Supreme Court and Contracts by Tom Reynolds
There is much controversy, name calling, misinformation and confusion in the liberal media over the U. S. Supreme Court, because of some recent decisions. The core issue is actually much simpler to understand than often presented. Let’s try to simplify things.
Examples make the points clearer:
Suppose you agreed to buy a house for $100,000 but, at the closing, the seller wanted $105,000 because of inflation between the signing of the contract and the closing.
An “originalist” judge (as are 4 or 5 members of the U.S. Supreme Court) believes that contracts mean what the parties understood them to mean when they were created; what the signers intended them to mean. He’d decide on $100,000 as the selling price.
Leftist judges believe in a flexible contract, (as do 3 liberal judges on the Supreme Court), where the current social, political and economic consequences are more important than the intentions of the signers. A contract doesn’t mean what the signers understood it to mean but can be reinterpreted by judges in the name of “Social Justice”. He’d probably rule that $105,000 is the selling price. (That you only have a $100,000 mortgage is your problem.)
Suppose that in 1950, your grandfather gave $10 million to Syracuse University for an endowment to fund “scholarships for Syracuse University football players”. The president of Syracuse agreed, in writing, to the terms.
In 2020, Syracuse University used some of the money to fund scholarships for Syracuse University women soccer players. As the grandchild, you objected and it went to court to be settled.
An “originalist” judge will rule that the contract meant American football as it was understood to mean by your grandfather and Syracuse University. Football is still basically American football as your grandfather knew it. As laudable as the University’s intentions may or may not be, it is bound by the terms of the contract, as understood by the signers.
Leftist judges might rule that the endowment does cover women’s soccer. Soccer is known in other countries as football; American soccer players participate in international football tournaments. And, under a federal law, women now must have more access to sports and this would help the University comply with the social justice aspects of the law; the current university president must deal with changing times and not be handcuffed by a 70 years old agreement. Current University administrators cannot be constrained as they adjust to current society’s needs (as they and the judge see them, not as your grandfather saw them.)
If the leftist judge’s rulings became generally accepted, contract law would be meaningless and a basic underpinning of society would be destroyed.
Now, apply that to US Supreme Court decisions.
The US Constitution is a contract. In 1789, a contract was drawn up between the people of the 13 states, the states themselves and the federal government. It created the federal government and spelled out what the federal government could and could not do. All 13 states signed on to it. When new states joined the union, per the method laid out in the Constitution, they agreed to abide by the Constitution.
Under the United States Constitution, we have the ability to change it through the amendment process. If enough people believe that society has changed enough to make some part of the Constitution – or all of it – no longer appropriate, we can change it.
The process is not easy, in order to prevent fads. Our Declaration of Independence tells us why: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” (Those Founding Fathers were really smart…and they didn’t even have access to the internet.)
Until amended, the Constitution means what it meant when it was signed.
This, of course, ties the hands of the left who want only to be bound by their unbounded ambition.
The Constitution has worked very well and has transformed the United States into the most powerful economic and military society in the history of the world. It’s worked. Tweak it through amendments, but recognize that its core values are still valid.
We haven’t been perfect but what product of mankind has been perfect?
And when we identified a problem that needed changing under the Constitution, we amended it; the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments for example.
And if we made a mistake in amending it, the 18th Amendment for example, we repealed it, (the 21st Amendment). But while the 18th Amendment was the law of the land, the government enforced it and those that skirted it were criminals.