America is buzzing with nervous tension right now. Between the unrest and riots in Baltimore due to the unnecessary death of yet another unarmed black man, and the landmark Supreme Court case that is well underway regarding whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal on the federal level, our nation is a tight thread ready to snap over the latest affront to our brothers' and sisters' civil rights.
While discussing the SCOTUS case, Obergefell v. Hodges, with some coworkers, it occurred to us that many people may not know what actually goes into a Supreme Court hearing. Here's a condensed briefing of what SCOTUS does, who the justices are and a general overview of court proceedings.
First, a quick synopsis on the actual case at hand,
Hodges. This landmark case asks SCOTUS two questions. 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? And 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
In America, the SCOTUS, or Supreme Court of The United States, is the highest court in the land. Cases get to SCOTUS when a party is unhappy with the outcome of a lower court's ruling. They must then petition SCOTUS to hear their case by granting a writ of certiorari, or a request that SCOTUS accept the case and summon records from the lower court to review its history. According to uscourts.gov, SCOTUS only hears cases, "if the case could have national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal Circuit courts, and/or could have precedential value. In fact, the Court accepts 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year." Basically, if it doesn't have an enormous, national impact, you should probably save your postage stamp.
There are nine Justices (including one "Chief Justice") that preside over The Supreme Court (to eliminate the possibility of a tie) and each Justice is appointed by the current President and then approved by Senate. There are no term limits. Let that marinate for a second. NO. TERM. LIMITS. As long as a Justice continues to exhibit "good behavior" (whatever the hell THAT means), they will hold their office until they choose to step down or, you know, die. Yep. Talk about tenure, right?
Clearly, since there are 9 Justices, there is a clear division of political power. As it stands right now, there are 5 republican Justices and 4 Democratic Justices. Let's take a closer look at each Justice. Since I'm a "save the best for last" kind of girl, we'll start with the republicans.
Roberts was appointed Chief Justice under GW's Reign of Terror back in 2005. And although he is a Republican, the beautiful thing about being a Supreme Court Justice is that you must uphold the constitution first and foremost, which is exactly why he cast the final vote deeming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as constitutional and wrote the majority opinion. Bonus: this enraged his conservative supporters to no end. He's also partially responsible for keeping Citizens United alive, which grants corporations the same rights as average citizens regarding political rhetoric; which also translates into unprecedented, unregulated and largely untraceable amounts of money being funneled into campaigns.
Scalia has sat on the Supreme Court since the days of the worshiped conservative figurehead, Ronald Reagan. He has a mighty pen when it comes to his dissents and is not afraid of being labelled abrasive, or blunt or, you know, just an asshole. He also subscribes to the political ideal of "originalism," meaning he believes that the Constitution should be adhered to exactly as the Founding Fathers intended when it was drafted more than 200 years ago. Conversely, most intelligent humans think that the Constitution is a "living document," ever-changing and evolving as the world morphs into something that the Founding Fathers would not even recognize.
Alito was confirmed by the Senate as a Justice in 2006 after he was nominated by George W. Bush. This is the dude that was caught maliciously whispering "not true" behind Obama's back during his 2010 State of The Union address. Stay classy, Alito. He also wrote the majority opinion granting Hobby Lobby the right to deny their employees birth control as it clashes with their religious beliefs. Some also call him Scalito, since he and his buddy Scalia share a brain.
Thomas is only the second black Justice in the history of the Supreme Court. And while it is widely known that he leans heavily to the right, he rarely does interviews and keeps to himself. Researching him doesn't yield many results other than the left was outraged when he took Thurgood Marshall's place (seeing as Marshall was a widely beloved civil rights activist) and that an accusation of sexual assault almost lost him the position.
Kennedy is kind of the Supreme Court's wildcard. Early in his tenure, he was a career conservative, voting almost exclusively with Scalia and Rehnquist. But as time went on, he started to find more independence with his votes and departed from party lines and predictability alike. In fact, Kennedy is so wacky that he even frequently cites INTERNATIONAL LAW when arguing American cases. I mean, can you imagine that?!?! He recognizes that, perhaps, other civilized nations may do some things better than Americans do. Crazy talk, I know. He also overturned a law in Texas (Lawrence vs. Texas) that criminalized sodomy between two consenting adults of the same sex. He may be a registered republican, but I'd say those two last talking points alone contradict that, just a bit.
Let's move on to the democratic Justices, yes? Simple math tells us that, since there were five conservative Justices, there are four liberal Justices left. Oh, and if you were wondering why that first bit of the article was a veritable sausage fest, it's because all of the woman Justices are democrats. Because, duh! Since this is my girl's club, we'll start with the lone male democrat first.
Breyer was appointed by Senate as a Supreme Court Justice in 1994 after receiving a nomination from then-president Bill Clinton and is known by some as the "Eternal Pragmatist." He is also a vocal opponent of the aforementioned "Originalism" ideal, held dearly by Justice Scalia. He consistently votes in favor of abortion rights and values possible consequences over exact, literal interpretations of the Constitution. However, he has also overturned fewer congressional rulings than any other (current) Justice. Seems like a reasonable guy to me. He's also a big supporter of gun control, stating that he doesn't believe the Founding Fathers intended for guns to be unregulated and that, while he sees no problem with anyone having a gun should they so choose, there need to be rules and regulations in place so that people aren't permitted to carry machine guns on subways as babble endlessly about the second amendment.
Kagen is a bit of a mystery. She was nominated by Obama and approved by Senate in 2010 and has been kind of under the radar since then. And though she labels herself a democrat, one of the reasons Obama nominated her is because she was moderate. And, despite the fact that she has had a storied career, which included clerking for Thurgood Marshall, advising President Bill Clinton and, you know, being elected a Supreme Court Justice, a quick search of her yields headlines like, "Why Does Everyone Think Elena Kagen Is Gay?", and "Supreme Court Justice With No Husband Or Children Appointed." And yet, each search for her male counterparts yielded a wealth of information, with only a very small blurb about wife and children. And they say misogyny is dead...
Sotomayor was nominated by Obama and appointed in 2009 by Senate. She holds the crown for first Justice appointed with Hispanic heritage. She was also just the third woman appointed. Ever. Sotomayor was staunchly opposed to SCOTUS ruling in Hobby Lobby's favor in that landmark case. She argued that allowing exemptions based on religious freedom was a slippery slope that could have disastrous repercussions. And when an Illinois college asked to be exempt from some of the ACA's mandates based on the landmark Hobby Lobby case, Sotomayor stated that, "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word ... Not today." She then continued with, "Hundreds of Wheaton's (the university) employees and students [lost] their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage." She also argued that the Hobby Lobby case was not the court's conclusive opinion on birth control in general, but the baby had already been born, thanks to the conservative bloc of Justices.
Notorious RBG in the hizouse! I'm sorry. That will never happen again. But this woman just excites me, you know? She was the first woman to EVER work on the prestigious Harvard Law Review, and only the second to ever be appointed as a Supreme Court Justice. Then she became the first female tenured professor at Columbia University. She is unfailingly just in her causes, with one of her first cases won before SCOTUS involving fighting for widowers to receive the same benefits as widows under social security. RBG has sat on the Supreme Court since she was nominated by Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1993. She is also considered moderate, though I think the more appropriate term is "reasonable." She is a vocal supporter of workers' rights, gender equality and the absolute separation of church and state. Ginsburg really made a name for herself with her scathing dissent of the Bush vs. Gore case. While the majority voted in favor of naming GW President, Ginsburg signed her opinion, not with the normal "respectfully," but with just, "I dissent." She is a voice of reason in a muddled world and a true role model for all young women and men who simply seek equality.
Today was the second day of questions discussed by SCOTUS in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, with many more days of deliberation ahead. In fact, we likely won't hear their decision until the end of June, which honestly seems like an eternity. Hang tight allies and LGBT community; I have a good feeling about this one.