Monday, June 13, 2011

Those Darned Activist Judges

Last week, while wildfires and talk of one congressman's private parts dominated the news cycle, the Supreme Court issued an opinion [PDF] clarifying the Armed Career Criminal Act. The majority ruling says using a vehicle to flee from police counts as a "violent felony" under the act, which is targeted at curbing repeat offenders. I was struck, however, by Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent, which reads in part:
We face a Congress that puts forth an ever-increasing volume of laws in general, and of criminal laws in particular. It should be no surprise that as the volume increases, so do the number of imprecise laws. And no surprise that our indulgence of imprecisions that violate the Constitution encourages imprecisions that violate the Constitution. Fuzzy, leave-the-details-to-be-sorted-out-by-the-courts legislation is attractive to the Congressman who wants credit for addressing a national problem but does not have the time (or perhaps the votes) to grapple with the nitty-gritty. In the field of criminal law, at least, it is time to call a halt.
So here we have Justice Scalia calling out Congress for passing flawed laws that courts have to clean up later. The delicious irony is that this undercuts Conservative arias -- which Scalia and his right-wing brethren have sung many times before -- against judicial activism. Here, Justice Scalia says the problem seems to be Congressional activism, which is where it all begins in the first place.

So what's it gonna be? Either Congress passes more precise, Constitutionally-sound laws (and actually reading the full text of those laws would be a good start), or judges have no choice but to continue their custodial duties. Those folks in the black robes who have to deal with a stack of cases arising from flaws or omissions some lawmaker didn't have the time or stones to address don't deserve the scarlet "A" for "Activist."

(Tricorn tip to SCOTUSblog for alerting me to this.)

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