Thomas Jefferson on the Supreme Court

Jefferson knew then what is clear to everyone now: The Supreme Court is designed to protect the oligarchy of the United States.

Let’s read:

Jefferson wrote a letter to Judge Spencer Roane, dated Sept. 6, 1819, says:

In denying the right they usurp of exclusively explaining the Constitution, I go further than you do, if I understand rightly your quotations from the Federalist, of an opinion that ‘the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the Government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived.’ If this opinion be sound, then, indeed, is our Constitution a complete felo do se [suicide]. For intending to establish three departments, coordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others; and to that one, too, which is unelected by, and independent of, the Union.

The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please. It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any Government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only at first, while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice as fast as that relaxes. Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law. My construction of the Constitution is very different from that you quote. It is, that each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution, in the cases submitted to its action, and especially where it is to act ultimately and without appeal. I will explain myself by examples, which, having occurred while I was in office, are better known to me, and the principles which governed them.

Again, on the 28th September, 1820, in writing to Mr. William Charles Jarvis, from Monticello, he says:

You seem, in pages 84 and 148, to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions — a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our Judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is, boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem, and their power the more dangerous, as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that, to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots.

Again, writing to Thomas Ritchie, on the 25th of December, 1820, he says:

The Judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our Constitution from a coordination of a general and special Government to a general and supreme one alone.

Thanks for reading,

One response to “Thomas Jefferson on the Supreme Court”

  1. My thoughts exactly. The SCOTUS has an abundance of power to change good or bad the entire direction of the USA. It is a difficult problem we now must face. Constitutional crisis is an understatement. I wrote a thesis in PolySci about this and similar issues about the US Constitution.

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