Or, if you prefer, the good and the bad. Because as one who loves the American system of government and respects the court, while at the same time decrying what ideological partisans are doing to the political branches (and trying their best to do to the judiciary as well), I’m all like “Yay, Supreme Court” and “Boo, ideology.”
But you knew that. Or at least you knew about me and ideology.
The burning question is, to what extent have the ideologues succeeded in their quest to make the Supreme Court as messed up and ineffective as, say, the Congress?
Others just take it for granted that the Court now consists of partisan hacks on both ends of the spectrum, with one or two swing votes. I see the things they’re seeing, but in the end I don’t reach that conclusion.
Anyway, Doug Ross started a conversation over on Facebook about the court, and with his permission I’m dragging it over here in keeping with my firm belief that all interesting conversations should take place on the blog.
Doug started the ball rolling this way:
We assume judges are going to be impartial when deciding on cases before them yet our highest court consists of at least seven of nine judges who can pretty much be guaranteed to vote a certain way on a case. If a Republican had been in office when Sotomeyer or Kagan were appointed, is there any doubt that recent cases would have had different outcomes?
I responded that there’s SOME doubt — look, for instance, at the critical moments when Roberts has helped out Obama, who voted against his confirmation — and in that doubt lies the hope for our country…
I just don’t assume anything with these people. For instance, I had been thinking that I very often agree with Roberts — and then he voted the other way on the Arizona reapportionment case that I wrote about earlier. That said, when I saw what Roberts and the other dissenters said in that case, I respected their reasoning. It doesn’t matter that I liked the outcome from the majority’s ruling — it’s not about outcomes. As I’ve said before, it should not BE about outcomes, if we respect the rule of law…
I put Roberts and Kennedy into the wild card group. The other seven march in lockstep with their partisan base. There’s an affirmative action case coming up. You want to lay bets on it being 5-4 or 6-3? It would seem like with “the law” that we should see more 9-0, 8-1 decisions if they only dealt with facts and precedents. We just shouldn’t pretend that the judges are impartial. They are biased.
And I responded that I don’t write justices off as “liberals” or “conservatives,” because I respect them. Yes, a certain justice may more often render judgments that the world regards as “liberal” or “conservative,” but it’s not like they’re stacking the deck. Their reasoning just happens to lead them that way, and I respect that. They don’t just come in and say, “I’m going to issue a liberal opinion on this, no matter what the facts or the law.” They work it out honestly, and that just tends to be where they end up. I don’t see any of them as hacks. I leave those insults to the partisans and ideologues, who tend to insult and dismiss justices who tend not to support their prejudices…
Back to Doug:
Pick a case, any case, that is contentious and show me where Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor disagreed or Scalia and Thomas disagreed. Take the gay marriage case… was there ANY doubt how those five would vote? Not for a second. They “work it out” according to a pre-disposed bias.
And Doug, being Doug, resorts to numbers and charts:
This chart basically shows exactly what I stated…there was a time when the views of the court were balanced across the liberal/conservative spectrum but now we basically have three groups of justices, each on the same track
Well, I can’t refute that because I don’t have a year or two to go back and study every case this court has decided and then assign quantifiable values to each judge’s position (an act from which my conscience would recoil) and come up with a chart of my own.
Because for me, it’s not about these three decisions versus those five decisions or anything like that. Here’s how I arrive at my more optimistic view of the court: I see that the court has taken this or that position on an issue before it. I think, “How on Earth could they have come to a boneheaded conclusion like that?” And then I read the arguments. And while I still might disagree, I respect the reasoning. I respect the effort to arrive at an intellectually honest conclusion. (I did this with the dissent in the Arizona case. And in fact, I sort of think the dissent may have the stronger argument, even though I liked the outcome.)
Not every time. But often enough that I still respect the justices, and the job they do. There could come a day, and I hope it doesn’t, when I write off the Court as too far gone. I’m happy to say I’m not there yet.