October 14, 2022 | OPINION | By Karly Hamilton
As the U.S. Supreme Court returns for its second term, the docket includes a variety of hot-button topics ranging from affirmative action to religion and gay rights. Given the controversy of its last term, in large part due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the court is already in a precarious setting, and this term is likely to further increase questions regarding the legitimacy of the court.
As the court’s approval ratings drop to historic lows, Chief Justice John Roberts recently defended the court, saying that questioning its legitimacy is a “mistake.” He went on to state that the court exists to state the law, “and that role doesn’t change simply because people disagree with this opinion or that opinion.”
While I agree that the role of the court is not up for debate, people will hold their own opinions regarding the court’s legitimacy. I don’t think that should take away from the court’s actions, they should proceed with their docket regardless of public opinion, but I do think that the opinion of the people needs to be respected. The court’s rulings do affect us, after all.
Conversely, Justice Elena Kagan has repeatedly noted that the legitimacy of the court must be earned. She said that precedent is what “tells people they can rely on the law.” When precedent is reversed, as with Roe v. Wade, Kagan stated that “people have a right to say, ‘You know, what’s going on there? That doesn’t seem very law-like.’”
In a court with a 6:3 conservative majority, there are bound to be cases where the majority rules. The same would be true with any majority—there is a clear advantage in the court when the numbers are on your side. The question becomes, how does this affect historical precedent?
In the case of the current court, it is likely that the conservative majority will take this opportunity to enact laws that suit their desires. While I can’t understand why the court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, that doesn’t mean their ruling doesn’t hold. That said, if I, or any other citizen, doesn’t agree with this choice, we have the right to express dissatisfaction with the court.
In a perfect world, the Supreme Court would be fully neutral. Political parties wouldn’t play a role, and the justices would act on the law alone, without any regard for their personal beliefs. Of course, this will never be the case.
Justice is difficult to define, especially since people can view it differently. I believe that we should think about laws in the context of when they were enacted, but that can be difficult as what society perceives as just has changed over the years. What we perceive to be just or unjust depends on who we are, what we believe, and what society we live in. As a result, our laws will reflect these beliefs.
Thus, the perfect world where laws are objectively evaluated by the court will never exist, as there was bias and opinion present when the laws were first enacted. As a result, sometimes precedent does need to be reversed, as the values of the people change and society evolves.
As controversial topics such as race-conscious admission programs at renowned universities, voting rights, election laws, and discrimination against gay couples are on the court’s upcoming docket, it seems plausible that some of these rulings will not align with the desires of the people. The question remains, is there anything we can do to align the desires of the Supreme Court and the people? And more to the point, does it matter if people don’t agree?
The Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment. Like it or not, the justices will be around a while, so we might as well learn to live with what they have to say.