It is no secret that the personnel a President appoints is a good indicator for what policy he or she plans to pass. This week at his rally in New Hampshire Senator Sanders gave a very clear indication of what policy points were important to him. While he did not name any specific potential appointees, Senator Sanders stated that under his presidency he would not appoint a Supreme Court justice unless that justice was “crystal clear” that he or she would vote to overturn Citizens United.
Sanders has made it very clear from the beginning of his candidacy that he wants to take on the corruption of Wall Street and this statement only reinforces his already clear position. It makes sense that Sanders would want to appoint a justice who agrees with his point of view, however I am not sure how I feel about Sanders choosing a justice based on one specific policy point.
I understand that Senator Sanders probably meant this comments as a sine qua non and that he would appoint a well-qualified justice, but I still think it bears looking into. First of all, this harkens back to the age-old question about senatorial confirmation: should Senators confirm Supreme Court justices by the judge’s experience, or by the judge’s political views. Many Americans believe that it should be the former, that judges should be confirmed based on their experience and qualifications, not based on their political views. Why should the initial appointment by the president be any different?
Secondly, just because Senator Sanders does not agree with the Citizens United case, does not mean it is unconstitutional. Now I am no Supreme Court judge, so I am unable to really make a decision about the constitutionality of a specific case, but neither is Senator Sanders. By appointing a justice specifically to have Citizens United overturned, in my opinion, Sanders would be overstepping his jurisdiction as president and would be making a decision that should rest solely with the judiciary.
Lastly, Sanders appointing a Supreme Court justice for the purpose of a single policy point sets an unnerving precedent. What does this mean for appointing his cabinet members? If Sanders is elected are we about to see a president surrounded by yes-men? Especially because of Sanders’ lack of focus on National Security, I’m not sure that would be the best idea. While I understand that presidents appoint judges who are sympathetic to their own party’s point of view and that that has been true since the beginning of our nation, I believe that Senator Sanders plans to take it a step further, and I’m not sure that’s something I believe in.
~Eleanor Anderson is a senior at St. Olaf from Libertyville Illinois majoring in Political Science and English. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.