Congress isn’t very popular right now. Everyday they are chastised for being out of control, dysfunctional, crazy. The office of president is regular fodder for late night television, even when we’re not in an election year. The one leg of government that seems to escape scrutiny on a regular basis is the Judicial.
While everyone is shouting about how the president is going to save or ruin America, or how Congress needs reform, no one pays much attention to this small group of individuals who have the power to re-write history.
In a government that is so concerned with checks and balances, one that is chosen by the people and answers to the people, we have the U.S. Supreme Court, which isn’t elected and answers to no one. They can change the constitution without an amendment. (Oh, yes they can — I don’t care what you learned in civics class.) Here we have nine people who preside over monumental cases regarding abortion, campaign finance, church-state relations, euthanasia, pornography, presidential selection and voting rights. And once appointed and confirmed, they’re in for the long haul.
They don’t have opinion polls or approval ratings, and don’t have to stand before their constituents and explain why they earned the privilege of serving another term. They don’t worry about offending the public with their opinions, which is only right — popularity and job-security should never be a factor in judicial rulings.
But these justices are still human, with all the frailties that come with that condition. The power they’re given is not matched by humility, nor leavened by sensitivity to the democratic values of accountability and transparency. The most common Supreme Court debate is that of interpreting the constitution as written, or altering the meaning of the words to fit the modern times. The court has admitted to and defends the latter. But what are they bound by if not the constitution as written? When they step out of the parameters of that document, they are setting themselves above the president, Congress, and most disturbing, the people of the United States. Our only link to these powerful creatures is the president we elect.
How do you feel about Gerald Ford? He’s long gone but his legacy lives on in Justice John Paul Stevens, still serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Of the remaining Justices, two were appointed by G.W. Bush, two by Clinton, two by the senior Bush, and two by Reagan. If history is any indication, the next president will very likely appoint at least two new justices while in office, possibly three. After all, Stevens is 88 years old. How much longer can he hold on? Ginsburg is 75 and we have a couple 72s. I wonder if any of these guys refer to John Roberts as a “whipper-snapper”? At 53, he’s practically a baby.
I digress. The important fact here is not pet-names of Supreme Court Justices, but the irreversible choices made by our president. If I were a liberal sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, I would wait patiently for a nice liberal president to be elected before I considered resignation. Traditionally, justices don’t resign, but now they get paid the same on the bench or off, so they have the option of manipulating the system to ensure they are replaced with someone of like mind. Combine that with the wildcard of death, and it’s chaos for Americans. Two branches of government down, one to go.