The Supreme Court has been getting a lot of attention lately because of its recent Constitutional rulings. This attention is indicative of the Court’s lasting significance in our country. However, the Court seems to be somewhat forgotten when its less controversial cases don’t have implications in the Bill of Rights.
For example, the Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which allows Michigan to retain its ban on affirmative action in their state universities, concerns the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Court also ruled in favor of legislative prayer in city council meetings in Greece v. Galloway, which affects the Free Expression and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
The Court remains that third, almost mysterious, body of government that disassociates itself from political celebrity and influence. Even its physical body, the Supreme Court Building, was intentionally designed to be located farther away from the White House and Capitol in order to represent that political disassociation.
And even though Americans, like the Court itself, are more often than not divided in their opinions on case law, it’s still great that Americans are interested in the Court’s decisions and written opinions. This is most likely because the decisions effectively alter our understanding of Constitutional interpretation and, therefore, affect our daily lives.
But it seems like the country has become a little bit jaded with the political branches of our government because of petty politics and sensationalism in the media. Another representative has laundered money. Another president misspoke in a speech. Another mayor has had another sexual exploit.
But when people write or speak about the Supreme Court justices, it’s about their jurisprudence, whether they be positive or negative. The individual justice’s character is rarely mentioned. What people focus on are the aspects that pertain to the justices’ jobs, to their duties, because they leave nothing for Americans to politicize.
Aside from Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s public presence, we don’t really know the justices very well, save their biographies and opinions. We get to “know” the members of the other two branches because politicians spend their careers making themselves likable to the public. For the Supreme Court, however, we categorize and form judgments on them based upon their jurisprudence. When we speak about the justices, we rarely mention their character, save Justice Antonin Scalia, most times. Americans refrain from ad hominems because the justices leave much to the imagination.
Because the justices hold their positions until death or voluntary retirement, their incentives to appeal to popularity and politicians are almost nonexistent. Their focus is on the law.
Moreover, because of judicial review, which establishes the Supreme Court as the ultimate constitutional check on Congress and the president, it serves as the most effective safeguard against political power. This has been reinforced by the notion that ours is a nation of laws, not of men.
It more often than not, however, seems like the Court is composed of a bunch of dinosaurs who take a really long time to catch up to the current social climate, especially pertaining to civil rights. I certainly don’t agree with much of the Court’s rulings. But the Court itself and its processes are respectable, especially considering the presidency and Congress, even if the rulings sometimes seem antiquated.
Opinion Editor Alley Jordan is a senior political science and classics major.