By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Citizens concerned about abortion, gay rights, and the kind of judicial activism that has caused the moral condition of the country to deteriorate over the last few decades will be wise to consider the candidates’ positions on one of the most important decisions they will make during their presidency – the appointment of Supreme Courts justices.
In 2009, Justice Paul Stevens will turn 88 and five other Justices will be from 69 to 75 years old. This means the next president is likely to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices in his first term and possibly another two or three if elected to a second term.
What have the candidates told us about their intentions when it comes to Supreme Court nominations?
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has a long pro-life voting record and is against gay marriage, has repeatedly stated his intentions of appointing strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court. In a speech delivered to a recent Conservative Political Action Conference, he said: “I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago, in … judges who enforce, and not make, our laws; the social values that are our true source of our strength; and, generally, the steadfast defense of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which I have defended my entire career as God-given to the born and the unborn.”
He has also said he would appoint judges of the “character and quality” of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito “who can be relied upon to respect the values of the people whose rights, laws and property they are sworn to defend.”
He has also said publicly that he would try to find “clones” of conservative justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who is in favor of abortion and gay marriage, has said he will appoint justices with “empathy.” Speaking at a Planned Parenthood conference, he elaborated on the kind of person he would want to elect by saying: “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”
Senator Obama voted against the appointments of Samuel Alito and John Roberts. In explaining his vote against Roberts, Obama said that deciding the “truly difficult” cases requires resorting to “one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.” In short, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.”
The appointment of Supreme Court justices will affect more than abortion and gay rights over the course of the next few decades. These appointments will also impact a number of key rulings on the separation of church and state, First Amendment issues such as protections for the Internet, and a variety of national security issues.
With the stock market in a nose dive and most people focused on the economy, will anyone even be paying attention to the issue of Supreme Court justices?
Yes, say the experts. Speaking to the New York Times earlier this month, Evan Tracey, head of CMAG, a company that monitors political advertising, said “Judges are what you refer to as a ‘last 30 days’ issue. Now is the time when you start hearing messages that connect with the single-issue core voters — guns, abortion, civil rights. And it’s all about judges.”
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