Our Role in the Appointment of a Supreme Court Justice


A few days ago, President Obama announced his first nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Among the various tools the President has used to get his message out is his website, where a 4-minute video announcement is posted here. I encourage you to view this video. I also encourage you to think carefully about what the President says at each stage in his announcement.

We live in a democracy. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to pay attention to major developments occurring in the executive, congressional, and judicial branches of our federal government. We should not simply elect a new President and our congressional representatives, and then forget about it. We have a duty to unceasing vigilance. The survival of democracy depends upon it.

The appointment of a new justice to the United States Supreme Court involves all three branches of our government, starting with the executive branch and the President’s nomination of the person he or she believes is best suited to the role. Congress then deliberates and votes up or down on the President’s nomination. If the nominee is approved, he or she steps into the vaunted role of applying the United States Constitution to the most sensitive legal cases of the age. If Congress does not approve the nominee, then the whole process begins again, with the President’s selection of a new nominee.

Now is a good time to consider why so much circumspection is required—required by the Constitution. When drafting the Constitution, the founders of our nation recognized that the degree of authority vested in justices of the Supreme Court is, well, supreme. What they say goes. Each appointment is a life appointment. It ends only when an individual justice decides to retire or that justice dies—whichever comes first. It is not unusual for justices to sit on the highest court for several decades. Except in very rare cases, a justice’s tenure on the Supreme Court is years and years longer than the maximum eight years any person can serve consecutively as President of the United States.

In addition, the decisions made by our Supreme Court justices outlive the justices themselves and stand indefinitely. Reversing the effects of a Supreme Court decision is far more complicated than appointing justices to the Court. It is probably the most unlikely action our federal government can make.

Finally, decisions made by the Supreme Court are compelling for all 50 of the United States.

You may wonder what difference ordinary citizens can make in the process of appointing justices to the Supreme Court. Here are a few key opportunities:

  1. Our responsibility begins with the election of a President.
  2. We then are free to follow the nomination and confirmation process. This is mostly a matter of staying informed. This takes some skill, since media outlets themselves have political agendas.
  3. Being informed is not enough. We must be thoughtful about what we hear. We must consider how a nominee is being pitched to “we, the People.” This requires skills of another kind, the skills associated with critical thinking.
  4. We are represented by elected officials in Congress. Our representatives are sensitive to our expressed will to be heard. Citizens hold some power, then, in influencing the approval process.

The single most significant aspect of our duty as citizens is vigilance and critical thinking.

This post reveals nothing about my response to President Obama’s nomination. I may add posts about that later. Meanwhile, I’m especially interested in the way the nominee is being presented to “the public.” That’s us. Except that we aren’t “the public.” We are the People. And We the People must do our part.

To that end, I’ll be adding posts that encourage critical reflection on aspects of the media coverage. My first post about this can be found here. It begins at the beginning with the President’s announcement.

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Ambivalence about the Congressional Vote for the Not-a-Bailout


Credit is unquestionably tight right now. Individual stock portfolios are in the pits—seemingly bottomless pits. The faux buoyancy of our politicians has evaporated (except Sarah Palin’s buoyancy, which seems anything but faux and far from slipping). Nobody knows whether the $700 billion “bailout” will accomplish much, or even whether it is a bailout or something else.

And I do mean nobody. Nobody has effectively explained how this infusion of government cash is supposed to help the situation. On the other hand, nobody has effectively explained how individual taxpayers could actually be hurt by the action that was taken.

But almost everybody has an opinion about the decisions made in Congress—being either emphatically for it or unequivocally against it. How can this be? What do so many people know and understand that completely evades me?

I’m ambivalent. But that statement has to be qualified, for two reasons. First, I’m not ambivalent about the “pork” or “earmarks” that were weaseled into the legislation. I hope we find out specific ingredients that have no real place in this bill-cum-law, and that we learn by name all those who “porked out.” I hope we find out before the election so we can vote on our representatives with real knowledge of their principles and behavior.

House Speaker Pelosi promises a “bright light of accountability” for greedy Wall Street denizens. But is she willing to shine the same bright light on the doings of Congress to get this bill passed? I’m skeptical. And I wonder if Pelosi herself could be in jeopardy in the November election.

Second, I believe the Fed, the Treasury, the President, and both houses of Congress acted precipitously and pumped hysteria into the atmosphere and needlessly panicked the rest of us. This resulted in self-fulfilling prophecy on fast forward. The market imploded. And we’ll all feel the reverberations of that. Maybe the government needed to step in, maybe not. But this was heavy-handed.

Finally, while I’m ambivalent the general action taken, I’m not indifferent. And if I knew more than I’ll ever know about what just went down, I probably wouldn’t be ambivalent at all.

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Source for “Helicopter Ben” sketch above: UrbanDigs.com

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