The Supreme Court and Libel

By Clifton O. Lawhorne | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

Until one encounters an analysis of the decision-making process within the membership of the Supreme Court of the United States one is inclined to assume that the principles of freedom and responsibility are as compatible as yin and yang. Was not much of the struggle of the American colonists against oppressions of royal and proprietory masters directed against the Star Chamber common law of sedition? Was not that issue settled when the states and commonwealths adopted the Constitution amended, in compromise, to guarantee freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition redress of grievances? Yes and no. Imperfect man, forever destined to create imperfect institutions, yet seeking to resolve the dilemma of his distaste of the monolithic and his fear of anarchy, by compromise, arrived at a compact intended to establish a rule of law to be sustained in debate and further compromise by the will of the governed in what we have learned to call democratic procedures.

One of the greatest imperfections inherent in the Constitution, a vaguely defined division of responsibilities between central government and its component parts, immediately spawned dissentions still unresolved in the dialectics of national sovereignty and states' rights. Strict constructionism prevailed until it was necessary by force of arms to prove once and for all that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As with the ten amendments called the Bill of Rights, again the Constitution was saved by synthesis achieved in the three revisions now known as the Reconstruction amendments. Within this framework of orderly procedure the democratic process today continues, with relatively minor and temporary instances of violence, in the form of ongoing popular debate with consensus

-ix-

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