The Newnan Times-Herald


A Model for the Supreme Court

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jul. 04, 2018 - 7:50 AM

A Model for the Supreme Court

The Newnan Times-Herald

For the Supreme Court, how about a justice who interprets the Constitution according to its actual words and what they meant when the Founders wrote them?

Anything less opens a can of worms. If words don’t mean anything or can be trumped by somebody’s personal agenda, then why have a Constitution in the first place?

If I were choosing a justice to succeed Anthony Kennedy, I would pick someone like the best Chief Justice the Court ever had: Melville Weston Fuller.

He was born in Augusta, Maine, in 1833. He started a successful law practice in Illinois, where he would reside until his elevation to the Supreme Court by Pres. Grover Cleveland in 1888.

The Fuller court, encompassing a parade of justices during Fuller’s 22 years as Chief, stretched neither the law nor the Constitution beyond what the words say. When it found law to be in conflict with the Constitution, it usually sided with the latter, because liberty under the rule of law was its highest priority. It upheld the importance of a limited federal role, strengthened the states’ role in our federal system and defended contract and property rights.

When Prohibitionists in Iowa secured passage of a law forbidding the sale of an interstate shipment of liquor, Fuller wrote the majority opinion and declared the law an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause.

One of the Fuller court’s finest moments was its 1895 rejection of a federal income tax passed the previous year over the objections of Pres. Cleveland. Pleas that Congress needed the money, class warfare arguments and egalitarian claims against other people’s wealth carried little weight with Melville Fuller. The Constitution forbade direct taxation of that kind, and that was enough for him to ditch it.

To this day, the most controversial decision of the Fuller court was in the case of Lochner v. New York in 1905. New York’s Bakeshop Act of 1895 made it a criminal offense – for both the employer and the employee – for a bakery employee to work more than 10 hours in one day, with no exceptions.

Fuller joined the court’s majority in invalidating the act because they saw it as a violation of consenting parties’ right to engage in peaceful, mutually beneficial contracts. It was also condescendingly paternalistic toward workers. If workers could be drafted by the government to put their lives on the line in battle, why couldn’t they be trusted to decide if they wanted to work long hours in a bakery? The bakeshop owner didn’t force any employees to work long hours; he simply allowed them to when they requested it.

What a far cry from today, given that four of the current Court’s ultra-left wing justices favored compelling public sector workers to pay for union agendas they personally oppose. Two of those so-called “progressive” justices even had no problem with forcing a man to give up his business or design a cake for a purpose he objected to.

Melville Weston Fuller did his job. He never cooked up new constitutional duties for the Washington establishment to inflict on the people.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He can be reached at