Harry Jaffa is a teacher of mine. People often say how he is the cross I bear. He is not. He is a teacher of mine. So, when it came to me to wonder who should say the words over him tonight (he's not dead yet), I thought maybe I should do it. Of course, I wanted to do it. Then, I thought maybe I should not do it, maybe someone else should do it.
Mike Joyce is the name that came to me — a thinking man, a citizen.
Thank you, Tom Phillips — a thinking man, a citizen.
Thank you, Professor Jaffa. He is an employee of mine now. If ever the terms "employer" and "employee" were strained, it is in the relationship between Professor Jaffa and myself. I sometimes say to him, "The good news about the relationship between you and me is that nobody really thinks I tell you what to do. And so you can do more than you could if people did think I told you what to do."
A long time ago, I was about to be a lawyer, and I read a book by Harry Jaffa. I thought to myself, "I cannot go and become a lawyer because I do not know what this book means, but I can tell that it is very great. And I can tell that it is about the heart of what our country means. And so I should go and learn what is in that book." And here I am today, and in that curious way, the man is an employee of mine. And I should say before the world, for all the trouble that he causes, it is one of the proudest things in my life.
Maybe what I get to do tonight is the second proudest — after my wife and children, of course.
Professor Jaffa led us to love the standard of the American Revolution and to get inside that standard — to learn what George Washington was, in fact, like; what Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, like; what was the condition of this city when Abraham Lincoln gave his first Inaugural Address.
We think of all the difficulties we have today, and they are nothing compared to that. And we learn form Harry Jaffa that that was the top thing, that was the greatest thing: a vindication of the rights of every human being — in a condition of war — by a brave, wise, and statesman-like man.
There is a danger that comes from studying that way. You will forget that if politics are natural and human beings have a nature, that excellence requires to be reproduced from time to time and can be. You could slip into the danger of becoming depressed about the current scene.
Last night, Congressman Rogan did me the honor of reading something I wrote in that controversial proceeding that he is involved in. Just before he did it, my mother called me and she said, "That Jim Rogan — he's the one you know, isn't he?" I said, "Yes, I know him." She said, "He looks tired. Would you call him and tell him that he needs to sleep more?"
My mother used to say that to me. I said to her, "You know, mother, I will call him and tell him that." The reason is I must not forget that the fight he is fighting is just like the fight that has been fought before. I must not forget that, however much I love what was done before.
That brings me to the introduction I must make. The Constitution of the United States is meant to be a permanent and fixed and limited form of government. Key in it is a court — the court to be outside, in part, of the popular will, to determine that it will not exceed its limits. This surely is an age in which that idea is strained.
A recent first Inaugural Address by a President of the United States began:
This ceremony is held in the depth of winter, but by the words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the Spring — a Spring reborn in the world's oldest democracy that brings forth the vision and the courage to re-invent America.
"Force the Spring." Men, by their will, changing the natural seasons. When a member of the Supreme Court — currently sitting — was nominated, in his confirmation hearings Senators of both parties asked him the question: "Where did you get this odd idea of the Natural Law?" It is in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. And a recent Inaugural Address begins with a rebellion against this idea of nature; it is the will to compel nature.
And so, what is the limit? If the idea of nature is gone, what becomes of the idea of the consent of the governed? And if the idea of the consent of the governed is gone and if in replacement of it there is an engineering project which the government is engaged in to change the seasons of the year, among other things, what becomes of limited and definite constitutional government?
In a recent State of the Union Address, the President of the United States addressed himself for a minute and a half — I timed it — to the question: what would children do between the hours of three and five in the afternoon? The rest of the day was mostly taken care of, but what about three to five? I wondered, while he said those words, what is left that the federal government could not address itself to?
How would we get the Constitution back in a time like this, when the principles behind it are eroded and rejected and when the government assumes that it may do as it pleases? It would require courage. It would require sight.
Of course, I do not speak, in any sense, for the constitutional officer whom it is my duty to introduce. He is above me, because, under the document made by the people, he holds a high station. But, to admire him from afar, I wish to do.
What sort of man would have the sight to see the limits on the government and the courage to stand up for them? And how would such a person get in a place, actually, to do it?
In the case of Missouri v. Jenkins (June 12, 1995), one of the most unfashionable things written in contemporary politics is written in a concurring opinion: "It never ceases to amaze me," he says, "that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior." It would take courage to write such a sentence in a document like that.
In the case of Adarand Contractors v. Pena (June 12, 1995):
As far as the Constitution is concerned, it is irrelevant whether a government's racial classifications are drawn by those who wish to oppress a race, or by those who have a sincere desire to help those thought to be disadvantaged. There can be no doubt that the paternalism that appears to lie at the heart of this program is at war with the principle of inherent equality that underlies and infuses our Constitution.
The footnote reads: See Declaration of Independence.
Some have complained that that is all there is there, but just as the Founders wanted a Declaration and a Constitution — not one or the other — so today, the original understanding would be to want them both, too.
So, too, in the case of Missouri v. Jenkins, when the equity power of the courts is at issue, and in the case of United States v. Lopez, when the meaning of the commerce clause — which is the excuse by which the President decides what children may do between three and five in the afternoon — when the meaning of that is at stake, then the people who are the most serious about the principle of consent of the governed, and, therefore, the most serious about the sanctity of the Constitution, go and look and see what is the original meaning of the phrases in question.
The man that I am to introduce has made himself, in his short tenure on the Court, the supreme jurist in the land and ranked himself with the greatest.
This is our 20th year. For 20 years — first, young and foolish and naive; now, old and determined — we have said that the Declaration and the Constitution must together be authoritative in the law of our land. And we wish that to happen.
The Declaration does not mean that the government may pick people by the color of their skin. The Constitution does not mean that the President may decide what children may do between three and five in the afternoon. Neither, together nor separately, mean that the federal government may do whatever it pleases because it pleases or because it conceives of itself as a grand engineering project to perfect the society.
As an organization, it is not our job to practice statesmanship. We are not so good at that. It is our job to teach what it is and, if we are good enough, to recognize it when we see it.
Upon this 20th anniversary, speaking for him in no sense and after 20 years of work, we thought to ourselves: There is just one person who must be here tonight, if we can beg him to come. And he has come, Clarence Thomas.
- The Virtue of Practical Wisdom by Clarence Thomas