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A Dead Judge

Seoul_graffiti

So Judge Antonin Scalia passed away and the US presidential election got even more interesting. The current president still has eleven months to nominate a judge, and really, there’s no reason he shouldn’t. Whoever he nominates of course would be met with opposition from the people on the other side of the political spectrum, but to not nominate anyone would seem like an abdication of duty. It would be interesting to see the opposition and how the president could push the nomination through. Even Megatron, a robot that literally transforms into a gun, would face strong opposition from the right.

Judge Antonin Scalia, in my opinion, was one of the worst judges ever. Sure, there were a few times when he sounded reasonable and his writing style can be amusing, but all too often he was pro-torture, a champion of states’ rights (which in practice meant taking away people’s rights), and a pro-life nut. In many cases involving race, he refuses to recognize the disadvantage of being a colored minority in America. He was backwards when it comes to marriage equality, and has been described by Congressman Barney Frank as a homophobe. He was pro death penalty, even to those under 15 at the time of the crime. He was one of the judges which gave George Bush the presidency, which ironically led the US to Iraq, which led to his son being in Iraq. One of the worst decisions he made was the defense of the Citizens United decision and redefined personhood, free speech, and corruption.

Still, in his death, even some liberals lionized him and praised his brilliance. He was brilliant as a judge, but not as a human being regarding those judgments. It’s like praising Hitler for being a great leader in the most mechanical of senses, but a terrible human being. In the future, I’m hopeful that we’ll see him as being mostly on the wrong side of history.

As ghoulish as it is to look at the positive side of his passing, this is a good opportunity for Americans to finally tip the scales of the political leanings of their supreme court. In some ways, I’m a tad jealous of this. The Canadian Supreme Court has seven out of nine court judges appointed by conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Chief Justice is a libertarian, but she’s currently 72 years old and the mandatory retirement age for judges is 75. The Harper-appointed judges are anywhere from 50 to 68 years-old. Granted, the Supreme Court of Canada hasn’t been as conservative as one would expect. In fact, it often went up against the Harper government that nominated most of its members. The court was against mandatory minimum sentences and protected safe injections sites among some of its more progressive decisions. There were often talks about the Harper government losing to the Supreme Court, especially when it comes to drug cases. But it’s not nearly as progressive as one would expect out of Canadians. (Or perhaps I’m being foolish here and looking at left and right politics in a branch of government designed to ignore such leanings. But that’s just being naïve, isn’t it?)

This is one of those rare cases where I look at the South Korean justice system and see what the Canadian and the US system could benefit from it. In South Korea, judges in the supreme court are not given a lifetime appointment. They’re only given four years. A four year appointment, in my opinion, might make them open to political sway, especially when considering their position after their appointment, much like politicians turning into political lobbyists. However, a lifetime appointment doesn’t insulate a judge from political forces either. Just look at Clarence Thomas. Perhaps a middle position would be wise. Instead of a lifetime or a near-lifetime appointment, maybe a ten-year appointment would be better. It would ensure the regular flow of new blood into the judicial system and not have political legacies continue long after they’re in fashion. Looking at Scalia, he was Reagan’s ghost, a two-term president who extended his influence far longer than his eight years. This seems to be counter to what a democracy should be.

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