Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/06/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Enjoyably and informatively reveals the inner workings of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Of course, if you are not Canadian, the Supreme Court of Canada will not "run your life" - see the subtitle of the book currently under review - unless you break the law in Canada and your case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Mighty Judgment: How the Supreme Court of Canada Rules Your Life by Philip Slayton is, nonetheless, an interesting case study regarding the extent to which nine unelected magistrates can affect daily life for more than 34 million people in northernmost North America.
Actually, less than nine magistrates can affect daily life in Canada. Slayton reports that one former Supreme Court justice was fond of flashing five fingers of one hand to send the message that only five judges were needed for a majority ruling. Interestingly, Slayton - a former lawyer, Supreme Court law clerk, and dean of a Canadian law school - does not believe the problem lies the bare majority rules policy. He and I do not see eye-to-eye on that point...but that's a topic for another paragraph.
Some of the best books are products of an author's exploration of a topic. These intellectual journeys often result in a change of the author's mind and stance. Slayton began writing this book believing he already knew what his conclusion would be: the Supreme Court of Canada is an intolerably undemocratic institution in dire need of reform. In researching past and present cases and their verdicts, past and present justices and their judgments, and the tension-riven inter-relationships between the judiciary, the legislative branch, and the executive branch of government in Canada, Slayton came to a much more nuanced conclusion than he held before his research. Namely, that while the legislation governing the Supreme Court of Canada should definitely undergo reform (he recommends adopting some of the best elements of the U.S., the UK, and the South African systems) the Canadian system is not truly broken. The Supreme Court justices are fallible and intelligent human beings doing their very best to interpret the laws of the land.
But Slayton doesn't allow the Court system to get off so easily. Its detractors argue that the Court privileges the economic elite of the nation, for instance; those who have the cash and/or the connections to push a case as far as it can go. He also astutely observes that since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect in 1982, many political problems have come before the Court rephrased as legal questions. Is this an abuse of both the Charter and the Court? I say it is, and shame on us for misusing both. Slayton ends his book upholding the existing rule of a bare majority for a judgment, but I would prefer a supermajority (6-4, for instance) in judgments on constitutional cases, for the record.
Slayton anticipates a day when an interventionist Supreme Court will "stare down the executive branch and provoke a constitutional crisis." A future gunfight in the constitutional corral with the Supreme Court drawing first blood could not be checked by any mechanism except legislative amendment to the Supreme Court Act, Slayton suggests. Will the current Prime Minister, Conservative Party Leader and Evangelical Christian Stephen Harper, bring the long arm of the lawmaker to bear? He has already addressed the related subject of Canadian Senate reform, after all. Three justices are due to retire in the next three years, which means three new Supreme Court justices will be appointed the Prime Minister. In the Canadian system, the appointment is not subject to public or parliamentary scrutiny until after the fact, so the Supreme Court will bear the Harper imprint for at least the next 15 to 20 years.
Last but not least, how should a reasonable Canadian Christian regard the Supreme Court? First, we should pray for God's will to be done in its chambers, in its offices, and in its individual justices' lives. Second, we should advocate for reform if we believe it to be in the best interest of the Canadian nation, a country founded upon the rule of law. Third, we should use the mechanisms of the Court in the cause of righteousness, according to the primary law of love. And, obviously, to return to the subtitle of the book once more, we know that God runs our lives, not the Supreme Court.
Slayton writes in a popular and engaging style. My greatest objection to the book is the bold type on the back cover, which is somewhat sensational and lurid. I was careful where I put this book in between reading sessions; I didn't welcome an inquiry along the lines of "Daddy, what's a dominatrix?" from my precocious seven year-old. I wouldn't go so far as to say this book is a must-read for all Canadians, but it is a starting point for understanding the make-up and mandate of the Supreme Court of Canada.