New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace bid farewell to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Terry Hurlbut reported the story. This is a good point at which to assess criteria by which Supreme Court justices are assessed. Can we find articles which frame important issues well and contrast them to sordid and manipulative politicking? Indeed we can.
Constitution, Not Court, Is Supreme poses four very pertinent questions whose answers aptly point out major differences between liberals and conservatives. Ken Conner writes:
Does the nominee believe that the words of the Constitution have objective, propositional meaning, or are they merely empty vessels into which the justices may pour their own meaning? Does the intent of the Framers and their original understanding of the language set forth in the document act as a pole star for the guidance of modern day justices, or is the Constitution a document that is ever changing, evolving with the times like our standards of decency and taste? Will international law shape the outcome of cases that appear before the court or will the history and traditions of the American Republic weigh more heavily in the balance? Does the nominee come to the bench with a political or social agenda, or is she content to let the people and their elected officials set those agendas for the country?
The Mercator article Sex, softball and the Supreme Court illustrates a less noble aspect of American politics. Based on a Wall Street Journal article containing a picture of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan playing softball, some liberals and gay rights advocates inferred that the picture was a coded message about Kagan’s sexual orientation. The linkage is dumb as many female softball players could testify. But why was the issue raised in the first place? It has all the earmarks of a bait and hope strategy. Raise the issue and hope that an opponent of Kagan runs with a bigoted response to Kagan; criticizing her sexuality rather than her qualifications. I’m not a Kagan fan because of her constitutional views and social activism. But the bait and hope strategy is abhorant.
If the constitution is to retain its significance it must be treated as a document that grants and prohibits the exercise of certain powers and rights even when personal and social views of an individual judge conflict with a constitutional provision or its application with respect to a particular favored piece of legislation. If judges are free to rationalize their own views as “constitutional” we all lose something which has enabled the United States to be a unique bastion of liberty and a nation which acts to remedy historic injustices.