Political Obligation and the US Supreme Court<sup>1</sup>

George Klosko

in Political Obligations

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780199256204
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602351 | DOI:
Political Obligation and the US Supreme Court1

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This and the following chapters explore the ‘self-image of the state’ in regard to political obligations through analysis of judicial decisions. Examining the reasons that states themselves provide to justify political obligations provides an empirical test of normative theories. Although judicial decisions have no claim to moral truth, the fact that justices regularly argue from certain principles rather than others adds to the plausibility of a theory based on the former and increases the burden of justification for proponents of other principles. Supreme Court justices usually defend their opinions on the basis of statutory or constitutional interpretation and seldom appeal directly to moral principles. However, on occasion they do invoke moral principles to support their opinions, especially in difficult cases. Justices of the US Supreme Court consistently ground obligations on protection that individuals receive from society. The most likely basis of these ‘reciprocal obligations’ is a principle of fairness, as expressed most notably in Arver v. U.S., the most important of the 'Selective Draft Law Cases'.

Keywords: ‘self-image of the state,’ reciprocity; conscientious objectors; consent; fairness; judicial decisions; political obligations; Supreme Court

Chapter.  9062 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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