THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT
One of the most important duties of a president is to appoint judges and justices to the federal courts. According to the constitution (Article III) a judge or justice (members of the SUPREME court are called "justices") are to serve for life...as long as they are on their good behavior. In the early days of the country, when life expectancy for men was around 50, that meant that the average judge or justice served about eight years. Now, an appointment of a 45 year old to the Supreme Court possibly gives that person power or the next 40 years, or more. A Supreme Court appointment is a BIG deal. It is no wonder that Donald Trump wants to make this appointment before the election...and the Republican dominated Senate wants to vote on it.
If it were me in their place, I would certainly push it through. Just being honest here.
Having said that, I really didn't want Donald Trump to make this appointment. It will tilt the court in a conservative direction, something I think isn't good for the country right now. In way of explanation, let's define some terms.
First of all, let's remember why we have courts and judges and justices in the first place. It is so we don't have to go out and shoot the people who have done us wrong. Instead, we can point to some federal, state, or local laws, and let the lawyers, courts, police, prisons, and other officers of the court handle matters. Judges and justices also allow us to challenge laws that we think violate the constitution. And federal courts solve disputes between the various states and the different branches of government.
In other words, courts are important because there are always conflicts and contests among us. Courts settle the disputes so we can get on with life. Many cases involve people with clout or cunning who take advantage of a situation...at someone else's expense. Clout comes in all sorts of forms: you may have a gun, or own a bank, or be a man, or be a white man, or have connections, or be a policeman, or be a teacher, or hold public office, or be the president of the United States.
"Clout" in itself is not wrong. It is, in fact, necessary in order to get things done and keep order in our society. But sometimes clout or cunning goes too far and it is not good for the country. The courts allow us to stop the powerful without having to resort to violence in those situations.
Every age has its homeostasis: a stable arrangement whereby some "have" and others are "have-nots." We can't be equal in ALL things: income, good looks, common sense, wonderful grandchildren, health... But we find our homeostasis, our stability.
But because people change and grow and learn and become awakened to new possibilities, there is always a thrust in a great society to upset the homeostasis and give the "have-nots" new opportunities. Jesus called such an opportunity, "abundant life." And then we argue and we struggle and some try to expand rights and privileges and clout to new groups of people in the society.
And this is the difference between a conservative judge and a liberal one. We use the terms conservative and liberal quite loosely in our conversations. For example, a liberal is someone who is compassionate, sometimes to the point of being permissive and coddling. A conservative is someone who insists on individual responsibility, sometimes to the point of perpetrating systemic injustices. But that is not what I mean by a conservative or liberal court.
A conservative court or justice interprets the constitution in such a way as to maintain the status quo or preserve advantages to people who already possess them: religious organizations, police officers, men, corporations, wealthy individuals, educational elites, whites, traditional conservatives...
A liberal court, on the other hand, interprets the constitution in such a way as to upset the homeostasis, expanding rights to groups that have previously been denied: prisoners, women, LGBTQ+, racial minorities, immigrants, workers, the poor...
Conservatives argue against anarchy and irresponsibility. They have a point. Liberals argue against injustice. And they have a point.
For the past 40 years, as American society has gone through huge demographic and ideological changes, the Supreme Court has had somewhat of a balance between liberals and conservatives. As recently as 2015, same sex couples were given the right to get married in all 50 states. On the other hand, conservatives won the day in "Citizens United" when wealthy people were given the green light to spend all the money they wanted in order to influence elections. A somewhat balanced and vacillating court has given a diverse nation a sense that we are still working things out in the country.
But with the death of Justice Ginsburg, a liberal justice, and the appointment of a new justice (Trump has promised a conservative), the court will now swing to a 6-3 dominance of conservatives. The federal courts will no longer be seen as a place where disadvantaged Americans have a chance to remedy perceived wrongs.
And that is dangerous for America. Donald Trump already advocates a militaristic approach to those who protest against him, even peaceful protesters. A rushed appointment to replace RBG, I fear, is a foolish step that will make divisions worse in our country.
But I am not discouraged. Any time the right or the left has overreached, smart people have figured out a way to push the pendulum in the other direction. The left needs to THINK, not just react. As the court tilts sharply conservative, we will see increasing growth in liberal numbers in both the senate and the house. We will also hear new arguments made, not by people who are on the right, but by people who know how to argue from the right in order to expand rights for people. The conservatives will get this Supreme Court seat...this time. But it will probably be at the expense of losing both the presidency and the senate this year. I think Mitch McConnell will come to regret that he kicked the sleeping dog. Hubris always overplays its hand.
Having said that, if the Democrats and the liberals do win, they will be wise to pay attention to the lure of hubris...for it they too have fallen before it every time a Democrat got elected president.