Scales of justice require delicate balance

Jim Redwine

Five-foot, four-inch tall “Little Jimmy,” James Madison Jr. (1751-1836), applied his gigantic intellect to melding the Natural Law theory of John Locke (1632-1704) and the Separation of Powers theory of Charles Montesquieu (1689-1755) into the Constitution of the United States.

Locke and Montesquieu postulated that all things being equal, no person should harm another in his/her life, liberty, health or possessions. They, along with Madison, also believed that every person who has power is apt to abuse it. Therefore, governments are necessary to keep individual power in check, but the power of government must also be kept in check.

According to Edgar Bodenheimer (1908-1991) in his treatise on jurisprudence:

“The basic idea of the American Declaration of Independence as well as the Bill of Rights is the recognition of the natural and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, as conceived by Locke, while the main body of the United States Constitution is a practical application of Montesquieu’s doctrine of separation of powers. The connection between these two doctrines in the American government is made by the theory of judicial review. The United States Supreme Court has held that, in order to guarantee the enforcement of natural rights, the power to make laws must be separated not only from the power to execute laws, but also from the power to review laws with their regard to their conformity with higher principles, as recognized by the United States Constitution. Thus, in the United States the courts, and especially the United States Supreme Court, have assumed guardianship over natural law.”

(See Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence at p. 146)

This separation of powers has served America well since 1789. As is to be expected in matters as complex as government and politics, the powers of the three branches have each waxed and waned from time to time. However, we have always managed to keep our democracy by remaining moored to the rock upon which it was founded.

Just as our founders recognized that individuals and governments will abuse power unless checked, they also recognized the danger and guarded against any of the three branches having unfettered power.

The wisdom of Madison, et. al., is once again being tested. Has the Executive Branch gone outside its traces and incited violence against the Legislative Branch? Has the Legislative Branch blurred the boundaries that should keep all three branches separate by both charging an impeachment and then filling the role of the Judicial Branch by having one of its own members serve as the presiding officer at the trial? And, has the Judicial Branch been marginalized because the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will not be serving as the neutral and detached trial judge as designed by our Founders.

For as Bodenheimer points out, “Any abuse of its power by the legislature should be curbed by the Judiciary Branch of the government, to which falls the duty of declaring void all statutes which are repugnant to the Constitution.” (See Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence, at page 148.) Perhaps Chief Justice John Roberts and the rest of the Supreme Court are anticipating being confronted with such an issue later.

The crimes that were committed on Jan. 6, 2021. are being investigated and several alleged perpetrators have already been identified and charged. Numerous others will and should be. America’s normal criminal justice system can fairly and efficiently provide due process to those involved.

If Donald Trump committed any state or federal crimes either on or before Jan. 6, 2021, he can be prosecuted separately from the impeachment. And if a pardon is considered it would cover only federal offenses.

In our current test of our charter’s application, the Legislative Branch has filed an article impeaching the head of the Executive Branch, former President Donald Trump. It is alleged he engaged in:

“[H]igh crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States” on Jan. 6 and for in the months preceding Jan. 6, repeatedly issuing false statements asserting that the presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by state or federal officials.

The Article of Impeachment was returned against Trump on Jan. 13, while he was still the acting president. On Jan. 25, after Trump’s term had ended, the Article of Impeachment was sent to the Senate for trial. The Senate has set the trial to begin Feb. 9, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, to preside and the senators to serve as jurors.

Article I, Section Three, of the U.S. Constitution provides that in the trial of the President of the United States the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. For reasons not yet fully explained, Roberts will not be involved, so only two of our three equal branches of government will be embroiled in this matter of grave national concern. It is suggested that this is because Trump is no longer president. However, that does not take into consideration the bedrock reason why the Founders made it mandatory for the Judicial Branch to be involved.

The impact of this omission upon public confidence in the fairness of the process is worthy of consideration. After all, it is not Trump’s fate that is most important, but the country’s faith in the process that determines that fate. However, this faith might be shaken by a trial where the role of a “neutral and detached magistrate” is filled by a member of the body that both files and prosecutes the charge. Symbolism is important, and a level scales of justice is one of our nation’s most potent and delicately balanced symbols.