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President Obama tallied a huge victory last week when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the health care reform law passed in 2010, commonly known as “ObamaCare,” is constitutional.
The ruling gives the president some momentum as we near November’s election, and that brings up an interesting question: Is it possible for the Supreme Court to remain apolitical? Certainly the founding fathers meant for the judicial branch to simply interpret the laws made by the legislative branch, but it’s difficult not to think of the Supreme Court as an instrument of political change – especially in cases like ObamaCare.
“With a case like this, you have people who passionately support it and those who passionately oppose it,” says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information websiteTHELAW.TV . “When the Supreme Court makes its ruling, it’s difficult for Americans who don’t like that decision to see the high court as anything but political.”
Interestingly, the ObamaCare ruling goes against the grain of the Supreme Court’s current ideological makeup. Five Supreme Court justices – including Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts – were appointed by Republican presidents. Four justices --Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan– were appointed by Democratic presidents.
“One of the most important perks of being president is that you get to appoint Supreme Court justices whose political views reflect your own, but the founding fathers were shrewd enough to ensure the high court can do its job with a minimal amount of political pressure,” says Sweet.
When a Supreme Court justice is appointed, he or she has the job for life. This means the justice can feel free to make rulings that one particular political party may dislike without fear of being dismissed from the bench. Also, a justice’s salary can never be cut, which reduces the chances of bribery. Of course, other checks and balances exist within the federal government, such as the U.S. Senate’s power to approve a president’s Supreme Court nominee.
While it is impossible for Supreme Court justices to completely divorce themselves from their ideological leanings, their job is to interpret the Constitution and that very document gives them the means to conduct their job independently.