Skip to main content

Contemporary events and the Constitution in light of recent rulings from the Supreme Court

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

It has been a momentous term at the U.S. Supreme Court. It seems that the closer we have gotten to the end of the term (usually the end of June), the more momentous it has become.

From separation of church and state (Carson v. Makin, June 21) to Second Amendment (New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, June 23) to abortion (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, June 24) and, finally, school prayer (Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, June 27), the headlines have been large and loud.

All four of these decisions each came down to a 6-3 vote.

To call this series of decisions a conservative vs. liberal landslide is being too simplistic. There is much more here than such a trivial perspective; it is much more than the bombastic sound bites we have all heard.

When nine unelected individuals decide matters for 330 million, it can be a bit disheartening. What’s the use in voting if our lives are radically impacted by such an elite group? Where do they get the authority – either explicit or implicit – to affect our lives in such a significant way?

I contend it does not come down to liberal or conservative thinking, but whether one reads the Constitution as an originalist or treats it as a living document, changeable as times change.

What we see now is a movement from the living document view to the originalist view.

The originalist vs. living document discussion goes back as far as James Madison (originalist and primary author of the Constitution) and Thomas Jefferson (more of the living document camp).

The modern idea of the Constitution being a living document traces from Woodrow Wilson’s book, "Constitutional Government in the United States" as well as his speeches in the presidential election of 1912. (Wikipedia.)

Others chimed in on this subject over the years and the Warren Court (1953-69) is considered the most liberal and “living document” proponent of all time.

Folks like to argue that the Constitution itself, that is the document, is silent on living vs. originalist interpretations. There are two arguments against this idea of silence implicit within the document itself. The first is this: The Constitution provides a specific way to amend itself through a detailed procedure (via amendment and state ratification).

The second is that the Constitution is silent on changing its meaning from the bench.

So, it seems as though the intent of the authors was to provide the Supreme Court with very specific instructions: Interpret within very narrow bounds and change through amendments.

But humans are humans, and the way one of us sees something may not always be the way another does.

It boils down to this: If one advocates for ideas which one thinks cannot survive the amendment process (or one is too impatient to wait on it), one puts their faith in unelected members of the court acquiescing to one’s will and is perfectly happy to let this unelected body decide the behavior of all of us. However, if one thinks this body will not bend to their will, they are unhappy.

May I remind you, that as a country, we have very effectively used the amendment process to change the rules for all of us before. The 18th Amendment (ratified in January 1919) prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. Then in the blink of an eye (13 years later) the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th. See how easy that is?

In closing, I would like to comment on two loud and current sets of comments.
First, Senators Collins and Manchin are implying Supreme Court candidates lied to them when they met privately with them at the time of their Senate hearings.

The Wall Street Journal had a very good piece on this on Saturday, June 25. In it, the Journal pointed out that had any candidate for the Supreme Court expressed or held an opinion on any particular topic prior to hearing a case, they are required by oath to recuse themselves from such cases. The procedure is to hear the facts of a case, then decide what one’s position is, not the other way around.

As for those running around calling the Supreme Court illegitimate or something worse, I’ll remind you we have the Supreme Court specifically chosen by the method commenced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November 2013 when he invoked the “nuclear option.”

Yet, Reid changed this long-standing rule (parts of which went back to 1806) for all judicial nominations except Supreme Court. However, the precedent had been broken and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was emboldened to extend it to Supreme Court nominations in April 2017.

I doubt – but cannot prove – that McConnell would not have dared chosen the path he did if it had not been for Reid’s prior actions.

Often, when it is too late, we realize traditions are preserved for a reason.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

Add new comment

This is not for publication.
This is not for publication.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it. Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number and email address is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.