I understand where Jedediah Purdy is coming from when he criticizes the Supreme Court as an anti-democratic institution, but I think Purdy is wrong about his most important point. If there is one strength to the Court it is precisely its ability to project authority. They do this effectively, which explains why they are by far the most respected branch of government. They accomplish this in part by maintaining a degree of Delphic mystery to their institution, and in part through pomp and circumstance.

We should not take it for granted that this country didn’t fall into violence when the Bush/Gore election ended in what was essentially a tie. You can look at other countries like Ukraine or Egypt where there is no corresponding civil authority with the credibility to arbitrate who should be in power. It was important that Gore accepted what was essentially an unjust decision, but it was only because the people respected the Court that they followed their leader and stood down.

More often than not, the conservative Court rules against my beliefs and values, but I believe it’s important that we have an authority that has the final word and that that institution be respected. Efforts to demystify the Court and discredit it are likely to result not in the reforms that Purdy contemplates, but in a loss of faith in the last governmental branch that has some healthy support from the people.

Societies can hold together or fly apart, depending on whether or not consent among the governed can be maintained. With Congress split the way it is, and our country sorting itself into like-minded communities that disagree with each other with increasing vehemence, we can’t afford to undermine that consent any further.

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