There are people who think that certain decisions or rulings by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) do not or should not interest them. Those people couldn’t be more wrong! For example, this past week SCOTUS handed down several important decisions, four of which I posted to a Facebook group where, until recently, I had been a member:
(Click each case to see the news story)
- the Affirmative Action case at the University of Texas in Austin
- Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965
- the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
- California’s Proposition 8 (banning the right to same-sex marriage in that state)
A member in that particular Facebook group complained that “no one in the group was interested…” He added: “That is all political shit. The other stuff is all same-sex/gay shit. Nobody cares about that here. You need to post that same-sex thing on the gay pages!”
That member’s arrogance and ignorance, as well as his implied bigotry, along with the other group members who supported his views, had greatly irritated me. I had posted the SCOTUS decisions for the information and benefit of everyone in that group. Never mind that I had become frustrated seeing that only one member (out of a group membership of some 300-plus – in which about 30 were active participants) , was willing to have an intelligent discussion about one of those SCOTUS decisions, I had to read the complaining member’s implied bigoted comment too! The main thing that turned my frustration into fuckstration and which gave cause for me to leave that Facebook group was the fact that many of the members – people in their mid to late-30’s, many who are Black (I’m ashamed to admit) and supposedly educated, seemed eager to talk about other bullshit things but were not willing to discuss the hottest topics saturating the media and the web – and which could have some impact on their lives! Anyway… the cavalier attitude of those particular people in that Facebook group made me ask myself the following question:
“Did the members in that group realize that if any of them voted in any national election of the past eight years or more, that THEY actually held some responsibility for the decisions the Supreme Court made on the disputed issues in which they had all agreed that “no one was interested?”
Then it hit me! The people in that group – and perhaps hundreds of others might not be aware that they or rather, WE bear some responsibility – in a roundabout way, for the decisions made by the Supreme Court!”
Now, I can imagine readers asking, “How is anyone responsible for any decision or ruling the Supreme Court makes?
I’m glad you asked!
Readers, no matter what or how we may agree or disagree regarding issues of dispute that are brought and argued before the Supreme Court – or any court having appointed or elected judges, we bear some responsibility to the decisions that judge or court makes – that is, if we, our parents and perhaps our grandparents and other family members voted in local, state or national elections.
Before I explain what that means, let me inform everyone that we need to take an active interest in what the Supreme Court is doing whenever it is in session, regardless whether a case now or in the future has any direct effect upon us, our family or community. The fact is, in many situations, depending on certain criteria, a court’s ruling could possibly affect someone other than the plaintiff and the defendant in the case being heard by the court. Often court rulings on previous cases are used as a precedent or model in arguing and/or deciding other cases. Such a precedent might someday help determine the outcome of some future case in which you or someone you know might be involved.
One does not have to know much about law or have the experience of a trial lawyer to understand the Supreme Court. However, Americans need to have some knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, the functions of the three branches of American government (Executive, Legislative, Judicial), the American judicial process, and the people who sit on the nation’s highest court and how they got to sit there, if he or she is to understand – to some degree, how and why Supreme Court Justices come to make certain decisions and opinions on certain cases. Equally helpful to an American citizen is to know a little something about each Justice’s personal position or viewpoint on morality, politics, religion, social, and cultural issues.
Key points about the U. S. Supreme Court:
- Established under Article III of the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the nation. It has ultimate (and largely discretionary) appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases.
- There are nine (9) Supreme Court justices: 8 Associate Justices and 1 Chief Justice. Under Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, each Justice is nominated by the President of the United States. Each judicial nomination must be confirmed by the U.S Senate before a Justice can be sworn in.
- Justices serve on the court for life or until they decide to resign, retire, is removed from the bench after impeachment (yes, a justice CAN be impeached) or dies in office.
** S/N Fact: The only S/C Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805. The House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against him; however, he was acquitted by the Senate.
- The Constitution does not specify qualifications for Justices, such as age, education, profession, or native-born citizenship. Generally, this means that almost anyone – even someone without a law degree, legal training or judicial experience, can be nominated and confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court. (Think about that!)
- In the U.S., both the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government have a voice in the composition of the Supreme Court. Depending on various political factors, a Justice might see the tenure of several presidents and congressional legislators while seated on the bench.
Key reasons to be interested in Supreme Court decisions (and why we bear some responsibility):
- Once a Justice is seated on the bench, he or she has no political obligation or favors owed to the president who made his/her nomination, the senators who confirmed the nomination, to any political party of said president or senator, or to any political or private lobbying group.
- Americans tend to vote for the president and congressional leaders based on certain criteria they liked and respected of that person(s). For example, in 2008 and 2012 we might have voted for Barack Obama to be president of the United States because we believed in his position on certain moral, political, religious, social and cultural issues.
- Since his presidency, Barack Obama has appointed (nominated) two people to the Supreme Court and could possibly nominate one more, if not two before he leaves office in January 2017. Like his predecessors, President Obama most likely – but not necessarily, nominates people to the court whose political thinking or ideology are the same or similar to his own. Therefore, during a nominating president’s term in office and long after he or she leaves office, decisions made by a Supreme Court justice could – but not necessarily, be reflective and/or influenced by the shared ideology of the president who appointed that Justice to the bench.
- As with his previous court nominations, Obama’s third and possibly even his fourth nomination could be confirmed by the Senate – even if that Senate is ruled by the opposing political party of the sitting president.
- There are many political ideologies but for the purpose of this article I’ll keep it simple and name three which everyone often hears about: liberal, moderate and conservative. If a two-term president having one of these ideologies makes a Supreme Court nomination of say, two, three, or four justices and/or one of those justices happens to be nominated for Chief Justice (with each nomination being confirmed by the Senate as required by the Constitution), it is possible that a Supreme Court Justice could make a decision, dissent or write an opinion on a case which is reflective of the ideology (or some degree thereof) he or she has mutually in common with that president.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The political thinking, position or ideology of the president, the senators and the Justice(s) may not necessarily reflect our own. This is why it is very important to study and completely understand where political candidates stand ideologically before giving our support, money, and of course, our vote. A decision reflective of a particular ideology could set a nationwide judicial precedent for decades!
- Do not easily dismiss the possibility of President Obama nominating one, if not two more people to serve on the Supreme Court before leaving office. There are three Associate Justices in their mid to late 70s, two of which to date, have served more than 25 years; another Justice is 80 years old. Besides those four Justices, the seat of any Supreme Court justice could possibly be rendered vacant due to any number of the reasons previously mentioned that would preclude a sitting Justice from holding his or her seat.
Remember: Supreme Court justices are no less immune to the probabilities of life than anyone else.
- We may have been responsible for electing the very people who serve on the United States Committee on the Judiciary – more popularly known by and referred to as the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Learn more about this Committee here:
- The Senate Judiciary Committee is tasked with vetting the president’s judicial nominations. The U. S. senators who confirmed Associate Justices Sonia Maria Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – both Obama nominees, could have been vetted and confirmed by senators whom we and/or our parents or grandparents, as the electorate or voters, elected into office.
- When we elected “Senator X”, we did so because that person, like the president we voted for, had certain moral, political, religious, social and cultural views that were similar to our own. Naturally, we expect “Senator X” – as we expect our chosen president, to make key appointments and nominations of people to government positions and court judgeships whose views or ideologies are similar to our own. As such, we would hope that the actions and decisions of those confirmed appointees will be made accordingly.
- Ideally, we would all love to have the people working in all three branches of our government making decisions that coincide with our respective ideologies. Reality however, can be a cruel co-parent of Life and as such, does not always give us – or everyone what they want or expect. We need to consider this as we think of the other seven Supreme Court Justices who were nominated by previous presidents and confirmed by previous senators – either of which who might be long dead but still people who we and/or our parents or grandparents might have elected to office.
S/N: Our perspectives or ideologies may not always be in sync with those of our parents or those of our voting-age children. Some of us are already seeing this. It’s always good when we can agree with our parents or children when discussing certain issues, the job performance of our political leaders and even court decisions but its frustrating, perhaps downright fuckstrating when our points of view clash.
The point I’m attempting to illustrate is that we, as the American electorate, must understand that we carry some responsibility for the decisions or rulings made by our government leaders and representatives, as well as those made by the Supreme Court (or any court). It’s sort of a domino effect – with every succeeding action happening because of some previous action. Whether we agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s rulings or decisions this past week, we must not ignore the fact that some responsibility rests with us due to our involvement in electing the people who nominated and confirmed the Justices who sit on the bench and ruled as they did in the first place. As with most things happening in all three branches of our great government, there are some decisions we are happy with and others we aren’t. In the grand scheme of things, we are indirectly responsible for those decisions. Before you dismiss this idea, just… think about it.