The official start of the political year begins today in Iowa. We’ve heard about the war and the economy and the environment, but we haven’t really heard much about the one issue that touches on all of these questions and more: judicial nominations. And when judges do get talked about, it is usually in the context of talking points like “strict constructionists” or related to hot-button social issues like reproductive and gay rights. And, of course, these are important issues.
However, when candidates—or the media—implies that these are the only issues that come before the court, they fall into a trap set by ultra-conservatives. A 2007 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that education, the environment, and national security were all viewed as more important to voters than a candidate's views on abortion. In addition, only a small percentage of cases decided by the federal courts involve abortion or gay rights, while a much larger percentage effect environmental and consumer protections, as well as worker's and civil rights.
For years ultra-conservatives have used judges as opportunities to galvanize their base. Conservatives would like nothing more than to center election debates and judicial confirmations solely around hot-button issues. But the conversation is much broader, and such a laser focus advances the agenda of conservatives while doing a great disservice to the American people.
In their next term alone the Supreme Court will decide cases pertaining to military tribunals, the death penalty, federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, voter identification laws, and the regulation of pornography. From this point on, the dialogue must reflect the breadth of issues that judges affect when appointed to the federal bench. So, let’s get 2008 off to a good start—by talking about judges in an open, honest and thorough manner that doesn’t just pay lip service to talking points or political strategies.