Does the Supreme Court operate under Natural Law?

The sovereign people ought to establish constitutional government and abide by its laws. (Altman, “Rule of Law”)

According to the first clause of this statement, the argument could be made that the Supreme Court, one of the most fundamental components of out government, is, in fact, arbitrary.  But perhaps this assertion holds some weight- that we, citizens of a “democratic” country, are legally obligated to obey the interpretations of a group of unelected officials seems illogical.  With no way of being held accountable to the people, the justices are essentially free to manipulate the laws however they please. Certainly Altman would find this analysis valid.

However, when we consider the Supreme Court in light of Aquinas’ natural law theory, a different vision emerges.  While rule of law proponents find fault with the Supreme Court because of the belief that justices’ interpretations are undemocratic, natural law theory would counter by citing the justices’ adhesion to the Bill of Rights and Constitution, two of the most democratic pieces of writing ever.  And in believing in those two documents, we are acknowledging the superior reasoning that was the basis of their creation.  Therefore, when justices interpret those words, they are not making law for the people but applying the reason that has already been agreed upon as new situations arise.  Moreover, natural theorist would posit that this is the best kind of law because both the Bill of Rights and Constitution mandate justices to do this.  Unlike rule of law, which would say that when justices’ decisions are applied to citizens it is an unfair creation of laws, natural law permits these actions because our laws do.

To illustrate, we need only examine the case of Lawrence v. Texas.  In 2003 a Texas law making sodomy illegal between same-sex couples was brought before the Supreme Court.  In reaching their decisions, the justices turned to the Bill of Rights for guidance and eventually found that within the text was the right to privacy, which invalidated the Texas law.  In doing so, they acted not freely or arbitrarily; their decision was brimming with evidence drawn straight from our most reasonable document to support their ruling.  When we understand natural law, we can see that the Supreme Court is not as illegitimate as rule of law theorists would lead us to believe.  Natural law helps us understand the necessity of the Supreme Court as our resource for interpreting the reason that already exists.


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