In Greek and Roman drama, a deus ex machina is a fairly clumsy plot device in which a "god" is lowered onto to the stage to resolve the plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation. Apart from its role in drama, a deus ex machina might be a person or event that provides a sudden solution to a difficulty.
Well, this week, we learned that one shouldn't count on federal judges to play this role. Congress and the President tried to lower the federal judiciary onto the stage of the Terry Schiavo drama. The federal judiciary, eyes bulging at the flimsy rope and slipshod scaffold that had been hastily built, took one look at the chaos and very deliberately gave the audience the judicial equivalent of the middle finger.
This is a good thing.
Too often we expect our judges to be gods. Too often we want a judicial bow wrapped around a difficult social problem. Too often we expect them to be our deus ex machinas.
One problem with these expectations is that some problems just cannot be solved, and judges are the individuals least capable of solving them. Need an example? How about Roe v. Wade--that sure solved the abortion controversy in this country, didn't it? Another problem with these expectations is that they encourage the passage of sloppy laws, under the guise that the "judges will sort it all out." Need another example? Take a look at the Supreme Court's ruling striking down that assinine McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" bill. Oh, wait a minute, there is no such ruling--the Supremes upheld most of the law.
The biggest problem with these expectations is that we citizens become lazy regarding the people who write these laws. Need two examples? Tom Delay and Ted Kennedy. de Tocqueville observed that in a democracy, you get what you deserve. This may be true, but he never met Delay or Teddy. We don't have to wait for judges to punish legislators for stupid laws, we can punish them in a much more democratic way: I believe the term we use for this is elections.
The next time you see a judge being lowered onto the stage to "solve" a problem that in fact probably cannot be solved, throw a rotten tomato on stage, let out a boo and walk out. Right to the nearest voting booth.