Sunday, May 01, 2005
Captain Ed of
Captain's Quarters links to a commencement address given by Judge Janice Rigers Brown, by way of introduction to this extraordinary jurist. And quite the introduction it is!
Captain Ed introduces the piece to set the context:
One of the most significant travesties of the judicial confirmation war that the Democrats launched after losing the Senate majority in 2003 has been the damage done to the reputations of those jurists nominated to the federal appellate bench by George Bush. Ten of the thirty-four nominations sent to the Senate by Bush have not only been blocked by the minority through the unprecedented use of the filibuster, but they have been vilified by Democrats as "Neanderthals" (Ted Kennedy), "extremists", "theocrats", and worse. Three of these nominees have declined to pursue their nominations, effectively curtailing their careers in public service, in order to restore their reputations and spare their families any further degradation at the hands of rabid Democrats insistent on pursuing strategies of personal destruction. Seven have valiantly decided to fight for their rightful place on the appellate bench.
This is perhaps the most offensive aspect of the current struggle within the Senate for an up or down vote on Presidential nomination of judges. It would be one thing to argue for or against any particular nomination, but to neglect such principled argument in favor of character assassination is deriliction of duty on the part of Democratic Senators.
Without further ado, Janice Rogers Brown, in her own words:
Abigail Adams, writing to John Quincy Adams in 1780, said: “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. ...Great necessities call out great virtues.” That was a critical time for America. This is an equally critical epoch. You and your peers may well be the most important generation of lawyers since that founding generation. The question for the framers was whether we could form a government based on “reflection and choice” rather than conflict and accident. They answered the question in the affirmative. What strikes me as I read the notes and letters of the founders is their supreme confidence.
The question for you will be whether the regime of freedom which they founded can survive the relentless enmity of the slave mentality. It will really be whether you want freedom to survive. The answer may be no. There are many reasons to forsake freedom.
Some will do so because they are ambitious and can only make their mark by setting out upon a new path. Abraham Lincoln described this dynamic many years before he became president. He said there will always be people among us (from the family of the Lion or the tribe of the Eagle) who “scorn to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor,” who thirst and burn for distinction, and who will obtain it “whether at the expense of emancipating slaves or enslaving free men.”
Some may reject freedom because security has always been more comfortable than freedom and infinitely more comforting to the “herd of independent minds.”
Perhaps the most likely reason for a negative response is the fatigue engendered by the “accumulated decisions of so many revolutions.” Freedom requires certitude and we are now so enlightened that, in Pascal's phrase, “we know too much to be ignorant and too little to be wise.”
I, of course, hope that this generation will rise to the challenge; that our present great necessities will call forth great virtues. Perhaps that is why, when I tried to think about what I might say to you as you commence your life in the law, only one word, one image, surfaced. The word, the image, was “Light.” Sometimes sharp and white, like the flash of a lighthouse beacon. Sometimes the soft, full radiance of sunrise. But, always, light. How odd, I thought. But then the brochure for the Columbus School of Law arrived with the motto of the Catholic University of America emblazoned across its cover. Deus lux mea est. God is my light. And then there was the Cardinal's dinner, held in San Francisco this year. The program began with a wonderful film about the university which was entitled — are you ready — “Sharing the Light.” Aha! At this point, even the dull witted must begin to see ... the light. And finally, leafing through a book of essays seeking inspiration, these words leapt out at me: “The night is for spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12)
What remarkable rhetoric from a jurist. What clarity of thought, what grounding of reason within a cogent moral and historic framework. But wait, there's more. Judge Brown concludes her commencement address with some very real concerns, and some hope for her audience as they make their way as Americans:
Which brings me to my second question — which will be much harder. What is the American Way? If you find this more difficult to answer, it is not surprising. The American Creed has not been forgotten; it has been repudiated. “Historically, American identity has had two primary components: culture and creed.” The former is defined by our heritage from Western Civilization; the latter consists of a set of universal ideas and principles articulated in our founding documents: liberty, equality, democracy, constitutionalism, limited government, and private property. On these principles there once was wide agreement. Indeed, the Creed was hailed by foreign observers, ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville to Gunnar Myrdal, as the “cement in the structure of this great and disparate nation.” As Richard Hofstader notes: “It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.”
And now the final question on today's quiz, suggested by Japanese philosopher Takeshi Umehara, who theorizes that the breakup of the Soviet Union is only the precursor to the collapse of Western liberalism: In an era in which “people everywhere define themselves in cultural terms, what place is there for a society without a cultural core,” defined only by a fragile political creed which — like Tinker Bell — is close to expiring because no one quite believes in it anymore?
In some ways, it seems we have been moving backward: bringing chaos out of order instead of the other way around. At least that is how things stood until quite recently when, in one instant of anguish, pity, grief, and rage, we had a moment of awful moral clarity. All perspectives are not equal. Evil is not merely a matter of opinion. Suddenly and undeniably, we understood that there are ideas worth defending to the death. There are lies that must be defeated at all costs. Freedom is not free. And it will never be the lasting legacy of the lazy or the indifferent. For what we ultimately pursue is a true “vision of justice and ordered liberty, respectful of human dignity and the authority of God.” What we need is to revive our passion for freedom and our determination to defend vigorously, rationally, and without apology, our way of life, which is unique and deserves not scorn nor diffidence, but devotion.
I am not intimately familiar with Brown's record of jurisprudence, but what I have read strikes me as very sound.
Could the primary (unspoken of course) objection with Judge Brown perchance be her strong religious faith? And her ability to recognize its essential underpinning within our constitution and founding documents?
Follow-through, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate. Ensure up or down votes on the nominations of qualified jurists, by limiting the use of filibuster on Executive Branch nominations of judges. Some excellent jurists of exceptional moral fiber are waiting to accept their assignments.
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