As the Supreme Court begins a new session and with the first presidential debate upon the nation, the Alliance for Justice is insisting that debate moderators press the candidates to discuss the types of nominees they would propose for the High Court.
The Alliance is a coalition of over 100 pro-labor and human rights groups that see the makeup of the courts as a key issue for 2012 elections.
“Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the percentage of cases in which decisions are reached by a vote of 5 to 4 is the highest in history,” AFJ President Nan Aron wrote in a letter he sent yesterday to presidential debate moderators Jim Lehrer, Martha Raddatz, Candy Crowley and Bob Schieffer.
“Of course candidates have stock answers for any question about the Supreme Court,” Aron wrote. “We hope you will press them to go beyond the usual boilerplate.”
Aron’s letter to the debate moderators and comments he made in a phone interview today come on the heels of the release by the Alliance of a new documentary video entitled: “Unequal Justice: The Relentless Rise of the 1% Court.” (Article continues below,)
“The term underway may well see the culmination of a four-decade push by big business to put its interests ahead of those of labor and consumers,” Aron said in the phone interview today. “Over several terms the court majority has put the thumb of big business on the scales of justice, repeatedly voting to roll back protections for workers and consumers. Over and over these were 5 to 4 votes.
“With polling showing the public increasingly fearful that corporations are receiving favorable treatment, the Court risks drifting further from the American mainstream and jeopardizing the legitimacy of its decisions,” Aron said.
In addition to the 5-4 votes that rolled back protections for workers, there were a number of important rights and protections that managed, after other 5 -4 decisions, to survive by only one vote.
By only one vote, the Supreme Court ruled that police cannot interrogate a 13-year-old boy and obtain a “confession” without telling him his rights or notifying his guardian.
By only one vote the Supreme Court said states can sue the Environmental Protection Administration to get EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses.
By only one vote, the Supreme Court said a state supreme court judge should have recused himself from a case involving a man who donated $3 million to the judge’s election campaign.
Aron also warned that this year the stakes are likely to be higher than ever with the Supreme Court probably planning to hear a challenge to a key civil rights law – the Voting Rights Act.
“And if that is not enough the current majority has an even bigger target in mind,” Aron said. “As the decision of Chief Justice Roberts in the Affordable Care Act makes clear, the majority wants to revise radically how the Court interprets the Constitution’s commerce clause, the clause that has formed the legal foundation for much of the infrastructure of progressive reform from the New Deal to the Great Society.”
It’s not too much of a stretch, progressives say, to imagine right wingers using new and stricter interpretations of laws regarding the ability of Congress to regulate interstate commerce as a launching pad for attacks on things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Unemployment Insurance.
People active in the Alliance feel that the labor and progressive movements need to pay more attention to who sits on the Supreme Court, in particular, and on all the courts, in general.
“There has been much attention in recent months to the way the executive and the legislative branches stacked the deck in favor of the one percent and against the rest of us,” Aron said. “But there’s been far too little attention paid to the success of big business in influencing the Supreme Court.
“With a presidential election just weeks away, it’s time to pay attention to the decisions a president makes that often have the most lasting consequences – the nominees who will be appointed to the nation’s highest court.”
Photo: Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 21, 2011, to protest the court’s Wal-Mart sex discrimination class action lawsuit decision. Evan Vucci/AP