The genius of our country’s founding document, the Constitution, is that it limited the power of government and empowered individuals to lead their lives as they saw fit, which in turn allowed America to become the freest and most prosperous country in the world.
The framers carefully constructed a government that had just enough power to impose civil order, protect citizens from foreign invaders and secure individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but not enough power to violate those rights itself. To achieve this, they confined the powers of the federal government to those specifically listed in the Constitution and divided that power among three branches of government.
But this system only works if we have an independent judiciary. The framers envisioned the judiciary as the guardians of individual rights, willing and able to strike down laws passed by the political branches of government if they violated the Constitution. That role is inherently anti-majoritarian.
Any law that is passed by a majority of our elected representatives, and signed into law by a popularly elected president, is presumably popular among some broad swath of Americans. But being popular does not make a proposed government action just, or constitutional. Our rights are too important to be infringed simply because a majority is willing or even eager to do so.
It is simply unrealistic to expect judges to strike down popular but unconstitutional laws if they expect political retribution for doing so. That is why the Constitution invested the federal judiciary with lifetime tenure, to insulate it from political pressure and allow it to act as a guardian of our freedoms and a constraint on government excesses.
But political pressure can be brought to bear to undermine our independent judiciary in other ways. If judges fear that unpopular but constitutionally correct rulings will lead to court-packing, they will be just as unwilling to act as a bulwark against government overreach. Why would they? Pushing too far today could erode their ability to do so tomorrow.
Even worse, court-packing would turn our independent judiciary into just another political branch of government. If one party packs the court, the other party will do the same as soon as it regains power. The cycle would continue indefinitely, and lead to judges being put on the court for their loyalty to a party and supposed willingness to “balance the court” rather than their loyalty to the Constitution and the Rule of Law. Once we lose our independent judiciary, the rest of our Republic will follow with it.
Some fear that the courts have already become partisan tools for the political branches. We all disagree with some court decisions. But overall, the courts have protected our Constitution and the individual rights it protects. This has been a precious gift to our young nation that we must preserve for future generations. To throw it away for short term political gain would be madness.