The Beauty of an Unelected Branch

With the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare still looming in our minds, it is only appropriate that I take the time to briefly look at the beauty of having a branch of government that is unelected. This fact may not be readily apparent to many, as you see from President Obama’s quotes regarding the pending healthcare decision:

“Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically-elected Congress.”

He then describes the Supreme Court as “an unelected group of people”, rather than the highest Court of the United States comprised of the most respected judges in the country. At first glance, Obama’s statement may seem to make sense. Democratic elections are the way to stop tyranny, and we should fight the Supreme Court from taking over our country, right? Many also argue that the Supreme Court’s lifetime appointments cause politicization of the Court. But consider again how the Supreme Court being unelected actually insulates it from political pressure…

To begin, one must realize that Obama is wrong when he says the Supreme Court declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional is unprecedented. According to the Government Printing Office, between 1789-2002, 158 acts of Congress were declared unconstitutional. (1,315 total federal, state, and local laws declared unconstitutional) .

Second, Obama is wrong when he says the PPACA (ObamaCare) was passed by a “strong majority” – it barely passed the House (219 to 212), with all the Republicans and 34 Democrats voting against it. Furthermore, immediately afterward, there was a considerable effort at repealing the legislation. As we have seen in a previous post, there is not even a popular majority. Most of America doesn’t support ObamaCare. Regardless, something can be unconstitutional even if every single person in the United States did support it. That’s the beauty of an absolute standard such as the Constitution.

Sandra Day O’Connor came to speak at my university the other day. She was very engaging, and I really enjoyed her insights. She had a few comments that really helped me to think about why the Supreme Court is so important:

Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court justice

1) Justices are insulated from politics.
No one is arguing that justices don’t have political views. I know there are conservatives and liberals on the bench. However, when I say “insulated from politics”, I mean that justices don’t need to campaign for re-election. They don’t have to “please” anybody, they don’t have to persuade the public to like or vote for them, they must only decide concrete matters of law. If you think this somehow makes them more political, compare them to Congress. I would argue that politicians are much more likely than justices to say or vote for things they don’t agree with, even if it includes deceiving the public in order to win votes.

O’Connor speaks of this when she discusses how the Court is respected in our society:

The nation is willing is accept [those decisions made by the Supreme court] and go forward. What a blessing it is for us to live in a country that has a system like that.

2) Justices are insulated from the media.
You’d have to be incredibly naive to assume that everything you see and hear on TV is true. (If you don’t believe me, wait until I post  about the Trayvon Martin case for one of many examples). In an atmosphere where news stations often slant stories to convince the audience, it would be very disturbing if the judges relied on the media for their information. Our country is built on the principle that the law is absolute. Even in a standard trial, jury members are not selected if they have a predisposed decision based on what they have heard. Even if you just know someone is guilty, you can not convict them without proper evidence.

When asked about the influence of the media, O’Connor responded brilliantly, saying,

It’s just absurd to think that there can be media pressure. There really can’t, and the justices do not pay attention to that… [The media] can be as outrageous as they want to be and it’s really not going to matter.

Although it may be hard to swallow, there is a beauty in the system of checks and balances. No matter how partisan Congress or the President may become, the Supreme Court has a unique set of qualities that allows the justices to decide thoughtfully and honestly on matters of law. The justices deserve respect and honor for their work.

What do you think? Are the courts too politicized? Would term limits or elections make that better or worse? Leave your thoughts below!

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9 responses to “The Beauty of an Unelected Branch

  1. I decided to take a look at your blog after you commented on a post of mine–and I have to say that this post taught me more about the fundamental purpose and unique structure of the Supreme Court than any polisci class I’ve taken up to this point. Very well done! 🙂

  2. Danny I loved this post! Very nice incorporation of quotes. I’m so excited we go to such a great University where we have the opportunity to hear from such influential and amazing people. Nice blog. Keep it up.

    • Three thoughts:
      1) One of the brilliant constructs about the United States Constitution ( which is being ignored in a myriad of ways…look at the 10th Amendment regarding States Rights)…is that there are three branches of government – and all of them have some control over the others. Congress cannot remove a S.C. Justice unless he/she is shown have mental defect – but Congress could de-fund the court, and force them to work for “free”.

      2) The Court can also of course, find fault with actions of the Executive and Legislative branches and find them unconstitutional. Let’s hope that happens with Obamacare, with less than 38% of the country supporting the legislation, as well as 100 other reasons (different topic for the blogger).

      3) I think it is nice that Sandra Day O’Connor did not listen to the media. And I believe her. But I am not necessarily convinced that that is true of all S.C. Justices. I hope it is…but it just seems very naive to me to be convinced that they go home and do not read or listen to media sources, or be swayed by them at all. A book recommended by the blogger, Left Turn, discusses the broad (and deleterious) impact and sway the media have on people in this country. It is a great read.

      But wow, I really enjoy this blog. It reveals important, well thought-out information.

      • Andrew-
        Although I do believe that the media sways most people in the country (even subconsciously), I would argue that the justices have a much different mindset. I feel like the legal issues they cover are so complex that they probably laugh at the media “analysis” of the issues involved. O’Connor also talked about how much the justices read – basically all the time at the Court, and even when she goes home.

        The media may have some small influence, but I still imagine it’s considerably less than the influence it would have if the judges were elected.

        • I agree…being unelected frees them from having to be influenced by lobbyists, fund raisers, large donors, whether personal or corporate, etc. It is just another reflection of the incredible job that the writers of the U.S. Constitution achieved!

    • SK –
      Thanks so much! I appreciate the comments! I’ll keep following your blog as well! What’s the difference between the two you have?

      • My wordpress one is, in my opinion, the better of the two. I had to start it for my Journalism class. The other one is about a year and a half ish old. It’s more of a personal day to day journal/commentary on my life. I’m toying with the idea of canning it. But thanks for reading:) I look forward to more to come on your blog! I love finding friends who blog.

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