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2012 Elections: Why SCOTUS Matters

Voters need to care whether Obama or Romney is making lifetime appointments to the high court.

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Two of President Reagan's four appointees, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, are still serving more than two decades since Reagan left office. So is one of two Bush 41 appointees (Thomas). So are President Clinton's two (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer), George W. Bush's two (Samuel Alito and John G. Roberts) and Obama's two (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan). Ginsburg is most likely to retire in time for the next president -- Obama or Romney -- to appoint a replacement for this reliably liberal-to-moderate jurist.

"If Romney wins, he will certainly not nominate a liberal," says McLaughlin, "and will more likely nominate an extremely conservative justice to appeal to the Tea Party elements within his party. If that were to come to pass, numerous bedrock civil rights, civil liberties and women's rights issues will be overturned as surely as night follows day."

Neither Obama nor Romney possesses a crystal ball to tell him how his picks will vote over the long haul. Both men -- as well as other members of the court -- were certainly surprised in the health care ruling when Chief Justice Roberts sided with the Clinton and Obama appointees to uphold a measure that was a capstone of the Obama presidency.

When President Franklin Roosevelt named a former Alabama Klansman, Hugo Black, to the court in 1937, he certainly could not have foreseen that Black would become a liberal stalwart and a civil rights champion who is widely considered to have been one of the most influential jurists of the 20th century. In his 1971 obituary, United Press International wrote: "To Justice Black, who many observers believe influenced American life more than any of his colleagues in modern time, the Constitution was his bible."

Without crystal balls, it is what we know about the character and the political needs of a president that should guide us when we enter the voting booths that the Warren court so generously opened.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a frequent contributor to The Root.

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