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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsElephant in the Room

Clinton needs a civics lesson

This summer I interned just a few blocks away from the Supreme Court. On many occasions, I walked past to admire the beautiful Corinthian columns and I even reported from the steps of the Court on days that decisions were handed out. Every time I visited the Court, I read the inscription on the front of the building: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

At the final presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace’s first question focused on the Court and the candidate’s interpretation of the constitution. Hillary Clinton’s vision of the Court was one that stood with the American people and not with the wealthy. One that “will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United.”

Clinton can hold and express her views on gay marriage, abortion and Citizens United. In fact, I even agree with her occasionally. But unlike Clinton, I realize that the Supreme Court is not a representative body and should not be treated as such. The Court does not “stand up” on behalf of any group. Elected officials “stand up” for their constituents, or at least they promise to when campaigning. But our judicial system was designed to remain above the political whims of the day, as is evidenced by lifetime appointments of justices. In Federalist #78, Alexander Hamilton says that periodical appointments of justices would “be fatal to their necessary independence,” due in part because “there would be too great a disposition to consult popularity.” Justices should be focused on interpreting and applying the law, not pleasing protean political preferences.

Personal opinions and party platforms have no place on the bench. Justices must ensure the equal application of the law to everyone, so Clinton’s comment that her Supreme Court would be on the side of the American people and not the wealthy, is at odds with the very words etched on the front of the Court. Everyone is entitled to equal justice under the law, both the poor and the rich.

Trump’s comments about not accepting the election results should be and have been condemned. But I’m more concerned with our next president’s understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Clinton’s politicizing of the Supreme Court is reflective of a more insidious ignorance that has seeped into American society and delegitimized our judicial system. Clinton can deploy her liberal buzzwords as much as she wants to attract voters, but before she assumes the oath of office in January, she better read through the Constitution once more. She is desperately in need of a civics lesson.

Kyle Stewart can be reached at kstewart1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @KyleStew107