by James T. Murphy
The United States Supreme Court, or SCOTUS for the acronymically inclined, was given birth by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, and embodied by the Judiciary Act of 1789. At that time Congress set up a federal judicial system made of trial courts throughout the country to handle the myriad federal issues not appropriate to state jurisdiction, supported by intermediate appellate courts, and at the apex of the third branch of our government, the granddaddy of them all. The Senior’s primary function is to pass on the constitutionality of executive and legislative acts, thus actually placing itself in the position, based upon present day politics, of possibly having to decide issues related to its own composition. Although the makeup of SCOTUS is controlled by Congress, in the present climate one can easily envision constitutional challenges to the current manuverings of one side of the asile, or at least a portion thereof.
A bit of history. At the outset the Court consisted of six justices, whose positions were considered so important, the moniker of judge was thought not to be descriptive enough. The number of justices changed six times, with a high of ten in 1863, then settling on nine in 1869, where it has been ever since. The Court has had a total of 17 chief justices and a 103 associate justices. For its first 180 years justices were almost always white male Protestants of Anglo or Northwestern European descent. Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish justice, appointed in 1916, Thurgood Marshall the first African-American, appointed in 1967, Sandra Day O’Connor the first female, robbed up in 1981, and Antonin Scalia, the first Italian-American, joined the Supremes in 1986. At present the Court is comprised of 1 African-American male, 3 white females, one of Hispanic decent, and 5 white males, approaching at least a demographically legitimate makeup. America awaits its first gay justice, probably the next ceiling to shatter. Now of course political leanings are another thing entirely, but in the best of all worlds, politics are said, with at least a wink, not to enter the Supreme Court Building. SCOTUS is the final arbiter of Congressional Acts, and when it comes to approving the acts of Congress, that is no small task.
Thankfully the Court need not, nor would it comment on all the political bluster radiating from The Capitol and which daily assaults one’s senses, as if any human being not a member of such a high-minded assemblage of rapscallions could with any degree of decisiveness comment on such folly. Think for instance what a Chief Justice might have to say about Maxine Waters (D-CA), or the various and always colorful remarks of the previous Commander-in-Chief. Such activities needs be left to the reprobates who would comment on such comments, in like say a weekly rambling on all things current. The work of the Court is serious stuff, with important and usually permanent, always historical, effects; as in abortion, gay marriage or civil rights, for example.
At present there is a move afoot to increase the number of justices. Such a pursuit was last undertaken by FDR, one of America’s early progressive leaders. There were others, his cousin Teddy and Howard Taft come to mind. In any event, in order to insure the success of the New Deal, parts of which had been ruled unconstitutional by the SCOTUS of the day, 32, labelled as the first “court packer” attempted to raise the number of justices to 15. Congress however would have nothing of it and the plan died on the vine. Present day Congress however is a different animal. As the Dems have recently risen to a razor thin majority it is the intent of many to craft a High Court in their image, and thus the attempt to add 4 associates justices; the thinking of course being the majority would push through candidates aligned with the items on their legislative agenda. Think the Second Amendment, immigration, health care and climate change, to name a few. Political Science it ain’t, or maybe that’s just what it is. And then too, there is the Speaker who, avowedly anyway, did not stand behind the House action while proclaiming she wants to wait for the Biden Commission to report on the issue. In other words, to give respect to the move, create a commission. Political machinations so thinly veiled, and by the way when in power Republicans have demonstrated the ability to get their way as well, only expose the spoof played upon the people, some of whom are in accord, others oppossed. Because of the meager majority however, many believe the subterfuge is unlikely to succeed, on this go around.
At the end of the day though, Spring has sprung is these United States, with any advantage COVID may be on the run, and great numbers of folks have been “stimulated”, which in itself, by some standards, is political pandering, the quid for the unvoiced but expected quo, and a quid which by any economic standard cannot result in a benefit to children and grandchildren. But, the political contrivances notwithstanding, life goes on, for some positively, for others, not so much. The business of Congress then must be to strive for less partianship. While it is of course true that “elections have results”, post- election actions designed only to apply epoxy to shore up future results, will lead to a most fractured, as though it could get worst, society. A society which ceases to be “of the people, for the people”, with a government bent to its autocratic ways, ia comportment which benefits no one.