When you head to your polling station this November, you’ll be doing a lot more than just choosing the next “leader of the free world.” With one swift scribble of your borrowed number two pencil, you’ll also be making a major impact on the highest court in the U.S. of A. Yep, the same court that decides landmark cases such as Roe v. Wade (giving women the right to choose), Miranda v. Arizona (giving U.S. citizens the right to remain silent), and Brown v. Board of Education (giving equal rights to students of all races). This election year, not only are you picking a president, but your vote will also have an indirect impact on up to four new U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Let’s break it down: as you probably know, there are nine Supreme Court justices. Currently, four of the nine justices are in their seventies. That means nearly half of the members on the Supreme Court are looking to retire at some point in the next decade (some sooner than others). Think about it — do you think your Nana would want to be working five or more days a week at 76 years old, tackling America’s most controversial issues? Heck no. She wants to chill out in her plum velour sweatsuit while playing a mean game of bridge and I don’t blame her.
While none of the four septuagenarian justices are hinting about retirement or showing signs of poor health, the fact remains our country’s average life expectancy is around 79 years old. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court, turned 79 last March. Do you see where I’m going with this? There is a chance the next person in the White House may have to unexpectedly appoint a Supreme Court justice for a reason other than retirement. And, with four of the justices in their seventies, this could potentially happen four times in the next four years.
Why does this matter? It matters because the Supreme Court is typically evenly divided between conservatives and liberals, and the current court is no exception. Four of the justices typically lean left, four lean right, and the last (Justice Anthony Kennedy who was appointed in 1988 by Ronald Reagan) usually leans right, but sometimes surprises the country by siding with the liberals on the court. Talk about the makings of some pretty good nail-biter decisions that come down to the last minute. In fact, major decisions often come down to a 5-4 split among the nine justices because of this dynamic, including the recent decision to uphold Obama’s health care reform.
However, imagine what would happen if a justice is abruptly unable to serve and replaced by someone who does not share their political philosophy. Suddenly, we could have an uneven court, making it much easier for either the left or the right to push their agenda through our country’s judicial branch (and no amount of yoga would help bring back balance in that situation).
In this year alone, the Supreme Court will be hearing cases that could mean changes for voting rights, gay marriage and affirmative action — issues directly impacting your life. This November, you have the rare opportunity to have a direct impact on who makes those decisions. For that reason alone, it’s important you not only vote, but vote for someone who is aligned with your political beliefs. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green – whichever way you choose to party, your vote is especially important this election year.