The Supreme Court, while currently leaning conservative, is not simply doing the bidding of the Republican Party, according to legal experts and journalists who spoke at a panel discussion held at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation. The discussion was prompted by a recent report alleging that one of the liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor, pressured colleges to buy her books, resulting in substantial profits for her since her appointment to the court in 2009. In an uncommon move, the Supreme Court issued a statement defending Sotomayor and her staff, refuting the claims made in the report. This comes at a time when Democrats are expressing concerns about the ethics of Supreme Court justices.
The Senate Judiciary Committee had planned to vote on a judicial ethics reform bill, the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act (SCERT) of 2023, on July 13. However, the committee’s chairman, Senator Dick Durbin, announced that the vote would be delayed until the following week. The bill, introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, aims to establish a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices and provide a system for the public to file complaints against justices who breach the code or undermine the integrity of the court. Republicans oppose the bill.
The panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation included legal experts and journalists who offered their insights on recent Supreme Court cases. One notable case was Allen v. Milligan, in which the court, with a conservative majority, voted to strike down Alabama’s racially discriminatory electoral map. This decision was a blow to Republican state lawmakers who sought to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Another significant ruling was Moore v. Harper, in which the court ruled against North Carolina Republicans who argued for their authority to make rules for federal elections without interference from the courts. The presence of dissenting conservative justices in these cases challenges the notion that the court always acts in alignment with the Republican Party.
The panelists also discussed the court’s rejection of the independent state legislature doctrine, which claimed that state legislatures alone have the power to make rules for federal elections. Democrats argue that this doctrine threatens voting rights and enables partisan gerrymandering. The court’s rejection of this doctrine was seen as a victory for Democrats and left-wing activists.
The court’s recent rulings on President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program and a Colorado law requiring a Christian website designer to create websites for same-sex weddings further illustrate the complexity of the court’s ideological leanings. In both cases, the conservative-leaning justices voted against the Democratic-supported positions, challenging the assumption that the court is a partisan tool of the Republican Party.
The panelists noted that the court’s conservative justices are not as unified in their approach as the liberal justices, who often vote together. This indicates that the court is not simply moving in a single direction, but rather taking a more incremental approach to its decisions. The court’s reliance on the major questions doctrine in the student debt case, which limits executive agency power, suggests a desire to rein in the administrative state.
The discussion concluded with the acknowledgment that the Supreme Court’s trajectory is still towards the right, but it is not solely an arm of the Republican Party. The court’s decisions defy simple partisan categorization and are influenced by a range of legal considerations. Understanding the nuances and complexities of the court’s decisions is crucial for a balanced perspective on its actions.