Thursday, November 08, 2012

Could Romney have single-handedly destroyed the left with Supreme Court picks?

In this past election, I had been pushing people to vote for third-party candidates that actually supported their ideals, rather than Romney and Obama, as their legislative records contradicted the messaging they were campaigning on. I had especially been focusing on Obama, since my own politics skew to the left, and a majority of my friends lean left. I had been pointing out how, on just about every major issue they care about, Obama has either betrayed his base, or pretty meekly supported it. I've discussed two examples in this blog here and here.

A pretty common response I've gotten to this is in regards to Supreme Court picks. I was told that, despite all of Obama's betrayals, it was still imperative to vote for him, because allowing Romney to have those picks would have been devastating for progressive politics. Here's a good example:

Conservative Scholars Bullish That A Romney Supreme Court Could Reverse Longstanding Liberal Jurisprudence

A potential Mitt Romney presidency carries huge implications for the Supreme Court that have conservatives excited and progressives fearful about the future. Liberal-leaning Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, and Steven Breyer, 74, are likely candidates for retirement during a Romney administration. The GOP nominee has vowed to appoint staunch conservatives, and the influential conservative legal community will make sure he follows through. Replacing even one of the liberal justices with a conservative, legal scholars and advocates across the ideological spectrum agree, would position conservatives to scale back the social safety net and abortion rights in the near term.

 Over time, if a robust five-vote conservative bloc prevails on the court for years, the right would have the potential opportunity to reverse nearly a century of progressive jurisprudence. For all those reasons, conservative legal activists anticipate that a Romney win would be the culmination of their decades-long project to remake the country’s legal architecture.(...) a Romney presidency — even a one-term presidency — would pose a slow-release threat to key progressive accomplishments, and why small-government conservatives view his candidacy as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Why it is essential that Barack Obama be reelected

[That clip] explains the situation perfectly....The idea of wiping out all the progress made in over a lifetime of legislation and rulings... a veritable coup d'etat by the most reactionary elements in America, is truly too horrible to contemplate

Like most arguments designed to scare people into voting for the lesser-evil, this one overlooks some pretty important facts about our political process and history. Here are five reasons why I wasn't terrified by the idea of Romney nominating Supreme Court judges:

1) From "The progressive case against Obama"

In terms of the Supreme Court itself, Obama’s track record is not actually that good. As a senator, Obama publicly chided liberals for demanding that Sen. Patrick Leahy block Sam Alito from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has in her career already ruled to limit access to abortion, and Elena Kagan’s stance is not yet clear. Arguing that Romney justices would overturn Roe v. Wade is a concession that Senate Democrats, as they did with Alito and Roberts, would allow an anti-choice justice through the Senate.

Further, given Obama's absolutely horrendous record on civil liberties, the rule of law, and executive power, I wasn't exactly comfortable with the prospect of him nominating judges either; the assumption that his nominations are guaranteed to be strong progressive choices is tenuous. Just as in other areas, Romney's likely worse, but not so much worse that we should have been obligated to vote against him for Obama.

2) Obama's healthcare bill survived its Supreme Court challenge because Bush nominated, conservative, Chief Justice John Roberts made a last minute switch in positions to allow the law to survive. He did because he does care about the integrity of the Supreme Court, and does not want it to be perceived as yet another political entity. This should give us some confidence in the court, regardless of who's doing future nominations.

3) The President doesn't appoint judges, the President nominates judges. Congress still has to approve these judges, and if we can't trust the Democrats to properly vet and block judges, our system's broken.

4) The Supreme Court only hears a limited number of cases every year. Compared to the vast amount of legislation that gets passed every year, and how instantly and immensely impacted we are by Federal legislation, we should be much, much more concerned about the conduct of Democrats in Congress than we are about the conduct of the Supreme Court. Voting for Obama, in spite of his betrayals, only encourages bad conduct.

5) This talk, given by former executive director of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, at the 2011 Drug Policy Alliance conference.

It discusses the "long arc of social justice", how reform happens gradually, but inevitably, and in spite of terrible setbacks. In the talk he mentions some absolutely atrocious Supreme Court decisions that affirmed slavery, that kept women out of the workplace, etc etc. It's easy to think of Supreme Court decisions as insurmountable, but that isn't the case; reform movements have overcome bad decisions in the past, and will do so in the future.

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