Dread Judges – It’s Totally Not Cool That Nine Robed Elders Run America
American politics is a lot like baseball in that basically nothing happens for long, long stretches of time. There are occasional flurries of action, however, when the Supreme Court announces decisions on the major cases that have been brought before it. In the past couple of weeks, the court has ruled, among other things, that “naturally occurring” human genes can’t be patented; that the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriages, though states don’t necessarily have to allow gays to marry; that refusing to answer questions from the cops can get you in trouble; that the University of Texas needs to reconsider its affirmative-action policies; and that the section of the Voting Rights Act that mandates some states to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws is outdated. All of those are potentially far-reaching decisions, and they were made by a panel of unelected judges who have their jobs for life. You can call the US a democracy if you like, but really, most of the important policy choices are made by a council of elders.
The vague idea most of us have about the Supreme Court is that it exists to determine whether laws are constitutional or not. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts during his nomination hearings, a judge’s job is to “call balls and strikes.” The assumption is that the Constitution has a clear meaning and that applying that meaning to individual statues is just a matter of thinking and studying really, really hard.