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Dred Scot v. Stanford, Supreme Court rules slavery is constitutional. Plessy v. Ferguson, Supreme Court rules segregation is constitutional. Today they’ve allowed the government to spy on its own citizens. They’ve outlawed partial birth abortion. They’ve pursued pro-torture policies. The Supreme Court is appointed, not elected. I was never given any say in WHO gets to be a Justice. While the President is only allowed a max of eight years in office, and legislators have to repeatedly struggle for re-election…the justices serve for life and there’s no way for us to remove them from office. …Considering that they’re the ones who get to decide what the constitution means, (Mauburry v. Madison, Judicial Review) don’t you think this seems a bit out of place in the American government? I mean…they tell us what our constitution means, and there’s nobody to check it. Seems tyrannical, primitive, undemocratic, and out of place in an republic government to me.

Of course, if you vote, you do get at least an indirect say in who's on the court. And after all, your say in a good many matters is only indirect. In any case, if the question is what the Constitution means, there's something unappetizing about having the check be one that's too directly tied to the political realm. Constitutions are supposed to set some things beyond the reach of the ordinary democratic process, not least so as to evade what some call the "tyranny of the majority." But in any case, it's not as though there are no counterweights. Some have held that Congress has the authority to declare that some matters are simply outside the purview of the Court, though I gather that this is controversial. But if the Court makes a constitution ruling that enough people object to, the Constitution can be amended, and has been many times. More generally, what strikes me (as someone born elsewhere) is that far from being "primitive," the American system of checks and balances - including...

Suppose a defense lawyer strongly suspects (to the point that he would be willing to bet a large amount of money on it) that his client has committed the crime he charged with. Would it be right or wrong for him to encourage the jury to deliver a "not guilty" verdict?

At least in the USA, the premise of the criminal justice system is that the burden is on the state to establish guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." And there are various reasons why we might want to stick to that standard. It's not a good thing when a guilty person goes free, but it's also not a good thing when the state has low standards for establishing guilt. And so the usual idea is that everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense. Even if the lawyer believes in his/her heart of hearts that the client is guilty, the question for the judge and jury is whether the state's arguments and evidence make the case.

The laws in our societies tend to be more and more complex, both in content and amount. Nobody can be supposed to know or understand all of them. Yet, as a citizen you are obliged to know and understand all the laws. Isn't this a dilemma? /Lars

There's the old saying that ignorance of the law is no excuse, because it's an excuse that anyone could offer and we wouldnm't know how to refute them. Legally, things are a bit more complicated. I gather that the Due Process clause of the US Constitution carves out some exceptions. If there's nothing "obviously" illegal about a certain kind of conduct, and the State doesn't provide proper notice to citizens that it's against the law, then the law won't pass constitutional muster. A fanciful example: suppose that buried in the bowels of some omnibus bill was a provision making it illegal to drive a red-and-blue car, but the State made no effort to let people know. Fining someone for this new "offence" would probably not stand up to challenge. So in US law, at least, there's some requirement that citizens have a reasonable chance of knowing what's illegal. But even supposing all the laws were properly promulgated, it's not clear that we have an actual duty to know and understand them all. ...

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