Wednesday, November 30 2022

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Here is a challenge to the readers of this column: name the most undemocratic institution in a country that claims to be democratic.

There may be other contenders, but my vote goes to the Supreme Court of the United States, the only country in the developed world that grants lifetime terms to members of its highest court. Other countries have term limits – 10 or 15 years – or mandatory retirement ages.

In the United States, when a position becomes vacant through death or retirement, the president appoints a successor whose confirmation depends on a Senate hearing where candidates are questioned about their judicial philosophies and visions. of the world.

Then nine unelected judges have immense power to make decisions that affect the lives of millions, as they did this year when they overturned a constitutional right to abortion granted by a court ruling. supreme dating back nearly half a century.

Public confidence in the court has plunged to an all-time low. According to a Gallup poll, only 25% of adults said they had “a lot” or “somewhat” confidence in the court. A large majority of Americans (61%) disagreed with the decision. Does it matter?

The ruling by the court, of which six judges are conservative, three liberal, has sparked protests for and against abortion across the country and features prominently in the heated campaign for next month’s election that will decide the balance of power. powers in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats hold majorities in both.

Critics of the court saw the decision as further proof that the United States is plunged into an era of mistrust and volatility in the legal system, at a time when it needs stability in its institutions rather than more venom and tumult.

But Chief Justice John Roberts ignored public anger and declining confidence in what was once dubbed the “crown jewel” of the US justice system. “Just because people don’t agree with an opinion doesn’t mean you have to criticize the legitimacy of the tribunal,” he told a court conference last month.

A few months earlier, when it became clear that the six Republican-appointed justices on the court leaned towards abolishing the right to abortion, Judge Sonya Sotomayor, one of the three liberals, wondered aloud: “Will this institution survive the stench created in public opinion that the Constitution and its readings are only political acts? I don’t see how it’s possible. »

Those who share such doubts include the editorial board of The New York Times which noted that “in recent years the court has evolved into a judicial arm of the Republican Party”. While the court’s rulings had remained largely consistent with the views of the average voter for decades, according to the editorial, they were now consistent with the views of the average Republican voter.

This is a far cry from the role the court is supposed to play – a neutral final arbiter of political disagreements. Or, as Chief Justice John Roberts eloquently put it during his confirmation hearing in 2005, the role of “a referee calling balls and strikes and ensuring a level playing field for all.”

At the time, the balance of justices appointed by the Republican and Democratic presidents was 5 to 4, and Roberts acted as a moderate voter on controversial decisions. The balance is now 6-3, which basically means he’s lost control of the pitch.

The “chef” in his title doesn’t mean much except a bit more pay. His is $280,500; $268,300 from his colleagues.

The court’s nine black-robed justices are aware of the public’s diminishing confidence in their neutrality, so much so that its newest addition, Amy Coney Barrett, felt compelled to reassure an academic audience that ” this tribunal is not made up of partisan hacks. ”

The place and occasion of his speech inspired doubts about his distance from partisan politics. She appeared at the University of Louisville at an event honoring U.S. Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who played a leading role in her rise to court on the home stretch of the presidency of Donald Trump.

Then Republican Senate Majority Leader, McConnell blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, arguing that no Supreme Court justice should be appointed in an election year. There was no precedent for such action and four years later, also an election year, McConnell helped to rush the nomination of Coney Barrett.

Garland, now attorney general, was widely seen as moderate and apolitical; Coney Barrett was a strong opponent of abortion, her legal philosophies deeply influenced by her religious beliefs.

Americans uncomfortable with the current structure of their highest court recently found another reason to doubt the theory that members of the institution are above politics: family relationships.

This aspect became a matter of public discussion when the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters began to look into the activities of Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas who is the longest on the court. – serving member.

Throughout US history, the wives of sitting Supreme Court justices have kept a low profile to avoid suggestions of conflicts of interest and political entanglements. Ms. Thomas, on the other hand, is a longtime activist for right-wing causes. During a January 6 closed committee hearing, she reiterated her belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump in a Democratic conspiracy.

According to emails released by watchdog groups, she called on lawmakers in Wisconsin and Arizona to take action to reverse the election results. But, she told the Jan. 6 committee, she never discussed her activities to overturn the election with her husband.

Their pro-Trump leanings, it seems, just coincided without communication. It turned out that Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court to vote in favor of a request by Trump to block the release of presidential records demanded by the committee.

(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)

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