President Biden met yesterday with Senate Judiciary Committee leaders to discuss the upcoming US Supreme Court vacancy and his promise to nominate a Black woman to the court. Sources say Mr. Biden is considering more than a dozen candidates. CNN is reporting that former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones will guide the nominee through the confirmation process on Capitol Hill.
When running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, candidate Biden pledged in February 2020 to nominate a Black woman to the Court. This is not an unprecedented campaign promise; Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump made similar pledges.
This is obviously an effective political strategy. Candidates run for office to get elected. They know the constituencies to whom they must appeal and therefore make campaign promises as a means to this end.
Nominating Supreme Court justices based on representative demographics seems an appropriate move in a democracy as well. We elect members of the House and Senate to represent us. We do the same with state and local officials. We want those in elective office to make decisions that best advance our interests and the common good as we understand it.
In addition, as Americans, we should want all of our fellow citizens to be represented in our governance. For these reasons, since there has never been a Black woman on the Court, the president’s pledge seems long overdue.
However, this approach to the Supreme Court betrays a fundamental shift in American culture that has dangerous implications for all Americans and is especially relevant for Christians today.
Why there is a Supreme Court
At the outset, let me state that I believe systemic racism is a tragic reality in America and that racial minorities should be more represented in our governance. I believe that women face prejudice and systemic disadvantages and should be more represented in governmental leadership as well.
My concerns lie in a different direction.
To summarize and simplify a very complex discussion, America’s founders understood a foundational flaw inherent in a simple democracy: the majority can exercise unbridled power over the minority. Fifty percent plus one is enough to decide any issue on behalf of those who wield such power. This is why they constructed a republic with a Bill of Rights and significant protections for the minority.
Even with these protections, they knew that elective governance can over time shift a nation in directions that betray the intentions of its founding documents and principles. Therefore, in addition to a president and members of Congress who are elected by the people, they constructed a third element of national governance: a Supreme Court composed of unelected justices.
How the justices discovered rights to abortion and same-sex marriage
The founders wanted these justices to hold the president and Congress accountable to constitutional laws and principles. The justices were not intended to represent the people but to uphold the Constitution and the laws based upon it. Demographic concerns would be much less relevant as a result.
However, we have now lived for several decades in a postmodern culture that denies the existence of objective truth (this is, of course, an objective truth claim). By such reasoning, there is no objective intended meaning of the Constitution. It is viewed as a “living” document that must be interpreted and amended as the times require.
In this view, the Supreme Court becomes another law-making body that exists not to interpret the Constitution according to its original intent but to adapt and apply its precepts to make them relevant to shifting demographics and cultural trajectories.
This is how seven justices discovered a constitutional “right” to abortion in 1973 when no objective historian would claim that the founders imagined or intended such a right. Five justices discovered a constitutional “right” to same-sex marriage in 2015 on the same grounds.
Rather than recusing themselves and requiring Congress to draft and debate legislation that would address these issues (as the founders would have intended), they created rights that were nowhere specified in the text of the Constitution they were sworn to uphold and interpret.
“When you open your Bible, God opens his mouth”
Christians in a relativistic culture must beware the same temptation. As Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart note in the classic textbook, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the Bible can never mean what it never meant. The first goal of biblical interpretation should always be to determine the biblical author’s intended meaning and only then to apply that meaning to life today.
The Scriptures are “living and active” in the sense that, since neither human nor divine nature changes, the Bible’s intended meaning is still relevant today (Hebrews 4:12). But its truth is absolute, no matter how relativistic our culture becomes (cf. Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:24–25).
So, here’s my question: Would God say you are living in alignment with his word in every dimension of your life? If not, why not? What steps do you need to take to think and live more biblically today?
Billy Graham warned us: “If you are ignorant of God’s word, you will always be ignorant of God’s will.” Søren Kierkegaard observed, “When you read God’s word, you must be constantly saying to yourself, ‘It is talking to me and about me.'” Mark Batterson makes the same point a little differently: “When you open your Bible, God opens his mouth.”
Dwight Moody noted: “I never saw a useful Christian who was not a student of the Bible.”
Will you be a “useful Christian” today?
For more on today’s theme, please see my latest blog, “My hotel’s impressive fitness center and a foundational lesson for disciples.”
NOTE: I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Holy Land many times over the years, and God never ceases to amaze me each time I go. That’s why I want to share some of the wonder of this incredible part of the world with you in my 47-day Lenten devotional coffee table book called To Follow in His Footsteps. It’s specifically designed to be used in the weeks leading up to the Holy Day of Easter, so I hope you’ll request your copy today.