What You Need to Know About the Supreme Court

Supreme Court 2018
Supreme Court 2018

Judge Anthony McLeod Kennedy, appointed by President Ronald Reagan has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court which frees President Trump to appoint his successor.

The Supreme Court is a unique institution in all the world. If you live in this country (USA) this post will explain what you need to know about the Supreme Court, or as it is sometimes called, SCOTUS, (Suprememe Court of the United States.

Supreme Court Justice is a Lifetime Gig

Once seated, a supreme court justice can hang up his or her resume. There is no expiration term on this job unlike regular judges who must pander for your votes at each election cycle. The president appoints SCOTUS justices according to his or her political persuasion. For this reason some have argued that the ability to appoint supreme court justices is one of the most powerful tools that sitting presidents have. Presidential terms in office are fleeting but their policies embedded in their SCOTUS selection endure far beyond their years.

This is the reason why President Obama’s appointment of Sonia Maria Sotomayor was so disturbing to constitutionally-opinionated Americans and even foreign-born critics.  She indicated that she intended to pass rulings based on her personal sentiments (empathy, she said) rather than on the basics of the constitution which she is bound by oath to comply with and defend.

An unabashed left-wing liberal radical, she also ruled against the Stolen Valor Act which prevents individuals from portraying themselves as armed forces heroes for false personal gain. This (from my perspective as a veteran) is a poor choice for this high office. Shame.

So there’s that.

History Behind the Supreme Court

The Constitution permitted Congress to decide on the make-up of the Supreme Court. The legislative branch first exercised this power with the Judiciary Act of 1789. The act, signed into law by President George Washington, specified that the court would be made up of six justices who would serve on the court until they died or retired.

Today there are nine sitting justices and together they hold more power than arguably anyone on the planet.  They serve and issue edicts until they retire or die.

Anthony Kennedy Retires

Notably, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy just announced his retirement setting the stage for President Trump to appoint a successor.

Why does this matter? Whoever Trump places on the bench will wield power for years, even decades, long after the presidential torch has passed. This is why the power of the president can last far longer than his term. It doesn’t always work out that way and there is no denial that some justices are flawed.

For example when Justice Roberts “interpreted” Obamacare non-compliance to be a “tax” rather than a “fine” he usurped Congressional authority. Specifically, the Supreme Court has no such authority but they have “assumed” it over time. Like, if I jaywalk enough times without getting busted, it becomes legal. Bullcrap, but there you go.

The Supreme Court Justice Nomination Process

There are nine Supreme Court justices. One is designated as the Chief Justice and the other eight are Associate Justices. When any one justice dies or retires it makes for a vacancy. Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that the president has the responsibility of nominating a replacement.

The reason for using nine, an odd number, is so when SCOTUS hears a case and rules on it there will not be a tie.

Next the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing to approve the nomination, or not. Following a lengthy question and answer, the committee votes on the prospective justice. If approved, all is good. If not, the process begins anew.

However, there is a fly in the ointment. Republicans usually appoint conservative judges and Democrats, liberal ones. It is very possible that one party will unanimously oppose. In fact, it is not inconceivable that outright chicanery will take place.

The Nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh

The current nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a good example. After other Democrat stalling techniques had failed, they brought Christine Blasey Ford out of the wings to accuse him of sexual misconduct (he allegedly unsuccessfully tried to force himself on her) some thirty five years ago at a high school party.

One problem is that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee had received a letter from Ford regarding the alleged misconduct. But rather than share the letter with the committee as one might expect would be part of the process, she deliberately withheld it, perhaps to use as ammunition when all other delaying tactics had failed.

Will his nomination be approved? Who knows, but his case is just one example of how the system can break down when shady tactics are employed by elected officials.

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