Shall courts upheld the principles of natural laws?

In 2014 U.S. Supreme Court rulings of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Secretary, etc. and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. v. Sibelius, the disputes between constitutional and statutory laws with religious or moral beliefs resulted in a hard clash. The argument drew by the pro-religious or pro-supreme law pursuers, according to Justice Clarence Thomas, is that “we look at the natural law beliefs of the Founders as a background to our Constitution.” Judge Janie Rogers Brown shared the same sentiments, in which she interpreted the case of Gilardi with a moral cause. The argument drew by the pro-politics believers, according to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, is that “we all have impulses that convince us, of what is and is not true,” and these impulses, at the end, were the “seem so true” laws in which we cannot refuse to obey. As for Holmes, personal beliefs had no place in judicial decisions—the idea of having natural laws in court rulings—undoubtedly invoked the very principles that had founded the nation. For the sake of future deliberations, I choose to take a stand with Holmes, that judges shouldn’t “look to higher authority than precedent or man-made laws in making decisions.”




Out of many founding principles which precipitated the birth of the United States, the one that remained unsolved throughout the 19th century, even up until the 20th century, is the question of slavery. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 sought a compromise by applying the infamous “three-fifth clause”, the Missouri Compromise of 1821 rested on balanced slave states throughout the Union, the Compromises of 1850 admitted California as a free state while opened the possibility of the Indian Territory for slavery. Trends of revolutions and counterrevolutions waved again and again, from the antebellum era of abolitionist movement into the Civil War, from the Emancipation Proclamation into the Jim Crow Laws, the question of slavery remained solved and unsolved. If leaving the choice to the natural laws, slavery is abominable and ought to be abolished from the very second the nation was borne. Unfortunately, the Constitution of the United States is not a work dedicated for a higher spiritual being, the convention that made the Constitution was made by many slave-owners. The idea of natural laws was never intended to be parts of the Constitution, many contents of the Constitution were largely political as well as economical, instead of divinely judge this nation. For instance, many sections were replaced after slavery was constitutionally abolished, but no sections of “God’s doctrines” were added afterwards.


Montesquieu once commented, that “When with a doctrine that gives us of a spiritual supreme being we can still join those of a sensible nature and admit them into our worship, we contract a greater attachment to religion; because those motives which we have just mentioned are added to our natural inclinations for the objects of sense.” (the Spirit of Laws, Book 25) The laws of nature clearly were correlated with our sensual experiences, that every empirical experience we gained through the beginning of the early civilizations, might rightfully being applied into the categories of natural laws, that by the very definition, “natural” implies the actions done without a second thought, broadly speaking, and this habit of doing things based on our senses is judgable in the end. What if the humans were exposed to an environment of malice and violence, and we gained experience from that? What would happen to our belief system then? Should our motives towards our religions generally based on our previous experiences and our senses? To that end, I cannot agree with the claim that the court rulings ought to look upon to a higher spiritual guidance, for the purpose of the political integrity and the potentials errors of our senses.

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© 2017~2020 Christopher Wang 

International Educational Philosophy Seminar

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