Citizenship as an Act of Courage (1986)

Norman Lear on Business, Politics and Culture

Speech Excerpts, 1972 – 2011

Citizenship as an Act of Courage (1986)

This extremist movement [the Religious Right] is mounting its most dangerous campaign yet – a campaign to subvert the independence of our federal judiciary. Using ideological inquisitions and political litmus tests, they are trying to make the federal courts into a policy arm of the Executive Branch. To be a federal judge, it is no longer enough to have integrity, brains and an open mind. Now, before you can even be nominated to the federal bench, you must be a card-carrying ideologue willing to prejudge issues.

As dozens of such judges are appointed by the Justice Department, the role of our courts as a guarantor of civil rights and liberties is being jeopardized. Instead of protecting the rights of individuals against the tyranny of the majority – instead of acting as a co-equal, independent branch of government – our courts may soon become an ideological lackey of the radical right – a rubberstamp for its political agenda.

In times of trouble such as today, we must develop a deeper sense of patriotism. Love of country means more than ritualistic celebrations and flag-waving. It means the active, daily exercise of our constitutional rights. It means the vigilant defense of our constitutional rights.

Justice Felix Frankfurter may have said it best when he declared that the highest office in a democracy is the office of citizen. I believe that with all of my heart. In these times, to be an active citizen in defense of constitutional liberties is a declaration of hope and an act of courage.
From “Citizenship as an Act of Courage,” at the American Jewish Committee, Washington, D.C., May 15, 1986, accepting the Institute of Human Relations Mass Media Award.