Partisan Influence and Undermined Trust Provide Challenges Surrounding the Court System
Our courts continue to try our patience for trust that the justices are not being “political” in judgments. Indeed some of the reasoning of recent rulings seems unduly twisted with demonstrably partisan outcome or to shy away from an overtly partisan position.
Of course, the proof that the grounds for increasingly frailty in legal reasoning is the now-standard reporting that decisions are almost routinely being appealed to the next level of court, with an eye toward bringing all cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.
We are playing with a tradition that guarantees seeking redress of wrongs in an independent court system. Maybe it is the string of coordinated judicial appointments by each administration that seeks to balance politics with judicial attitude, maybe it is the natural outflow of recent Supreme Court decisions that have overturned precedents in what feels like a very partisan manner. But none of this should affect the ability of courts to put forth reasoning that makes sense, as we are seeing.
The split decision last week, for example, out of a federal Arkansas appeals court, upheld an earlier ruling that only the U.S. Justice Department can bring a lawsuit in Voting Rights Act cases. That decision essentially cuts the heart out of citizen complaints — and lawsuits by advocacy groups representing Black voters, for example — about adoption of limitations seen as racially unbalanced.
The whole point of the Voting Rights Act was supposed to be about imposing limits on moves to restrict voting rights — and to empower those directly affected to be able to appeal to the judgment of an independent court.
The key judges in both the original District Court case and the circuit Appeals Court decision were appointees of Donald Trump, and while I hate this newfound need to report the appointing president in every case, this decision seems aimed at helping to squash citizen discomfort with voting district lines and other such matters voted by partisan legislatures.
Essentially, the legal dispute in this case focused on who is allowed to sue to try to enforce key provisions under Section 2 of the landmark civil rights law, first passed in 1965. Individuals and advocates not representing the government have brought most of these challenges to the court.
Obviously, if we have a Republican administration next, there will be no desire to challenge gerrymandering by Republican-majority legislatures by an appointed Republican attorney general.
Without squinting too much, it sure looks as if this decision has partisanship dripping all over legislated gerrymandering since it has been groups like the ACLU and voting rights advocates who bring these challenges.
If the U.S. Supreme Court sticks by precedents, the decision ought to be overturned. But it is doubtful you could get very good odds on that happening.
Again, my beef here is the reasoning, which simply asserted that history of the lawsuits brought under act were simply wrong.
Trump on the Ballot
Earlier, a Colorado court decided that the plain language of the 14th Amendment barring anyone who participates in “insurrection or rebellion” against the government from holding any public office, never specified that any office might or might not include president of the United States.
Judge Sarah B. Wallace — in this case a Democratic appointee — said Trump had indeed engaged in “insurrection” activities on Jan. 6, 2021, and that there were good arguments on all sides about what to do about that before concluding that the Constitution never specifies that the president is “an officer of the United States.”
So, she concluded, Trump’s name should be on a primary ballot — until another appeals court has a chance to revisit the question.
You would have thought that the tough legal part was over the finding of fact of “insurrection or rebellion” participation.
As legal reasoning, it just doesn’t pass a sniff test to believe that Trump’s candidacy is not to become an officer of the country — he wants to be the top officer of the country. Again, we are being told that the law — in this case plain language readily understandable by all of us — is what a single court says it is. We are dependent on multiple appeals to decide whether that idea survives in the middle of a presidential election.
That ruling followed others in Michigan, which said such a decision should be made by Congress — the same Congress that can’t seem to decide any substantial issue — rather than by a secretary of state or attorney general, and another in which the question was who could bring the question to the court in the first place.
As a Washington Post columnist argued, “The 14th Amendment is treated as a suggestion but rarely imposed in full measure when the status quo will be upended. . . . Political forces are at play again, this time fearful of a backlash if Trump is removed from the ballot.”
Trump’s Own Cases
The various civil and criminal trials involving Donald Trump are numerous and complicated, of course, but the single leitmotif running through them is the insistence of Donald Trump to use his presidential campaign as a cudgel against any attempt to restrict his public criticism of prosecutors, judges and the “witch hunt” that constantly attempts to snare him.
We’re awaiting word from the most recent appeal of a court gag order, but what we’re watching is a real-time attempt to undercut the authority of our court system. Trump simply believes that nothing can interfere with his ability to call out court figures or possible witnesses against him. It is violation of his free speech rights, his attorneys argue.
What we hear from each court that considers these appeals is that Trump has rights as a presidential candidate that you and I can never hope to have. In that sense, Trump already is winning his trials in the court of public opinion. Any move against him is depicted further victimizing him.
It’s a lousy argument that further demeans our courts.
We have a court system in which open political lobbying toward appointment is a fulltime, multi-billion-dollar industry, in which ethics codes are proving incapable of keeping Supreme Court justices in conformance, in which partisan politics is making deeper and deeper inroads into procedural and substantive legal arguments.
The courts should worry more about who believes that they are doing their jobs.