Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Supremes Greatest Hits

Americans recognize that their Supreme Court (SC) has great influence in their daily lives. Although most would not be able to name a Supreme Court decision that affects daily life, people know that these decisions define the limits and scope of their liberties and that of the Federal and state governments. Americans call the SC justices "supremes". They are members of the only branch of government that is not elected and have no term limits. The Chief Justice can serve for life.

I bought a book entitled "Supremes Greatest Hits" by Michael Trachtman which is not about Diana Ross and cabal but the 34 SC decisions that have changed American society. Since the Philippines Supreme Court borrows from US jurisprudence, some of these decisions affect Philippine society too. Filipinos look to their SC as the court of final appeal and guardian of the constitution. The Marbury vs. Madison (1803) decision established that the SC is really supreme in the sense that it has the right to strike down any law contrary to the constitution. This is accepted legal principle in the US, Philippines and all constitutional democracies.

The USSC has its worst decision too. The infamous Dred Scott decision "that ruled that people of African descent, whether or not they were slaves could never be citizens of the United States, and that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories" is believed to be one of the sparks for the Civil War. Some legal scholars opine that the decision giving George W Bush the presidency was the worst.

Other decisons that are now popular culture include the "Miranda decision" and the decision that makes it unlawful to deny the accused counsel because of poverty. These decisions are written into the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. Other decisions have an distincly American flavor, such as the one prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Perhaps a Pinoy lawyer should write something like this. I think Justice Isagani Cruz should write a Pinoy Supremes greatest hits. I can think of only three decisions that affected Filipino society recently. One is settling the question whether Erap Estrada resigned or abandoned his office, the one striking down Gloria's emergency powers last February and the one defining what "People's Initiative" is in amending the constitution.

Of course there are other decisions of equal or greater importance, nobility or ignominy. Cayetano Arellano is still revered by lawyers as a great Chief Justice. But the public knows nothing about why he is so except perhaps graduates of Arellano University. It is said he penned importance decisions that defined our legal system. I wonder what these were?

The Pinoy Supremes Greatest Hits should be written in Filipino and in English so that most people can read it and in doing so realize that liberties are not to be taken for granted. It should be inexpensive. The American version costs only 8.95 dollars and is printed on good book paper. The author intended it to be inexpensive so many people can afford it.

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