by Ralph Scharnau posted with permission
The framers of the United States Constitution established a government composed of three separate branches, legislative, executive, and judicial. The Supreme Court functions as the highest tribunal in the nation’s federal judiciary system. Unlike members of Congress and the President, who are elected, Supreme Court Justices are recommended by the President and approved or rejected by the Senate.
The U.S. Constitution does not dictate the number of judges on the Supreme Court but only that federal judges serve with good behavior and receive compensation for their services. In 1869 Congress set the number of Supreme Court justices at nine where it remains today. Justices usually serve until retirement or death.
Expanding the Supreme Court has been recently talked about as an option among an array of activists and scholars. Given the intensely partisan nature of politics in contemporary America, how can justices avoid becoming a tool for conservatives or liberals to create ideologically-driven court decisions?
Upon assuming the duties of a federal judge, the newly seated justices take an oath. The oath states that the new member of the judiciary branch of government swears to make decisions impartially based on law. The oath is to uphold the rule of law, not the will of the nominating president or a political party.
Clearly personal preferences and/or partisan pressures can’t be removed from the judge’s decision-making processes. But the members of the court pledge to make their decisions as independent as they can. This is the standard that the Founding Fathers aimed to achieve.
The Constitution is the bedrock of our republic. It’s also the basis for evaluating political decision-making It hovers over the actions of lawmakers and residents as well. And its 5-4 rulings reflect sharp differences. On June 22, 2015, for example, the high court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, a very controversial decision.
The judicial history of our republic, moreover, presents us with a story about expanding freedom and equality to more and more people. That heritage can be traced to the Constitution’s First Ten Amendments or Bill of Rights ratified on December 15, 1791.
Belief in freedom of expression as an inherent right of all people has coexisted with persistent efforts to limit this freedom by race, gender, class, ethnicity, residence, and in other ways. The meanings and boundaries of freedom have been constructed and contested at political debates, media platforms, street demonstrations, college campuses, and kitchen tables.
The partisan political divide on voting has generated plenty of news coverage lately. Since 2009, Republicans have orchestrated a series of voter suppression laws in states they control. Several states require government-issued photo IDs—like drivers’ licenses–to vote. This disenfranchises those who do not own a car as well as elderly and disabled non-drivers.
Other measures include restricting early voting, eliminating same day registration, and shortening polling hours. These rules limit the voting rights and electoral power of Democratic leaning constituencies, blacks, Hispanics, lower income people, and students. Several states gerrymander districts to reduce the political power of minorities and Democrats, and thereby guarantee Republican control in Congress
Liberals insist that freedom should be shared by all, not just the rich and powerful. This is an ongoing struggle to secure the right of everyone to equal opportunity, regardless of skin color, sexual identity, and economic status.
The promise of our nation’s freedom of expression for all leaves no one out. All individuals should have the right to pursue their dreams, regardless of who they are, who they love, or where they live.