The Roberts Court
Forget the written law for a moment, the countless pieces of legislation that govern our actions and the hallowed founding document to whose guidelines they must conform. Consider a different type of law, the true social contract: the unspoken but still unbreakable rules that dictate what behavior will earn us real-life friends and what behavior will yield weekend nights sitting alone in our rooms watching a different type of Friends on Tivli.
A firm grasp of these rules goes much further toward getting off on the right foot freshman year of college than does an equally solid understanding of the Necessary and Proper clause of the Constitution. Certainly, knowing the extent of Congress’s power does nothing to inform a clueless freshman at what point in the year it becomes uncouth to seat oneself next to strangers in Annenberg.
Friday, as daily life in Boston and surrounding neighborhoods all but ground to a halt in the midst of a massive manhunt for the so-called Marathon bomber, the nation sent suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a message: “You blew up our children, gunned down our officers, and terrorized our city. You won’t get away with it. This is war.” But was it?
In the wake of Tsarnaev’s arrest, the government found itself in a quandary. Should Tsarnaev face judgment in a domestic court with the associated protections enshrined in Article III of the Constitution, or should he wait indefinitely in military detention without access to a lawyer or trial? The answer to this question hinged on whether Tsarnaev counted as a criminal or as an enemy combatant, a once crystal-clear distinction that has become increasingly murky as the definition of war has expanded.
Is privacy in its death throes?
If so, the Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves—when they penned the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, protecting citizens from searches performed without probable cause and a warrant, they enshrined privacy as a defining feature of American democracy. The rise of the information age, however, has marched privacy up to the gallows and threatened to tighten a noose around its neck.
I’m 19 years old. I can buy a lottery ticket. I can drive my car across the country. I can vote and help determine the president. I can become my younger brother’s legal guardian. I can enlist in the army and risk getting shot to death on the front lines. I can buy and smoke cigarettes that could turn my lungs black, shriveled, and cancer-ridden. But I cannot enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or sip a beer as I watch the Superbowl.
In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which raised the drinking age in the United States from 18 to 21. Nearly two decades later, the law still makes little sense. Not only is the law incongruous with government’s having deemed 18-year-olds mature enough to act as adults in almost every other aspect of their lives, but prohibiting college students from consuming alcohol in the open promotes a dangerous culture of binge drinking behind closed doors.
“Do you think you and your friends are afraid of succeeding?” my mother asked across the dinner table last week. I shook my head emphatically.
“I think we’re afraid of not succeeding,” I responded between bites of a sumptuous feast of homemade eggplant parmesan and pasta.