There are reasons why presidential elections seem unimportant. The cascade of clown-like candidates – Donald Trump comes to mind- and demagogues – Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum certainly come to mind – diminishes the ability of some voters to take the entire election process seriously. And that is truly a shame because, as the recent Supreme Court decisions made clear, presidential elections really do matter.
During the last week in June the United States Supreme Court handed down several decisions of epic importance. In the process SCOTUS surprised some observers, confirmed the predictions of others and definitely affected virtually every citizen of this country. With the RobertsScaliaAlitoThomas cabal firmly in its place on the bench of the highest court in the land, it surprised some that marriage would be confirmed as a right that could not be restricted by any state on the basis of gender preference. Given the propensity of that cabal to engage in black robed politics (See Gore v. Bush – 2000); it was a mild surprise that the court would confirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
For good measure SCOTUS also affirmed an Arizona state initiative that will seriously curtail redistricting with obvious partisan motives. And it also ruled that affordable housing development cannot be restricted to lower income neighborhoods and communities – a decision which will have a huge (and positive) impact on urban development in this country.
The Roberts/Scalia/Alito/Thomas Gang of Four surprised no one by affirming the culture of government sponsored murder by ruling that the use of death penalty drugs was constitutional. It also limited the powers of the presidency with respect to restriction of anti-pollution measures and limits on mercury emissions. And for a final act, SCOTUS has agreed to (once again) revisit the issue of race-based affirmative action strategies in higher education – not a good sign for those who support equity in higher education in this country.
Wherever one may be on the political spectrum, there is virtually unanimous agreement that the decisions of the Supreme Court were of great importance with generational, cultural and institutional impact that goes well beyond the actual court cases. Everyone knows that the Supreme Court is an important part of the federal government but occasionally SCOTUS really flexes its judicial muscles.
This is important because of the following facts. There are nine members of the Supreme Court – four of them – Scalia (78), Kennedy (78), Ginsburg (81), and Breyer (76). By the end of the next president term their ages will be 83, 83, 86 and 81. It is highly likely that the next president of the United States will be in a position to appoint between one and four new Supreme Court justices.
Understanding that SCOTUS is virtually split between 5 Reagan-Bush appointees (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas) and 4 – Clinton-Obama appointees (Breyer, Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor), it should be crystal clear why elections matter. If the next president were to choose justices in the Reagan-Bush mode the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage decisions go the other way. If the next president were to choose justices in the Clinton-Obama mode affirmative action and the Affordable Care Act and same sex marriage will be preserved.
After SCOTUS stole the election from Al Gore and gave the presidency to George Bush, it should have been clear for all time why presidential elections matter. The last week of June 2015 made that point again and everyone can wonder what kind of Supreme Court justices Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio might select and what kind of justices Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might select.
Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. is 60 (DOB: 27 January, 1955).
Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia is 78 (DOB: 11 March, 1936).
Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy is 78 (DOB: 23 July, 1936).
Justice Clarence Thomas is 66 (DOB: 23 June, 1948).
Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is 81 (DOB: 15 March, 1933).
Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer is 76 (DOB: 14 August 1938).
Justice Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is 64 (DOB: 1 April, 1950).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is 60 (DOB: 25 June, 1954).
Justice Elena Kagan is 54 (DOB: 28 April, 1960).
That should be enough for everyone to realize why elections really matter.