Potential Positive Consequences of Appointing a New Supreme Court Justice


On February 13, 2016, Chief Justice Antonin Scalia died leaving a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). His death will profoundly change the current dynamics of SCOTUS, as conservatives no longer have majority rule on Supreme Court rulings. Chief Scalia’s 29 years of service have been characterized by extreme conservatism, acerbic dissents, and an attempt to roll back previously achieved civil rights.

For example, Chief Scalia has consistently attempted to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), and the implications being that women will no longer be able to exert the right to make personal reproductive choices. Chief Scalia was also an avid opponent of LGBTQ civil rights and also advocated for maintaining the death penalty for juveniles. His interpretation of constitutional law was archaic at best and often included religious ideology, contrary to what is described in the first amendment of the constitution.

Additionally, the current SCOTUS has yet to rule on a number of nationally pertinent court cases that could profoundly alter the current status of immigration and civil rights for females and minority Americans. First there is the Supreme Court case, United States v. Texas, which would allow five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States if the majority rules in favor of the United States.

Secondly the Supreme Court is set to rule on Fisher v. The University of Texas, a case that could overturn affirmative action if Fisher wins. Thirdly, there is Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that can restrict women’s right to choose as established by Roe v. Wade if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hellerstedt.

Lastly, there is Evenwel v. Abbot, a case that could privilege white voters through redistricting. The death of Chief Scalia has shifted the odds in favor of the people and their civil rights. If SCOTUS fails to obtain a majority rule then the lower appellate court ruling will be upheld and no federal precedent will be set on these important court cases. Based upon Chief Scalia’s previously shared opinions on these cases, we can assume that for the moment that civil rights rollbacks were prevented and societal progress is still possible.

However, racism and discrimination continues to undercut social progress in The United States.  I want to take us back to President Obama’s original campaign “Yes we can” and “Change is possible”.  Almost immediately, following the death of Chief Scalia, Republican senators reacted in outrage over the possibility that President Obama might determine who fills the vacant spot on SCOTUS, rather than expressing mourning over the loss of a Chief Justice.


Conn Carrol, the communications representative for Senator Mike Lee stated on his Twitter page, “What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice”. Old racial prejudices in Congress have continuously undermined President Obama’s ability to do his job as the President of the United States throughout his two terms. Yet again, we see a Senate determined to halt American progress due to their discriminatory attitudes. Yes we can change, but not if our President is prevented from enacting the responsibilities allotted to him by his post.

Now is a time for social workers and all American citizens to bond together in support of our President. I remember the day that President Obama won his first election so clearly. I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. The moment he was declared president, groups of us filled the streets surrounding the University of Pittsburgh in jubilation, “Change has finally come”.

“Yes we can” was sung resoundingly as we all felt elated over the possibility of social change. In order to ensure that change is possible and civil rights are not disbanded for American citizens, we must support our president. We must allow him to institute the progressive and positive change he so desires to accomplish as President.

We must vehemently stand behind our president and his decision-making. We must lobby, advocate, and place pressure on a republican Senate, make them bow down to the needs of American citizens. Yes we can change, by working together to ensure our President, President Obama, decides who fills the vacant seat in the Supreme Court. Yes we can change, but we the people must do so together.

We must prevent a prejudice Senate from determining the nature of civil rights for the minority and female citizens of America. Yes we can change, by allowing President Obama to accomplish what he originally set out to do, which was to make America better for its citizens.

McCutcheon Decision: Anatomy of a Policy Distraction


It is not my intent to diminish the import or significance of the McCutcheon v FEC decision. Obviously, this court composition has shown itself to be happy to adjudicate cases erring on the side of pure Juris prudence even when in opposition to precedence. I have an opinion on that, but my current point is that THAT DISCUSSION about the make-up, activism, and bias of the court is not the story of democracy.

Let’s engage in an exercise where we actually break down the logic in the ways that we are taught as policy analyst rather than resorting to emotional reactions based on a basic mistrust of money. I am in favor of laws requiring full disclosure of donors and sources of sponsorship. Yet, I am not with those who lament that the latest Supreme Court decision on related to campaign finance spells doom to our democracy. My analysis pivots on two questions. First, what is the fundamental activity of our democracy? Second, how do we operationalize that fundamental activity?

Two Questions
These two questions are important because their answers demonstrate the perspective guiding those who answer. I am in favor of a perspective that recognizes how grassroots organizing carries the day beyond political ads and fundraising dinners. The bottom line is that if the candidates I support are upset because they are outmatched by the money, they have lost sight of the equation that 3.2 million dollars from one donor is matched with $1 from 3.2 million individuals. I will wait while you make the larger realization… 3.2 million individuals offer a greater voting block—the core of democracy—when compared to the money of one individual.

Content Analysis
What is the fundamental activity of our democracy? It is the right and responsibility of every citizen to vote. Universally across the country, the voting experience is a private, unencumbered activity between an individual citizen and a ballot. In some polling places, the action is still shrouded in a booth with a physical curtain separating the voter from the influences of the world outside.

We must not lose sight of this fundamental activity. As policy analysts, we see content analysis as our opportunity to examine McCutcheon v FEC for its literal content. The decision limits the ability of the government to set limits on the contributions of any one citizen to a political campaign. Any argument based on the content of the decision necessarily sets up agreement or disagreement with governmental powers. We can have that discussion, even that disagreement, but the content of the case must not be a proxy for other discussions. The content of this case was not about corruption–bribery of elected officials. As shown in other criminal cases, most recently the verdict concerning Ray Nagin, the former New Orleans mayor, money accepted by elected officials in order to provide unfair advantage to donors remains illegal.

Process Analysis
How do we operationalize that fundamental activity of democracy? We have to activate our abilities as citizens within our sphere of influence. Get involved at whatever level you are comfortable with. Then, challenge yourself to act beyond that level of comfort. Every phone call, every presentation, every door you knock on, every check you write counteracts the money spent. We have to educate ourselves, inform others, mobilize voters, and construct the narrative.

As policy analysts, we see process analysis a our chance to examine what the McCutcheon case will mean in practice. This is where every citizen has real opportunity. One characteristic that separates the wealthy from the middle and poor is their political activity. Wealthy folks, certainly for a number of reasons, are more politically active. Yet, as far back as Howard Dean fundraising and as recently as Obama 2008, we are witness to what well-organized, grassroots campaigns with dedicated volunteers can do.

This case is a good example. Keep in mind, according to the NY Times, 43 percent of the 1% are non-republican. Republican-leaning citizens making more than $500,000 per year are deficit over economy focused, comfortable with more non-government solutions, and active in politics. We cannot allow the faulty logic of money amplifying one opinion over another to mask the reality that we each have a way to provide alternatives to those highly financed voices. We can vote. What’s more, we can support the vote of others. Not just the right, but the actual activity. Realize what the NY Times revealed about those with money. They are politically active, and that activity is not confined only to making contributions. They support others to make contributions, but they also make phone calls, host dinners, message friends, and speak within their venues of influence. Do not fail to realize the reality that those venues have fewer people in attendance than the other 99% of venues.

Granted, the Citizens United decision allowed for contributions from corporations. Granted, this McCutcheon decision increases limits for individuals. Still, I would like to think that people make their decisions about who to elect based on merits and research rather than political ads and billboards. I am further willing to ensure that reality through informing others. I will reiterate my appeal that we support disclosure so that we know where the money comes from and who all the donors are.

Please do not acquiesce to the position that the people, all of us, are less powerful than the relatively few, extremely wealthy individuals. Once we give in to that view, it ceases to matter what the law is. At that point, we have relinquished our greatest power– to organize ourselves.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Constitution Center

Republican SCOTUS Deals Another Blow to Democracy

In past administrations, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has been known for its role in being one branch of a three prong checks and balance system whose purpose is to prevent an imbalance of power within the government. Past supreme courts primarily remained apolitical while handing down decisions based on the spirit and the letter of the law even when it was not popular with the majority of Americans.

Official_roberts_CJThis is evidenced by a series of decisions that led to desegregation of schools, equal rights for women, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to name a few. However, the Robert’s court, one of George W. Bush last gifts to the American people, led by Chief Justice John Roberts  continues to use its power to dilute the rights of the Republic in order to reallocate those rights to the richest 600 people in America.

The last ruling by SCOTUS in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission in a 5 to 4 split removes campaign spending limits placed on donors. Republicans hale this ruling as a win because now rich donors can spend money to support candidates advancing their causes all over the United States without running into any donor caps. Democrats are mounting protest against the decision because they believe its will give money more speech over millions of Americans who can not afford to be heard.

Dr. Kristie Holmes, a social worker and professor, running for Congress in California has experienced first hand the challenges qualified candidates face when they are not independently wealthy. According to the LA Times, Holmes released statement said the ruling, “Continues to erode our nation’s campaign finance laws that were enacted to protect political equality”.

Join us today at 3PM EST for a live Tweetchat with Dr. Kristie Holmes, @DrKristie, using the hashtag #swhelper. This is also week 4 in our Evidence Based Twitter Chats, and we will be looking at using Twitter for Advocacy. In addition to talking with Dr. Holmes, we will also be weighing in on the conversation by adding #McCutcheon to our tweets in protest of the SCOTUS decision.

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