By Brandon Nobles/Brandon is a grad of the University of Washington with a degree in English and Humanities. He is a current online teacher and is also an active member of the 7th District and Stevens County Democratic parties.
One of the hotbed issues among many the last election was which presidential candidate would be appointing new Supreme Court Justices. With the death of Justice Anthony Scalia, a vacancy has been opened which constitutionally President Obama was expected to fill. His nominee, Merrick Garland, has yet to be confirmed by congressional Republicans in another instance of avoiding to do their job in non-stop gridlock while Obama is still in office.
Extremists from both sides claimed that the future of the nation is at fate if either Hillary or Trump wins because they shall be filling this vacancy. Some Republican strategists claimed that if Hillary makes the appointment, it would bring about a socialist state with a limitless decrease in abortion regulation, suppression of free speech, and the second amendment would be overturned.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats claimed if Trump was elected, we would essentially see the beginnings of a theocracy, and the end of women’s rights particularly in terms of abortion and contraception. While the scare tactics of both sides regarding these issues are often good rhetoric to sway popular opinion to get partisan allies into office, the reality of the situation rears its head when reviewing the history of Supreme Court decisions in a mostly Republican dominated court the last fifty years.
Take first the landmark decision of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, which brought about the legalization of abortion via the constitutional right to privacy under the fourteenth amendment. Republicans have decried this decision as an example of liberal judicial fiat against the wishes of the American people. Republicans claim that with an election of a Republican president, the court can be majority Republican appointed and overturn this decision. This promise tends to lose its basis when one flippantly opens up any history book and finds out the Supreme Court that ruled in Roe vs. Wade were mostly Republican appointed: Justices Burger (Nixon), Brennan (Eisenhower), Stewart (Eisenhower), Blackmun (Nixon), Powell (Nixon), and Rehnquist (Nixon); three of the nine justices were Democrat appointed which included Justices White (JFK), Marshall (LBJ), and Douglas (FDR). The Roe vs. Wade decision passed seven to two, and amusingly enough, one of the two dissenters who opposed the act was Democrat appointed Justice White.
More of the same follows with the second amendment. The Republican platform has claimed to wish to stamp out gun control initiatives wherever the pop up. It seems however that this does not apply to the Supreme Court, as in the 1980 decision Lewis vs. the United States, the mostly Republican Supreme Court (with only two Democrat appointed Justices this time) ruled that constitutionally Congress had the right to bar felons from owning guns, which was a catalyst in terms of implementing background checks for the purchasing of firearms. This led to the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993, with the implementation of background checks of all firearm purchasers from licensed dealers and a five day wait period (which was replaced with an instant check when the National Instant Criminal Background Check system was put into place a few years later).
Again, the Domestic Violence Offender Act of 1996 was passed under the oversight of the same majority Republican appointed Supreme Court, and oddly enough, passed through a Republican majority Congress under a Democratic President. The act barred those who came up with domestic violence convictions in a background check from receiving a firearm, essentially passing gun purchasing restrictions to even non-felons since domestic violence is a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions.
At the end of the day, the jockeying for votes by crying doomsday in terms of who a candidate will appoint to the court relates to the same dilemma that Americans have with choosing a President. From the looks of the last election, a shift in political culture is readily apparent as contemporary Americans seem to be looking for a political figurehead or system who will fix all of the nation’s ills and travails. However, this had led to disappointment and a perplexing mix of betrayal and deceit time and time again, as shown by the Republican Party’s desire to “capture the Supreme Court”—a court oddly enough, they have held captive the last fifty years—in order to slay abortion and gun control legislation, when in reality they have been the party that appointed the justices who enacted these decisions in the first place. If Americans truly wish to change these issues among the various other polarizing issues plaguing our nation, they will have to do it the hard way as a magic election or appointment is not going to undue the problems of this country. If a citizen truly wants to do something about guns, or abortion, or any of the other issues there are options. However, that road is long, unpaved, and is much more difficult with actions such as to know the who’s who in one’s state legislature, gathering signatures for initiatives, running for office (including local positions such as school board, sewer commissioner, etc.) participating in one’s local political party, and a myriad of other activities typically in which many Americans for more than one reason or another—be they valid or not—simply do not do. But taking time out of one’s busy life, that is what real and true political action is about, and the various major justice and reform movements of this nation’s history were always brought forth by everyday Americans pushing toward social action and change. And with the coming four years and the way the nation is fractured, we need this community involvement and restructuring more than ever. Trump claims to want to “Make America Great Again,” but I say “Make America Involved Again” as that will be the only way to bring greatness back.