Civics For Citizens: The Supreme Court of the United States

The nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice is, in general, a major event, but with the Presidential Election only weeks away, this one is especially noteworthy. With the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), and the nomination of her replacement that quickly followed, it is possible that we will have a new Supreme Court Justice sworn in only days ahead of Election Day. In this edition of the Civics for Citizens blog, we’ll be taking a second look at the Judicial Branch, particularly the Supreme Court. When we first examined the Judicial Branch back in 2018, we considered it through the lens of voting rights and gerrymandering. This time around, we’ll be looking at it in light of the recent nomination and the 2020 Election, both of which will impact and define our nation and generation for decades to come. 

On average, the nomination process takes about 2-3 months. Though expedited, this nomination process will follow this procedure. As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court appointees are nominated by the President and then are vetted by the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to look through the nominee’s record and ask them any questions regarding their judicial career. If approved by the committee, the whole Senate will have the opportunity to debate and ask their own questions. Then, the Senate will vote, and if a simple majority is reached, the nominee will be officially confirmed. Established in 2017, a simple majority happens when whichever party controls the Senate has significant sway in the procedure and may be able to dominate the process with little to no barriers from across the aisle. 

While Justices and the judiciary as a whole are supposed to be non-partisan, their nomination process rarely is. Because justices are the only officeholders to serve for life and the determinants of the validity of state and federal law, securing a Supreme Court nominee is a major “win” for either party. Like the executive and legislative branches, judicial actors can also be conservative or liberal; however, these terms refer to their legal philosophy, not their politics. Conservative judges view the law as is and stick to the text, while liberal judges see the law as open to interpretation. Presidents choose to nominate candidates that they believe will best serve their party’s interests, and with an increasingly divided and hostile political climate, securing a Supreme Court nominee at this moment is especially critical for the following reasons. 

1. Timing: Election 2020

In what will most likely be a contested election for many reasons, the Supreme Court is anticipated to determine the winner. The appointment of a justice by a president who is up for re-election complicates this and raises concerns of fairness and objectivity. 

2. Philosophy: An Unbalanced Court

Before RBG’s passing, the Supreme Court was divided between conservative and liberal judges, with Chief Justice Roberts often acting as a swing vote. With the nomination of what will most likely be a conservative judge, this balance will be overturned. A slanted court may deter certain cases or issues from being heard while encouraging others.

3. What’s at Stake: Key Issues in Americans’ Lives

Very soon, the court is set to hear cases on the Affordable Care Act, immigration, big business, and criminal justice. The decisions made in these cases will set the precedent on these issues for decades to come.  

Even though voters don’t have a direct say in what happens, you can still make an impact. You can contact your senators and share your thoughts and concerns, sign petitions, and of course, vote. In fact, because this is occurring so close to the election, your vote carries huge weight. You can express your agreement or disagreement with the outcome through your vote. Regardless of what happens, we still have the power, ability, and right to create the future we want to see in our country.

About the Author

Rachel is the Communications Associate at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. She recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy with a concentration on The American Legal System. Rachel was previously an Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Ambassador and helped relaunch the program on campus, as well as was the Voter Education Manager through the student government. She co-founded the Civic Engagement Committee which brought together student leaders and key administrators to centralize and institutionalize Berkeley’s official civic engagement efforts. She revamped and created digital voting resources ahead of the 2020 primary and had her work featured and promoted by the Chancellor’s Office and the University of California, Office of the President. Rachel is excited to continue working with The Andrew Goodman Foundation and to help equip students with the tools and education they need ahead of election day.