Power of the court: The next president could appoint two new justices

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In the midst of his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan last week, Vice President Joe Biden mentioned the most important issue largely forgotten in this year's election season: The power of the U.S. Supreme Court to bring fundamental change to American society.

Mr. Biden brought up the future of the nation's top court in the context of abortion and how Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established a woman's right to make decisions about her own body, might be overturned by a Mitt Romney nominee to the bench.

Four members of the court are in their 70s -- Antonin Scalia, 76, Anthony M. Kennedy, 76, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, and Stephen G. Bryer, 74. So it's a fair bet that the candidate who wins on Nov. 6 will make at least one, maybe two appointments to the court.

That could change the complexion of the court for a generation. It could cement the conservative advantage or put the court on a centrist course.

Although Mr. Biden was addressing his party's pro-choice supporters, this is an issue that affects all voters regardless of whether they favor abortion rights or oppose them. And, of course, the philosophy of the next Supreme Court justice or two will affect many different issues, not just this one.

Although out of office for four years, President George W. Bush gave the gift that keeps on giving in nominating Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., 57, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, 62. President Barack Obama has also made his mark on the future by appointing Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, 58, and Elena Kagan, 52.

Although their individual defenders will deny it, activist judges now come in both conservative and liberal flavors. In the campaign's closing weeks, Democratic, Republican and Independent voters deserve to hear much more from the candidates on what sort of justices they favor for the court.

The future of the Supreme Court, which has a profound effect on the well-being of the nation, is not an issue to be neglected.

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