Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Oct. 13, 14 or 15, 2016
But at least the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court came up.
In the lengthy campaign, many voters may have missed this key consequence of next month’s election.
Nominating a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t guarantee that he or she will consistently make progressive or conservative judgments, of course. Kennedy, O’Connor, Roberts and Stevens all were GOP candidates who eventually disappointed hard-core conservatives, for instance. But a Clinton White House would almost certainly nominate competent people who could address vital issues sure to be considered by the Court, and thereby set a reasonable course for the foreseeable future. Trump?
Since the unexpected February death of Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is split into four mostly liberal and four mostly conservative voices. Scalia’s 29-year tenure made acceptable the rather nonsensical “originalism” perspective that the Constitution means exactly what the Founders intended in the 18th century, when single-shot muskets were used, women couldn’t vote, and black people were property.
Now, the nation needs a Supreme Court that’s not shackled by centuries-old values nor stymied by stalemate – one that works on behalf of regular Americans. However, Trump has said he’d nominate judges “picked by the Federalist Society,” the conservative group pushing “originalism.” Some on Trump’s list of 21 names have even opposed Trump’s candidacy, such as arch-conservative U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who last week asked Trump to drop out of the race. But the people Trump’s considering have been characterized as extremists likely to push partisan positions more than the logic of the Constitution as a “living document” adapting to changing times.
“Taken together, the records of these potential Trump nominees reflect a radical-right ideology that threatens fundamental rights, and that favors the powerful over everyone else – especially people from historically marginalized communities,” said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign.
Several judges listed by Trump have ruled in favor of voter-ID laws discriminating against older, low-income, student and minority citizens, for example.
Meanwhile, President Obama has nominated appeals judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy created by Scalia's death, but Senate Republicans refuse to deliberate in confirmation hearings or debate and vote, ostensibly to await results of the election (which makes it more important to also vote to for Senators who’ll perform their duties.) So the incoming president might continue Garland’s nomination, but besides filling that slot, other Justices could retire soon: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 (and has a history of cancer), Anthony Kennedy is 80, and Stephen Breyer is 78. Therefore, the next president would nominate several justices, helping to determine the Court’s direction for years.
The issues to be considered or reconsidered after Inauguration Day 2017 involve women’s rights, civil rights, and workers’ rights. Here are a dozen cases whose decisions would have major ramifications for everyday people:
Affirmative Action: “Fisher v. University of Texas” (2016)
Affordable Care Act: “National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius” (2012)
Campaign finance: “Citizens United v. F.E.C.” (2010)
Class-action suits: “Wal-Mart v. Dukes” (2011)
Climate change: “West Virginia v. EPA” (2016) or “Massachusetts v. EPA” (2007)
Handgun restrictions: “District of Columbia v. Heller” (2008)
Immigration reform: “U.S. v. Texas” (2016)
Labor unions: “Freidrichs v. California Teachers Association” (2016)
Redistricting: “Arizona v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission” (2015)
Same-sex marriage: “Obergefell v. Hodges” (2015)
Voter-ID laws: “Shelby County v. Holder” (2013) or “Crawford v. Marion County (2008)
Women’s bodies: “Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt” (abortion: 2016) or “Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (contraception: 2014).
Casting a ballot for Trump (or not voting) could unfortunately result in Supreme Court nominees who’d unleash the unhinged authoritarianism of a Trump administration and affect the country for a generation.
That prospect makes voting as vital as learning, in school or in the Republic.
[PICTURED: Chip Bok illustration from CartoonTheVote.com.]