Can’t help reflecting on the limits of the power of a US president. Obama controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. But that’s not enough since unless the current balance in the Supreme Court is altered there is a limit to how much he can change America.
Once confirmed by the Senate, justices sit for life and rule as they please, regardless of the expectations of the president who nominated them or the promises they gave the Senate in confirmation hearings. A long-serving justice can actually make a deeper mark on America than a president. Surely it can’t be right that an unelected judge should wield such power?
It is actually possible that that the current 5-4 right-of-centre court might yet put a spoke into Obama’s health care reform. More than 20 states are actually joining together to argue that requiring everyone to buy health care insurance violates the constitution.
The same court recently found Chicago’s handgun prohibition unconstitutional. The ruling 5-4 exactly mirrors one in 2008, which doesn’t make it right. It’s not law abiding US citizens guarding their homes that are the main beneficiaries of such a ruling but criminals and arms manufacturers.
Is it really right that politically appointed judges with ideological agendas can overturn decisions taken by democratically elected politicians? Sure, a justice is boxed in by the other eight judges on the bench, the words of the constitution and the rules of jurisprudence. But that still leaves ample latitude.
The worst was the January 21st 2010 ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the Supreme Court decided that corporations are persons, hence “enabling them to buy elections and run the government”.
From what I understand the Supreme Court has historically decided its controversial cases unanimously or by wide majorities, but the current Roberts Court routinely overturns longstanding precedent with a 5-4 majority.
“There may be judges on the court who have a particular mission right now and are selectively knocking out precedent that does not coincide with their ideological views,” Senator Whitehouse (D) said.
Am not surprised that democrats, including Obama, are criticizing the court. The judges really give the impression they favour corporate interests over ordinary Americans. A current American movement is hence aiming to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Considering the power of the court I guess we have to be grateful that Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in the 6-to-3 decision, said the ban on providing assistance to terrorist groups did not violate the First Amendment.
Let’s see what their decision will be on Obama’s health care reform? And I wonder how long will it take before some group will claim that the recent financial reform bill is unconstitutional? That the bill will be challenged in the Supreme Court must be a certainty. Did the founding fathers really intend for politically appointed judges to have more power than the president by being able to block legislation that go against their personal ideology? Wasn’t their intention that the judges should be impartial and objective? If so, maybe it’s time to make the judges accountable to the American people?
(Photo: Flickr – Obama-Biden-Transition-Project)