The Force of Law

Not all legal formulations are of equal weight. The oaths noted earlier reflect the primary position of the Constitution. Public service is both rooted in and bound by the Constitution’s provisions. They are the ethical manager’s framework for action and the citizen’s basis for trust.

The responsibility for seeing that lesser laws conform to the Constitution lies with the Supreme Court. A public servant who renders a legal opinion on unconstitution- ality to justify his or her own noncompliance goes far beyond official competence and legal boundaries. When the elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 defied a federal district court order to remove a monument depicting the Ten Commandments from public display in the courthouse rotunda, the issue was not

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whether the monument was in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Courts recently have issued conflicting rulings over such displays, and the debate continues over whether they violate separation of church and state. The issue simply was whether the display was lawful. The state court’s associate justices ordered compliance, cited Article VI of the Constitution, and wrote that they were “bound by solemn oath to follow the law, whether they agree or disagree with it”. A special nine-member judicial court removed the chief justice from the bench.

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