From the Right



Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and Alienable Rights

Terence P. Jeffrey on

In a written response she presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson put herself at odds with a 2,000-year-old understanding of the nature of the law and the foundation of human rights.

A half-century before Christ was born, the Roman senator Cicero plainly explained the foundation of a just law.

"There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commandments urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil," he said.

"It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable," he said.

"It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings," said this great Roman statesman. "God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man."

Almost 1,900 years later, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, sent a letter to Henry Lee, citing Cicero as one of the inspirations for that document.


"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson wrote Lee in 1825, "not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject."

"All it's authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day," Jefferson said, "whether expressed in conversations, in letters, printed essays or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."

How exactly did the 18th-century American Declaration of Independence echo the pre-Christian declarations of Cicero? Both are based on the correct belief that, as Cicero put it, there "is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal" and that "God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer."

In the Declaration, Jefferson invoked "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God" and noted that "all men" have "unalienable rights."


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