Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Movie Review -- “Return of the Living Constitution” (Spoiler alert!)

The next zombie-themed blockbuster horror flick is set for release the first Monday in October, but this reviewer received an advance screening of what’s shaping up to be one apocalyptic zombie tale set in the not-too-distant future.

“Return of the Living Constitution” begins at a prestigious law school, where Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivers a lecture on the role of a judge, properly understood, which he says is to apply technical interpretive tools to discern what voters or their elected representatives intended by their use of terms ratified as part of the Constitution or enacted into law.

“If the terms of the law are not largely fixed by their meaning as understood when the law was enacted,” says Scalia, “there can be no rule of law, because people will not be subject to rules commonly understood in advance, but rather to the whims of life-tenured judges that are impossible to predict in advance.”

As Scalia speaks, his academic audience, increasingly uneasy with his dry judicial vision, finds itself animated by a raw desire to go beyond the mere application of the law and impose their will on democratic majorities. This hunger quickly mutates into an insatiable lust to impose their political views through constitutional interpretation.

As the questions directed at Scalia grow increasingly unintelligible, and the audience begins to jerkily amble toward him, arms outstretched, Scalia escapes through a window. He gathers his originalist colleagues on the Supreme Court before vast hordes of law students, professors, and advocacy attorneys fill the streets, overturning mail boxes, lamp posts, and popularly enacted statutes that do not clearly violate the Constitution.

The zombies find leaders in the more activist Supreme Court Justices, who command them to overrun Congress and then head for the National Archives, where they intend to devour the U.S. Constitution, which they consider a “living, breathing” document.

Scalia and his originalist colleagues barricade the Archives doors with stacks of Founding-era documents, but the zombies tear through them. It soon becomes apparent that, unlike traditional zombies, these undead can only be killed by a blow to their “gut,” and not their head, as they’re motivated by empathy and “gut feeling” rather than thought.

Just as the swelling zombie hordes are about to reach our nation's founding document, Scalia distracts them with books compiling foreign legal precedents. Waving such volumes as “The Collected Decisions of Zimbabwe,” he temporarily diverts the advancing throngs with a tantalizing new source of interpretive power.

With the zombies otherwise occupied, Scalia grabs the sword from the hands of a nearby statute of “Lady Justice” and begins hacking undead guts in the same biting manner he pens his dissents.

The movie is campy fun for the most part. But by the end I couldn’t help feeling a real sense of dread.

Association article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124753085258335815.html; associated video: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6601447644448962468&ei=-WihSZXDGpHEqQL1xI3YDw&q=scalia&hl=en; see also http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3117897142973835232&ei=iGmhSdOOOILorgLrjY3YDw&q=scalia&hl=en&emb=1