Commentary: The Supreme Court Protects Our Constitution
As the Supreme Court’s term draws to a close, it makes decisions on the cases it has heard. These decisions can have far-reaching effects on American life.
Many of the decisions rendered in the last days of this mandate affirmed important constitutional rights and principles. They deserve credit for supporting our Founding Fathers’ vision of a government with limited powers and a people with inalienable rights.
Second Amendment rights have won a great victory in New York State Rifles and Pistols Association vs. Bruen, a case involving New York’s restrictive gun laws. The law in question required applicants for a concealed carry permit to show “just cause” for the application. A general desire for self-defense was not admissible. The plaintiffs in the case had applied for a license to carry in public for this reason and their applications had been denied.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that New York’s restrictive licensing requirements were unconstitutional. In writing the decision, Judge Clarence Thomas noted:
We know of no other constitutional right that an individual can exercise only after demonstrating to government officials a particular need. This is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. That’s not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront prosecution witnesses. And that’s not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public transportation for self-defense.
The decision has limited impact on the current situation in Virginia, where the law permits open carry. But the court’s ruling warns those who would severely limit Second Amendment rights. I signed an amicus brief with other members of Congress last year urging the court to protect the right to bear arms in this case, and I applaud the outcome.
In another 6-3 decision, the court upheld the right of a Washington state high school football coach to kneel in prayer on the field after games. The coach, Joseph Kennedy, lost his job as a result of this practice, although he did not pressure the players to join him. The school district alleged that his voluntary prayer constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the school.
The majority in the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, found that the school district violated Mr. Kennedy’s rights to free speech and the free exercise of his religion. Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion. He noted that the school sought to restrict its activities precisely because they were religious, as opposed to the secular activities it permitted. Moreover, the way Mr Kennedy was praying – quietly at a time when other coaches were carrying out their own personal activities such as greeting family and friends and students singing the school fight song – did not suggest that he used his power as a public employee to endorse his religious beliefs.
In the words of Justice Gorsuch:
[a] governmental entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in brief, silent, and personal religious observance doubly protected by the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment. And the only valid justification the government offered for its retaliation rested on an erroneous view that it had a duty to unearth and suppress religious observances even if it permits comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor condones this kind of discrimination.
Finally, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationthe Court reversed its erroneous decision in Roe vs. Wade and properly returned to states the power to develop abortion policy. The Court’s decision is a victory for the right to life as well as for the constitutional structure that allows the people, through their elected representatives, to decide important issues.
Although I don’t always agree with the judges’ decisions, I respect their role in our system. I am heartened that in these landmark decisions this term, the Supreme Court has upheld key constitutional rights and affirmed our system of representative government.
- Congressman Morgan Griffith