Is the Supreme Court the Big Issue in Election 2016?

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.

Op-Ed by C J Oakes

Election 2016 has the potential to reshape American politics and more importantly, American jurisprudence for the next several decades. While most political commentators are debating who said what, the wheels of progress are grinding to yet another standstill. Senator Ted Cruz, in typical Waaaaaaa-if-you-don’t-play-by-my-rules-I’m-taking-my-marbles-to-another-playground fashion is now stating that the GOP may block any nominee to the Supreme Court offered by a (shudder) liberal.

Wow! Talk about a cry baby. Yo, Ted Cruz. You Don’t Own Everyone and you certainly don’t own all the marbles.

Of course, Cruz is not alone. The Republican’s in the 114th Congress have opposed everything by the Obama Administration, even when he agreed with them. Remember when McConnell filibustered his own bill after the President stated on the record that he would support it? If that wasn’t a sign that the GOP wants to make up the rules as they go along (which doesn’t work in a Democracy) then I don’t know what was.

But the issue of choosing a Supreme Court nominee is perhaps one of the most pressing issues facing the GOP this election cycle. How so?

After a troubling few years for the U.S. Justice System, many Americans are calling for reforms. However, history bears out that the biggest strides in justice were carried out under the flag of liberals. Consider some of these:

  • 1955 Brown v. Board of Education – The United States Supreme Court under the Conservative Earl Warren leaned far to the left in deciding that school segregation was unconstitutional. This sparked a movement which led to the two civil rights bills in 1964, 1965.
  • 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright Corrections Director – This case ensured that anyone who could not afford an attorney would have one appointed by the state. The basis for this decision is the 6th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • 1966 Miranda v. Arizona – From this came the well-known Miranda Warning, which ensures that even the least educated among us is made aware that they are not required to answer police interrogators.
  • 1972Furman v. Georgia – The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty as it was applied at the time was unconstitutional. This forced many states to revisit their approach to the ultimate punishment.

These are just a few of the landmark cases handled under what has been regarded by some as the most important Supreme Court makeup in national history. Indeed, Chief Justice Warren Berger, though very conservative, continued the work started by the esteemed Warren Court. However, it was not to be.

All Good Thing Must End

After the Berger Court, Ronald Reagan added the uber-conservative William Rehnquist as Chief Justice. Under his stern guidance, the SCOTUS turned ugly–it turned very partisan. The Supreme Court under Rehnquist began to slowly dismantle as many advances in criminal procedure and civil rights as it could.

 

Under both the Warren and Berger Courts, considerable strides were made to ensure that the ideal espoused from the founding of the Republic would stand.

“All citizens are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

With just a few notable exceptions, the Rehnquist Court made strides to reverse that notion. Instead, the Rehnquist Court largely supported the conservative notion of

“Guilty, unless you can prove otherwise.”

One notable case wherein the Rehnquist Court ruled in favor of defendants to a crime involved a death penalty case, Johnson v. Mississippi (1988). At the heart of this case was whether the state overreached by using evidence from a New York case. In the New York case, the defendant served time in prison, but the case was vacated. Mississippi used the prison time to apply agravating circumstances to his capital case in that state. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled such use a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition of “unusual punishment.”

That aside, the Supreme Court under both Rehnquist and later John Roberts has largely moved away from the rights of the accused and more to supporting the heavy arm of the state.

Evidence of SCOTUS’s Hard-Line Leaning is Seen in the Evidence

Ok, so that sounds silly, but the fact is that the Supreme Court has largely supported the right of the state against the rights of the citizens. This is clearly NOT what was intended in the Constitution. But there is a simple, glaring fact that bears this out.

As of 2016, the United States has more people in prison than any other civilized nation–in fact, than ANY nation.

I don’t need to give you the numbers. You likely already know them. We incarcerate more people, mostly for non-violent offenses, than any other nation on the planet. And we do it under the “rule of law.” Clearly, there is something wrong with the law…either that, or we are simply a nation of criminals.

Forgive me if I am jaded, but I refuse to believe that nearly everyone around me (me included) is a criminal. I refuse to believe that we must incarcerate at least half our population at some point in their life. I refuse to believe that someone guilty of smoking marijuana is a danger to me and my family.

But that is the case in America circa 2016. That is the case in America thanks in part to the uber-conservative Supreme Court we have enjoyed for the last three decades.

And now Senate Republicans are going to refuse to do their job so that we can further escallate the problem? What, are they concerned that eventually locking up only half of our population is not enough? Do they really want to give government MORE power over us? I thought that the GOP stood for LESS government, not more. But in shifting from “innocent until proven guilty” to “lock them all up and let God sort them out,” is just the opposite.

If Ted Cruz and the GOP REALLY believed in less government, they would appoint a Supreme Court justice who will reverse the horrible decisions of the last 30 years.

Seriously.

I have never voted Democrat. Ever. Yet, if Congress does not allow an appointment by Obama, I will have no choice. In fact, I am so sick of the childish behavior of this Congress I will likely vote Democrat across the board (and my House Rep is on the ballot this round). I will hope for a Democratic sweep if only to send a message to the GOP.

It is time to stop incarcerating so many people. This trend was started by Republicans and will only get worse under their direction, as seen clearly from the prison populations. Do we want more of the same or a difference?

Change will not come from a President, but will come with a different Supreme Court composition.

Oh, and the link above to Ted Cruz is his twitter handle. If you agree with this op-ed, let him know.

CJOakes
at