Viewpoint: Understanding judicial system is crucial for presidential candidates

Reubin BW new titleBy Reubin Turner
City Editor

Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president this past week, and several have begun to take a deeper look at Cruz’s social and political stances on past issues. One of the most intriguing positions Cruz has taken is one concerning his views on Second Amendment gun rights. Being that Cruz attended the nation’s top law school, Harvard Law, I find it questionable that Cruz has allowed personal opinion to cloud his judgement on the constitutionality of laws that place restrictions on the Second Amendment.

In 2013, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill to the Senate that outlawed certain weapons and firearms. Feinstein said these restrictions would have applied only to high-powered, military weapons used in close combat.

During the reading of the bill in a Senate Judiciary hearing, Cruz asked Feinstein several times about her opinion on whether or not the bill was constitutional. When Feinstein responded by saying she felt tests posed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision of District of Columbia v. Heller would cover weapons restricted in the bill, Cruz asked if she felt Congress should be in the business of specifying what should and should not be available to the American public. Feinstein shrewdly responded, “Sir, Congress is in the business of making law. The Supreme Court interprets the law.”

Throughout the course of the American history, the role of the Supreme Court has become more and more essential in interpreting the Constitution, starting primarily with the idea of judicial review established in Marbury v. Madison.

This idea of judicial review gives the court the ability to strike down a law or parts of a law it deems unconstitutional. Laws that deal with constitutional amendments, in particular, have received the most attention by the press, politicians and political pundits that champion individual freedom.

While I do agree that there are certain rights afforded to citizens by the U.S. Constitution that should in no way be infringed, I have one question I’d like to ask Cruz: Would you like for your children to be taught pornograpghic material in an educational setting? With Cruz’s logic, this may be acceptable.

Although certain forms of pornography are protected by the First Amendment as a form of free speech, there are several laws that prohibit the teaching of pornographic materials in school. It’s possible that one could see this as a restriction on the First Amendment, thus making it unconstitutional for those taking an extremist approach to interpreting the nation’s governing documents.

However, Congress and the Supreme Court have deemed these and restrictions on other amendments, as necessary to protecting the integrity of the American people, while simultaneously safeguarding the First Amendment.

One of the ways the Supreme Court determines whether or not a law is constitutional is through the conducting of a test of some sort, which usually deals with the spirit of the amendment, rather than exact wording. Tests such as the Miller, Lemon and Neutrality tests are all used by the court from previous court decisions to help assist them in determining if a law is unconstitutional.Once again, these tests more or less help the Supreme Court weigh the social costs of enacting the law versus the spirit of the amendment(s) in question.

What I cannot understand then, is why Cruz and 59 of his Senate colleagues voted against the passage of Feinstein’s gun bill. I’ve no doubt that as intelligent as Cruz is, he understands that private American citizens do not need a bazooka or other military weapons to protect themselves and their families.

This, I believe is the intent of the Second Amendment, the ability to provide protection. When some of these high-powered rifles are being used not to protect, but to dismember school-aged children in cities like Newtown, Conn., it is clear that changes need to be made.

If the exchange between Cruz and U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch during the Senate confirmation hearings are any indication, several issues will appear during the presidential campaign that will require Cruz and other candidates to clarify their positions on constitutional interpretation.

While I think Cruz does have the heart of the people in mind, I think it’s imperative for Cruz, as a serious contender, to reconsider some of his views on the strict interpretation of the Constitution.

This is an important step in ensuring to the American public he has a clear understanding of how the judicial system operates.

Reubin Turner is a senior economics major from Edmond, Okla. He is the city editor and a regular columnist for the Lariat. He is also the author of a weekly column in the Lariat’s business section called “The Bottom Line.”