Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sanity Prevailing

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unremarkable ruling in a discrimination case in which a woman claimed she had been systematically underpaid (well below the level of her male counterparts) for a period of years.

The law she filed the suit under, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically states that suits must be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation. The woman who filed the suit was claiming that the discrimination took place years earlier.

The Supreme Court, in a controversial turnabout from the last 40 years, read Title VII and ruled against the woman, insanely interpreting the section of the law that said the suit must be filed within "180 days" to mean that....the suit actually needed to be filed within 180 days. Which it wasn't. In the normal world, this wouldn't seem that complicated, and certainly would be uncontroversial. It's open and shut. The law has an explicit deadline contained in it, and the woman's suit missed that deadline by a matter of years.

But to the liberal justices of the Supreme Court, laws aren't actually laws, and words aren't actually words. Laws are merely suggestions that courts can ignore at will (like, for instance, when the Florida Supreme Court daily rewrote the duly passed election law deadlines in 2000 desperately hoping for some recount that would show Al Gore the winner). Thus, in what ought to be a no-brainer, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a dissent from the majority ruling, which she read from the bench in an unusual show of disagreement. To Ginsburg, the fact that the law specifically and explicitly requires that suits must be filed within 180 days is meaningless and free to be ignored. (In her dissent, without apparent irony, Ginsburg calls the Court's plain reading of "180 days" a "cramped interpretation.")

According to the Washington Post:
Yesterday she said that "Title VII was meant to govern real-world employment practices, and that world is what the court today ignores." She called for Congress to correct what she sees as the court's mistake.
Translation: Ginsburg was unable to change the law by fiat directly from the bench as had previously been her practice, and thus had to resort to the far less savory option of handing the law back to the people (who passed it to begin with) to change it or not change it as they see fit. The outrage of it all!

Of course, Ginsburg's pique notwithstanding, this is the way the system was actually intended to operate. The legislatures write the laws, and the judges apply them as written--without substituting their personal policy preferences for those of the people. The only reason it is working correctly now after a 40-plus year hiatus is because conservative Samuel Alito now sits on the United States Supreme Court, shifting the balance away from the liberal majority Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer were accustomed to ruling over us with.

How revolutionary to have a majority of Supreme Court justices who now read a law and act as if it means what it says.

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