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Politicizing the High Court

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A new Rasmussen poll reveals that 60% of Americans believe the Supreme Court justices have political agendas. The sentiment is at about the same percent regardless of party affiliation. Only 31% of respondents said the court is doing a good or excellent job.

I’m not surprised by this poll at all. After decades of politicizing the judiciary (including the famed nuclear option battle in 2005), is it any surprise that Americans would see the high court as a political body? While politicization of the judiciary has a long and well known history, we have entered into an era when a justice’s politics seem to be far more important than his or her intelligence, wisdom or qualifications.

Interest groups and politicians care about judicial philosophy only in so much as they care about the outcomes those philosophies are likely to create. Very few people really care if, for instance, Roe v Wade is good or bad law. They care only that the ruling remain precedent or be overturned as per their own personal views on abortion. This is a shame but hardly a surprise. We live in highly politicized times.

I do not know for sure if Supreme Court justices are advancing personal agendas from the bench. I suspect all nine have, to varying degrees, allowed personal political preference to shade their legal judgment. But I don’t know if the current nine are any more inclined to advance personal agendas than were justices of past courts.

The politicization of the High Court may be more a matter of perception rather than a deviation from historical trends. But don’t expect that perception to change anytime soon. Already, many are hard at work as they position the 2008 election as a battle for the Supreme Court.