If John McCain is elected President on November 4th, Sarah Palin, as Vice President, is certain to push for the appointment of federal judges, including justices of the United States Supreme Court, who share her political ideology. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, for us to review what we actually know about her views, over and above the fact that she was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it.
Governor Palin is a radical right-wing Republican whose social philosophy is rooted in her fundamentalist Christian religiosity. She opposes abortion in all cases except when the life of the mother is at risk; she promotes "abstinence-only" programs, rather than broader sex education, as the way to prevent pre-marital teen pregnancies; she thinks that "creationism," also known as "intelligent design," should be taught in public schools alongside evolution ("I am a proponent of teaching both," she said in a televised 2006 gubernatorial debate); according to her response on a questionnaire from the far-right Eagle Forum while she was running for governor of Alaska two years ago, she believes that parents should be able to opt-out their children from curricula, books, and classes that do not conform to their religious beliefs because "parents should have the ultimate control over what their children are taught;" as recently as August 2008, she said that she does not believe that global warming is "man-made;" she has described the proposed construction of a $30 billion Alaska pipeline as "God's will," and the Iraq war as "a task that is from God;" she opposes spousal benefits for state employees in same-sex relationships; she opposes stem-cell research; she has opposed measures to protect endangered species such as polar bears and beluga whales; she has opposed expanding hate-crime legislation in Alaska; and she believes that the phrase "under God," added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, was "good enough for the founding fathers."
The 2008 Republican Party Platform is, at its core, homophobic and calls for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriages. Sarah Palin is on record as going even further when she declared in her response to the 2006 Eagle Forum survey that she opposes the Alaska Supreme Court's ruling that spousal benefits for state employees should be given to same-sex couples because "I believe spousal benefits are reserved for married citizens as defined in our constitution."
There is precedent for such an ill-conceived proposed amendment to "protect marriage." In 1912, Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry, D-Ga., introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit interracial marriages, declaring that "intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant." We must never lose sight of the fact that divisive rhetoric and demagoguery have consequences. The delegitimization or demonization of any group threatens our society as a whole. Any muddying of the separation of church and state encroaches on the religious liberty now enjoyed by all Americans. Unlike most European countries, the United States has never had an established church or religion, and most Americans like it that way just fine. "The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate," wrote James Madison in 1785 in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.
Generations of immigrants, my parents and I among them, came to these shores "yearning to breathe free," and Emma Lazarus' poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty does not bestow this privilege exclusively on "your Christian tired, your heterosexual poor, your huddled pro-life masses."
The next President will most probably fill several Supreme Court vacancies. Even before selecting Governor Palin to be his running mate, Senator McCain assured Pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church forum on August 16th that he would not appoint justices like Stephen Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg or John Paul Stevens - two of whom, incidentally were named to the Court by Republican presidents. That leaves little to the imagination. In a McCain administration, only the likes of Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas, who would eviscerate and strive to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, need apply. And if Governor Palin has any say in the matter, or if she ends up actually making the appointments, even a conservative jurist such as Justice Anthony Kennedy is likely to be disqualified as insufficiently extreme.
Four years ago, many of us were concerned that a re-elected George W. Bush would push the Supreme Court further and further to the right. Our fears turned out to be well-founded. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Alito will certainly sit on the Court for many, many years, as will Justices Scalia and Thomas. The Reagan-appointed Justice Kennedy, no liberal by any stretch of the term, is now the swing vote and the object of conservative ire. If John McCain or, even worse, Sarah Palin appoints the next several justices, their repressive, regressive worldview will shape our nation's future regardless of what the American electorate may decide four, eight or even twelve years from now.
I can't think of a more compelling reason to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Menachem Rosensaft is a lawyer in New York City