Friday, July 13, 2012

Justices shouldn't split hairs when it comes to the Constitution

I had a dream about the nine U. S. Supreme Court justices.

In my dream, all nine were young. Instead of going to law school, all nine enrolled at Georgetown Barber College. After graduation, all nine set up a barber shop in downtown Washington, D.C., where they worked harmoniously.

One day, I walked by their shop — the Supreme Barber Shop — and decided to go in. My hair had gotten too long; I needed a clip job.

I took a seat and waited for an open barber chair. Finally, John Roberts, the barber, said, "Next."

I told Roberts, the barber, "My hair is too long. I want you to cut off half of it."

"No problem." said Roberts, the barber.

He then split every hair on my head into two and clipped one of them. Half of my hair was cut but not quite the way I expected.

He beamed with pride over his clip job, and he held a mirror for me to see.

It was worse than a Donald Trump-style comb over.

The other eight barbers split hairs the same way, so you can't just blame Roberts, the barber.

Watch out for Georgetown Barber College alumni. And NEVER ask one of them for a shave!

The U.S. Constitution is not a complicated document to read. It is written in English, not Latin, nor any other dead language. But when you ask a judge to interpret what the Constitution says, you have to wonder if judges read off the same pages as do the rest of us.

In the recently decided Affordable Care Act case, the main issue had to do with the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The answer to the question as to whether the government can force individuals to buy health insurance could only be a simple yes or no.

Eight justices read the legislation. Eight justices read the Constitution. Eight justices could not agree on the answer. In fact, the best that they could do was end up diametrically opposed. Four justices emphatically voted "Yes." Four justices emphatically voted "No."

Enter Chief Justice John Roberts, the parser. Only Roberts, the parser, knew what Congress meant. Roberts, the parser, changed some words and declared the individual mandate to be constitutional.

Although Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were on opposite sides of the debate, they joined together to confront Roberts, the parser, about his convoluted decision. Ginsburg and Scalia were furious, according to the law clerks I interviewed.

Roberts, the parser, told his detractors, "Mongo only pawn in game of life."

If our nation is to be governed by a written constitution, then the document should be easily understood by at least two-thirds of the governed. What good is a constitution if the people don't know what it means?

Historians will remember June 28, 2012, as the day when only one man in America understood the meaning of the Constitution, and further, that he had to re-define key words to make his explanation work.