With all of the political rhetoric passed out these days, it is sometimes hard to find the reality beneath the mountain of exaggerations, half-truths, and "little white lies." Myths abound in the world of politics, the worst of which is the broadly perceived scope of power bestowed upon the president.
As explained in a round table discussion Monday night featuring Donald Kommers and Richard Garnett of the Law School, the power of the president to nominate Supreme Court justices is limited by several factors. First, not all justices vote in ways that reflect the ideology of their nominator. According to Kommers, David Souter has become an outspoken liberal voices on the court although being nominated by a conservative George H.W. Bush. President Harry Truman once called one of his nominations the "biggest damned fool mistake of my life." With lifetime appointments, justices are free to vote however they choose with no fear of executive branch retaliation.
Secondly, the number of nominations allotted to the president is limited to the number of present justices who resign. Although often beyond retirement age, justices are reluctant to resign unless they know that a member of a similar ideological party will be naming their replacement.
Finally, justices are (to quote Garnett), more "legal technicians" than philosophical or moral leaders of the country. They interpret the law, check its constitutionality and rule accordingly despite their own personal convictions. So their role, while stemming from presidential partisanship, remains mostly aloof from direct political action.
My argument is that to vote for a candidate based upon who he or she might nominate to the Supreme Court is not an effective way to challenge a strong societal issue. Changes must come in the form of Constitutional amendments. What counts in an election is the political and moral philosophy of the candidates, which laws they intend to enforce and the proposals they plan to submit to congress.
History shows that democratic candidates have a better record of upholding civil rights legislation, maintaining programs for the middle and lower classes and budgeting monies toward the funding of social programs. These programs do help people: children, families, men, women and senior citizens who deserve to share in the prosperity of America. Social Security, Medicare, Head Start, AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children, a program cut by the Republican "Contract with America") Democratic programs that have faced Republican opposition since their inception.
In contrast, the Republican agenda has focused almost exclusively on lowering taxes, whether an "across the board tax cut" as suggested by George W. Bush, or one that simply favors the upper classes. This type of governing drove our economy into the recent recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s (Reaganomics) and previously the Great Depression. Further evidence that this philosophy is not right for America comes from Federal Reserve Chairman Allan Greenspan, whose wisdom many credit for the current economic boom, who has said that any tax cut would only have a negative effect on the economy.
These acts of a president, budgeting and enforcing government programs are within the span of presidential power. They are the issues that should be focused on in the coming election; not predictions of what might and might not be done to controversial Supreme Court decisions.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, try to avoid the rhetoric, personal attacks and exaggerations from both candidates and focus on their politics. The power of the presidency is limited, but that power does leave America affected. Vice President Al Gore is an experienced leader, who despite personal flaws has the ability to guide America through eight more years of prosperity.
All Inside Stories for Wednesday, October 25, 2000