Justice Gray

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Justice Gray.

[Lysander Spooner, (unsigned)]

The appointment of Horace Gray, as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, adds more weight than light to that bench. He weighs, we suppose, about two hundred and seventy-five pounds. But his light is not at all proportionate to his weight We might as well expect to get light out of two hundred and seventy-five pounds of rump steak. Nevertheless, all this is just as it should be; for it is weight, and not light, that is wanted in Supreme Courts.

All governments, that assume to control their subjects arbitrarily, find it necessary to keep in their service some authority, or some tribunal, that shall be reverenced by the people, and that shall tell them that the sets of the government are all right, and obligatory; and that it is the moral duty of the people to obey and submit; that resistance or disobedience, on their part, is a great crime; a heinous sin against God and man.

In despotic governments, so-called, this service is performed by a State Church. The government gives great privileges, honors, and revenues to the Church, upon the condition that the Church will teach the people that the government is ordained of God; and that to disobey or resist it would be a great sin against God. In this way, the ignorant and superstitious people are kept in subjection to an arbitrary power that robs, enslaves, and murders them at its pleasure

We, in this country, have got rid of this superstition about the Church; and the consequence is that our government must have a substitute And this substitute it finds in its Supreme Court. It sets up a court of its own; selects its own judges, pays them as long as they sanction all its doings; but impeaches and removes them, if they fail to sanction them.

These judges, of course, do sanction all its doings; they are appointed, and paid, and sustained for that purpose, and no other. They understand perfectly the tenure, by which they hold their places, and govern themselves accordingly. And the government, whenever its tyranny or usurpations become atrocious, and cause an outcry, points to the decisions of its Supreme Court, as if that settled the matter.

In this way, the judges of a Supreme Court, in this country, serve the same purpose as do the dignitaries of a State Church in other countries, And the judges can be as safely relied upon, by the government, in this country, to sanction all its doings, as the dignitaries of a State Church can be to sanction all the doings of the government, on which they depend for their privileges and revenues. The judges are as much part and parcel of the conspiracy, in the one case, as the priests are in the other.

In either case, the judges and priests are simply tools and confederates, employed by the government, to overawe ignorant and superstitious people, and keep them in subjection. They are simply weights, which the governments throw upon the people, to prevent their rising to rebellion against the oppressions which the governments practice upon them.

Now, Gray is just the man for a service of this kind. He has no doubt that the government is entitled to arbitrary, irresponsible power over the people; or that it is the duty of the people to submit blindly to every thing the government does. If, in any particular case, any question should be raised, as to the right or justice of any act of the government, he can tell you that, for hundreds of years back, governments have been doing the same things, or other things equally outrageous; but that the people had no alternative but to submit; and that, therefore, they have no alternative now.

Now, this is exactly what is wanted of a judge of a Supreme Court. And that is why we say that Gray is the right man for the place. And it is the only thing he is fit for. And it is the only use that he will ever be put to, as long as he remains a member of the court.

His associates on the bench will, of course, welcome him as a brother. And they will all enjoy their dignities, and salaries, as long as they sanction all the usurpations and crimes which the government practices upon the people, and no longer.

It is to be hoped that a machine, to be called a Supreme Court, will sometime be invented, to be run by foot or horse power, and made to do the work now done by Supreme Courts—that is, to grind out opinions sanctioning every thing the government does. Then the services of such men as Gray and his associates will be no longer needed.

  • Lysander Spooner, “Justice Gray,” Liberty 1, no. 12 (January 7, 1882): 2.