Liberals Forget Proper Role Of A Supreme Court Justice

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire after more than 30 years on the Supreme Court ignited a predictable firestorm of controversy. Grassroots activists and senators immediately began trying to influence the president’s nomination and the nominee’s prospects for Senate approval.

The debate about President Trump’s nominee to replace Kennedy is a debate about judicial power. It’s about what we believe judges are supposed to do as part of our system of government.

America’s Founders designed our system, including the judiciary’s role, to maximize our liberty. Liberals today reject that design, preferring a judiciary so powerful that it can remake the Constitution, refashion our rights and reconfigure our country.

The far left will oppose anyone Trump nominates. In fact, less than two hours after news of Kennedy’s retirement circulated, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, took to the Senate floor to say that he will oppose anyone on the list that the president says he will use for his choice.

The left-wing quarterback will be the Alliance for Justice (AFJ), which has already issued a call-to-arms that will guide its activities and messaging in the coming weeks: “The future of health care, the environment, women’s rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and more is literally on the line as President Trump ponders Justice Kennedy’s successor.”

Anyone who remembers their civics class should be scratching their head at this statement. Since when does the judicial branch, let alone one court or — as AFJ claims — one justice have that much power? In what system of government do judges, rather than the people, determine how the country is governed? Don’t elections matter?

Liberals are guided by the notion that the ends justify the means. They have an agenda, and they don’t care how they achieve it. If that means giving the branch of government that the American people do not elect the power to define our rights, control our institutions, and run the country, so be it.

Health care, the environment, and all the rest are obviously important. But more important than specific decisions made about those issues is who makes those decisions. Our freedom depends on the people, and those whom they elect, being the ones to make policy and define the culture. Judges play an important role in our system of government, but that role is designed to work a certain way.

America needs judges who will impartially interpret and apply the law to decide cases, but judges do not have authority to make the law that they use. James Wilson, who helped frame the Constitution and served on the original Supreme Court, said that in our system of government, “the people are masters of the government.” The kind of judges a president appoints is one of the best indicators whether the people will stay that way.

The AFJ statement will, with little alteration, be repeated endlessly in the weeks ahead. Sen. Schumer’s remarks echoed those talking points, and others on the left will do the same. They will not accept a nominee who will be impartial and approach their judicial duties without an agenda.

The forces gathering to oppose Trump’s nominee very much want a political activist to join the Supreme Court, so long as they approve of the nominee’s politics. America instead needs a justice who will impartially interpret and apply the law — and leave the politics to the American people.

Thomas Jipping is a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation (, where also serves as deputy director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.