In deciding between presidential candidates, we usually stop to consider the direction we want the country to go for the next four years. In this election, the stakes are much higher. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided numerous important cases recently by the slimmest of margins. The next president will most likely appoint the judges who represent the balance of power on the court for a generation or more.
Now I know that by bringing up the Supreme Court, many people will immediately think of some divisive issue upon which the court has spoken in the past few decades. Unfortunately, as soon as people consider those issues, they feel utterly powerless, assuming decisions are made for them by unelected judges living far away.
That is exactly the problem. In a functioning republic, the citizenry accepts the legitimate rule of government primarily because it believes that it has had a say in the creation of that government and can hold it to account where necessary. Today, however, we have judges who rule on the most pressing issues of the day while legislators and executives throw up their hands in impotent despair. Undoubtedly, many modern politicians are glad to pass the buck to someone who does not have to run for re-election.
The imperial judiciary has only served to deepen the divisions in our country. The Constitution was designed to forge a nation out of 13 diverse colonies and did so by providing a framework with inherent flexibility.
The keystone of that flexibility is found in the much-ignored 10th Amendment, which states simply the following: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This amendment, unlike others found in the Bill of Rights, is not the declaration of a basic right inherent in citizenship, but rather a practical accommodation to reality.
Americans in different states and of different ages will come to different conclusions about the proper scope and exercise of governmental power. However, we as a people will not long accept fundamental changes forced upon us by unaccountable authorities. It is often forgotten now, but the American Revolution was the reaction to rights being taken away by a distant leadership in London that did not care or remember our first founding as substantially self-governing colonies. This is important in understanding the context of the 10th Amendment’s creation. We fought not only for self-government, but also for government close to home ” and therefore accountable.
Oklahomans, with our distinct populist heritage, demand that the voice of the people be heard. A vote for John McCain is a vote to restore the proper role of the judiciary. He has pledged to nominate justices in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. This will mean a fight, because the Senate looks near certain to be controlled by the Democrats for at least the next two years. A vote for Barack Obama would mean turning over the judiciary to an unchecked Democratic Party, setting an undemocratic agenda for the foreseeable future.
Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and sons in Oklahoma City.