By: Andrew J. Englund
Barack Obama has about 680 days left of his term. And there are about 600 days left until Election Day 2016. I believe that the most important issue for this election cycle will not be ISIS, various social issues, or even the Federal Debt which now tops $18 Trillion. I believe that the most important issue will be what type of justices the candidate will appoint to the Supreme Court. The president controls policy for four to eight years; however his Supreme Court appointments can sit on the court for twenty to thirty years, if not longer, leaving a far greater impact than any policy proposal. Which is why John Adams appointed John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the Court in 1801. John Marshall served as Chief Justice until 1835, his appointment was an obvious attempt by John Adams to disrupt the policies of Thomas Jefferson. Even though John Adams was only President for four years (1797-1801), his Chief Justice controlled the court for thirty-four years. This is why the Supreme Court is such an important presidential campaign issue.
The current Supreme Court has four loose constructionists, four strict constructionists, and one textualist (Scalia). Here is the current make-up of the court: Chief Justice John Roberts, 60, appointed by George W. Bush in 2005; Justice Antonin Scalia, 78, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986; Justice Anthony Kennedy, 78, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988; Justice Clarence Thomas, 66, appointed by George H.W. Bush in 1991; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 81, appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993; Justice Stephen Breyer, 76, appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994; Justice Sam Alito, 64, appointed by George W. Bush in 2006; Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 60, appointed by Barack Obama in 2009; and Justice Elena Kagan, 54, appointed by Barack Obama in 2010.
It is unlikely that Obama will have another Supreme Court nominee before his term concludes. Justice Ginsberg has far too much respect for the Court to resign before Obama’s term concludes just so that her seat can be filled by a younger liberal justice, as has been suggested by a few blogs. It is very likely that the next president will be able to appoint two or three justices. If the swap is a liberal for a liberal, then the dynamic of the court will remain unchanged as is evident with the two most recent nominees. However, if the swap is a conservative for a liberal or vice-versa then the dynamic of the court can change for the next twenty years.
Not only do we need to ensure that a conservative is elected President, but the GOP must remain in control of the Senate so that the nominees have a greater chance of being confirmed. We do not want any of the textualist or strict constructionist nominees to be “Borked” by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
I do not know who will be the Republican nominee for president, nor do I have a horse in the race. I am suggesting that in order to really have an impact on the culture in Washington DC that we need to ask our candidates what types of justices they will nominate. We need to pressure them to pick textualists or strict constitutionalists.