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Aug. 20, 2003
Justice Anthony Kennedy — "Hoist with his own petard" 
In a speech delivered on August 10 before the members of the American Bar Association at their annual meeting, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said he thinks prison terms are too long and that he favors scrapping the practice of setting mandatory minimum sentences for some federal crimes. According to an AP story that appeared in the Dallas Morning News (8/11/03), Justice Kennedy asked the bar association to lobby Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentence laws, even though they have withstood court scrutiny.

Included in his remarks was the following statement: “The court on which I sit and other courts have upheld long sentences, but please remember, because a court has said something is permissible does not mean it is wise.”

With that statement, although surely he wouldn’t realize it, Justice Kennedy found himself hoist with his own petard! *

In 1992, Justice Kennedy, wrote the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey reaffirming Roe v. Wade. In Lawrence vs. Texas, he wrote the majority opinion striking down the Texas law prohibiting homosexual sodomy. In the view of millions of Americans, these rulings were certainly not, to use Kennedy’s own description, wise.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to remove from the courts jurisdiction over these matters. The legislative branch should move to restore the balance of powers intended by the Founders. The seven men and two women on the U.S. Supreme Court should not be allowed to continue to exercise such disproportionate power.

* Phrase Origins

"For 'tis the sport to have the enginer / Hoist with his owne petar" -- Shakespeare, Hamlet III iv. "Hoist" was in Shakespeare's time the past participles of a verb "to hoise", which meant what "to hoist" does now: to lift. A petard (see under "peter out" for the etymology) was an explosive charge detonated by a slowly burning fuse. If the petard went off prematurely, then the sapper (military engineer; Shakespeare's "enginer") who planted it would be hurled into the air by the explosion. (Compare "up" in Republican National Coalition f.ems "to blow up".) A modern rendition might be: "It's fun to see the engineer blown up with his own bomb."

Source: [Mark Israel, 'Phrase Origins: "hoist with his own petard"', The alt.usage.english FAQ file,(line 4939), (29 Sept 1997)]

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