Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 26, 2013

Stumptalk: Understanding judicial opinions

By Jim Sykes
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — When you hear or read about an opinion of the Supreme Court, or any court, what do you think it means? Are you automatically obligated to obey the ruling outlined in the opinion even if you disagree?

Every court opinion is the result of a lawsuit at some level of the judicial system and must follow certain rules in order to be considered by any court. Each defendant must be personally served with a summons in order to be considered part of the lawsuit. Anyone who is not a part of the lawsuit is not permitted to participate and, therefore, is not legally subjected to the outcome of the lawsuit. The only reason that most people believe otherwise is due to what is commonly called precedence. This simply means that when a court opinion is issued, if the facts and applicable law in that case are similar to the facts and applicable law in other cases, then judges will normally apply the opinion in the first case to all following similar cases.

Problems arise when we are told that the court opinion is “case law.” Judges are not authorized to write laws. In our system of government only our legislatures can write laws and these laws must be approved before they actually become enforceable. When a judge issues an opinion, he is simply stating that his interpretation of the facts and applicable law in the case before him (or her) requires the opinion he is giving. All judges are human and are susceptible to human error, even the nine justices on our Supreme Court. This being true, we must consider the probability that some of the opinions rendered by our courts will be in error. We have the right, authority and responsibility to correct those erroneous opinions by the actions of our elected state representatives in the legislature? This is the reason that nullification has been recognized as the proper remedy longer than our country has been in existence. The principle of nullification is misunderstood and is being intentionally misrepresented by its opponents who want the courts to have the power to write laws. Even federal law is not always the supreme law.

If you understand our system of government, you should be aware that the original thirteen states created the federal government and our U.S. Constitution specifically enumerated the powers that the states granted to the federal government. If a power is not granted to the federal government in the Constitution, then the federal government is not authorized to legislate in that area and any attempt to do so is void or voidable even if the Supreme Court holds otherwise. The Constitution does not authorize the Supreme Court to change the Constitution or any laws legally enacted by Congress. All Supreme Court opinions indicating otherwise are, likewise, also void or voidable.

Courts do not have the authority to enforce any of their opinions except by contempt against persons personally before the court. Courts must depend on law enforcement agencies and the courts are not authorized to require law enforcement agencies to take any specific action unless that law enforcement agency has been part of a lawsuit in which an opinion is rendered.

All of us need to become more familiar with our federal government and how it is supposed to function. By reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, we can more fully understand the meaning and purpose of our federal government so that we can be more responsible citizens and protect our rights. The Constitution cannot protect our rights unless we the people understand its provisions.

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Stumptalk is published weekly in the Crossville Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. To contact Stumptalk, email coordinator Jim Sykes at