Why Judges Matter

Robert Borosage

Republicans have obstructed the confirmation of unprecedented numbers of Obama judicial nominees. Vacancies have grown so bad that even Justice Roberts, the partisan Chief Justice, urged the Senate to act, since the undermanned courts were getting overwhelmed.

But the ruling yesterday by a Federal District Court Judge in Florida, declaring the entire health care reform unconstitutional shows just why Republicans obstruct nominees.

Judge Roger Vinson is a 71 year old, ultra conservative, Reagan appointee, semi retired in “senior status.” He would have been very unlikely to hear the case if there weren’t a vacancy in the 11th circuit.

Republicans want to turn the constitutional clock back. They want not simply to overturn the Warren Court legacy, particularly on the right to privacy and on equal rights. They want to overturn the jurisprudence of the Roosevelt Court, and go back to the days of the robber barons where even the existence of unions was deemed an unconstitutional restraint of trade.

They can’t roll back popular reforms legislatively. Their hope is to capture the courts with Federalist Society trained and vetted ideologues, and use judicial activism to attack basic guarantees. At risk are basic bread and butter concerns that all Americans have: affordable health care, the right to organize, the right to equal pay, the right to clean air. The decisions of the gang of 5 on the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, and in Citizen’s United suggest even our democracy is at risk from right-wing judicial extremism. So Republicans hope to run out the clock, block as many Obama nominees as possible, hoping that a Republican takes back the White House in 2012, when they’ll push to stack the courts with right-wing zealots.

That is why the fight of nominees is so important. And why Republican obstruction should be confronted — by the President, by the Senate leadership and by progressive groups no matter what their primary issue or concern. Vinson’s lawless decision shows what is at stake.

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