American citizens and those interested in the operation of good government should take advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court times the release of its spring opinions in June, just before the country celebrates its independence from the tyrannical rule of men.
If you happen to be one of those patriots who reads — aloud, when appropriate — the U.S. Constitution and George Washington’s inaugural address to celebrate Independence Day this July 4, then the advantage to you doubles. But, even if you are not of so virulent a strain of patriotism as that, it is to your advantage to recall the reasons that Washington and his compatriots risked life, liberty and property in order secure liberty for their posterity, and to notice the stark contrast of that civic service with what the U.S. Supreme Court is currently doing.Last week the Court issued opinions on significant matters involving national oversight of state voting practices left over from the 1960s as well as the definition of marriage via the decade-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Washington’s (D.C.) supervision of state voting practices extended so far into the nitty-gritty that supposedly the decision to relocate a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist one across the street required the approval of some faceless bureaucrat (or a whole agency full of them), so one can see the wisdom of the Court’s decision to end much of this practice.
However, not all citizens were pleased, and the greatest indicator of the level of opprobrium with which one viewed the voting decision is political affiliation. Those from the left, the progressives, the liberals, the Democrats took issue with the narrow majority the “conservative” justices cobbled together in order to reach the decision.
Only a few days later, however, the tables were turned when the “liberal” end of the Supreme Court bench declared key portions of DOMA to be unconstitutional.
Increasingly, the entire population of the United States is being governed by the vote of one Supreme Court Justice, in 5 to 4 decisions that have dramatic impact on a populace galvanized in its support or opposition of that vote. This is not as it should be.
There will certainly be some ideological loyalty reflected in the majorities the Justices form and in the opinions that they write. When each President has the ability to appoint Justices, this is to be expected. But the Court fails us when it so apparently divides along political lines, appearing in many cases to be a smaller, more closely divided version of the Senate or House of Representatives.
When the Congress had recently voted to extend (again) the Voting Rights Act for twenty-five years, what good is a 5-4 decision that runs counter to that legislative act? And when overwhelming majorities of both houses of Congress passed DOMA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, what good is a 5-4 decision that voids such an act?
I agree with the Court’s voting decision, but would have preferred that the Justices agree 9-0, basing their decision on the law rather than on political affiliation. Conversely, I disagree with the DOMA decision, but again, would prefer that the Court be unanimous on such monumental issues.
Citizens will be dissatisfied with the Court’s recent close calls, for different reasons related to the outcomes of them. But we should all be dissatisfied with the politicization of Court, and should demand more from the President who appoints Justices, and from the Congress that approves them.