Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Debaters - "An Unjust Law Is No Law At All"

Last night I watched Denzel Washington's and Forrest Whitaker's "The Debaters," the true story about the tiny all-Black Wiley College (Texas) debate team that went undefeated for ten years (~1935-45) against the likes of Harvard, just out on DVD - highly recommended.

One St. Augustine maxim, quoted in a debate scene by one of the leads in support of Civil Disobedience, stands out: "An Unjust Law is No Law At All."

Majorities sometimes pass oppressive laws; and it is the right, or even the duty, of fairminded people to resist, whether (to paraphrase the closing lines in the movie's debate argument) "by violence, or by civil disobedience. You should pray that I choose the latter."

. . . . .

This line of thought speaks to the proper role for courts in the constitutional system: it is the courts' judicial role, through judicial review, to protect minority and individual interests from oppressive impulses of the majority.