Current direction of the Supreme Court
I’ve written a lot on hub pages about how people should vote for third parties more often, and shouldn’t fall for the argument that voting for one is a “wasted” vote. But the thing is, I often wish I could vote for a major party in good conscience because I think there are certain things I‘d like to see get done that one party does do better than another. I wish I could vote for a major party in 2016 but I’m afraid my conscience will forbid me from doing it again too, because I’ll inevitably have to sacrifice some of my principles for others, and I just don’t like doing that. But if I was going to vote based on Supreme Court appointments alone, and ignore other issues, I’d have to go with the Republicans for a couple of reasons.
Despite the hand-wringing from liberals, I think the decisions in Heller v. District of Columbia and Citizens United v. FEC were steps in the right direction, and I was encouraged by them. I think free speech and gun rights are probably the most important rights we have (maybe the founders thought so too, given their prominent placement in the Bill of Rights).
Granted, on free speech neither side is perfect from my perspective (I'm rather libertarian) but campaign finance regulation seems like a more dangerous assault on the First Amendment currently than laws against obscenity or flag burning (which I both oppose, by the way). Also, hate speech regulations are pretty awful too, and I'd assume that conservatives would be more likely to go against them than liberals-although they're currently fairly decent on this issue too.
Also, I like that Justice Anthony Kennedy decides so many cases, and he usually tends to take the right side. I‘m libertarian on a lot of issues, and so is Kennedy, although he‘s probably more of a “centrist“ in any case. To his credit, he consistently votes on the pro-free speech side (regardless of the issue) in First Amendment cases, voted for gay rights in the Lawrence v. Texas and recent DOMA decision, and restricts the application of affirmative action when he can. Although I don’t entirely agree with him about the abortion issue (he’s a bit too conservative on the subject for me) I do like how he tends to take a pragmatic approach to a complex moral issue, and tries to find a middle ground between the rights of the woman early in the pregnancy and the rights of the fetus in the latter phases of pregnancy.
Here's a link to Kennedy's views on abortion in more detail:
Where I part ways with Kennedy
There are certainly some issues where I disagree with him. One of the most egregious is probably the Kelo v. New London decision, where Kennedy voted that the government could take your private property and give it to other private developers under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment. It’s a bit hard to come up with a more dangerous abuse of power than that. Also, although he often votes with the liberals of the court on death penalty cases, he was in the majority in the Herrera v. Collins decision in 1992, which said that federal courts had no duty to intervene in cases where a death row inmate’s guilt is in doubt, which can only be dealt with in a new state trial, or a state clemency appeal. The disregard for possible innocent human life in that decision was awful.
If you’re wondering where I’m getting all this info about him, it’s mainly from reading a book recently called Justice Kennedy’s Jurisprudence: the Full and Necessary Meaning of Liberty by Frank J. Colucci. Reading that book gave me great respect and more understanding for his role in the court. Here a link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Justice-Kennedys-Jurisprudence-Necessary-Meaning/dp/0700616624/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377912951&sr=1-1&keywords=justice+kennedy%27s+jurisprudence
Why Republicans edge out Democrats
But my larger point is that Kennedy was appointed under Ronald Reagan, not a Democratic president, despite being a ‘moderate.’ I don’t recall a Democratic president ever appointing a moderate, or at least one that’s satisfying to me. Of course, most Republican presidents won’t usually appoint one of those either, at least as a first choice (Reagan picked the infamous and generally awful Robert Bork prior to picking Kennedy). But regardless, if I can't have a moderate or libertarian-leaning justice, I'll take a full-blown Republican as a compromise, mainly because of my emphasis on free speech and gun rights issues. But a justice like Robert Bork is out of the question for me, which is one reason I couldn't vote for Romney based on this issue. He seemed to view Robert Bork as an example of a good justice.
Ultimately, I’d like to see some kind of libertarian or libertarian-leaning justice. Kennedy is as close to that that I’ve seen in awhile. But until then, I'd have to vote for the Republicans on this issue, who seem to be slightly better. I can’t solely vote based on Supreme Court appointments though, even though the issue is important to me, because some things, like the economy and national security ultimately take precedence over that. But sometimes I really wish I could vote based on only a couple or handful of issues and ignore other ones, but I’m afraid I just can’t.
Here are some links to the Justia Supreme Court Center, a legal site that provides an overview of supreme court decisions and an opportunity to download a pdf of the decision if you want. I assume most of you don't want to read an entire Supreme Court decision (neither do I, frankly) so I'll link to some information and overviews of every decision I directly cited in this hub:
Heller v. District of Columbia
Citizens United v. FEC
United States v. Windsor (i.e. the "DOMA case)
Kelo v. New London
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