By Michael Parker
Our country is deeply divided. The loud, acrimonious debate over filling the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is adding to our deep divisions. The reason is that the Supreme Court, which is supposed to be immune from politics, has been politicized to a point which would be unrecognizable to the drafters of the Constitution. With the Republicans’ hypocritical exertion of pure power politics by forcing a confirmation process before the election and the Democrats’ retaliatory threat to pack the Court with extra seats if they regain control of the Presidency and the Senate, the Supreme Court has been weaponized in the name of partisan politics. It is time to reform the Supreme Court appointment process to return it to what it should be, a neutral arbiter of Constitutional principles, free from partisan politics.
A potential way to reduce the politicization of the Court is to impose term limits, limit Presidential appointees to two each four-year term, increase the number of seats from nine to 15, and randomize Court decision making. Imposing term limits discourages the appointment of justices young enough to serve several decades and stops justices from hanging on to their seats when they are severely compromised physically and mentally. Term limits staggered to allow two vacancies each four-year term prevents a single President from imposing an outsize influence on the Court. Scheduled vacancies will also stop the inane fighting over when it is appropriate to fill a vacancy or not (when a vacancy occurs, it should be filled promptly).
Expanding the Court to fifteen seats will accomplish several things. It will increase much needed diversity, bringing new voices to the table. With so many justices there will be no need to appoint more than two justices per term. For instance, when two justices’ terms expire and another retires or dies, fourteen justices will be sufficient to conduct the Court’s business. Finally, seating fifteen justices presents the opportunity to introduce the element of randomness into the Court’s decision-making process to further reduce the divisive political struggles surrounding the Court. This can be done by randomly assigning a panel of five justices to decide each case that comes before the Court, removing the predictable liberal-conservative voting patterns that have become the norm.
Federal level politics have reached a point of toxic gridlock that is doing none of us any good. As that brand of toxic politics becomes normalized, it will make its way down to our vitally important local politics. Of course, no set of reforms will completely eliminate the politics surrounding the Court, but it’s time to try. Let’s face it, we need less things to fight about.
Michael Parker is a resident of Charlestown Navy Yard, and the chair of the Conservation Commission.