The United States Supreme Court was established in Article III of the Constitution. The role of the Court is to protect and intrepret the Constitution. It is the highest court in the U.S.; its rulings trump all decisions made in other federal courts, and state courts arguing federal issues. The Supreme Court's rulings are generally considered final. In fact, their decisions are only overturned if the court overrules itself – or by way of a Constitutional amendment.
There are nine justices, including the chief justice, who officially leads the Court. All justices are nominated by the sitting president and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Once appointed, a justice remains on the bench for the rest of their lives, unless they retire or are impeached. So far, only one justice has ever been impeached in this history of the country. Since 1970, the average tenure of a justice is 26.1 years. John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010, was a justice on the Court for 34 years.
If you’re keeping track, that’s nine unelected people, who have been granted life-long authority to interpret the Constitution for the entire country. Our laws must be compliant with their vision. When a few individuals have this much power over the masses, it’s our responsibility to analyze whether this system serves the people well, and if not, to implement an alternative.
The justices aren’t trying to win a popularity contest by bowing to the public’s wishes in matters of the Court. However, most Americans do not believe the justices’ decisions are related to upholding the Constitution, either. A poll conducted in June 2012 by the New York Times and CBS News showed just 13% of respondents believed the Court decide cases based on the legalities, rather than their political beliefs.
Here are five landmark Supreme Court rulings, beginning in the 1950s. This isn’t about whether you agree with the decision that was made. The question is: How do you feel about this decision being made by appointed (rather than elected) justices?
1. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010): Allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions
2. Bush v. Gore (2000): Enabled George W. Bush to become the 43rd U.S. President
3. Roe v. Wade (1973): Legalized abortion
4. Tinker v. Des Moines (1969): Allowed free expression for students
5. Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Desegregated public schools
In the New York Times poll cited earlier, the percentage of respondents who stated the justices' decisions are sometimes influenced by political or personal views was staggering.
The current system of presidents and Congress appointing justices for a lifetime with no input from American citizens is unacceptable. No options have been posed to us, because the justices, president, and Congress do not want to put this power in the people’s hands. That means it's up to us to generate our own ideas for fixing the system. Here are a few alternatives to think over:
1. Require justices to win a general election
2. Implement a single-term limit of 8 years for each justice
3. Create a means for the American people to recall a justice
The alternative to revamping Supreme Court selections is more of the same, so it boils down to whether you are happy with that.