By Guest Blogger Steve Harvey, a partner at Pepper Hamilton and counsel in the Dover intelligent design case
It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since Judge Jones handed down his famous decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, also known as the intelligent design case. He received much praise and some scorn for that decision. The praise was for enforcing the First Amendment in the face of a blatant and fundamentally dishonest attempt by the school board to promote a non-scientific, religious alternative to evolution in public school science class. The scorn came from several misguided national commentators who suggested that because he was appointed by a Republican president, he should have disregarded his oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States and favored the school board defendants and their attempt to promote religion.
Thankfully, Judge Jones followed his instincts, his oath, and the law, but the criticism reminded us of the importance of judicial independence. This issue rears its ugly head yet again this week as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is vying to become the Republican presidential nominee, made a public statement attacking the federal judiciary. He decried what he sees as a “steady encroachment of secularism through the courts to redefine America as a nonreligious country.” And he said that he would force judges to defend unpopular decisions before Congressional hearings, arresting them to secure their appearance if necessary.
It’s hard to believe that anyone would take these comments seriously, but Mr. Gingrich apparently believes that incendiary attacks on federal judges for doing their jobs will help him win some votes. Let’s hope he is wrong and these attacks backfire on him. And let’s remember all of the federal and state judges who do their jobs every day by enforcing the law to the best of their ability, without fear or favor.
And while we are at it, let’s say a word of thanks to the everyday citizens, like the plaintiff parents in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, who stand up to injustice and illegality by serving as plaintiffs in the name of unpopular causes, like the right to guide their own children in matters of religion and faith. Whether Mr. Gingrich knows it or not, the right to be free from government interference in matters of religion and faith is at the very core of the American political and legal system. That’s why it’s in the First Amendment. We’re counting on brave citizens, independent judges, and vigilant civil rights advocates, like the ACLU, to make sure it never changes. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.