Tweaking the Court

As the next president might have the opportunity to fill as many as four Supreme Court seats, how the candidates might stack the court has been a relatively quiet but powerful issue in this year’s presidential race. Vice President Al Gore has said his Republican rival would use a pro-life litmus test with judicial appointees, while Texas Gov. George W. Bush has pre-labeled the Democrat’s likely high court appointments as “liberal, activist judges.”
Although Gore is more likely to adhere to his convictions and only appoint liberals to the Supreme Court, both candidates’ concerns about the other’s ideology-based appointments are justified.
The only branch of government not subservient to the will of voters, the judiciary has always been political. At least in intent.
Oftentimes judges appointed as conservatives offer voting records during their careers that differ sharply from the original intentions of the president nominating them. Justice David Souter is one particularly sour reminder to conservatives of what they consider a betrayal.
Nominated by former President George Bush in 1990, Justice Souter has ruled against prayer in public schools and limiting abortion rights, among other issues strongly advocated by conservatives. Most recently, Souter joined the court against more conservative voices when he ruled against bans on so-called partial-birth abortions and upheld Miranda.
Concerned that Gov. Bush will not make the same mistake his father did and appoint only conservatives who are likely or certain to overturn Roe v. Wade, Gore supporters have strongly admonished fellow liberals for supporting Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.
With polls showing Bush holding a slight lead two weeks before election day, whether or not Nader supporters place pragmatism before idealism might decide who will be sitting in the Oval Office come January. And although whom the next president appoints to the Supreme Court will broadly affect American lives, whether the person making those appointments is a Democrat or a Republican might not make much of a difference.