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SU Professor Questions Whether Supreme Court Can Be Seen as Impartial Amid Partisan Influences

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 A Syracuse University professor of law and political science is concerned that the increasingly partisan profile of the U.S. Supreme Court is translating to an erosion of its objectivity in the eyes of most Americans.

 

As Justice Amy Coney Barrett takes her seat on the high court, College of Law Vice Dean Keith Bybee says President Trump has elevated and amplified party affiliation on the bench. 

 

“He has castigated judges and justices that he considers to be Obama’s judges and justices, he has reacted to judicial ruling in straight-up partisan terms,” Bybee said.

 

The president's partisanship, Bybee said, has increased a threat to the sanctity of the high court.

“Majorities of Americans will no longer see the court as an impartial harbinger of law, and will instead interpret judicial decisions simply as Democrats and Republicans in opposition, on the high court,” Bybee said.“When you have that kind of understanding eclipsing a view of impartiality, then the legitimacy of the entire institution is at risk.”

 

Bybee called the alignment between the Supreme Court’s voting blocs and political parties a crisis of legitimacy. 

 

“I don't know how you step down from that, because each party wants to have its influence in government,” Bybee said. “If the courts are involved in policy making, then the parties will want to make sure that their voice and their perspective is in the majority in the judiciary.”

 

So, how do we reverse course? According to Bybee, almost any move by Democrats, even if they win the White House and/or the Senate, would only serve to continue political manipulation of the high court. He says a federal law or constitutional amendment imposing 18-year term limits might start to eliminate partisan influence. 

“Because then you would have just on an ordinary basis, people moving on and off the court,” Bybee said. “Depending how they were instituted you could have a politically balanced court that remains so, just on staggered terms that expire.”

Meanwhile, Bybee says important decisions on voting laws will be the first test of how the court, and its newest justice, present themselves over the next few days.

 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.