What is the Supreme Court?
Since the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we’ve been seeing the Court in the news more and more. As we know, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The nine Supreme Court Justices take on cases of federal significance. However, there may be a few key components of the court that we’ve forgotten since high school history class.
Two major powers of the court to consider are docket setting and judicial review. Justices determine which cases they will hear, or add to the docket, every session. In order to add a case to the docket, four justices must vote in its favor. Adding a case to the docket determines what sort of issues will be up for discussion during the session. Judicial review is the power of the court to determine the constitutionality of legislation.
The Supreme Court is an exceedingly powerful institution. Decisions made by the Court can affect Americans for generations.
Vacancies on the Court
While the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this month is shocking, it is not unprecedented. With life-long appointments, the court has seen many vacancies in election years. But, an incomplete court is not ideal. The last time the court had eight justices in 2016 many cases ended in a tie. A 4-4 ruling means the lower court’s ruling is upheld without setting a legal precedent. Some describe it as if the Supreme Court never heard the case at all.
What is the Political Role of the Court?
While the Court is intended to remain nonpartisan, there is no such thing as an apolitical Supreme Court. The Court exists in the political sphere. Nominations and appointments of justices are overseen by politicians. After the president nominates a new justice, the Senate holds a vote to confirm the appointment. Appointments and confirmations are incredibly controversial in presidential election years. Since the position is appointed for a life-term, many people believe the appointment should be done after the election by the incoming president to reflect the American public’s political vision for the country.
In 2016, the Republican-controlled Senate blocked then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination for this exact reasoning. They claimed it would be against the American public’s wishes to have a president on his way out decide the future of the court. However, the same Republicans are pushing for a Trump nomination and Senate hearing prior to the November election.
Having a court that leans in one party’s favor is extremely advantageous for that party. Broadly speaking, it can mean fewer obstacles for passing partisan policies.
What’s at stake in 2020?
With the passing of left-leaning Justice Ginsburg, Trump has the opportunity to ensure a conservative majority in the court. Armed with the powers of docket setting and judicial review, a conservative court could overturn progressive legislation.
Key issue areas to consider are reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, and more. These all areas where a conservative court has the potential to overturn progressive strides from the last few decades.
What does the Supreme Court have to do with Investing?
As ethical investors, we believe investing is inherently political. Investors vote with their wallets for the future they want to see. We refuse to engage in investing that does not follow our values. In order to build our vision for the future and discover our values, it is critical to stay up to date on social and political issues.
Being engaged in democracy is central to impact investing.
People’s human rights should not be contingent on a single Supreme Court Justice. We need to use our ballots, our dollars, our voice, and every other tool at our disposal to dismantle unjust systems and ensure human rights for all people.