Is an Opinion of the Supreme Court the ‘Law of the Land’? Let’s ask Thomas Jefferson. . .

Did our founders, after drafting a Declaration of Independence, fighting a war with England, and then sitting down to pen a national governing document (the Constitution) put in that document the right of a majority of federal judges to make laws for the entire nation?

Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis is testing the claim that five unelected Supreme Justices have the authority to overrule a state constitution that she took an oath to uphold and a federal Constitution that says nothing about same-sex marriage.

Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, had this to say on the issue in a Facebook post:

“Inasmuch as SCOTUS so obviously overreached and acted as though it had the power to amend the Constitution (and certainly as legislators), Kim Davis should not comply. I disagree with my friends Maggie Gallagher, Rod Dreher, and Ryan Anderson on this one. The Obergefell decision has no more validity than the Dred Scott case (or the Fugitive Slave Law) had in Lincoln’s day. Civil disobedience is commendable. The only problem with Kim Davis’s position (aside from the fact that she would better ground her rationale in the illegitimate action of the Five Lawless Justices than in religious liberty; h.t. Brian Troyer) is that mass resistance has not occurred on the part of Christians.”

The states have rolled over on the question of judicial supremacy, and Congress is too busy solidifying its power base to take on a nation-dividing fundamental issue. Governors don’t want to make waves and get involved in a protracted legal battle with the Federal government that has unlimited money to spend and ways to hold back federal funding (money it took from the states in taxes). Wouldn’t it be great if a dozen or so states banded together and said no to the usurpation of their states’ authority?

As I’ve been reminded several times, since the Constitution is the “supreme Law of the land,” the Tenth Amendment is part of the Constitution:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The power to regulate marriage was not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.

But back to the constitutional question about the Supreme Court being the final authority. Here’s what Thomas Jefferson had to say on the issue in a letter to William Charles Jarvis (28 September 1820).

I chose Jefferson because he is a liberal and neo-conservative icon.


You seem … 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” [it is the part of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction], 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.

It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.

If the legislature fails to pass laws for a census, for paying the judges and other officers of government, for establishing a militia, for naturalization as prescribed by the Constitution, or if they fail to meet in congress, the judges cannot issue their mandamus to them; if the President fails to supply the place of a judge, to appoint other civil or military officers, to issue requisite commissions, the judges cannot force him. …

The Constitution, in keeping three departments distinct and independent, restrains the authority of the judges to judiciary organs, as it does the executive and legislative to executive and legislative organs.

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