September 13, 2007

Justices on the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States must be one of the oddest bodies on earth, its geriatric membership are appointed for life and can expect to sit for ten years at least before retirement or death and yet they wield vast powers to determine what policies the United States will follow. One of the oddities of their tenure is that justicies often appointed for one end- to be good conservatives (David Soutar comes to mind) for example- will immediatly act to another end. An interesting article on Salon discusses them in this context.

The problem is that thinking of Supreme Court Justices as conservative or liberal often mistakes what they actually are- afterall legal philosophies are not so neatly divided- though their consequences may be. However even despite that its difficult often to see consistant legal philosophies being applied by each justice in each case- and particularly by the court as a whole where the swing justice (at the moment Anthony Kennedy) can often decide which kind of judicial interpretation will win this week. Rather the Court seems to decide issues based on a complex interrelationship of personalities where private friendships and enmities decide great issues of state.

And ultimately it is what one might expect. Shut away in a room alone the justices debate and have debated in some cases for almost twenty years. Two new justices may have joined them over the last couple of years- but there are still appointments sitting on the court from the eras of Nixon and Reagen, Bush the elder and Clinton. Old disputes and old friendships are revived and some are unexpected. They owe nothing to anyone outside that room, nothing to any constituency and so decisions are made on internal logic within the nine.

Its an interesting system to decide the government of a nation upon- but its the system that often great issues of state like the rights of terrorist suspects ultimately come down to in the states. It will be interesting to see what happens after the next Presidential election- afterall various of the justices are as ever aging- even a recently appointed justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the only woman left) is in her seventies and that forgets the fact that the oldest justice John Paul Stevens is in his late eighties.

We shall see- but one thing we can be certain about is that imperceptible movements amongst the nine will decide many vital issues within America in the years to come.


Sir James Robison said...

Now whatever made you dream up this excellent article? Also, what is your feeling about their decisions in the Bush Presidency Hijack of Florida?

Lord Nazh© said...

James: any idea what you're talking about? Since the recounts (after the decision) went his way anyway? (except for the 'partial' recount of the precincts that Gore wanted solely to use)?

Gracchi: The SCOTUS has too much power and influence to be unaccountable for any of their decisions.

Vino S said...

For once, I agree with Lord Nazh in that the Supreme Court has too much power. I think it is not a good thing to have too much power leaving the legislature and going to the judiciary. It makes it more difficult for voters to influence policy.

Although it tends to be the right-wing in the US that moan about the Supreme Court nowadays - in the past the court often used its power against the Left (and may do so again if Bush or a Republican winner in 2008 get a chance to appoint more judges). For example, the Court struck down much of FDR's early New Deal legislation and upheld segregation in Plessey v. Fergusson.

Gracchi said...

MiLord you'll be stunned but I actually agree with you. I actually think liberals have lost major arguments thorugh making them through the court instead of popularly- ie abortion or gay marriage. Even though I am a liberal particularly on the latter of those issues I do think teh current system is absurd.

James I'm going to bow out on not remembering enough of the detail of the case unfortunately.

Lord Nazh© said...

The biggest problem I have with the SCOTUS is that they BYPASS the Constitution.

I (basically) have no problem with them declaring certain laws unconstitutional, that is their job. What I don't like is that they enact laws (federally) on 'whim'. Abortion is the major one, a law that should be up to the people/states was determined by 9 people to not only be a federal law, but somehow a RIGHT? that's what the abuse of power is.