Sir John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, the nineteenth century English historian, writer and politician, better known as Lord Acton, got it perfectly right when he famously quipped: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
His simple observation of human nature has been proven true time and time again, so much so that it is a recognized fact which should properly be taken for granted in almost every case. We see it everywhere we look. The acquisition of power whether a lot or a little by one person over the lives of others usually leads to corruption.
In no case is this recurring fact more patently obvious than with the recent matter of Tennessee Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew who took it upon herself by fiat to unilaterally change the name of an infant in a case before her court because it offended her personal religious sentiments.
During my 42 years as a member of the bar I have witnessed this phenomenon happening with judges more often than not. Once a judge has been elected or appointed to the bench, something ominous seems to inevitably inspire the consciousness of otherwise ordinary responsible fair minded attorneys to believe that they now somehow enjoy powers at their disposal which far exceed what the law provides.
The 7-month-old infant’s parents were in this magistrate’s court only because they couldn’t agree upon their son’s last name, but when Judge Ballew heard that the boy’s given name was Messiah, a name which both parents had decided for him, she changed it to Martin against both of their wishes and without permission. She simply substituted her own judgment for theirs.
Ballew thinks the name Messiah could cause problems if the child grows up in Cocke County, which has a large Christian population. “It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” said Ballew.
Then the judge explained her reasoning: “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” she proclaimed from her high perch. So from now on, according to the dictate of this religious magistrate, the child is to be legally known as Martin DeShawn McCullough, which includes both parents’ last name.
Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, Tennessee, said she will appeal the judge’s order. She thought Messiah is unique and liked how it sounded alongside the boy’s two siblings — Micah and Mason. “Everybody believes what they want so I think I should be able to name my child what I want to name him, not someone else,” she declared.
As it happens Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration’s annual list of popular baby names. Plenty of parents name their kids Moses, Mohammad, Jesus or Christ.
Never-mind that, however; it’s none of a damn judge’s business if a kid’s parents choose to name it Good God Almighty; they have a First Amendment right to do so under the United States Constitution.
This woman occupying the bench in a court of law had to know that but she apparently felt infused with the power of her situation to such an extent that she could order otherwise in accord with her own personal religious beliefs simply because she is a judge. She abused her authority knowingly and therefore deserves to be removed from the bench and disbarred as a practicing attorney.
A judge in a court of law is not supposed to differ much in terms of authority from a referee on a football field or an umpire behind the plate in a baseball park. Their job is to determine the admissibility of evidence and to apply the law just as if they were calling balls and strikes. A judge has no more authority to go outside the law than an umpire to go outside the rules of the game.But unfortunately we all know for certain that power corrupts.