Thursday, March 21, 2019

Contracts and Natural Law Fundamental Rights (Part I)


A contract is defined as “a written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law”. Legally, a contract may also be “unspoken” or implied. Contracts are a big part of our everyday life. For instance, most business contracts are conducted with a hand shake. This is a “promissory obligation” contract that is binding and can be enforced by the law. At a minimum, breach of a promissory obligation would yield a lack of trust in that person or party by the public. This is why Congress has such low approval numbers (they do not keep promises). Individuals enter into dozens of contracts every day. Every money transaction that takes place is a contract. Thus, most people have contracts to cover phone, energy, home, water, TV, internet, food and other expenses such as insurance, car, services, and healthcare to name a few. The Constitution contains a contracts clause which protects lenders from borrowers defaulting on their loans. A person has two options when it comes to contracts. First, they can refuse to enter into a contract agreement or secondly, they can accept a contract agreement.

There are three legal reasons a court may void a contract agreement (outside coercion and exploitation): Public policy reasons, unconscionability, and bargaining power inequity. But courts have used these reasons to void perfectly good contracts, where there has been no coercion or exploitation, by the parties partaking in the contract. Take, for example, bargaining power inequity: Parties in exact equality have no reason to enter into a contract. For instance, there must be some inequity for Party A to enter into a contract with Party B. In other words, Party A wants more of what Party B has available for sale. For this reason, many bargaining power inequity rulings are bogus. Public policy reasons lead judges to input personal biases and opinions into decisions. For example, in a Massachusetts surrogacy case (R.R. v. M.H, 1998) the court sided with the surrogate mother who breached her contract by keeping the baby. The judge ruled it is not normal public policy to sell babies. This is obviously the judge’s opinion; if it is normal public policy to abort a baby, then why can’t people sell a baby, especially to prevent an abortion? Judges also use unconscionability to input biases and personal opinions. Consider the 1965 Washington DC case Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Company. In this case, the court ruled in favor of a person who breached their contract by defaulting on their furniture payments. The court ruled that the furniture store could not repossess the furniture per the contract. Put another way, the furniture store was out the remaining amount due in the contract in addition to the furniture. In this decision, the court had empathy toward the plaintiff because she was poor. But the court’s decision would negatively affect hundreds of poor people living in the same neighborhood. In response to the decision, the furniture store reduced credit levels and raised prices to cover lawsuits since they could no longer repossess items for breach of contract. In another example, California courts have barred companies like Circuit City from using arbitration as a way to solve employee disputes. Instead, courts want companies to face lengthy and more expensive class action suits instead of settling disputes via arbitration. These actions force companies to cut employees, reduce wages, and or pass any increased legal costs onto the consumer.

But contracts are much more than the lender and borrower relationships. Implied or written contracts protect other types of relationships such as employer and employee, student and educator, and marriage between two persons. Implied contracts also protect our friendships. After all, true friends should be responsible to look out for the welfare of their comrades. Family is the core of society, but friendships (relationships: friends, workmates, and political acquaintances) are the glue that holds communities since relationship contracts work for the common good (general welfare) of the society.

It can be argued that contracts include the unspoken or implied relationships between one’s self and every other person in the world. After all, we cannot violate the rights of another person even if they are a stranger. Hence, a contract is implied that all humans will treat other humans with dignity, decency, tolerance, and respect to avoid violating the rights of others. A contract with humanity is not much different than the Golden Rule where individuals should treat others how they expect to be treated. Furthermore, John Quincy Adams felt society as whole is a contract “a partnership not only between who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are not born.” In other words, the living must respect the dead and at the same time pave the way for future generations. For example, Americans should never forget the millions that have died fighting for their freedom. For all these reasons, contracts are powerful and control just about every action an individual may partake.

Most definitions of contract say it is an agreement between two or more parties, but individuals make personal contracts in the form of schedules, goals, and missions that they want to achieve. It is a natural law principle that humans have the right to pursue and develop a life plan. These personal contracts are important for several reasons. First, they define our personality because these types of agreements are the easiest to break (like a New Year resolution). Those that achieve in life will more than likely attain most of their individual contract goals. On the other hand, those that fail in life will ultimately quit on most of their individual contract goals. For this reason, it can be argued that biggest disability facing Americans is that of quitting on our goals or personal contracts. Secondly, it is important to remember that all individuals have the “right to pursue happiness” but nobody is “guaranteed happiness”. The only way to achieve happiness is to set difficult goals and to attain them. Even this may not guarantee happiness but failing to meet goals will almost certainly lead to a miserable or handicapped existence. Consider how many Americans (environmentalists) believe that man has an implied contract with nature or the planet Earth. These individuals want humans to leave this planet a better place than when we entered into it. This would fit the social contract put forth by John Quincy Adams in the previous paragraph. This may also be an example of natural law and God’s contract with humans and vice versa. If this is true, then persons following this “implied” contract must set lofty goals in personal contracts to achieve the outlook they want for the planet. After all, anything worth achieving in life will never come easy.

Natural Law Fundamental Rights

It is also important to understand natural law fundamental rights. Natural law fundamental rights are higher level rights sometimes referred to as simply natural law. Natural law rights “must be recognized as self-evident to all.” A natural law right is one that would be right, good, and responsible (as opposed to wrong, bad, and irresponsible) for personal fulfillment and the general good of humanity (common good). Fundamental rights and natural law rights are usually identified as individual human rights, but in actuality they are collective rights because everyone has the same rights. Natural law rights are rights that all people are born with and they cannot be taken away by others or by any government. A few of these fundamental rights are outlined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Fundamental natural law rights are contracts between a person and a higher being (it can be God or whomever you believe gave you the natural freedoms you enjoy). Government can protect these rights, but they cannot generate a fundamental right because fundamental rights existed before the creation of government and laws. But what happens when our fundamental rights are being violated by others or the government? It is then the job of the courts and our judicial system to protect our fundamental rights, even those that are not enumerated in the Constitution. But the Constitution does not protect individuals, whose rights are being violated, from wrongly decided Supreme Court cases. For this reason, this book will extensively evaluate the role of the Supreme Court in defining and defending enumerated and unenumerated natural law fundamental rights to protect God’s natural law contracts with each person in society.

Briefly, to better explain natural law, first there are several fundamental rights which guide our free will choices. Those natural law fundamental rights include the right to work, play, friendships, marriage, health, life, property, contracts, knowledge, enjoyment of nature and arts, self-preservation, religion, family, free speech, the right to vote, travel, and justice to name a few. Our free will decisions ideally strive for personal fulfillment for the common good. Free will decisions or choices should be made without the interference of emotions and feelings but instead be based on sound reason. According to natural right scholar John Finnis “Natural Law assumes that men had certain duties toward one another, as social beings, and had certain rights that men must respect.” Moreover, natural law principles conclude there should be “no arbitrary preferences among persons” to eliminate hypocrisy, biases, opinions, and selfishness. Furthermore, “There is no human right that will be overridden if feelings (whether generous or unselfish, or mean and self-centered) are allowed to govern choice ….”

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