In “History’s Bad Ideas Are an Inspiration for Progressives,” historian and columnist Victor Davis Hanson examines the dark side of progressivism.
Stymied by a Supreme Court that was a bit too traditionalist for his tastes – that is to say, a high court that faithfully interpreted the laws with reference to a real rather than a fictitious “living Constitution” -- President Franklin Roosevelt, Hanson notes, attempted to pack the court. His “convoluted proposal would have allowed Roosevelt to select a new—and additional justice—to the Supreme Court for every sitting judge who had reached 70 years, 6 months, and had not retired. And in theory, he could pack on 6 more judges, creating a 15-member court with a progressive majority.”
The effort to compromise the independence of the Court by packing it with progressive judges failed ignominiously, in large part because the media of the day was constitutionally literate. Since then, the American media has devolved. With the help of half-mad French philosophers, the American media has been persuaded that any institution not born yesterday is hopelessly recherché. Texts, including the solid propositions of our founding documents are to be wretched from their contexts and reformulated to satisfy the revolutionary ambitions of fake philosophers and politicians.
Noting that appointments in due course occasionally disappoint those who believe that justices selected by conservative or liberal presidents will continue to maintain a steady ideological path on the court, Hanson lists the three most noxious principles of progressive irredentism.
First, progressives believe that only conservative justices should flip, while liberal justices should maintain an inflexible progressive course. Second, any and all judicial means that advance progressive decisions, however much they violate man and nature’s God, must advance the public good. And lastly, progressives believe, with all the fervency of a doctrinaire extremist, that it is proper to view the court as an instrument of social justice, prodding representative bodies to the left by means of decisions that, strict constitutionalists would say, have only a nodding acquaintance with historical constitutional interpretation. Hewing to this last principle, the progressive re-drafters of the constitution tip their hats to a Marxian formulation: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it,” said Karl Marx, words engraved as an epitaph on his tombstone. In much the same way, modern progressives hold that it is the business of progressives on the left to change laws made by representative assemblies through a radical, ahistorical re-interpretation of a shape-shifting Constitution.
Among progressives, nullification has become the new normal. Revisiting this socially disruptive idea can only bring down fire upon our heads. Jefferson Davis and other southern secessionists embraced nullification until they were persuaded by President Abraham Lincoln’s generals to give it up, but not before the ground of Shiloh and Gettysburg were soaked in blood. The operative principle of nullification is that the governor of a state, its lawmakers, or its municipal executives, may nullify – declare inoperative -- federal laws at will and yet expect the federal government to wink at governors and state legislators who counsel lawbreaking, on occasion for good reasons. In an assembly of states that calls itself a union, the presence of a sanctuary city is an act of uncivil defiance bordering on insurrection.
Sanctuary state proponents such as Governor Dannel Malloy and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut are perfectly willing to accede to the proposition that the federal government does have the authority to make and enforce laws. Indeed, if Blumenthal were to contest this proposition, his office -- that of U.S. Senator, which is constitutionally authorized to write laws executed by the executive department – would be rendered useless. In supporting sanctuary cities, Blumenthal is setting his face against both the executive department and the U.S. Congress of which he is a member. In effect, Blumenthal is saying that federal laws may be vacated by governors and mayors of the states if the law in question is perceived as unjust.
Once his principle of abrogation is generally accepted, any municipal executive with the concurrence of a governor may defy any law written by Blumenthal and affirmed by the U.S. Congress. One needn’t wonder whether Blumenthal or Malloy would assert their destructive operative principle if a conservative state government were to defy what has been called “settled law” in Roe v Wade and outlaw all forms of abortion.