Reflecting on the Supreme Court
Sometime in the last several months, I seem to recall remarking that the Supreme Court is so much less political than the other branches of government.
This seems to be… well… partially true. I would argue that the Supreme Court is less political than the other branches. It is bound by the law and the Constitution, and there is an emphasis on having justices with plenty of legal experience, not just support for the policies we like. Justices interpret the law, they don’t make it (well… not directly, but the opinions they write create precedents that do inform judges in lower courts and future Supreme Court justices on how the law should be interpreted).
However, this doesn’t mean that the Court is nonpartisan. How could it be, when the President, the most partisan figure in government, is the one who appoints the justices? And the sharply decided Senate is the body that confirms them? To some degree, justices will always advocate for how they think the law should be interpreted, and they will also work to advance their own political preferences.
Bush v. Gore, the case that decided the election of 2000, is a great example cited by my textbook. This case saw conservative justices arguing that due to equal protection under the law, Florida could not order only some of its counties to recount their ballots, which is usually a more liberal argument. On the other hand, liberal judges argued that the Court should respect state’s rights by letting Florida decide how to run its elections, which is usually a conservative argument. This led to accusations that the decision was made for partisan goals. Also, data shows that the Court tends to be responsive to public opinion. As the public attitudes on an issue shift, the Court is more likely to follow them.
While the Court does interpret the laws, justices also pursue their own political goals, leading me to consider the strategic model (discussed in my last post) as the model that makes the most sense.
Kollman, Ken. The American Political System. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.