Roughly one year after nominating Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama will soon get another opportunity to name another justice to the highest court in the land. Unlike last year’s relatively smooth selection of the first Latina, this year’s nomination promises to become a protracted battle that will shine a light not just on the president’s nominee, but perhaps on the national debate about the scope of government and constitutional interpretation.
President Obama recently declared that his requirements for filling the impending opening created by John Paul Stevens’ retirement include someone who will be sensitive to women’s rights and likely to mirror the tendencies of Justice Stevens. Notably, the president said, that the new justice must also excel at upholding the Constitution.
That part of the statement has caught the attention of the president’s critics, especially after the divisive and questionable health care reform process. Many Americans and their elected officials on Capitol Hill will understandably question the commitment of President Obama to selecting a justice who upholds the Constitution when, under his leadership, the 2010 health care reform bill signed into law–considered the keynote achievement of the Obama presidency to date–has been labeled unconstitutional by several state attorneys general.
In addition to the constitutional challenges to the government-mandated purchase of health care coverage, many have also questioned the ethics of pushing through the unpopular and often misunderstood health care bill with the use of legislative bribes including “the Louisiana Purchase” and “the Cornhusker Kickback.”
The Constitution’s premise is to promote a system of balance and ethics that provide Republican government and represents the people it serves–a premise lost not only on the current crop of legislators in Washington, but on many of their recent predecessors as well. President Obama’s sudden concern about the spirit of the founding document, which he sidestepped repeatedly in the quest to pass Obamacare, seems inconsistent and some may say even disingenuous.
Some will call the opposition to his potential nominee nothing more than sour grapes after the health care battle or preparation for the coming mid-term election battles. If Obama’s critics are capable of staying on message, their position will not be lost on a growing majority of Americans concerned about the expansiveness of American government today. As has been the case with other presidents, the next Supreme Court justice must honor the Constitution with her or his service and not reflect the president’s own definition of constitutional limitations in today’s government.
The Supreme Court’s most important task is to uphold the Constitution and the very essence of our form of government. The nine-member court oversees the balance and restraint that the Constitution lays out, not just between branches of government, but also between the expansion of governmental and presidential powers and the freedom of the American people.