With the price of food and gasoline running at punishing levels, it is no surprise that the economy has replaced the disastrous war in Iraq as the issue with which voters are most concerned. Taken together, the two are quite literally issues of life and death. But as understandably preoccupied as the nation is with the current sorry state of affairs at home and abroad, voters should not lose sight of the fact that while the next president confronts the crises of the moment with one hand, he or she will craft the future with the other.
Judicial appointments are among a president’s most effective tools for shaping the social, political, and economic future of this nation. The dozens of trial and appellate judges a president names will determine the quality of justice, referee appointed and elected officials, and regulate the intricacies of our vast corporate culture.
The most important appointments, of course, are those to the Supreme Court. It is a risky business predicting how many vacancies might occur on the Court over the next four years. But putting larger issues of fate aside, it is likely that the next president will make one or maybe two appointments, to fill the seats of Republican justice John Paul Stevens, who is 88 years old, and Democratic justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who is 75.
Putative Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s recent speech at Wake Forest University — in which he pledged to extend the legacy of President George W. Bush by continuing to appoint radical, right-wing judges — should come as no surprise to even casual political observers, particularly as he continues to pander to the hard-core conservatives of his party whose contributions and votes he must garner to have any chance of winning in November.
Despite McCain’s highly publicized maverick moments, he is at his core a ruby-red Republican. Like Bush, McCain values the economic supremacy of the few over the many, and is dedicated to the proposition that the power and prerogatives of the presidency are more important than the civil liberties of the citizenry. Any Democrat disenchanted with the hard-fought primary season would do well to remember this.
While we admire Senator Hillary Clinton, the Phoenix has a clearly stated preference for Senator Barack Obama. But it is painfully clear to this newspaper that either of the Democrats would name superior candidates to the judiciary. If McCain is elected, Bush’s royalist economic policies and reactionary political and social vision will become even more entrenched than they are today.
When it comes to evaluating former president Ronald Reagan’s judicial record, Reagan comes off as almost a moderate compared with Bush. Both presidents’ appointees are high-handed in their disdain for precedent and contemptuous of the Constitution as a safeguard for individual liberties threatened by overreaching government authority. But as bad as Reagan judges were — and are — on such issues as the death penalty and reproductive choice (to name just two), Bush’s are more ideologically fervent. McCain judges would re-enforce this tragic trend.
Liberals and progressives have reason to worry that McCain judges would complete the work so insidiously initiated by Reagan and Bush appointees and nullify Roe v. Wade, the 35-year-old Supreme Court decision that guarantees women the right to make choices about abortion.