Can the federal government make you eat your fruits and vegetables? Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan seemed to think so when asked if she thought Congress possessed the constitutional power to force every American to "eat three fruits and three vegetables every day." Kagan laughed and said that while it sounded like "a dumb law," that did not make it an unconstitutional one. In other words, if you don't like what your lawmakers have done, take your complaint to the ballot box, not to the courthouse. It was a classic case of judicial restraint, the idea that judges should defer to the will of the majority and refrain from striking down most democratically-enacted laws, even the really dumb ones. Judicial restraint and judicial activism cut across the political spectrum in surprising ways and make for some unusual bedfellows. Judicial restraint is not only a touchstone of the Progressive left, it is also a philosophy adopted by many members of the modern right. The growing camp of libertarians and free-market conservatives, however, has no patience with judicial restraint and little use for majority rule.
Chief Justice Roberts' 2012 ruling in favor of Obama's health care law is an excellent case in point, though only the most recent. This is the story of two competing visions, each one with its own take on what role the government and the courts should play in our society, a fundamental debate that goes to the very heart of our constitutional system.
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan