The Supreme Court and the 2008 Elections

The New York Times looks at the impact of the 2008 elections on the make up of the Supreme Court. After all, this is on promise which George Bush did deliver on for his base:

President Bush’s promise to change the makeup of the Supreme Court was one of his most reliable applause lines, as candidate and as president. It energized conservative activists like few other issues, kept them going in the face of other disappointments, kept them loyal and focused on the long view.

The move to the right should make the Supreme Court an important issue for liberals, but so far Democrats have failed to capitalize on it:

Liberals have been warning of the dangers of a Bush court since his 2000 campaign against Al Gore, but it was never an easy issue to drive home, even among people who support much of the progressive agenda, analysts say.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has studied public attitudes toward the court for Planned Parenthood and other groups, said it takes a long time to penetrate the public’s consciousness about the importance of the nine justices.

“They don’t know much about the court, they don’t understand lifetime appointments, they think each president can have an impact,” she added.

Mark Mellman, another Democratic pollster, said that in the past, “people had some confidence that the court was not going to change the way the country did business in dramatic ways.”

In other words, liberals were often warning about potential dangers to their agenda from a changing Supreme Court. The issue was not a hypothetical for conservatives, who felt devastated, over the years, by decisions from previous courts, most notably Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case declaring a constitutional right to abortion.

Now, some Democrats and their allies say they are hearing hypothetical worries turn to outrage, and not just in the Democratic cloakroom of the Senate. “The right has always been energized on this issue,” said Mr. Schumer. “The recent decisions have now energized the left.”

The more the Court moves the country to the right, the more aware voters will be of the need to prevent the far right from choosing more justices. This should not be limited to “people who support much of the progressive agenda.” The move to the far right provides reason for more than just the left to be concerned. Moderates who desire to preserve our civil liberties, abortion rights, and the separation of powers should also see the move by the Court to the far right as cause for concern. The average voter might not necessarily support, or even be aware of, what the Times considers “the progressive agenda” but would not like to see conservative changes in these vital areas. Democrats must make this case, and not simply argue that Democratic appointees are necessary to pursue a specific political agenda.

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