July 9, 2018

Stakes Couldn't Be Higher With Court Selection


by John Hamilton, Mayor of Bloomington, IN and Dawn Johnsen, Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law

*This piece was originally published by The Herald-Times

Bloomington is a long way from Washington, D.C., but the stakes in the battle over the Supreme Court’s future are monumental, here and around the country. Who replaces retiring Justice-in-the-middle Anthony Kennedy will shape who we are as a community and as a nation for generations to come.

President Trump and many in the Senate seek to remold America, and explicitly target the courts to do so. Time and again, first candidate and now President Trump attack our fair and independent courts, undermining the rule of law, democracy and fundamental liberties. That’s the same Trump who lost the popular vote by millions, who is under investigation for colluding with a foreign enemy to win the election and who regularly demeans our republic with his bigotry and bullying.

Now a second Supreme Court seat (after the stolen first one) awaits Trump’s appointment. The prospects of a five-member radical-right majority are staggering. Such a locked-in bloc could indeed remake America:

  • By eroding our most cherished civil rights and liberties — Our nation is a work in progress. Over time, we have remedied injustices and extended our core commitments to many previously excluded, including African Americans and other racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians, recent immigrants and religious minorities. Justice Kennedy cast critical votes to protect fundamental rights and liberties all of us deserve — to marry, to love, to decide whether, when and how to bear and raise children — and against decimating remedies for racial segregation.
  • By dangerously distorting fundamental structures of our democracy — Our remarkable constitutional “checks and balances” would be hijacked, shifting powers away from the American people and our elected representatives and to an imperial presidency and Supreme Court. Many pillars of our system are at special risk. The right to vote in free and fair elections, uncorrupted by extreme gerrymandering and overwhelming and secret corporate money. Congress’ power to legislate on vital national challenges, such as health care (the Affordable Care Act), environment protection, climate change, economic inequality and civil rights. Access to courts to protect consumers, workers and individuals against wealthy special interests.

All this and much more is at risk from a new justice.

A radical political agenda seems driven by fear of our changing America. As we become more diverse and more progressive, demanding more justice and opportunity for all, this agenda aims to take us backward and disempower the American people in our striving toward that “more perfect union.” The Supreme Court is ground zero for that struggle.

Our senators must preserve our democracy and our future. We must call upon them (daily!) to oppose any nominee who does not affirmatively recognize long-established law in these essential areas: The constitutional right of all people to make their own decisions about their personal relationships and their bodies, including to use contraception, to have an abortion or to bear a child, and to marry whom they choose.

And the fundamental structures of our constitutional democracy, including free and fair elections, the power of the people to promote the general welfare through legislation and genuine access to courts to protect against powerful moneyed and corporate interests.

Senators Donnelly and Young both voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch. Both should oppose another ideological nominee who would radically remake America and diminish our liberties and our democracy. With all this on the line, we all need to act. Our future generations depend on it.