Opinion: Choosing Justice

Your Vote Will Influence Supreme Choices

Carolyn Carlson
7 min read
Choosing Justice
The US Supreme Court (Ken Hammond)
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Some Burque voters disagree, often strongly, with Democrat Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton on a variety of issues. But here is one reason all moody, progressive voters (and really all voters) should support Clinton enthusiastically: The future appointments of up to four Supreme Court Justices are at stake come November.

Why Should You Care?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s February 2016 death left the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) split between, broadly speaking, four conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents and four liberal justices appointed by Democrat presidents. Whoever moves into the White House next will nominate not only Scalia’s replacement, but probably three other justices. Since 1971, the average age of retirement for Supreme Court justices is just about 79 years old. As the Obama presidency winds down, Ginsberg is 83, Kennedy is 80 and Breyer is 78.

The new justices will set the direction of the Supreme Court for the next generation. Justices serve for life, holding their position until they die, get impeached by Congress or leave willingly. That means a generation of our daughters, sons, grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s lives will be impacted by their decisions. Conservative Scalia served for 30 years.

The longest serving justice ever was William Orville Douglas, appointed by Franklin Roosevelt. He served for 36 years. John Paul Stevens served 35 years from 1975 to 2010. Justice Clarence Thomas is only 68 years old and he has been on the court for 25 years. The youngest member is Justice Elena Kagan, 56, who was appointed by President Barack Obama. She has served for about 6 years so far. As you can see, the nomination of a justice is a far-reaching decision.

Pick Your Battles Carefully

It is understandable that there is a great desire among disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters and other voters to migrate to one of the third party candidates to prove a point. But let’s be realistic; there is virtually no chance of a third party candidate winning this election. And all that protest votes will do is take away votes from the more reasonable candidate. Not voting is not the way to protest either.

Educate yourself about Clinton’s lifelong work for regular people of all types and stripes, comparing it to Trump’s lifelong work
against common people and for rich, profiteering white men. Then tell everyone you know the score. At a minimum finish your thought experiment by voting, but don’t waste it on a third party. A third party vote this year is practically a vote for Trump.

At the Democratic Convention this past summer, Bernie Sanders said, “If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.”

Donald Trump has said these appointments are one of the most important issues that will be decided by this election. He will appoint justices that will take the court back to a very conservative stance. That would happen pretty much right away; Scalia’s replacement in a Trump presidency would tip the scale back to a conservative majority.

Any subsequent Trump appointments would only make it even more difficult for the people to confront power and wealth as well as to stop racial, social and sexual discrimination, have sane gun laws, and defend the right to vote. Trump wants a national police force capable of a constitutional and national “stop and frisk” policy. Do you want federal law enforcement agents stopping you everywhere you go?

Hillary has already said she will appoint Supreme Court Justices that will get the big corporate money out of politics, address climate change, tackle reasonable gun control, and protect abortion, marriage equality, voter and other human rights.

Looking Back

Obama has appointed 329 federal judges, including 2 Supreme Court justices, 55 Court of Appeals judges, 268 district court justices and 4 on the Court of International Trade. His total number of appointments are on par with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Within a couple of hours of Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell announced that as leader of the Senate he was not going to allow a vote on any nominee that President Obama might put up for the seat and the vacancy should be filled by the next president. This type of presidential appointment obstruction is unprecedented.

It bears repeating: without Scalia the court has eight justices, four conservatives, four liberals. This leaves open the possibility of tied votes, which affirm a lower court’s decisions.

One such vote struck quite a blow to millions of unauthorized immigrants when the court considered whether Obama’s administration could have a program to shield these immigrants and allow them to continue to work while they muddle through the legal immigration process. Because there is not a ninth justice, the four to four tie affirmed a nationwide injunction to block implementation of this step in immigration reform.

The Long View

The United States and the world can survive the alt-right created, patently false media image of Hillary’s inherent deceptiveness and cronyism, but it might not survive the ego-driven, erratic recklessness of an uneducated Donald Trump as president. Looking ahead there are a myriad of issues that could be reversed or limited, such as gender equality, marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, health care … the list goes on.

A Trump Supreme Court could set us all back decades and decades, making discrimination lawful and fairness impossible. One of the most important cases heading for SCOTUS is a challenge to President Obama’s climate change initiative, also known as The Clean Power Plan. This is what gave way to the 2016 Paris Agreement. If the plan is smacked down by the next generation of justices, the United States will lose its biggest tool in the climate change shed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

There are 28 mostly Republican states and more than 100 labor and industry groups in the battle to overturn the plan, because profits come first, even if irreversible climate damage to our planet occurs. Any Trump appointee would most certainly side with overturning the climate change plan.

If the plan is upheld—as it would most certainly be under any Hillary appointment—it has the vision to transform and improve our country’s electrical system using wind, solar and even nuclear power in some instances. Young people and millennials in particular should take note: Your culture and that of the next generation is rapidly changing; ensuring it changes for the better is a vote away.

Another popular issue is reversing
Citizens United v. FEC, a previous Supreme Court ruling which gives corporations First Amendment rights. This can only be done with a Supreme Court reversal or a constitutional amendment. There is just about zero chance of this happening with a Trump win. A Clinton win makes the possibility quite good that somehow Citizens United will be overturned.

The bottom line: All forward-thinking young people should do everything possible to make sure the next Supreme Court is not a Trump-friendly court. Save your protest votes for third party candidates for the next cycle. And between now and then, channel that “Bernin’ feelin” into practical progressivism that will ultimately cause necessary changes allowing third party candidates to be a viable option in
future elections.
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