Thursday, February 4, 2010

Justice Jackson

I am reading "The Nine," Jeffrey Toobin's book about the Supreme Court.  It is fairly good, if a bit biased (for example, one does not have to read far to see how much Toobin dislikes Clarence Thomas).  

In the course of a discussion about the Court's decisions in religion cases, I came across a fascinating statement from Justice Robert Jackson.  It is apparently quite well known, but I either have not read it before or simply do not remember it.

The case involved a challenge to school requirements for the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  In 1940, the Supreme Court had upheld such requirements against a challenge by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Toobin notes the growing rise of fascism in Europe immediately thereafter and its effect on how people viewed coercive loyalty.  

Just three years later, the Court took an "almost identical" case from the Witnesses and reversed itself, holding that such requirements violated the Constitution.

Here is what Justice Jackson wrote in that case:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act.  If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
So perfectly stated, and so eloquent.  Would that all Justices wrote that well.

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