The Washington Senators decamped to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Twins. Perhaps in return, two judges originally from Minnesota were soon nominated to the Supreme Court, Warren Berger, and Harry Blackmun. The Nixon administration selected them precisely because they were conservative-leaning jurists. The two were also known to be dear friends. The press referred to them as the Minnesota Twins. Their legacy reminds us of the primacy of justice in a democracy.
By 1970, Richard Nixon put his imprimatur on the Supreme Court. Hoping for judges in the moderate to the conservative range, he selected Berger to be chief judge and Blackmun as associate justice. In 1973, Berger selected Blackmun to write the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade.
Commentators today explain that the decision was based on uncovering a right to privacy, not explicitly granted in the Constitution. I prefer to understand the Court’s decision to acknowledge the primacy of justice. Then, as now, the American legal system is flawed and marred by injustices. I believe that Blackmun wrote based upon a moral obligation to elevate individual rights over any system of laws or over any individual law.
The focus on justice over law can be found in Torah. As the fifth book, Deuteronomy opens, Moses begins by recalling the need to establish a judicial system shortly after the people reached Sinai. Before receiving Torah, and without a legal code, seventy elders from the tribes were selected for judicial roles. Their decisions could not be based on statutory law. Therefore, there must have been an understanding of justice that was common to all people.
On the last day of his life, Moses recalls the story of his leadership beginning with the establishment of a judicial system. He does not begin with the miracles or the Mishkan (tabernacle) the people made. Justice is more critical than any miracle performed or any tangible item. Moreover, people ensure justice. We do not rely upon God to bring moral certainty on a daily basis. Our role is to preserve humanity by virtue of our willingness to submit to a legal system rooted in universal concepts of morality.
The Supreme Court’s Minnesota Twins set aside political affiliation and strict legal interpretation for a higher purpose: the primacy of justice. Their approach is as old as Torah. Judaism teaches that a system of justice cannot be detached from morality. Justices who are partial to a legal philosophy fail to account for the true purpose of the judicial system. The protection of individual rights and civil liberties is more deeply rooted than any partisanship. Yet, in every generation, we need Minnesotan sensibility to recall the primacy of justice.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame