear that Federal laws supplementing State laws are needed to help solve the problems which result from modern invention applied in an industrialized Nation which conducts its business with scant regard to State lines.

During the past year there has been a growing belief that there is little fault to be found with the Constitution of the United States as it stands today. The vital need is not an alteration of our fundamental law, but an increasingly enlightened view with reference to it. Difficulties have grown out of its interpretation; but rightly considered, it can be used as an instrument of progress, and not as a device for prevention of action.

It is worth our while to read and reread the preamble of the Constitution, and Article I thereof which confers the legislative powers upon the Congress of the United States. It is also worth our while to read again the debates in the Constitutional Convention of one hundred and fifty years ago. From such reading, I obtain the very definite thought that the members of that Convention were fully aware that civilization would raise problems for the proposed new Federal Government, which they themselves could not even surmise; and that it was their definite intent and expectation that a liberal interpretation in the years to come would give to the Congress the same relative powers over new national problems as they themselves gave to the Congress over the national problems of their day.

In presenting to the Convention the first basic draft of the Constitution, Edmund Randolph explained that it was the purpose "to insert essential principles only, lest the operation of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable which ought to be accommodated to times and events."

With a better understanding of our purposes, and a more intelligent recognition of our needs as a Nation, it is not to be assumed that there will be prolonged failure to bring legislative and judicial action into closer harmony. Means must be found to adapt our legal forms and our judicial interpretation to the actual present national needs of the largest progressive democracy in the modern world.

. . . .

Because all of us believe that our democratic form of government can cope adequately with modern problems as they arise, it is patriotic as well as logical for us to prove that we can meet new national needs with new laws consistent with an historic constitutional framework clearly intended to receive liberal and not narrow interpretation.

The United States of America, within itself, must continue the task of making democracy succeed.

In that task the Legislative branch of our Government will, I am confident, continue to meet the demands of democracy whether they relate to the curbing of abuses, the extension of help to those who need help, or the better balancing of our interdependent economies.

So, too, the Executive branch of the Government must move forward in this task, and, at the same time, provide better management for administrative action of all kinds.

The Judicial branch also is asked by the people to do its part in making democracy successful. We do not ask the Courts to call non-existent powers into being, but we have a right to expect that conceded powers or those legitimately implied shall be made effective instruments for the common good.

The process of our democracy must not be imperiled by the denial of essential powers of free government.

Your task and mine is not ending with the end of the depression. The people of the United States have made it clear that they expect us to continue our active efforts in behalf of their peaceful advancement.

In that spirit of endeavor and service I greet the 75th Congress at the beginning of this auspicious New Year.



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