Politics hinder Supreme Court nominations

Supreme Court Justice John Stevens announced in an April 9 letter to President Barack Obama that he would retire at the end of the court’s current session in June. Stevens’ seat on the bench will become vacant after what has been a lifetime of honorable service.

This opportunity to appoint a new justice will serve as a way for Obama to shape history and the makeup of the court for decades. Obama will look to nominate a judge who provides qualities similar to Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

When Obama was deliberating on a nomination to replace Justice David Souter last year, he decided to choose Sotomayor not only because of her impeccable academic credentials, but also because of her vast law experience.

In Sotomayor, Obama found qualities that embody what the Founding Fathers shared in their intentions; he found qualities that resonated directly from the Constitution and matched its criteria for justices perfectly.

Obama saw the character of a little girl who overcame the toughest obstacles, beat all the odds and stayed honest to her strong morals, values and beliefs. Most importantly, though, he saw a woman who was dedicated to a lifetime of civil service for the people as a part of her personal American dream.

Shortly after Obama announced Sotomayor as his nomination, she was met with plenty of opposition. The opposition was not toward her credentials or her academic record; rather, it was directed at her character and ethnicity.

Sotomayor ended up being confirmed by a 68-31 vote. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas were among the 31 who opposed Sotomayor’s confirmation.

Hutchison voiced concern for Sotomayor’s nomination with claims of judicial activism and also regarding her opinion of the Second Amendment. Despite receiving some responses during the confirmation that she liked hearing and agreed with, Hutchison proceeded to vote against Sotomayor.

Cornyn took a similar approach, voicing displeasure with a comment Sotomayor made about being a “wise Latina woman.” Despite Sotomayor’s explanation for the remark, both Cornyn and Hutchison continued to cast votes in opposition of Sotomayor’s nomination.

These examples demonstrate the extent to which politics affect Supreme Court nominations, but they also highlight a problem some government leaders have — a concern, or perhaps an obsession, with trivial issues.

The crucial job of any Supreme Court justice is to apply law through interpretation of the Constitution. This means all justices need to remain capable of using their knowledge of precedence and the law with the respective consideration of reality.

It is empathy that helps relate decisions to reality, however much conservatives or anyone else may disagree. Certain key terms in the Constitution were left vague for a reason; the founders knew the country would change over time.

This time around, it will not be unusual for the president’s nomination to be met with plenty of opposition from an already enraged Republican Party. We must sift through the trivial and only focus on real concerns, if any come to light.

We should concern ourselves with making sure potential nominees are capable of applying law and precedence and that they have a desire to interpret the law for the good of all Americans, the way in which the founders intended.

Andrew Taylor is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  • The idea that race matters when deciding the law has serious implications for equality before the law.

    Empathy or the consideration of specific situations of the case has serious implications for the rule of law.

    Neither of these are trivial, and both are against the principled position that the role of a Supreme court justice is to test whether the law violates the constitution or precedent and then ,if not, to decide the case according to the law. It is the legislatures problem if the law is constitutional but bad.

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