2012 Elections: Why SCOTUS Matters

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

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(The Root) — This is most likely not at the top of your list as you begin to determine your man for president of the United States come Nov. 6. But, in a word, it should be this: SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States.

Either President Obama or would-be President Romney will make appointments to that lofty, secretive body, which, despite myth, is certainly not immune to the politics swirling around it or to the directions of the wind. Long after either man is out of office, the justices — and their rulings, such as the ones on Obama’s health care plan and the Arizona immigration law — will continue to affect our lives.

Looking at the Supreme Court, as well as all the federal courts that Congress in the Obama years has permitted to struggle along with an alarming number of vacancies, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, says, “The status of the federal courts is the sleeper civil rights issue of the 2012 election.”

The Alliance for Justice, which monitors federal court vacancies, said in a recent report, “As President Obama nears the home stretch of his first term, the cumulative effects of Republican senators’ ceaseless obstruction of judicial nominees and election-year politics will likely mean that President Obama will finish his first term with more vacancies and judicial emergencies than when he took office and with far fewer confirmations than his two predecessors had at the end of their first terms.” Judicial emergencies exist when there are so many vacancies that the remaining judges of a court are so overloaded that cases cannot be heard in a timely manner.

But back to SCOTUS.

This is how Randolph M. McLaughlin, a legal scholar who is now co-chair of the Civil Rights Practice Group at Newman Ferrara LLP in New York, sees it: “While there are many issues that should be considered when casting a vote for a presidential candidate, perhaps the most important issue is the Supreme Court. A president’s term lasts for a maximum of eight years; a Supreme Court justice’s term is for life.”

Consider this: The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case turned life upside down in this country as it outlawed segregation in public schools and provided a road map for the civil rights assault on other aspects of the racist status quo. Those battles are still being fought more than a half century later.