Public Airing of Stakes in Upcoming Supreme Court Vacancy Must Begin Now

Coming Supreme Court Debate Must Focus on Substance, Not Politics

It has been almost nine years since the last U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, the longest interval between nominations in 180 years. Indeed, over the past half century, there has been on the average one Supreme Court nomination every two years. It is considered likely that at least one member of the U.S. Supreme Court will resign when the current term ends this month, and it is quite possible that the vacancy or vacancies this summer will be the first of three or four openings on the Court over the next several years. At stake in the appointment of new Supreme Court justices is the law of the land for the next generation – or longer. At risk are many of the great social justice achievements of the 20th Century.

The Bush administration, Republican Senate leaders, and right-wing pundits and activists are already gearing up to turn the focus of a Supreme Court battle away from the substance of a nominee’s legal and judicial philosophy – and the devastating impact of a right-wing dominated Supreme Court – and toward the so-called “obstructionism” of Senate Democrats and the legitimacy of a potential Senate filibuster against an extremist Supreme Court nominee.

It is urgent that public debate over Supreme Court nominees focus on crucial constitutional questions over which the current Court is closely divided, including the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, the authority of the federal government to enact and enforce civil rights and environmental protections, the separation of church and state, and more. Dozens of rights and legal protections Americans count on are just one or two Supreme Court justices away from being dismantled in pursuit of right-wing legal theorists’ goal of reinstating a 19th Century approach to the U.S. Constitution.

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