The Supreme Court’s Violations of Individual Rights (The Checks Don’t Balance Anymore!)

by | Jan 21, 2001 | POLITICS

The Founding Fathers entrusted the Supreme Court with the protection of the rights enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. By this standard, the proper yardstick for evaluating Supreme Court rulings is their impact on individual rights. Regrettably, the Court has abysmally failed to measure up to its responsibility. Far from […]

The Founding Fathers entrusted the Supreme Court with the protection of the rights enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. By this standard, the proper yardstick for evaluating Supreme Court rulings is their impact on individual rights. Regrettably, the Court has abysmally failed to measure up to its responsibility. Far from protecting man’s rights, the nation’s highest Court has been instrumental in multiple violations of rights over the last two centuries.

The principle of rights defines and sanctions man’s freedom of action in a social context, thus identifying the actions a man may properly undertake. The Declaration of Independence states that rights are inalienable, which means they are an inseparable aspect of human nature. The rights an individual possesses are not a privilege granted by society, but an acknowledgment and recognition of the most essential requirement of his existence qua man.

Unfortunately, even though man’s inalienable rights found recognition in the Declaration of Independence and were incorporated in the Constitution, they were negated by the prevailing morality. As a result, America’s commitment to its founding principle was tragically compromised. This has been manifested in the conduct of the Supreme Court throughout its history.

The Supreme Court’s violation of rights can be traced all the way back to the eighteenth century. In one of its very first decisions, Calder v. Bull (1798), the court ruled that “the right of property is conferred by society,” “private rights must yield to public exigencies,” and “if the owners should refuse voluntarily to accommodate the public, they must be constrained, as far as the public necessities require.” The altruist-collectivist ethics is clearly manifested in Calder v. Bull, which does not view property rights as inalienable, but as concessions from society, a profoundly collectivist notion.

The language of this ruling identifies the root cause of the all the violations of rights that have been perpetrated by the Supreme Court. The culprit here is the altruist-collectivist ethics, which remained unchallenged till the middle of the twentieth century.

From the outset America was plagued by the clash between a political system committed to the protection of man’s rights and a morality negating the value of man. Ayn Rand, an American novelist and philosopher, first identified the nature of this contradiction when she wrote that the right to the pursuit of happiness proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence is incompatible with the status of a sacrificial animal ascribed to man by altruism. This conflict explains how the Supreme Court could openly contradict the nation’s founding document.

Calder v. Bull reveals the foremost legal implication of the altruist-collectivist ethics, which consists of giving precedence to the needs of some people over the rights of others. In direct contrast to the Declaration of Independence, the nation’s highest court decided that rights can be alienated if so doing serves the needs of others. Since ethical premises govern political decisions, the morality of altruism-collectivism had to prevail over the political principles devised by the Founding Fathers.

In all the above respects Calder v. Bull turned out to be prophetic. Throughout US history the Supreme Court has held that rights are granted by society and can therefore be revoked whenever this would serve some social purpose. Pursuant to this line of reasoning, the Court has sanctioned the government’s power to violate individual rights and has consistently ruled that it is legitimate to sacrifice the rights of some people for the sake of satisfying the needs of others. These elements have been present in all the instances where the Supreme Court has run roughshod over individual rights over the last two centuries.

The influence of the altruist-collectivist ethics has been so dominant that all Justices have held the view that rights are dispensable and can be rightfully violated in order to achieve social goals. They have differed only with respect to concrete issues such as when, how, and to what extent it is proper to infringe on man’s rights.

As America started moving full-speed towards statism in the twentieth century, the Supreme Court acquired a more prominent role in the expansion of government power at the expense of individual liberties in all areas of life, including property, business, speech, religion, and sex. The Court’s crusade against rights became obvious at the time of World War I, when the Constitution was crumbling under the all-out assault of the Progressive Era.

Two chilling rulings during that period demonstrated that even the most explicit constitutional guarantees had become dead letters in the eyes of the Court. The first one upheld the military draft in the Selective Draft Law Cases of 1918. In response to the claim that such power violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition of involuntary servitude, the Supreme Court ruled that the exaction by the government from the citizen of the performance of his “supreme and noble duty” of defending the country in a war declared by “the great representative body of the people” did not constitute servitude. This language clearly reflects the Court’s sentiment that altruist-collectivist ethics override individual rights, which makes it proper for the government to compel individuals to sacrifice their liberty and their life if this is required to fulfill their duty to the collective.

Not only did the Supreme Court uphold the military draft, but at the same time it suppressed the free speech of those who condemned the draft as despotism and called on people to assert their rights. An anti-draft activist named Schenk and others were convicted of “espionage” because they allegedly caused “insubordination in the military and naval forces.” These individuals were not spies nor did they engage in any activities subversive of America’s war effort. Their “crime” consisted solely of distributing handbills denouncing the draft and urging Americans to resist it.

When the case reached the Supreme Court (1919), its unanimous ruling was that in time of war “many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight.” Thus the protection of free speech fell victim to the altruist-collectivist ethics, with the alleged guardians of the Constitution ruling that the freedom of speech ought to be brushed aside in the presence on an overriding social goal.

The Schenk ruling was an omen of several violations of the right to free speech in subsequent Supreme Court decisions. In direct contradiction to the First Amendment, the Court made a distinction between ideological and commercial speech, claiming that only the former is protected by the Constitution, while the latter may be properly infringed upon by the government. This spurious differentiation was made most explicit in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy (1976), where the Court ruled that its standard as to whether speech deserves constitutional protection is whether it merely “propose[s] a commercial transaction” or promotes “truth, science, morality, and arts in general,” claiming that only the latter category of speech is protected by the First Amendment. Again, the Court revealed its altruist-collectivist premises by establishing social utility as the criterion for determining whether speech ought to be protected or can be safely restricted by the government.

The suppression of commercial speech is but one instance of the abuse business has suffered in the hands of the Supreme Court. Over the years the Court has upheld antitrust laws, minimum wage laws, price controls, standards of “quality” and “safety,” affirmative action quotas, and other laws that trample on a businessman’s right to manage his property as he sees fit. The Supreme Court clearly holds the view that a man becomes public property by going into business, with the implication that businessmen do not enjoy inalienable rights, but can function only by permission of the collective.

No aspect of human activity has been left immune from the Supreme Court’s altruist-collectivist assault on man’s rights. Despite the constitutional prohibition of the enactment of laws “impairing the obligations of contracts,” the Supreme Court upheld legal tender laws (in the Gold Clause Cases, 1935), mortgage default (in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, 1934), and bans of racially restrictive covenants (in Shelly v. Craemer, 1948).

The First Amendment protection of religious freedom and free speech did not prevent the Supreme Court from banning polygamy among Mormons (in Reynolds v. United States, 1878) and imposing censorship (in Miller v. California, 1973, and Paris Adult Theater I v. Slayton, 1973). Contrary to the Fifth Amendment, the Court sanctioned the taking of private property without just compensation (in Goldblatt v. Town of Hempstead, 1962). Even private sexual practices fell victim to the altruist-collectivist Armageddon, as the Court upheld the anti-sodomy statutes of states like Arizona, Virginia, and Washington, which criminalize sexual practices occurring in an “unnatural manner” (in the language of the Arizona law).

It is clear that, as long as the Supreme Court persists in practicing the contradiction between inalienable rights and the altruist-collectivist ethics, it is man’s rights that will lose out. It is also clear that, without a fundamental change in philosophy, Supreme Court decisions will never recognize the inalienable status of individual rights. Just as the pernicious morality of altruism has led the Supreme Court to violate its constitutional role and suppress the rights it was founded to protect, a morality of rational self-interest is the necessary prerequisite for a fundamental change in the Supreme Court’s direction.

The task before us is obvious. It is essential to challenge the altruist-collectivist orthodoxy of our time and firmly defend the ethics of rational self-interest, which is the only antidote to the contradiction between man’s rights and the altruist-collectivist morality. This is the only way of restoring the inalienable rights of man as the foundation of the American system of government

Dr. Emmanuel Foroglou runs a web site at

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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