Tuesday, January 28, 2014


George Mason was an American patriot who participated in the 1787 convention in Philadelphia that drafted the Constitution of the United States.

But he didn’t sign it.

Mason had a premonition. He feared that the new nation would vibrate between a monarchy and a “corrupt oppressive aristocracy.”

He was not alone. Between 1787 and 1791 the entire nation was absorbed in the debate over ratification of the new charter. Fear of the abuse of centralized power was at the root of most opposition. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote detailed arguments– lawyers would call them briefs – in favor of ratification. They became known as the Federalist Papers and they made a strong case.

But it was only an argument about what the future might hold. The true believers were confident that they had designed the best plan for the future of the American people. Perhaps George Mason and Patrick Henry of Virginia, James Winthrop of Massachusetts and Melancton Smith of New York were wrong. Perhaps they were just pessimists who would not let themselves see the silver lining.

On the other hand…

It is just possible that those naysayers were sounding an alarm about what could happen, what might happen, indeed what would happen, if the people of the states became too complacent, too content, too willing to let others take the lead, make the decisions, run the country.

So here we are, 230 years later. More than 90% of the American people have lost confidence in the Congress. Our President openly talks about ruling the nation by executive fiat. Our Supreme Court blandly goes about the theological business of dictating the cultural mores of three hundred million people who are spread over 16 percent of the inhabitable land mass of planet Earth.

And where do these learned men and women, these modern day Pharisees come from? They march down the Ivy corridor that runs from Cambridge Massachusetts to Washington D.C. with short stops in New Haven, Connecticut and New York City to join the self anointed cadre of the intellectual elite, the heirs of a self perpetuating, self aggrandizing, self adulating, self promoting ruling class who see themselves as the brightest and the best, and who simply assume that everyone else in the world thinks so, too.

Let’s see. All nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court were educated at Harvard, Yale or Columbia. The President of the United States attended Columbia University and graduated from the Harvard Law School. That’s two of the three branches of our national government.

Some years ago, when I was Dean of the Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, I noticed that all of the law clerks in the United States Supreme Court had graduated from one of four or five law schools. I wrote a letter to then Chief Justice Warren Berger and asked if there was any way for graduates of the other 165 law schools to be considered for those important and prestigious positions.

Berger replied that his former law clerks acted as a search committee and always provided him with able candidates for clerkships.

I wrote and suggested that there must be a better way. Then I asked the deans of all American law schools to nominate one graduating senior they felt was outstanding, and for several years we published the “National Law School Dean's List” with pictures and biographies of law graduates all across America.

The Supreme Court paid no attention. They have no need for outsiders. It’s an attitude that pervades our nation’s capital. But it is being challenged.

There is a spirit of revolt across the land. One of its provocateurs is Jimmy Wales, the Founder and Proprietor of Wikipedia. Educated by his mother and grandmother in a one room school house in Alabama, Jimmy has set about providing free access to the entire knowledge base of the human race.

More and more, people are learning that in the twenty-first Century, it's not who you know but what you know that counts. Can the Internet save the Republic?

I think so. And I certainly hope so.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece Judge Brennan! The status quo holds onto power with crusty skeletal steeliness—your leadership in promoting decentralized solutions (read: Article V Convention) to those corrupt, decrepit corridors of power has been an inspiration for more folks than you realize!