Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE SUPREMES reign and influence elections

The U.S. Supreme Court Becomes a Divisive Issue

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Several Christian leaders have remained committed to the Republican Party because the current presidential candidate promises to “appoint” conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The argument has effectively reframed the election for many conservative Christians who were put off by other concerns–including their lead candidate's negative attitudes expressed toward women and ethnic minorities.

Progressive Christians and other Americans have expressed concerns about Republican nominees to the Supreme Court who might overturn or restrict decisions that affect the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, and healthcare among other concerns.

Confusion and the U.S. Court

There appears to be some confusion among Americans about how justices are appointed to the Supreme Court and how the court functions. For example, notice the difference in the words of the 2016 Presidential Candidates––does the president appoint or nominate?

“I feel that the justices that I am going to appoint…”
Donald Trump 19 October, 2016

“The president nominates, and then the Senate advises and consents, or not..”
Hillary Clinton, 19 October, 2016

Clinton is right on this understanding of the president-senate process albeit other comments suggest a misunderstanding of how the court operates. President Obama has nominated a moderate to replace the seat vacated by Justice Scalia. The Senate has not acted on the nomination, which of course blocks the nomination. In this case, the senate and not the president is controlling who gets on the court.

As a matter of history, in the 19th century, the Senate did not appoint 35% of nominations for the Supreme Court.

Why Do Conservative Christians Care?

Conservatives argue that the new president will likely (appoint/nominate/name) a few justices to the Supreme Court, which will affect the laws that govern Americans. Most of the comments I have seen indicate concerns about abortion and LGBT rights.

So How Have Conservative Christian Leaders Attempted to Reframe the Election?

Franklin Graham has said he is not endorsing a candidate in the 2016 election. However, his focus on the importance of the Supreme Court is evident in this 8 October 2016 quote. Notice he uses the word “appoint.”

“…who they appoint to the Supreme Court will remake
 the fabric of our society for our children and our grandchildren,
for generations to come…”

Other conservative Christians concerned about who will end up on the court include the following:  Dr. James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress (CT).

What Might We Expect?

Republican Senator John McCain recently threatened to block all nominees Clinton might put forward for the Supreme Court. That threat has repercussions for American justice. Obviously at some point in the future there would be no Supreme Court unless enough senators either give in to approve presidential nominees or the president and most senators are from the same party.

But what if the senate blocks all nominees of the opposing party present? Well, the outcome is debatable. It has been argued that the president could appoint a justice because the senate has failed to comply with its constitutional duty. But that argument has been countered (See the WP article for more).

One Possible Solution is for the president to appoint a justice following a reasonable time allowance for the Senate to act. Perhaps then the senate would challenge the constitutionality of the president’s action, which might force the Supreme Court to decide its own fate. My speculation is way beyond my understanding of the U S Constitution so ask an expert what could happen if we were to have such a crisis.

The down ballot effect is working at this point. The democrats appear likely to win both the presidency and the senate. A simple majority is required to approve a Supreme Court nomination. The vice president votes to break a tie (see Slate).

Supreme Fears

It is true that some court decisions have been decided by one vote thus, the justices’ opinions matter. Although scholars point out that justices must interpret the law and not write legislation, the written decisions do have the force of law. The bottom line is that who gets on the court matters to some groups of Americans when particular decisions can affect society.

Some of the promises and fears presented by the leading candidates are irrational given the history of the court. The Roe v. Wade decision has been in force for decades regardless of which party controlled the presidency and senate.

Similarly, rights of free speech, religious liberty, and gun ownership have endured for decades. Constitutional rights are slow to change and amending the Constitution is not easy.

By the way, consider that American women did not have a constitutional right to vote 100 years ago (19th Amendment 18 August 1920).

Some final thoughts

The election of a president and senators can influence who gets on the Supreme Court.

Voters ought to be aware of the role of both the president and the senate in Supreme Court nominees.

The beliefs and values of a Supreme Court justice matter.
Decisions are not simply about philosophical perspectives on how to interpret the law.

One justice can make a difference in a court decision.

There's a difference between morality and law.

Laws influence the moral judgments of citizens.

Moral judgments influence law making.

Moral judgments influence compliance with law.

There's a difference between moral judgments and moral behavior.

Emotions influence moral judgments, moral behavior and law.

Read more about cultural divisions related to morality and Christian cultures

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

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