By Jackson Springer – Cougar News Contributor
It’s that time.
The time when competitors from all over the country attempt to capture the hearts and minds of the people and get the most votes to come out on top. It’s not “American Idol” or even some dance competition reality show; the presidential election of 2012 has kicked off.
Technically, it is still 2011, but the rest of the year will be filled with potential Republican candidates entering the competition and promoting their credentials as to why they should be the nominee for their party and the president. The media will follow them around as they campaign everywhere from Iowa to New Hampshire and the media will pick up every sound bite and misstep from the candidates along the way.
The excitement will be on the Republican side, as the Democrats pretty much already have their presidential candidate in Barack Obama, but both sides will be asked exhaustively about what laws they would make or repeal and what policy options—domestic and foreign—they will pursue.
One of the most important decisions that could potentially be made by the candidates will receive the least media and voter attention—what type of person he or she will appoint to the Supreme Court if there is a vacancy.
It is very likely that there will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court soon, the judges are appointed for life; while they admittedly must have one of the most comfortable work uniforms of any job, many of the justices are old and well past the standard retirement age. In fact, the combined age of just the four oldest justices is 299, which is about 80 years older than the Supreme Court itself and more than 50 years older than the U.S. That means the average age of the four oldest justices is about 75. I know that I would rather be retired and living in Florida at that point than working every day, even if work was wearing a robe to work and arguing why my opinion is right over someone else’s.
The Supreme Court has four conservative justices, four liberal justices, and one conservative leaning justice in Anthony Kennedy who serves as a swing vote. These nine justices have the final say on the legality of the laws and policy of the United States. While the average person does not get to vote who gets sent to the court, the average person does get to vote for the president who appoints justices to the court. That is why it is important to consider who a presidential candidate will appoint; it is especially important since that justice will likely serve longer than the president will, the court still has Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush appointees.
The oldest justices: Antonin Scalia, 75; Anthony Kennedy, 74; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78; and Steven Breyer, 72, are from both the conservative and liberal wings of the court. If a Republican candidate becomes president he or she will likely choose a conservative justice, while if Barack Obama wins a second term, he will likely choose a liberal judge. The appointment only matters if a liberal replaces Scalia or Kennedy or if more conservative appointee replaces Ginsburg, Breyer, or Kennedy, but that replacement would change the balance of the court.
The court has made some monumental and controversial decisions in its history, for good and bad. The court can determine presidential policy as unconstitutional as it did to many early New Deal programs. It can also set its own policy; it outlawed separate but equal segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), integrating America’s public schools. However, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was upheld in Korematsu v. United States (1944). The court even ruled in Nix v. Hedden (1893) that tomatoes would be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit, even though the tomato is a botanical fruit, so it could be taxed. These decisions became binding law after they were decided and the make-up of the court affected each decision; whether the court changed a fruit into a vegetable, or intern American citizens.
That is why it is important for students and voters to keep in mind the possible Supreme Court appointments their candidate will likely make as those candidates spend the next year fighting to become the next president. There may not be many groundbreaking decisions like changing a fruit to a vegetable, but the court will likely tackle important issues in the coming years about: abortion, gun control, enhanced interrogation of enemy combatants, gay marriage, the legality of marijuana, racial and gender discrimination, and free speech.