It’s The Courts, Stupid: Part II

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. The Iraq war will not be an issue in a year. We’ll grapple with our economic problems for years, digging out from the Bush years of deregulation and trickle-down. But the federal courts’ appointments will govern us for many decades, so pay attention.

On day one of the next administration, there will be 58 openings on federal courts. In the eight Bush years, about one-third of the federal judiciary — all lifetime appointments — were made in a highly partisan fashion, it was disclosed at a recent meeting of The Alliance for Justice in Washington. Projections advise that if John McCain is elected — he vows to appoint super-conservatives in the image of the Bush appointees — 74 percent of the federal judiciary will have been appointed pursuant to their specifications. If Barack Obama is elected, 58 percent of the judiciary will reflect his more moderate perspectives, if he governs for eight years.

The majority of federal cases take place in the lower federal courts — trial courts and appeals courts. The Supreme Court decided 71 cases in the 2007-08 term, compared to 30,000 trial and circuit court cases decided the same year (twice that number were before those courts). Recent judicial appointees have been younger than in the past, so their work product will govern American law for about half a century, and provide precedents for longer than that.

So pay attention. The vote in November will change America most dramatically in the third branch of government, the one to which least attention is paid.


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