The woman credited with defeating the Equal Rights Amendment was on the Radcliffe campus last week to discuss the current target in her crosshairs: judicial activism.
Phyllis Schlafly, who received her master’s in government from Harvard in 1945, delivered the first of the 2007-08 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Dean’s Lectures on Monday (Oct. 15).
The activist, author, and founder of the Eagle Forum, a grassroots organization that promotes citizen participation in government, focused her aim squarely on what she calls the country’s activist judges and their “supremacist” attitude. She believes that they are influencing the culture of the country with decisions that have no basis in the U.S. Constitution.
Schlafly, author of “The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges And How to Stop It,” said that the role of a judge should be like that of a baseball umpire.
“Our nation needs judges for the same reason that a baseball game needs an umpire; someone has to call the balls and strikes,” she said. But, she argued, fans would never accept an umpire who changed the rules of the game. “And likewise we should not tolerate judges who ignore, bypass, or change the wording of the Constitution.”
Her talk at the Agassiz Theatre in Radcliffe Yard before a modest crowd was titled “The Culture Wars in the Courts” and examined six cultural areas: property rights, parents’ rights, pornography restrictions, abortion regulations, and religion, all of which she said have been significantly influenced by recent court decisions.
Schlafly gave her talk in a rapid-fire style, possibly honed in the 1940s when she put herself through college as a gunner testing ammunition in rifles and machine guns. She didn’t miss a beat when approximately 20 students, many of them from Harvard Divinity School, stood early in her lecture and filed silently out of the hall to protest what they called her “ministry of hate.”
According to Schlafly, Chief Justice Earl Warren was at the heart of what she sees as the breakdown of the Supreme Court. His appointment in 1953, she contended, opened the door to a host of far-reaching social, political, and economic decisions that continue to the present day.
“In the 1950s, Chief Justice Warren set out to make the Supreme Court the most powerful branch of government,” she said.
And where the Supreme Court goes, asserted Schlafly, the lower federal courts follow.
Parents’ rights have been deeply affected by the judicial system, she said.
“In 2005, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that parents’ fundamental rights to control the upbringing of their children does not extend beyond the threshold of the school door,” said Schlafly. That ruling, she argued, has exposed children to a wide range of material chosen by the schools that is “pornographic, depressing, age-inappropriate and uses language that is profane.”
In 1954, Schlafly said, the Warren court re-interpreted the wording in the Fifth Amendment that prohibits the government from taking private property except for a public use to read public interest, or purpose. That change led to a trend of aggressive property acquisition nationwide, Schlafly argued, that wrested private property out of the hands of private citizens and gave it to corporations that could pay higher taxes.
In the 1960s, Schlafly said, the court reversed dozens of pornography cases, “making laws against obscenity impossible to enforce and thereby drastically lowering community decency standards.”
That new freedom, she added, had a negative impact on society that extended into neighborhood movie theaters.
“In 1965, the ‘best picture’ was ‘The Sound of Music,’ she said. “In 1969, the ‘best picture’ was ‘Midnight Cowboy.’”
The author defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman and said it has suffered under activist judges. Schlafly said one has to look no further than the ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 that legalized same-sex marriage to find what she called a “broadside attack on our culture.”
The Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that struck down abortion laws across the country, “grabbed a legislative function away from state legislatures and imposed a judicial fiat without any textual basis in the U.S. Constitution,” said Schlafly.
Religion, too — a fundamental part of the moral fiber of the nation, said Schlafly — has been cast aside by the courts. She cited the example of the 9th Circuit Court, which ruled unconstitutional the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its reference to God, and the Warren Court’s restrictions on prayer and Bible reading in public schools.
In responding to questions after her talk, Schlafly returned time and again to her basic premise that the courts should adhere to the strict language of the Constitution and not use terms such as “emerging awareness” or “evolving standards” to broaden its definition and impose their own personal beliefs about culture on society.
“The only reasonable basis for a court decision is the language of the Constitution itself,” she said.
She also urged Congress to limit the power of the judiciary.
“[It’s] the duty of Congress to restore the judiciary to its proper role and to protect America from judicial usurpation.”