A national poll released this week shows that in the wake of a number of blockbuster decisions, the Supreme Court can be a winning issue for progressives in 2012.
By big margins, Americans trust President Obama much more than they trust Mitt Romney to pick Supreme Court Justices, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday. The poll, which comes two weeks after the Supreme Court narrowly upheld President Obama's Affordable Care Act, shows that the Supreme Court is the issue on which the president has the clearest and largest lead over Romney -- 11 points among all voters and 12 points among independents.
Americans know judicial extremism when they see it, and are rejecting Romney's promise to bring an already far-right Court even further out of the mainstream.
The current Supreme Court is, by a number of measures, the most conservative in decades. Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative majority on the Court has struck down hard-won clean elections laws, made it more difficult for women to sue for equal pay, squashed class action suits, and consistently favored large corporations over individual citizens seeking justice. Even the Affordable Care Act decision, while undeniably a victory for the president and for individual Americans, was excruciatingly close and packed with regressive language on the scope of Congress' powers. The fact is, under a more balanced Court, the decision would not have even been close.
Mitt Romney, however, has promised to bring the Court even further to the right if he is elected president. Romney sent a clear signal to the far right when he chose former Judge Robert Bork to head his judicial advisory team. Bork, whose own Supreme Court nomination was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate in 1987, has for decades set the standard for far-right judicial extremism. His outspoken extremism on everything from workers' rights to censorship is detailed in People For the American Way's recent report, "Borking America."
Last week, Romney moved his position on Supreme Court appointments even further to the right. While the candidate had previously held up Chief Justice Roberts as a model for the type of Supreme Court Justice he would appoint, Romney changed his mind after Roberts voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Declaring one of the most conservative Justices in Supreme Court history to be not conservative enough, Romney has signaled that he would usher in a new era of conservative judicial extremism. Americans can only guess at how many rights could be lost under a Romney Court.
These new polling numbers show that Americans aren't buying the Tea Party's -- and Mitt Romney's -- skewed view of the Constitution. Emphasizing the importance of the courts and the impact the next president will have on them will be a winning issue for President Obama in 2012. As the close call in the Affordable Care Act case showed, every issue that voters care deeply about -- from Wall Street reform to health care to LGBT rights to consumer safety to intentional discrimination in the workplace to the right to vote in future elections -- will ultimately end up in the hands of a closely divided, enormously influential, Supreme Court.
In a speech Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden urged Americans: "Close your eyes and imagine what the Supreme Court will look like after four years of Gov. Romney. Imagine what it will act like. Imagine what it will mean for civil rights, voting rights, and for so much we have fought so hard for."
Voters are beginning to imagine a Romney Court -- and they're rejecting what they see.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor