The Nominees: The Battle over Natural Law
Eons ago, two of my college fraternity roommates, T.Y. Hill and the late Bill Beebe, majored in Radio-Television-Drama. Occasionally, they would rope me into being in the chorus of one of their Greek tragedy class assignments such as Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea.
Of course, this then pre-law student was clueless as to the meaning of either play. In fact, I thought Antigone was pronounced: anti-gone. In recent years, however, I have come to understand that both of those ancient plays have a bearing on the drama we are about to see played out as the U.S. Supreme Court nominees of President Bush have their confirmation hearings.
Just in case the dog ate your Cliff’s Notes, Antigone’s brother, Polynices (Polly-ni-seas), was slain in battle. But King Creon wanted the animals to devour the body of Polynices. On pain of death, Creon forbade Antigone from burying her brother’s body which she did, anyway. When called to explain her disobedience, Antigone argued that she was responding to a higher law, a law higher than Creon’s – a Natural Law – that commanded her to do the decent and “right” thing by her dead brother.
In fact, Antigone argued that King Creon, and all rulers, derive their powers from this Natural Law which is their duty to enforce. In other words, some acts are just so correct and just and decent that even the village idiot understands them as precepts at the very core of humanity. Euripides will make a similar point in Medea.
But it wasn’t just a couple of Greek playwrights who were concerned about Natural Law. Aristotle said that Natural Law is determined by our understanding of who we are as human beings. Aristotle opined that certain acts are so foreign to our human nature that they are just flat wrong.
Both Saint Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about Natural Law as being ordained by a providential and caring God Who wants the best for His children who keep His laws which, of course, means Natural Law as codified in both The Hebrew Scriptures and The New Testament.
During his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Senate liberals and “Hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-scorned” Anita Hill, subjected Clarence Thomas to what now Associate Justice Thomas called: “a high-tech lynching.” But whether or not Thomas had spent office time telling Miss Hill dirty jokes was just a smokescreen. The liberals who were pulling Miss Hill’s strings were actually objecting to Thomas’ well-known belief in Natural Law.
So what about Natural Law is so objectionable to liberal U.S. Senators? For that answer we turn to Medea, the wife of Jason who, when Jason was out chasing after the Golden Fleece was “multi-tasking” with Creusa, the daughter of King Creon.
Medea was so ticked off with Jason’s infidelity that she decided the best way to punish Jason (and, for that matter, the audience) was to commit infanticide – to kill their two boys. I’ll spare you Medea’s soliloquies; however, she proffered what was probably the world’s first recorded “insanity” defense. Clearly, Medea understood she was about to commit an act against Natural Law, so she blames what she is about to do on insanity caused by her rage against the unfaithful Jason.
By the way, this Medea was one mean Mother. When Jason tried to marry Creusa, Medea sent Creusa an enchanted wedding gown that burst into flames, making a crouton of Creusa.
So, what does all this ancient history have to do with the Supreme Court nominees of 2005? The Bush nominees are sure to questioned about Natural Law. Any of them who say they do believe in Natural Law or even admit to the existence of Natural Law face a long, uphill confirmation battle.
Why? Because one of the most fundamental precepts of Natural Law is that (drum roll): Mothers do not kill their children – born or unborn. Class dismissed.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is a former professor of history and political science at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2005. William Hamilton.