It never fails that in a two-party duopoly, when one party is out of power, the other party looks for ways to take power away from the other. While taking power away from roles in government is typically a good thing, the goal here is that the party proposing the new way wants to increase power for itself. The Democrats are losing their collective mind over the fact that Trump and the Republicans have been able to make two selections for the Supreme Court, and possibly a third. A newly announced candidate for President, Beto O’rourke, has a plan to try and give the Democrats a little more of an edge, as well as being able to make a lot more selections of their own.
Beto has the idea to create a new SCOTUS that consists of 15 justices, with 5 chosen by Republicans, 5 chosen by Democrats, and then those 10 would select another 5 themselves. While it’s true that this would balance the court between the two ruling parties, it leaves a few other representations out and cements the duopoly as the only two parties who can ever govern. What if people want a change from the status quo? What if people decide they don’t like what either party is doing? How can the will of those people be represented?
Beto wants to further change SCOTUS by creating terms, like elected officials, that would limit the amount of time served on the court. While this might sound like a good idea at its surface, there is a very good reason behind the way SCOTUS is constructed and why justices there serve for life. The other branches have terms that favor changing moods, movements, and ideas throughout the population. The judicial branch serves as a check against that and a balance grounded in constance. The judicial branch is the one area where those that serve do so as a means of grounding the ever-changing landscape of politics into one constant that is very slow to change. It acts as a mechanism to put a damper on government getting swept up into sudden, knee-jerk movements that can spread and fade quickly, so that there can be a reminder of the law and principles that guide governance.
Furthermore, when justices serve for life, they are not in any way really beholden to the parties that put them there. SCOTUS justices have no pressure for reelection, or the pressures that come from political dealings within a party power structure. The justices have no need to answer to party leadership, no need to adhere to any political philosophy just because it’s a part of their political affiliation or to deal with giving up one thing in order to get another. They don’t need to play the game of politics and trading favors, because they serve no one but the people and have no agenda aside from their own personal convictions about interpreting the law. The lack of terms of service would be disastrous in the other branches of government, but when balanced against those who must fight and play the game of politics and seek elections, the consistency of SCOTUS is important.
The design of SCOTUS was well thought out by the founders of the US. While it has never been perfect, and at times has sought to create law rather than interpret it, it works well overall. There can be times when one political movement has a greater opportunity for court appointments than others, but the benefit of a constant SCOTUS outweighs the rare opportunity for one party to get a chance at selecting multiple justices. Besides, it is always good to remember that once justices are serving, they rarely do a great job of towing the party line. It is quite common that justices vote in a manner displeasing to those who appointed them because they are not beholden.
It is highly likely that this idea Beto has about reconstructing SCOTUS will be very appealing to the rank-and-file Democrats, now that Republicans have had some say in the court’s composition and the perceived conservative bias. However, Democrats should bear in mind that whatever they do in their favor will be used to favor their opposition at some point. The US should also value a weakening of the duopoly rather than strengthening it. There are more than just two ideas about governance, and people deserve the right to identify with political movements that best represent their desires and not have to settle for such significant compromise that so strongly diminishes their individual desires. The structure and composition of SCOTUS is important, and should not so easily be compromised.
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