Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Supreme Reason to Re-Elect Obama

The 2012 election cycle is now in full swing, and while I'd love to just hibernate and ignore it, it's clear that the results do truly matter. The Washington Monthly has a series on what a republican victory would mean that's well worth reading, although also quite frightening. While I know many liberals who are quite disappointed in President Obama (the only reason that I'm not disappointed is that I held really low expectations), it's important to assess what are the realistic options, before giving up on his re-election.

One of the greatest long term impacts of any President is the appointment of Supreme Court Justices. In his first term, Obama filled two vacancies, as did shrub before him. Overall, the current court is dominated by republican appointees, which is clearly reflected in the conservative, pro-corporate philosophy of it's decisions. And the next presidential term of office could potentially see vacancies that impact the courts makeup for decades to come.

While Supreme Court Justices receive the finest medical care on the planet, and historically live longer than the rest of the population, age does catch up to everyone. Four of the nine current Justices are in their seventies, an age where physical and mental decline are a common occurrence, and may not remain on the bench through the next presidential term.

First on the list of likely departures is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who's 78 (79 in March) and has been battling cancer. She has been one of the most consistently liberal voices on the court since her 1993 appointment by Bill Clinton, and it's extremely unlikely that she will serve another four plus years.

Antonin Scalia is 75 years old (76 in March), and has been serving since 1986. A staunch (I would say extreme) conservative, he seems to be in robust health. It's conceivable that he would consider retiring if a republican is elected president, but is a good bet to remain on the bench through a second Obama term.

Anthony Kennedy is also 75 (76 in July), and is arguably the most significant member of the court. He's moderately conservative, and represents the swing vote in many decisions. While not substantiated, I've read multiple reports that he is likely to retire in relatively few years for reasons of age and health. He's been serving since 1988.

Stephen Breyer is 73 (74 in August), and is rumored to be considering retirement. Moderately liberal and fairly quiet, he's considered a very thoughtful, intellectual jurist. I think the likelihood of him remaining through the next presidential term is under 50%, as he often sounds frustrated with the current court.

(Justice bios here: Of course, any of the other five Justices might choose to retire or suffer an untimely demise, but I chose to focus on the four most likely potential departures.)

The Washington Monthly piece is a useful group of articles. Addressing what a republican victory would mean for the Supreme Court, The conservative takeover will be complete. By Dahlia Lithwick is well worth reading.

The current court is viewed as a balance between four liberals and four conservative, with Kennedy somewhere in between, but is more really four moderates, four extreme conservatives, and Kennedy. That balance could be changed dramatically in the next presidential term.

Neither of Obama's appointee's, Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan, are all that liberal, which is in keeping with his own moderate philosophy. And I would expect that any future justice appointees would also be moderates. But compare that to the philosophy of the current republican presidential candidates. Then consider how they would likely choose to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. It's a scary proposition for the coming decades. That alone is enough to make me support Obama in 2012.

1 comment:

Demeur said...

Considering all the legislation that's been upheld by the Supreme Court of late that violates our constitution yea I'd say that's a safe bet.