Fighting Crime: Let's Not Look for Short-Cuts
The Rehnquist Court -- 1991-1992
Signing of the U.S. Constitution
The United States Constitution is sometimes referred to as a "living" document. If that's true -- and I believe it is -- the Constitution is ailing.
Perhaps the world's greatest document, including the Bill of Rights, has pulled through more than 200 years of growth and has successfully protected this country's citizens through two world wars, the post-war technological explosion and the first exploration of outer space.
But it's not the last 200 years that concerns me; it's the next 200.
When the United States Supreme Court decides an issue that decision becomes the law of the land; the court defines what is constitutional.
However, though rare -- largely because of the court's stare decisis policy -- we have seen decisions reversed proving that what is legal one day is not necessarily legal another day.
One day it is not discrimination when schools are separate as long as they are equal; another day separate-but-equal is inherently discriminatory.
One day it can be legal to allow only certain people to vote or to count their votes as something less than one; on another day, one man's vote must be equal to another's. To me, this means the decisions of the court, and thus the law, can be wrong: legal, but wrong.
It seems clear to me that too many judges in too many courts are deciding issues on the basis of what the judge believes is good for society or what will disrupt "the system" the least instead of following the dictates of the Constitution.
The way to change a bad law, in my opinion, is to change the law, not re-interpret the Constitution. It's not wise, I say, to surreptitiously change the law by re-interpreting the Constitution simply because the court can get away with it.
No doubt you could come up with your own list of laws, decisions by the Supreme Court with which you do not agree.
Here are just two examples of those I question:
* * * Confiscation of certain assets of drug dealers (now being extended in Connecticut to the vehicles of prostitutes' johns) on the grounds that they are used in the commission of a crime.
It is obvious what the courts are thinking when they approve of this kind of legislation, but I think there is little doubt that this goes far beyond the letter of the law. It's another example of taking the easy way out: Officials can't think of a better way to fight the drug problem, so why not bend the Constitution a little for the good of all? It's fallacious thinking, which always backfires in the long run.
Indiscriminate Traffic Stops
* * * Indiscriminately stopping traffic in the hope that police will catch people violating laws ranging from selling drugs and carrying weapons to failing to have one's emissions sticker up-to-date.
Proponents of this unwise policy say the police are not really stopping people indiscriminately because they stop everyone at the site.
That's a little bit like an employer saying he doesn't discriminate against anybody seeking a job on religious grounds because he asks everybody what religion they practice.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on June 12, 1993. The assault on the U.S. Constitution, particularly in the political arena, is far greater today than it was when this piece was penned.