Issues 2004 – The Supreme Court

I enjoyed the back and forth of the Issues 2004 posts that Jeff Jarvis started and I and others followed his lead on. But they stopped about three weeks ago. The Presidential election campaign isn’t over yet, and so I am going to add one to the mix.

The news yesterday that Chief Justice William Rehnquist has thyroid cancer and had an emergency tracheotomoy reminded me that one issue we all should care a lot about is the makeup of the Supreme Court.

There are two justices over 80 years old, Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens. Stevens is 84 and has been on the court since 1975, almost 30 years. Though none of the Justices is a youngster (Thomas at 56 is the youngest), most are in good health.

This is a Republican court. That was evident when it cast the tie-breaking vote in the contested 2000 election and gave the White House to Bush. But it’s equally obvious when you look at the appointments. Seven of the nine justicres were appointed by Republican presidents. Nixon appointed Rehnquist, Ford appointed Stevens, Reagan appointed O’Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy. Bush I appointed Souter and Thomas. The two democratic appointments were Clinton’s choices of Ginsburg and Breyer.

While this is a Republican court, and while its Chief is a conservative, its a fairly moderate court today. The moderate wing is made up of Ginsberg, Breyer, Stevens, and Souter (two of the four nominated by moderate Republicans). The conservative wing is made up of Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. O’Connor and Kennedy make up the middle and where they go, so goes the court.

I’m fine with the court we have today. But I am worried that if Bush gets elected, we’ll have a move to the right which will take us places we probably don’t want to go. If Stevens retires or, god forbid, dies in the next four years, Bush is likely to replace him with someone more like Scalia than Stevens. If Rehnquist’s cancer is more serious than we know, Bush will replace him with someone similar, but will also in all liklihood appoint Scalia to the Cheif Justice position. And that’s a scary proposition, even if you are a moderate Bush supporter.

There are a lot of issues before the Supreme Court that are important. Issues like Civil Rights (Gay Rights), Due Process (Patriot Act), First Amendment (Free Speech), and of course the most emotionally charged of all Roe v. Wade – the woman’s right to choose.

Do we want a court that is pushed to the right? Do we want a court that will move to the left? Do we want something similar to what we have today?

Those are critical questions that each of us must ask ourselves as we go into the voting booth a week from today.