As the November election is now less than a month away, perhaps we’re becoming more aware of how important our votes truly are. No candidate or party is perfect, but our choices have consequences, and that’s the point raised by this week’s Energion Political Roundtable question (#8). In this week’s question, we focus on the role of the presidency in choosing members of the Supreme Court:
One of the ways in which a president shapes the future of the country is through appointments to the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court. How do you see each candidate shaping the future of the court, and why is this important? (If you are supporting a particular candidate, focus on that one.)
One of the oft forgotten responsibilities of a President is choosing members of the judiciary, and most importantly, the Supreme Court. Because Federal Judges and Supreme Court Justices serve for life (or when they choose retirement), judicial appoints become a Presidential legacy. Since Republicans have held the Presidency for twenty of the past thirty-two years, they have had a greater opportunity to put their imprint on the nation’s courts, which is why I find it a bit odd that Republicans have such a low view of the courts. It’s true, justices and judges can surprise us, but Presidents understand this role very well, and so they try to do what they can to make sure that they leave a judicial legacy that will last long after they have left office and even life itself.
When it comes to the Supreme Court, the opportunity to influence the direction of the court is a rare one. As we’ve of late these choices matter. Whether it’s campaign finance reform, health care, gun rights, or religious liberty for that matter, the Courts have an important say in how this nation is governed and the way we live our lives. We often hear about judicial activism, but in reality it goes both ways. No justice comes to the Constitution or the issues standing before them without any sense of bias. After all, why would a President choose a nominee who didn’t at least share some of that President’s priorities? And so, because Republican Presidents have had more opportunities than Democratic ones to make appointments, the Court has had a rather conservative cast in recent years.
Presidents quickly become very aware of this opportunity to frame legal debates for years to come. Therefore, not only do they try to pick candidates that share their views, but also ones who will serve long enough to influence decisions long after they’ve left office. Consider that Justices Scalia and Kennedy, both 76 years old, were appointed by Ronald Reagan more than two decades ago. As far as I can tell, neither of these men is in any hurry to retire, so President Reagan’s legacy will continue on for the foreseeable future in their decisions.
President Obama has had two opportunities to make appointments to the Supreme Court, and may have the opportunity to appoint at least one more in the coming four years. The most likely person to leave the court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 79 and has had some health issues. She’s given no indication she’s looking to leave, but she could leave and might if a Democrat is in office to protect what little leverage the “liberal” minority has on the court. If she or Justice Breyer were to retire or die during a Romney term, it’s likely that a much more conservative Justice would be appointed, and that could cement a conservative majority for years to come.
Being that I live on the left side of the center, and because I’ve been frustrated by rulings such as the Citizen’s United ruling as well as a number of gun regulation rulings, and with important issues such as marriage equality and affirmative action moving up toward the Supreme Court, I’m concerned about the direction the Court would take under a more decidedly conservative perspective. I’m concerned about how the Court will affect social mobility, fairness, and justice for all.
A President Romney will set a conservative course, one that will protect certain corporate interests, perhaps hamper efforts at protecting the environment and equal rights, and will most likely seek to hold back progress for gay and lesbian persons seeking recognition for their relationships. A President Obama, on the other hand, will have the opportunity, perhaps more at the lower court level and in appeals courts, to craft a judicial bench that is more supportive of equal rights for minorities, for gays and lesbians, and for women, as well as support efforts to protect the environment.
The choice is important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Many decisions that Presidents make won’t last beyond their time in office, but that’s not true here. Yes, the stakes are high and lasting, so we must choose wisely.