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Supreme Court Needs a Change

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The Supreme overhaul

Over the past few years debate has been raging over whether or not Supreme Court Justices should become elected officials. In 2004 USA Today published an article titled, "The next president could tip the high court," and they predicted the future dead on. As we saw earlier this year two brand new justices were appointed, Roberts who has already been sworn in, and Alito. These new appointments have a potential to reshaped the court, and influence our laws for decades.

In 2004 eight of the Supreme Court justices were over 65 years old. Clarence Thomas, the most conservative justice is the only justice younger than 65 at 59. There had been no vacancies on the bench for 12 years before the two vacancies this year. Ruth Ginsberg was the last appointed justice, during the Clinton administration in 1992. For 12 years the same people presided on the Supreme Court; this was the longest span of time without a new justice in history.

With the draught of appointments to the bench, most of the speculation over retirements has focused on the three oldest members: Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who lost his battle with cancer in October was an 82 year old conservative, John Paul Stevens, 86. Rehnquist and Stevens are at opposite poles of the courts spectrum. Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee in 1972 who was elevated to chief by Reagan in 1986, generally favored law enforcement over defendants' rights, opposed affirmative action and sought to limit federal power in favor of states' rights. Stevens, a Ford appointee in 1975, is a defender of prisoners' rights, access to abortion and a high wall of separation between church and state.

This is where everything becomes muddied in politics, the importance of a Supreme Court seat is so high, because the replacement of one judge would affect laws and social issues not only for the next four years, but for the next four decades, depending on the age and longevity of the appointee. There has been a growing trend; Justices are being appointed younger and younger. Thomas was 44 when he was appointed, Roberts is only 45. These younger justices will be on the bench for an unprecedented amount of time, between the relative youth and the miracles of medical science these younger justices living longer. This in itself poses a new problem of how long should a judge be allowed to influence the court and American life under its laws? Life time tenures are now being called into question because a justice's influence is no longer being felt for 2 or 3 decades, but now will be felt for 2 or 3 generations.

Life time tenures were supposed to insulate Justices from politics so that they can be true arbiters, and rule solely on the constitutional merit of whatever is brought before them. Except that life time tenures are doing the exact opposite, life time tenures are actually encouraging Justices to be overly mindful of politics. Now there is a very real split in our society, between one factor who say that Justices are supposed to be strict constitutionalists while the other side maintains that the constitution is a "living document" and that they should be able to legislate from the bench. Partisan politics has now taken the following turn as it applies to the Supreme Court Justices. For example, hypothetically speaking, if Justice Stevens wants to retire, but President Bush, with a Republican majority in the Senate is still in office and Justices Stevens does not show the same views as the Bush administration, Stevens may be inclined to hold off his retirement until an administration comes through that holds his same views. He's been on the court since 1972, and should be seriously considering retirement, but wouldn't he be tempted to delay his retirement, until a Democrat or a moderate Republican occupies the Oval Office?

With the Republicans controlling both the Senate and the Oval Office, they have gained the upper hand. Some of the major issues that the court is split on such as separation of church and state, abortion, private property rights and affirmative action to name a few. With the flood of open seat on the bench, the new presidential appointments could possibly change these very laws. Abortion is the number one issue, many people are worried that Roe. V. Wade could possibly be overturned. It is widely known that the President is a very religious man and is very pro life. Another not so well known issue has become Affirmative Action in college admissions, when the issue was brought before the court in 2003 it was only upheld by one vote, and with the new appointments this could very well change.

Life time tenures and presidential appointments as I have shown are not the route to go. Justices have become younger, and more partisan. Without a change we as a nation are on a collision course towards the emasculation of the legislative



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