SharksWithLasers -- Seth Cooper

A CUTTING-EDGE BLOG FOR THE WORLD OF THE 21st CENTURY, Currently operated by Seth L. Cooper, a 27 year-old attorney in Seattle (sethlcooper at comcast dot net)

Monday, April 11, 2005

THE COMMON SENSE CONSTITUTION. Arthur Herman has an OUTSTANDING article today at NRO. Entitled “The Jury of the Country," Herman discusses our much-neglected Founding Father James Wilson and the tradition of Reidian Common-Sense Realism. Remember, Wilson, James Madison and Gouvernor Morris spoke at the Constitutional Convention more than any of the other delegates. And Wilson later became a Justice of the original U.S. Supreme Court--appointed by President George Washington, no less.

Going back to the Scottish Enlightenment thinking that so influenced Wilson (and so many other great thinkers in early America), Herman succintly summarizes Reid's ideas:

Reid taught that all human beings come equipped with a fundamental understanding of reality called common sense. Common sense enables us to judge the world and make our most important decisions about up and down, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. It is the enemy of moral relativism and intellectual pretension, and both Reid and Wilson believed that it was by expanding the reach of common sense through experience, and gaining confidence in our own intellectual powers, that we become truly and morally free.

Even more interesting is Herman's analysis of the Reidian-influenced, Wilsonian understanding of constitutional authority and the role of the judiciary in constitutional interpretation and adjudication:

...the Supreme Court was supposed to give American democracy a power it would desperately need, the power to use its common-sense judgment in a reflective way. By looking at a particular law, judges would decide whether it fit into the essential framework of the constitution, or not. This power of judging what is or is not constitutional was not something reserved for legal experts: It belonged to any ordinary citizen...

In short, notes Herman, Wilson viewed the Supreme Court as "the jury of the country."

I have little to add to Herman's piece other than to note that the whereas the written constitution probably implies a kind of judicial review that goes beyond Wilson's expectations, Wilson most certainly never advocated judicial supremacy--the idea that the Constitution is whatever the Supreme Court says it means.

Since the Constitution was written, adopted, ratified and subsequently amended, by and for the American people, all concerned citizens would do well to remember Wilson.

(North Seattle--Green Lake, WA)


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