It’s the Supreme Court, Stupid (Not the Economy)
While most pundits see the most important issue of the presidential campaign as the economy, Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard, makes a good case that the appointments to the Supreme Court is actually the issue of paramount concern in this election. In an article in Bloomberg (http://goo.gl/0AVh0) on October 29, he argues that the Supreme Court nominations the next president makes will have more impact on American society than the differences in economic policy between Obama and Romney.
As the presidential election is going to be very close, and the Senate will not have a veto-proof majority, it is likely that whoever is elected president will have to compromise on most issues and govern from the center. This means that the vast divide between Obama and Romney in terms of how to manage the economy and control the national debt will not matter much, as extreme changes in current policy will not occur. In addition, the economy is already growing and economic developments in Europe and China will probably have a greater effect on whether there is continued improvement in America than either candidate. And neither Obama nor Romney can control what happens in Europe or China. As for foreign policy in general, the last debate revealed little in the way of differences between the two candidates.
On the other hand, there are presently four justices on the Supreme Court who are seventy-four or older, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg seventy-nine and in poor health. This practically insures that the next present will probably have one or more appointees to the Court because of retirement, illness, or death.
The Supreme Court is already one of the most conservative in decades, in spite of its upholding most of the Affordable Care Act. The Citizens United ruling that equated political contributions with free speech was probably as damaging to our democracy as any past rulings by the Court. And the Court’s decisions on the Second Amendment have consistently supported the National Rifle Association’s positions on gun rights. This has been to the detriment of public safety, with disregard for the gun violence that makes America’s homicide rate one of the highest in the world.
If Romney gets to be president, he will certainly appoint conservative jurists to the Court when the opportunities arise. With this, we can expect further expansion of the right to bear arms, blocking state and municipal laws that impose common sense limits. The chances of campaign finance reform and overturning Citizens United to restrict political spending by affluent individuals and corporations would be nil. There would also be the strong possibility that Roe v. Wade would be reversed, allowing individual states to decide whether or not to allow women to have abortions and in what circumstances. The nominees to the Court would probably be young, locking in a conservative majority on the Court for years to come.
If Obama is reelected president, he can be expected to nominate liberal or centrist jurists to the Court that would insure that Roe v. Wade remain as the law of the land. His justices would also make campaign finance reform a possibility in the future, depending on the inclination of Congress. Reasonable gun control ordinances would probably also be able to pass muster with the Court.
Of course, the Senate has to confirm any appointment to the Court, forcing the choices by either Obama or Romney to be somewhat less extreme. But with judicial activism growing on both the left and the right, the direction the Court takes in the future on the above issues and others of national import will be determined by the election of the next president and who he selects.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.