A political S.C.O.T.U.S.
The Supreme Court of the United States reconvened for its new term last Monday, and with an election that candidates and media alike are portraying as one of the most partisan in history, the destiny of more than just the executive branch seems to be at stake.
Ideally, justices’ rulings should be guided by their interpretations of the Constitution and legal precedent, not by their ideological beliefs. President Bush put conservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the court, whereas President Obama appointed two liberal voices in Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Remember that three Justices on the court are nearing retirement age: liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79, conservative Antonin Scalia is 76 and Anthony Kennedy, a center-right judge, is 76. This means that these slots may vacate and open for appointment within the next four years.
Let’s take a look back at a recent episode in Supreme Court history with all this in mind. In July 2012 the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality. Shockingly, it was Justice Roberts who crossed ideological boundaries and ruled in its favor. His written opinion claimed that the act’s individual mandate requiring all Americans to have health insurance was a tax. Many pundits have argued that Roberts made the decision to insulate himself from accusations of partisanship, perhaps fashioning himself a legacy as the Chief Justice who rose above Washington’s partisan bickering.
Roberts surely noticed that public opinion of the court was waning leading up to the A.C.A. ruling. A few weeks prior to the ruling, the New York Times/CBS poll revealed the court’s approval rating at 44 percent and its disapproval rating at 36 percent. With Citizens United still relatively fresh in the public consciousness, it’s not hard to believe that many Americans saw the Supreme Court as little more than an annexed territory of the Republican Party.
With his A.C.A. sway, Roberts attempted to shield the court from further charges of partisanship. Upcoming perennial issues may be decided upon by the Supreme Court over the next four-plus years: affirmative action, same-sex marriage, voting rights and privacy rights. Roberts’ A.C.A. decision may give him all the freedom he needs to take far more conservative positions on these matters. The prospect of an ideologically driven court, ruling on even a couple of these issues, is a frightening one indeed.
Ben DeLuca is a junior ECLS major and the Weekly’s 2012 election columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.