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Supreme Court (a Judicial Issue)


Introduction

A Supreme Court is a court of last resort. It is the final arbiter of the laws and the Constitution within its jurisdiction. Basically, this court only hears appeals, and does not conduct trials. There is a United States Supreme Court, and every state and the District of Columbia has a Supreme Court or other court of last resort. Some states have separate courts for civil and criminal appeals.

For the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution simply states one needs to be established and spells out its jurisdiction. The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to establish things like how many justices will be on the court, and how those justices are selected. We currently have nine justices, they are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and basically can serve for as long as they want, unless impeached for bad behavior.

State Supreme Courts vary from state to state. They have different numbers of justices, some are elected in either partisan or non-partisan elections, or are nominated by governors and confirm by state legislators, and serve various terms.

One of the main responsibilities of a Supreme Court is to interpret and to rule on whether a lower court's decision applied the laws and the Constitution appropriately. If the laws and constitution are clearly written, and the justices consistently and correctly interpret them, then most of the court's decisions should be unanimous.

Historically, most United States Supreme Court decisions have been unanimous or decided with a supper majority (8-1 or 7-2), but about a fifth of the court's decisions have been 5-4. The split decisions were mostly along ideological or partisan (conservative verses liberal) lines. When decisions are made along partisan or ideological lines, our laws are at the mercy of the current makeup of the court. We need our courts to be non-partisan, and when they are not, people can lose faith in our judicial system and our democracy in general.

For most of the court's history, there has always been a split along ideological or partisan (conservative verses liberal) lines. Sometimes the court is more conservative, and sometimes it is more liberal, but most of the time some of the justices were more moderate and were swing votes on many issues. With a fairly even ideological split and with some moderates on the court, the court's decisions stayed on a fairly even keel and were fairly uncontroversial.

Problem

Today, things have changed. In 2021, the makeup of the court took a decidedly partisan shift with 6 conservative justices, no moderates, and only 3 liberals. With a super majority, the conservative justices have started to make a number of very controversial decisions on things like abortion, gun laws, and religion. In some of these cases, it seems to me that the justices based their decision on their ideological or religious views and ignored what was in the Constitution. I talked about a couple of these in previous sections on abortion and gun control.

Part of the problem we now see in the United States Supreme Court stems from the problems we have with our current political system and the way justices are nominated and confirmed. Our current political system has given us a lot of representatives with extreme views, and when one political party is in power, they tend to nominate and confirm justices who have more of the same extreme views as they do.

In addition, part of the problem is that justices do not really need to answer to anyone. Once they are confirmed and sworn in, they can only be removed by impeachment. Therefore, those justices with the current ideological majority can essentially rule as dictators.

Solution

There are two things that must be done to fix the problems with our United States Supreme Court. The first thing is to change our political and electoral systems. I talked about those changes in the earlier sections. Basically, we need to eliminate partisan politics and to elect representatives who represent all of us, and not just the extremists. With more moderate representatives in the White House and in the Senate, then more moderate justices should be nominated and confirmed. More moderate justices should more likely based their decisions on our Laws and our Constitution than the more extreme justices we now have.

The second thing we must do is to limit how long a justice can serve. There are a number of ways this can be done with each having its own set of advantages over letting justices serve for life. One option would be to simply set a term limit, like maybe 5, 10 or 15 years. This would limit the damage a bad justice could do, but would also limit the positive things a good justice could do.

A variation on just setting a term limit would be to allow justices to serve one or more terms up to some limit. For instance, justices could serve up to some number of terms, with each term being limited to some number of years. For instance, they might be able to serve up to 3 or 4 five year terms. Then, just before their current term is about to expire for a justice who is eligible for another term, the Senate would vote on whether to give the justice another term. With non-partisan Senators, good justices would be confirmed for another term, and bad justices would not. Of course, we want to keep the option to impeach a bad justice at any time. The terms of the justices would be staggered so that the term of only one justice would expire at a time.

Next Section

Religious Issues - Introduction to the Religious Issues affecting Our Future Path.

Last Updated:
Saturday, September 24, 2022
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