Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Election and the Supreme Court

Anyone who works, or wants to work in this country should think about what might happen to the Supreme Court under the next president.

Supreme Court justices hold the power to shape the workplace of the average worker. Yesterday Vice Presidential nominee Joseph Biden spoke to a DNC roundtable discussion with working mothers hosted by Michelle Obama in Denver. He said, “Other than ending the war in Iraq, the single most significant thing that Barack Obama can do — and I hope I’ll be able to he help him — will be to determine who the next members of the Supreme Court are going to be.”

Why Supreme Court Justices Matter to Workers. The Supreme Court judges ultimately decide what the discrimination laws mean, how the federal pay laws apply to workers, affirmative action, and even the protections afforded to older workers, or the graying workforce, as some have called it.

Most of the Supreme Court justices are themselves graying. On Jan. 20, 2009, at least 5 of the 9 Supreme Court justices will be over 70. In addition, the oldest justices are the most liberal. John Paul Stevens is 88, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 75. It is likely will be at least three vacancies in the very near future. These judges are appointed for life and will impact the laws for workers for generations to come.

Obama's Voting Record and Stance on the Supreme Court. Obama voted against the last two Supreme Court justices appointed, Associate Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts. Workers' rights groups vigorously opposed these appointments based on their assessments of the rulings Roberts and Alito previously had made as federal judges. Obama also voted against Alberto R. Gonzales for Attorney General. Former Attorney General Gonzalez since has been linked to the hiring scandal in his office allegedly for violating federal law and Justice Department policy by discriminating against job applicants who weren't Republican or conservative loyalists.

Speaking at a conference in DC last month, Barack Obama blasted conservative Supreme Court justices. He stated his intention to appoint justices with "empathy," specifically regarding "what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges."

McCain's Voting Record and Stance on the Supreme Court. In contrast to Obama, John McCain has said that Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito "would serve as the model for my own nominees if that responsibility falls to me." Both justices have established strong conservative records since Bush appointed them.

McCain also said recently that he thinks the worst Supreme Court Justices currently serving include Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. These justices are widely known to be the most liberal judges, who have voted in favor of broader protections for workers. McCain did not articulate any specific decision he didn't like. He did, however suggest that he believes they legislate from the bench.

What it Means. The appointment of another conservative justice to the Supreme Court could tip the balance on issues such as discrimination, affirmative action, and pay equity rulings. The appointments made by the next president will last far longer than the 4 year presidential term and could impact workers and employers for several decades to come.

To see the 9News live interview of Kim Ryan by Gregg Moss from the DNC Pepsi Center headquarters, go to (due to breaking news, it was rescheduled from 5:25 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. and aired on MyComcast20).

A second live segment aired with Kim Ryan in the newsroom and Gregg Moss at the Pepsi Center on the 9News webcast at 9:45 a.m.