This year’s election has been heavily dominated by the economy, jobs, and the national debt with less attention given to the judiciary and the consequences of presidential nominations to the Supreme Court. With several of the current justices well into their seventies and increasing speculation on who will retire, the stakes are high for upcoming cases involving women’s rights, LGBT Americans, the environment, voter suppression, racial equality, and corporate power. The next president may name up to three justices, and the Senate will decide whether to confirm those choices. So the results of the presidential and Senate elections will have a huge impact on the Supreme Court and on every American for decades to come.
Recently, the topic of Supreme Court nominations has come up in a number of Senate races throughout the nation – most notably in Massachusetts where during a debate incumbent Republican Scott Brown cited Justice Antonin Scalia as his model justice, resulting in rebuke from the audience and the nation due to Justice Scalia’s extreme conservative values and record. Brown’s opponent, Elizabeth Warren, said she preferred justices like Elena Kagan and has since warned of the dangers of appointing extreme right-wing judges.
Supreme Court nominations also came up in the Senate race in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy criticized Republican challenger Linda McMahon for identifying herself as pro-choice while at the same time being willing to vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who would restrict women’s health rights and ban abortion. In Hawaii, Representative Mazie Hirono expressed interest in ensuring that a more balanced Supreme Court exists so that “ideologically based” decisions would be rejected. She cited such recent rulings like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Ledbetter v. Goodyear as examples as to why ideologically based rulings need to be rejected within the Court. Her opponent, former Republican Governor Linda Lingle, stated she would evaluate judicial nominees based on their level of objectivity in interpreting the law and not pose any questions regarding controversial issues like gay rights and abortion.
Vice President Joe Biden also brought up Supreme Court nominations during his debate with Representative Paul Ryan. Biden advised voters to “Keep your eye on the Supreme Court”, shedding light on a critical issue in this election that voters need to be aware of and making it clear that Romney intends to name justices who would actively seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and harm women’s reproductive rights.
Although neither Obama nor Romney spoke directly about the Supreme Court in any of their three debates, in a recent appearance on the “Tonight Show”, Obama highlighted the importance of having a diverse Court especially when it came to Roe v. Wade.