You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich, judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19.15)
Merrick Garland from White House website on the day he was nominated by President Obama for the Supreme Court.
This week we are reading the “Holiness Code” of Leviticus. In addition to this calendrical position in the lectionary, the Reform Movement also chose this portion as the Torah reading for the afternoon of Yom Kippur. It is that important and fundamental to the ethical framework of Jewish teaching. The verse I have quoted above from the “Holiness Code” is addressed to judges. The admonition is clear. It is an eloquent expression of the aspiration of Biblical Israel to create a justice system in which everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. There have been various artistic representations throughout history of “Blind Justice,” which represent the Biblical aspiration. Judges are expected to render their decisions based upon their interpretation of the law, and not upon favoritism toward the rich or sympathy toward the poor.
In all the head-spinning of the last few months of the Presidential campaign, it has almost all but been forgotten that there remains a vacancy on the Supreme Court, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. President Obama, in fulfilling his Constitutional responsibility, has put forth a worthy candidate to be vetted and voted upon by the Senate. As yet, there has been virtually no movement on the approval and confirmation on Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. This is a blatant dereliction of duty on the part of the Senate. Justice seems to be the last thing on the minds of the senators who have refused to proceed with this Constitutional process until a new president takes office. At the moment, I won’t even begin to comment on the stakes for the future of American democracy if this obstructionism is allowed to continue.
While the United States is structured as a civil society and not a theocracy, there is no question that Biblical teaching informed the sensibilities of the framers of our Constitution and continues to inform our sensibilities as a nation. The notion of being “holy” within the Biblical framework means that the Jewish people are “set apart” from the surrounding peoples with regard to faith, religious observance, and ethical teachings. But the notion of being “set apart” ought to apply to the United States as well, with regard to our aspirations as nation to establish equal opportunity and equal treatment for all who come to these shores. If the judicial system is co-opted in a dangerous political tug-of-war, the risks to our democracy are very great. If we think of ourselves as a great nation, then we need to be better than that.