Dover Judge Speaks On Confronting Conservative Attacks on Precedent

Republican Judge John Jones who heard the Dover case and ruled against teaching intelligent design spoke earlier this week as reported by the Bennington Banner:

“If you don’t understand your rights, I think everyone understands that you risk losing them,” said Jones. “My brothers and sisters on the bench often pull an ostrich after a decision is reached. The country’s framers intended for the people to be enlightened and interested and involved. If they were to come back today, I think the framers would be chagrined if they were to see so much ignorance of the workings of our judicial system. But honestly, I lay the blame on judges. We pull an ostrich too often.”

Unsurprisingly, Jones drew a lot of criticism after his decision. Republican pundit Phyllis Schlafly said he “stuck a knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance,” referring to the Evangelical right.

“I went into a bookstore and saw an Ann Coulter book, and I checked the index, and there my name was,” said Jones. “And I thought, ‘that can’t be good.'”

“I’m a Republican, appointed by a Republican president,” said Jones, “and people make assumptions because of that. Nowadays, people assume that all Democrats are liberal, and all Republicans are conservative. Everyone thought I was conservative, although I’m aware of nothing in my past to suggest that, other than my being a Republican.”

“In all the criticism that followed the decision, the pundits omitted to note the role of precedent,” said Jones. “There is a widespread misunderstanding about the rule of law. All the O’Reillys and Schlaflys and Robertsons and Coulters work to create an impression that judges should operate personally, that they should make ad hoc or personal rulings or, worst yet, respond to public will. The truth is that article three of the Constitution is a bulwark against the public will. This is one of the reasons I keep insisting that I’m not an activist judge. If I had come to a different conclusion and ruled that it was acceptable to teach religious material in school — thrown one for the team — then I would have been an activist judge. Activist judges are not desirable.”

Jones reffered to the social fallout following the Terry Schiavo case, in which a brain-dead woman was allowed to die rather than be kept on life support. “I remembered Congressman Tom Delay standing within his Congressional well, saying that the men responsible for the decision would be called to answer. Not today, but soon. This was a threat to judges, one that could conceivably foment violence. This is precisely the problem. Judges feel threatened by the public. Judges are frightened by public ad hominem attacks against the messengers.” Jones went on to say that many good people decline to take the bench, simply from fear of public pressure.

Jones conceded that it is difficult to stand against public opinion. “Statistics say that something like half of Americans say it’s OK to teach creationism in high schools. So, many say, ‘let public will be done.’ Why not? Why shouldn’t that be the case? My answer, at the risk of sounding simplistic, is that we have the Constitution.”

Jones blames much of the trouble in the modern judicial system on an uninformed electorate. “It’s a messy business, democracy,” Jones said. “And I know that we judges are mortal. We are deeply imperfect. We make wrong decisions, and those wrong decisions should be challenged. We don’t mind. We really don’t.”

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    mbk says:

    Thanks for posting this article. He’s one of my heroes, along with the brilliant lawyers who argued the case for evolution. Just terrific.

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