The Supreme Court is an indispensable branch of the federal government, but it was never intended to be the most powerful of the three. If anything, there is evidence to suggest that the Founding Fathers meant for the judicial branch to have a much smaller role than the executive and the legislative. At the very least, it should be equal to Congress and the President.
Unfortunately, things have gotten twisted way out of control. Our Congress is gridlocked and wholly ineffective. The White House has spent the last eight years trying to gain power, being slapped back, trying again, and so on. This has provided the Supreme Court with the opportunity to expand its own power – a mission it has been successfully following for decades anyway.
Those black robes have a surprisingly magical effect on the American public. For no good reason whatsoever, we afford much more respect to these justices than we do our president or our congressmen. We even pretend somehow that they are above petty politics. We see then as learned wise men, immune to societal trends and beholden to the U.S. Constitution. We respond to bad decisions by hoping for a president who will stack the court with more of “our guys” instead of addressing the real problem: That the Supreme Court has way too much power in today’s America.
If our Supreme Court resembled the public myth that surrounds it, maybe we could turn a blind eye to its growing influence over our lives. If these really were men of such profound intelligence and such superior character, maybe we could get used to the idea of having them in charge.
But that’s not really the case, now is it?
The justices know better than to spend their nights talking to Chris Matthews. They don’t hold a press conference every few days. They don’t have to run nasty political campaigns that inspire Americans to get sick of them and rail against Washington’s culture. They get to sit in the shadows, pop up once a year or so with a handful of decisions, and then retreat back into obscurity. Everyone can name the president. Most people can probably name the House Speaker. How many can name the Chief Justice?
By strictly limiting their foray into the public dialogue, these justices can keep the myth alive. A myth that allows President Obama to slam Republicans for “politicizing” the process of confirming his nominee. As though this process has ever been anything other than political.
There aren’t two different Constitutions, so how can it be that so many Supreme Court rulings are split along partisan lines? Gee, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think these Gods of Wisdom were deciding based on their ideological beliefs and not on sound legal evidence. But no, it’s probably just a strangely-persistent coincidence.
Finding a solution to this quandary won’t be easy. The temptation is to elect a conservative president who promises to fill the court with conservative justices. Who cares if the court is all-powerful as long as we like their decisions, right? Most of us can probably recall at least one case where we got a decision we were thrilled about – even as we harbored doubts about the legal justification for the ruling. If not, maybe we can at least agree that those cases probably exist.
To be sure, a strongly-conservative Supreme Court would be greatly preferred to the one we have now.
But the truth is that the next 25 years of our country’s future should not hang on a single presidential election. Hillary Clinton’s election should not automatically doom us to a generation’s worth of intensely-liberal Supreme Court rulings.
We must begin dismantling the myth of a non-partisan court and start building a truly non-partisan court. We must insist that our presidents choose justices based on their commitment to the Constitution – not their judicial activism. We must pressure Congress to re-establish its role as a lawmaking body and remind them that they are not subservient to the court.
By filling the Supreme Court with constitutional originalists, we will uphold the very foundation of conservatism: Limiting the power of the federal government.
All three branches of it.