The choice of a Supreme Court nominee is one of a president's most important roles, one that has an impact on every American for decades. When Americans vote for president, they are also voting for what the Supreme Court will look like. While that has always been the case, several high-profile cases are making unlikely that anyone will overlook the importance of the Court when they cast their vote in 2012. In recent days, the Court announced that it would hear cases on:
- the constitutionality of healthcare reform (a case that sets a fundamental challenge to congressional authority to address national problems);
- Arizona's anti-immigrant bill, which would expose the state’s Latinos to harassment and intimidation regardless of immigration status; and
- a Texas GOP redistricting scheme that doesn't reflect the substantial growth in the Hispanic population and which the Justice Department says was "adopted with discriminatory purpose."
As a result, a number of press outlets are out with stories on the Court and the election. The Washington Post's The Fix blog  has a headline proclaiming "Supreme Court inserts itself into 2012 election in a major way." Politico reports:
Together, the cases will help shape the national political debate as well as the direction of policy on one of the most contentious issues of the election: the power of the federal government. On immigration, the justices will decide whether the federal government has the right to block state efforts to enforce immigration laws. On health care, the high court will wrestle with the question of whether the national government can require individuals to purchase health insurance.
While the political impact of the high court's entrance into these pivotal cases won't be clear until the justices rule, some analysts believe Obama would benefit from a decision on his health care law, regardless of the outcome.
"If the court does the unlikely and strikes the law down, he could try to run against the court. And if they uphold it, it takes some of the other side's rhetoric away" by undercutting arguments that the law is unconstitutional, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Immigration is harder to figure," he added.
Politico also quotes  a number of legal and political experts and activists discussing the importance of the Court in 2012:
Thomas J. Whalen, Professor of Social Science, Boston University: [The Supreme Court] is one of President Obama's best political trump cards heading into his reelection campaign. He can reasonably argue to independents that although they're not crazy about how he's handled the economy, they'd be even more upset with a staunchly conservative Supreme Court intent on overturning almost a century of social and political reform dating back to the New Deal. ...
Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way: The current Supreme Court, the most conservative in decades, has repeatedly gone out of its way to rule against individual Americans and in favor of powerful corporations, and yet is still little discussed in presidential politics. I hope that the legal battles over Arizona's immigration law and health care reform will focus wider attention on the true importance of the Court in all of our lives.
As Newt Gingrich concocts radical plans to undermine judicial independence and Mitt Romney hires extremist Robert Bork as his legal adviser, the importance of Supreme Court nominations is a conversation that all Americans need to have.
SCOTUSBlog has a good round-up of coverage:
"Yesterday the Court (with Justice Kagan recused) granted cert. in Arizona v. United States , in which the state has asked it to overturn the lower courts' decisions blocking enforcement of four provisions of its controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070 . . . several journalists – including Adam Liptak of the New York Times , Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor , Robert Barnes of the Washington Post , and Nina Totenberg of NPR  — focused on the case's potential effect on the upcoming presidential election, particularly when combined with the Court's expected rulings on the health care and Texas redistricting cases."
It is hardly news that the Supreme Court is one of the most important issues in any presidential election. George Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito have led to a number of 5-4 decision finding novel ways to prevent individual Americans from exercising their legal rights when they have been wronged by powerful corporations. People's ability to pursue the legal remedies written against employment discrimination, consumer scams, and misleadingly labeled prescription drugs have all been severely undermined by an arch-conservative Supreme Court.
There's no doubt that the Supreme Court is a critical presidential campaign issue.