Legal Reform

In almost every American civics class, students are told there are three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. However, in my own studies, I have come to find that the third branch is almost completely unnecessary and should ideally be reinvented.

The basic ways these branches work, according to said civics classes, is the legislative branch creates laws, the executive branch enforces laws and the judicial branch evaluates them. These are simplified versions of what they do, but even using these simplified concepts, there are obvious flaws. The creation of laws is necessary to create a society and, in turn, a state. In order for these laws to function properly at any level, you need to enforce them. This is the job of the legislative branch and the executive branch, respectively.

If the legislative branch is creating the laws, why is another branch responsible for determining their true meaning?

When looking more thoroughly at the Supreme Court, the issues multiply. In the journalistic world, it is almost always frowned upon to cover a story where the writer has a personal connection. If the reporter has a family member who organized the event they’re covering, or if they are an active member of an organization, they are typically not allowed to cover it. 

This rule is in place so journalists don’t have clouded judgment when covering a story, or don’t lean one way or another when writing. There is no rule in place for this in the Supreme Court, but there is a push for rules like this and an ethics code for the court from the organization Fix the Court.

A prime example of the Supreme Court having a conflict of interest is on display right now. Behind all the news about the newest addition to the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, there are a few stories about Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas. Ginni Thomas was present on Jan. 6, 2021 when rioters stormed the capitol building.

Although Ginni Thomas had allegedly left the protest before it became violent, her mere presence there makes any ruling the Supreme Court makes regarding Jan. 6 immediately appear more biased.

But, looking back at the bigger piece of Supreme Court news, Jackson being appointed has led to a slew of headlines referring to her as a “win for progressives.” Although I consider myself a progressive, I will say the fact that the political leanings of a justice of the court matters so much to the public is an outrage, even in this case. 

Although the Supreme Court is meant to have the non-biased, non-partisan final say in all laws passed in the U.S., that is blatantly untrue and frankly impossible. There are entire articles written about the political leanings and stances of the justices of the court — and every time there’s a vacancy on the court, the main point of discussion is almost always about what political stance the incoming judge will have. 

One of the reasons for this political polarization of the court, according to Fix The Court, is the life-long terms they serve. Presidents are tasked with nominating new members of the court, and the legislative are in charge of confirming those nominations. Now more than ever, presidents are trying to find judges that are both very young (to ensure a longer term) and incredibly ideological (to ensure justices on the court act as the appointers want). 

There is an important purpose to the Supreme Court. After all, in actual legal cases, there needs to be someone with a final say. But with how the court has been functioning and continues to function, it needs to change. 

Like Fix The Court suggests, the Supreme Court needs an ethics code, and term limits for justices. Just like our staff editorial last week, just because something has been in place for extended periods does not mean it is correct or beneficial. 

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