Jurists' Prudence by Susan Jacoby
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The intellectual, legal and political composition of the federal judiciary is the most important issue at
stake in the 2004 presidential election, because the next president will have the power to create many new judges in his own
image and thus place his stamp on every aspect of public policy for the next three decades.
Any doubt about the crucial nature of the stakes should have been erased by last week's 7-2 Supreme Court
decision Locke v. Davey. ...
Americans of mainstream political views think about the judiciary only when it issues a highly controversial
decision—outlawing school segregation, legalizing abortion or, last year in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning state
sodomy laws. But right-wing extremists constantly think about remaking the courts and the election of progressively more right-wing
Republican presidents has served them well since 1968.
In polls this year, Americans identify health care, education, the war in Iraq, the economy and unemployment as the top
election issues. Democrats should drive home the point that the courts—in cases involving everything from the right
of patients to sue managed care organizations to the USA PATRIOT Act's encroachment on civil liberties—will have a great
deal to say about how all of these issues play out. If Bush is re-elected, he will surely pack the nation's highest court
with more stooges.
Susan Jacoby's forthcoming Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism will be
published in April by Metropolitan Books. The author is also director of the Center for Inquiry-Metro New York.