Give Justice to That Roberts Guy…

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There I was, walking through campus with a friend. We were on our way to grab some dinner at Fusz and had run out of things to talk about. And so I asked, “Hey, what do you think about the John Roberts nomination?” “The who?”So it seems that some of my friends have yet to see the importance of the Roberts nomination to the highest court of the land. My message to them, and to my colleagues at Saint Louis University, is this: This nomination will impact us for the rest of our lives-so you might want to pay attention. Roberts is 50 years old, which means that, if the Senate Judiciary Committee confirms him, he could serve a long term. He will have several decades to interpret the Constitution and apply those interpretations to important cases that affect Americans. The length of time a justice spends on the Supreme Court allows him to have a great influence on the laws of this country. In the past few decades, we have seen the power of the Supreme Court rise to enormous heights. Here are some examples of cases that have had a great impact on Americans in the past few decades: U.S. v. Nixon (1974) on executive privilege; Roe v. Wade (1973) on women’s right to choose; Texas v. Johnson (1989) on the constitutionality of flag burning; and let’s not forget the favorite case of the 47.9 percent of Americans who voted for George Bush in 2000-Bush v. Gore (2000). By looking at some of the historical cases in just the past 30 years we can begin to understand the extreme power we bestow upon our justices.If our lives are influenced so greatly by these nine justices, then how do responsible citizens respond to the Roberts nomination? I think the answer can be found in one of the greatest superhero philosophies of all time: “With great power comes great responsibility” (Spiderman). We need to take responsibility for learning about Roberts and his legal philosophies, because they have the potential to determine the way we live the rest of our lives. If confirmed, Roberts will replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was well respected among his colleagues and who ruled with a firm conservative hand. Roberts, on the other hand, is more of a pragmatist when it comes to judicial decision making, as was evident in his opening remark to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday: “I come before this committee with no agenda, no platform; I will approach every case with an open mind.” Several political issues arise when the Senate debates over a nominee, because research shows that justices tend to interpret constitutional law in accordance with their political ideologies. This is not to suggest that justices overtly attempt to legislate belief systems, but that they see the same problems and attempt to solve those problems differently. Democrats and republicans will begin the process of asking Roberts questions regarding his political ideologies and legal philosophies in hopes of determining his qualifications for the top judicial seat. The American Bar Association has given Roberts the highest rating regarding his legal qualifications for the Supreme Court. Democrats do not view the replacement of Rehnquist, a firm conservative judge, with a pragmatist such as Roberts as much of a threat to the balance of the court. The real hubbub will be the fight for the Sandra Day O’Connor seat. O’Connor, who resigned her position for personal reasons, was the first female justice ever to sit on our nation’s highest court. She was traditionally seen as a “swing voter” when it came to her court rulings. If the president chooses a justice with a conservative ideology to fill her seat, there will be a huge political battle within the Senate. In several cases, she held the decisive vote within a fairly balanced court. If any bitter political showdown is about to take place, it will be with the O’Connor nominee, not Roberts.If the nomination of Roberts promises to be a political fight of minor proportions, then why should my friend learn, or even care, about the nomination? Roberts will be the first justice among equals on our nation’s highest court with the ability to interpret the constitution for decades. The recent court has become so powerful that it has been able to decide the constitutionality of our presidential election process, determine the rights of the people and assert the power to deem any law enacted by Congress unconstitutional. We give this vast power and trust to our justices in hopes that equal justice under the law remains the core value of our judicial system. The only way to ensure that this value remains the precedent is to educate ourselves on our nominees and question anything we find suspect. There are certain checks and balances written into our Constitution to make sure powers are not violated between governing bodies; however, if we do not ask questions and educate ourselves about our governmental institutions and court nominees, we run the risk of letting the power we give to our government go unchecked. This principle of educating ourselves and questioning our branches of government is called democracy. The only way I could respond to my friend regarding the Roberts nomination was this: “I don’t know if you know this but-the Roberts nomination is kind of a big deal.”Rex Gradeless is a senior studying political science and is the president of the Political Science Club.

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