In the early modern period the concept of separation of governmental power revolved around a monarch, a representative body or parliament and a court of law being constrained or checked by the other branch(es). In a system of limited government, the concept proved essential in order to guard against a tyranny of the majority or a branch that oversteps its constitutional boundaries.
Within the realm of American politics this idea becomes somewhat unique. Before delving into the Supreme Court itself, I must lay some historical background as it relates to the constitution.
Since the ratification of our present constitution in 1787 there has been staunch disagreement about the way in which it is to be interpreted. Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists and Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans set off the spark of disagreement that would lead to further division and eventually civil war.
The question that sets off this spark is: Should our constitution be interpreted loosely or strictly? Jefferson’s camp advocated a strict adherence to the document called “strict constructionism.”
The purpose of interpreting and adhering to the constitution strictly was not only to prevent the general government from usurping certain powers from the states, but also to prevent certain interpretations from granting the government more power.
Jefferson is the benefactor to the modern conservative view on this. The amount of importance placed on the document itself, as well as the stipulation that it must be interpreted strictly, has guided conservative opinion in the Supreme Court for decades.
Because of this importance, Republicans in Washington deemed it necessary to prevent Obama (a president who has been degraded by conservatives for his unruly use of executive power and disregard for the constitution) from appointing a justice in the “11th hour” of his presidency as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said.
The death of conservative icon Antonin Scalia provided a chance for Obama to capitalize and ensure a left leaning majority in the Court for years to come. Obama has presented his pick, Merrick Garland, as a moderate jurist.
However, McConnell made the appeal that the National Rifle Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses have significant objections to Garland’s judicial record. Moreover, in an interview McConnell pointed out, “The New York Times speculates that [Garland] would tip the ideological balance to create the most liberal Supreme Court in 50 years.”
Our very own Jeff Sessions has weighed in on what the Court would look like with more judges who espouse the left leaning mindsets of Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg.
Sessions has said that a Supreme Court whose very nature is antithetical to the original intentions of the constitution itself (the document they are supposed to revere) would be dangerous. Sessions made the conservative position on this clear when he responded to Obama appointee Justice Sotomayor who said their left leaning court would have “no objective stance, but a series of perspectives.”
Sessions criticized this by saying, “You see, this is a postmodern, relativistic, secular mindset. I believe it is directly contrary to the founding of our republic. It’s the problem with the courts. Once they take that philosophy, they are no longer bound ... The battle we are engaged in here is to affirm there is objective truth.”
The 20th and 21st century has seen an increasing amount of Justices who do not call balls and strikes but who call plays instead. When the branch of government whose sole purpose is to interpret the highest law in the land becomes weakened by constitutional detractors, it becomes ever more important to ensure that future Justices have a conservative lean.
Blocking Obama’s pick as he went out the door was a good choice. Now, with a Donald Trump presidency, we have the potential for more Justices to be nominated who will uphold the Bill of Rights and protect the civil liberties granted to us in our constitution.
Cole Davis is president of the Auburn University College Republicans..