With the upcoming retirement of liberal leaning U.S. Supreme Court Jusice David Souter there will be a lot of disingenuous talk about finding a “qualified” justice.  Well, here’s a bit of news that might make you feel good: odds are excellent that you too are Constitutionally qualified to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (SCJ).  This is one of the many reasons in the U.S. that a more honest debate is needed around appointing and approving (or disapproving) SCJs.

Unlike other positions in the U.S. Government, the Constitution doesn’t layout a lot of requirements to become a SCJ.  To be President you have to be a “natural born citizen” of the United States, at least 35 years old and then there is the whole election and Electoral College business.  To be a congressperson you have to have been a citizen for at least seven years, you have to be at least 25 years old, live in the state you are in part representing, and get elected.  To be a U.S. Senator you have to have been a citizen for 9 years, be at least 30 years old, live in the state you are representing and get elected.

And what about Supreme Court Justices?  You know, the ones that make the decisions that can be heard around the world? The ones that get to keep their jobs forever, short of basically treason?  They have to be nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. That’s it.  So, in theory, you still have a chance. 

Yes, there is tradition in appointing SCJ, they are usually at least legally trained and have often been judges.  But opposing parties in the U.S. pretend that their objections to appointees are about qualifications (or that they should be)  when they are really about ideology.  So let’s just call it as it is.  This or that President nominates someone because they want that judge to shape the court in a certain way.  Admit you have a “litmus” test and then debate it.  Why not?  It seems to me that the writers of the Constitution are practically begging a President to nominate whomever they see fit, on whatever grounds they see fit.

So when Obama nominates a liberal judge (which he is likely to do) stand tall and say it.  But already it is mealymouth language about what he is looking for, ” I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples’ hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes,” said the President.  I think what you meant to say is that you want a liberal judge. You want someone, for starters, who supports Roe v Wade and an implied right to privacy.  Good.  Say and debate it.  

What we get now is a lot of broad statements, even in questioning in the Senate, and we end up with plenty of surprise justices, who rule quite left or right of what was generally perceived as their judicial inclination.  With a more open debate citizens and their representatives can make more informed decisions on the direction(s) we want the court to go.   And why not, who knows, one day anyone of us could be a justice too.

Matthew Adams

Matt moved to Toronto from the U.S just in time for Mike Harris to take power in Ontario and has been stunned ever since. Matthew Adams is a co-founder of the Catalyst Centre (a social justice popular...