Supreme Court, and the race for president

October 5, 2012 

In this fifth column of our election 2012 series, we will look at the Supreme Court and how it is a factor in this presidential election.

Writers of the U.S. Constitution wisely divided the powers of our government among three groups or branches.

The legislative branch -- Congress -- was given the power to make laws. The executive branch, the largest branch by far, is headed by the president and carries out the laws. The third branch, the judicial branch, is made up of the courts and determines whether the laws passed by Congress follow the Constitution. They also administer justice and punish lawbreakers.

One of the greatest powers that U.S. presidents have is the right to appoint judges to federal courts. Only rarely is this power discussed in the media, yet it has ramifications which affect every American citizen every day of our lives.

Interpreting the U.S. Constitution should be simple. The Constitution is clearly and concisely written. In reality, the great strength of our Constitution is that, while it clearly lays out a specific plan of government, it also contains flexibility of principle. It is often referred to as our "living" Constitution.

Because the justices of the Supreme Court interpret our flexible Constitution, they take stands on issues which are either conservative or liberal in nature. Our current court is fairly evenly divided with four conservative-leaning justices and four liberal-leaning ones.

One justice is considered more independent and sometimes sides with one of the two groups of four. Many court decisions are 5-4 decisions.

President Barack Obama, or Mitt Romney if elected, will likely choose one member of the Supreme Court, should one of our current justices die or retire. Therefore our choice for president could affect the Supreme Court for many years in the future.

Jim Arkfeld has taught secondary American government and American history. He lives in Los Banos.

Jim Arkfeld has taught secondary American government and American history. He lives in Los Banos.

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