Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science, Director of Human Life Studies, and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is In Defense of Nature: the Catholic Unity of Environmental, Economic, and Moral Ecology. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com.
You may have heard that Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy may soon retire. Please pray that he does. Have all your friends and friends’ friends do it as well. This is a man who is singularly responsible for the destruction of all law, all rationality, and even all sanity.
And while you are praying for him to retire (and very soon), pray for him to repent of the damage he’s done. He is, by the way, a Catholic—so we are told.
He is often classed as a “conservative,” but that identification is woefully misleading. He is, at best, a libertarian, someone who tries to maximize individual liberty and minimize government interference. But a libertarian is not a conservative. A libertarian is someone whose passion for liberty is so extreme that it is in danger of becoming an all-defining, all-consuming principle. In Kennedy’s case, it consumed (as I’ve noted) law, reason, and sanity.
I will not tire the reader with a case by case analysis of Kennedy’s increasingly heavy footprints in jurisprudence—or jurisimprudence, to be more exact. One glaring instance is all we need: his infamous utterance in Planned Parenthood v Casey, a decision centered on abortion.
In it, to what should be the utter amazement of all of us, Justice Kennedy offered the following passing remarks that became the true rationale for the case and hence the precedent for further mischief on the high court:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
The view of liberty put forth by Kennedy here destroys the very foundation of law, a fact which it certainly seems he should have noticed.
Imagine the following to illustrate. Mr. Smith lives next to Mr. Jones. One day, while gardening, Smith suddenly leaps over the hedge, sprays Mr. Jones with poison, and then hammers him with a hoe until he is quite dead.
At his trial, Smith triumphantly pulls out his copy of Planned Parenthood v Casey, reads Kennedy’s precedential words, and then offers the following defense.
Your honor, this court defends liberty as our most precious legal principle. In my concept of existence, the person you call Mr. Jones is actually a large, roving weed. While you may have your definition which provides your meaning of human life, I also have mine—and this Jones didn’t fit it. In my universe, which I am at liberty to create, Jones appears as a species of the weed Quack Grass. Such appearances are mysterious, indeed! But I see through his wiles, and I don’t want him creeping into my garden! I am entirely convinced that the state may not—nay, dare not!—impose its views of Jones’ personhood on me. I rest my case on Justice Kennedy’s case. There has been no murder, so I am guilty of nothing.
Now if the court trying Mr. Smith’s case has the temerity to suggest that murder is murder, and that you can’t kill another person as if he were a weed, Mr. Jones has an unimpeachable reply:
I suspected that you would say something of the sort, and thereby attempt to trammel the heart of my liberty, but that way has been cut off by Planned Parenthood v Casey itself. You see, it was about abortion. You’ve already decided that at the heart of one person’s liberty is the right to define the thing being aborted as not a person. Therefore, you may not impinge on my precious right to define the alleged person ‘Jones’ as a weed.
You see the point, I hope. There cannot be law if everyone has a right to define his or her own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
If you still have trouble understanding, look at its broader implications with another illustration, this one highlighting Kennedy’s destruction of reason.
An enterprising young college freshman, Cedric Slothwink, who has never been good at math or science, but very adept at taking advantage of every situation, hires a lawyer to represent him against the college after he flunks his first chemistry test.
The chemistry professor, fully confident in the justice of his decision, takes the stand and informs the judge and jury of the following facts. “Slothwink turned in his first chemistry exam with stick figure drawings of little men attacking monsters, rather than answering the questions. Chemistry is a very precise science, needless to say. I’m not sure he can solve even the simplest mathematical equations.”
Cedric is unflustered, and confidently takes the stand, allowing his lawyer to guide judge and jury to a profitable conclusion. His lawyer reads Justice Kennedy’s stirring words about the heart of liberty, and then says the following:
Your honor, esteemed members of the jury, according to Cedric Slothwink’s concept of the universe, what he has produced here, on this test, is chemistry. These stick figures in battle represent the various chemical reactions according to the system of meaning he devised in the late hours of the night before the test. It offends his concept of personhood that this ‘professor’ here wishes to violate his liberty. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of Cedric’s concept of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State, and the college does in fact receive federal funding. We rest our case on Justice Kennedy’s inspired words in Planned Parenthood v Casey. Cedric Slothwink should be awarded an ‘A’ on his test, and 7.5 million dollars in psychological damages.
The destruction of law and reason. We used to think that the universe should define our concept of the universe, so that human reason to be reasonable had to conform to reality. Reality was the foundation of reason, otherwise (as with Cedric’s test) one could not be right or wrong about anything.
It should be clear how Justice Kennedy’s words also destroy our sanity. What makes us sane is that we have a “grip on reality,” as the saying goes. Otherwise, anyone can be Napoleon, and the hallucinations of a man losing his mind are as lucid as the most sober reasoning of respectable citizens. But that is just the Bedlam we get if we affirm that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” On these grounds, ravings are as good as reasonings. And judicial insanity, and larger cultural insanity, is what you get when you define liberty at the expense of sanity.
So, pray for Justice Kennedy to retire—and to repent. He’s got a lot to answer for.