Beyond Legal Limits

  Yesterday the Supreme Court unanimously set aside a ruling of the Florida Supreme Court. That ruling, you may recall, gave counties an extra week beyond the statutory deadlines to hand-count ballots and submit them to Florida's Secretary of State. Only hours later, a decision was handed down from Judge Sauls, who presided over the nationally televised trial this weekend. He rejected all of Vice President Gore's appeals. But if you think the mess in Florida is over, maybe you ought to think again. All of these cases and more will soon be back in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court, and appeals will follow appeals. This shouldn't surprise us. The legal circus in Florida is simply the latest and most outrageous example of what happens when lawyers and courts get involved where they were never intended to be -- intervening in the process of self-governance. I practiced law for ten years and was Special Counsel to the President, dealing with many complex legal questions. But if you've been able to follow what's going on in Florida, you're a better lawyer than I was. This is nothing less than a lawyers' field day. By some estimates, there are 500 to 1,000 lawyers from all over the country representing various plaintiffs and defendants. The press reported that hotel rooms are sold out in Tallahassee, that cleaning establishments can't keep up with the demand, and that the restaurants are overcrowded. Well, it is now clear for all of us to see that, as Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon might say, ours is "one nation under lawyers." But maybe there's a silver lining to all this, because what we are witnessing in Florida -- the election of a president being decided by high-priced lawyers and judges -- may wake us up to what is a very disturbing trend. Some years ago, the drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment failed, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg later said that it no longer mattered, because the courts had achieved all of the changes the ERA sought. Similarly, anti-smoking campaigns are not dealt with by the democratic process. Lawyers, instead, go into court and get $140-billion judgments against tobacco companies. And the lawyers who do this have political clout. Some, like Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have gained office, and trial lawyers are dumping huge sums into political campaigns. Worse, the courts seem all too eager to usurp the legislative function. Activist judges make policy in place of elected representatives, which is surely not what the Founders intended. It's also dreadfully dangerous, because it means that laws which -- in America, at least -- generally derive from Judeo-Christian moral values, can be set aside on the whim of a judge. We have noted over the years that the liberal activist judges most often -- as in Roe v. Wade -- come down on the side that disfavors this historic view of the law. I've written on this many times -- how judicial usurpation threatens self-government. For material that explains why this is such a critical problem, visit our website. What we're going to need in the future is political leaders who will stand up against the steady encroachment by the courts, and who will return law-making to the legislature. Christians are going to have to be vigorous advocates of this historic view of the law, lest we end up with a government of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers.


Chuck Colson


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