During last week’s vice presidential debate, incumbent Democrat Joe Biden mentioned in passing a critical issue that has been largely forgotten in this year’s campaign: the power of the U.S. Supreme Court to bring fundamental change to American society.
Mr. Biden brought up the future of the nation’s top court in the context of abortion and how Roe vs. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, might be overturned by a Mitt Romney nominee to the Supreme Court.
Four of the court’s nine members are in their 70s — Antonin Scalia, 76; Anthony Kennedy, 76; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, and Stephen Breyer, 74. It’s a fair bet that the presidential nominee who wins next month will make at least one, and maybe two, appointments to the Supreme Court over the next four years.
That could change the complexion of the court for a generation. It could cement its conservative majority, or put the court on a more centrist course.
Although Mr. Biden was speaking to his party’s abortion-rights supporters, this issue affects all voters. The philosophy of Supreme Court nominees is likely to affect many issues, not just this one.
Although he has been out of office for four years, President George W. Bush shaped the court when he nominated Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., 57, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, 62. President Obama has also made his mark on the future with his nominations of Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, 58, and Elena Kagan, 52.
Although their individual defenders will deny it, activist judges come in both conservative and liberal flavors. In the next two presidential debates, Democratic, Republican, and independent voters need to hear much more from President Obama and Mr. Romney about what sort of justices they would name to the Supreme Court, and why.
The future of the court, which will have a profound effect on the nation’s well-being, is not an issue to be neglected.