AN IMBALANCED THREE-LEGGED STOOL

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GAVEL GAMUT

By Jim Redwine

Week of 08 October 2018

AN IMBALANCED THREE-LEGGED STOOL

Why are so many people on all sides so angry about the United States Supreme Court life-time appointment? The answer may be in the question: it is an appointment and it is for life.

The true genius of the Founding Fathers was they understood power corrupts and since human beings constantly seek power it must be diffused into three branches of government. What they did not anticipate was that the Supreme Court, the Judicial Branch, would slyly usurp the power of the Executive and Legislative branches, starting with Chief Justice John Marshall and the case of Marbury versus Madison in 1803 in which the Supreme Court declared it had the power to review and invalidate or validate decisions of the other Branches.

This power of review established an inequality among the three Branches that has grown to a crisis. Where the Judicial leg of the stool has neither power of the purse nor the gun, this power of review protrudes causing an imbalance. This is exacerbated by the appointment of the justices and the manner in which the appointments are made. They are appointed for life by one person, the President, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, i.e., one hundred more people.

Whereas the public has the right to vote for the President and each member of Congress, the public is shut out of choosing the extraordinarily powerful people in the Judicial Branch. This causes great concern for contesting groups when such personal issues as health care, police powers, control of one’s body, and distribution of tax monies may work their way from the legislative and executive bodies to the courts. For it is more true today than ever that as the visiting French philosopher and tourist Alexis de Tocqueville declared in 1835: in America, eventually every political question becomes a judicial one.

With the President, every four years we can make a change. With members of the House of Representatives, every two years the entire House can be changed and with the Senate, if we wish, in six years we can choose someone else. That is the crux of why people are so desperate to influence the choice of a Supreme Court Justice, i.e., it is not a choice made by them and it is for life.

It seems to me a rational solution is to change how we select our federal judges. Of course, I think all judges at all levels should be elected in a modified non-partisan election, but today we are just addressing the federal food fight that embarrasses and endangers us all. I suggest we put any future Supreme Court replacement on the ballot and limit their term. Of course, this will require amending the Constitution, but the Constitution has been amended many times before. Power to the People, not the politicians, is worth considering and worth the trouble it will take to make the change. 

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