As I suspected would be the case, Democrats intend to take on the conservative wing of the Supreme Court and in so doing make it into an election year issue. In a year where successful narratives for the party in power are few and where the prevailing conventional wisdom seems to be one of limiting inevitable GOP gains, I am pleased to see this degree of push back, though I note by no means will it alone be sufficient to secure majority status for both the House and Senate. It is a good start, but it cannot be the end all, be all. When people are hurting for jobs, income, and peace of mind, the existence of an activist Supreme Court is less important and less pressing.
The only problem I see with this strategy is that it doesn’t necessarily channel voter frustration the way that, for example, anger at former President Bush did back in 2008. A desire to take on the Supreme Court for its abuses of power is, at least now, a minor priority, and the people who do feel sufficiently outraged are self-identified Progressives or Democrats. If the intent is purely to unify the base and revitalize party loyalists, then I can understand the logic. But as it stands now, many independents and self-identified conservatives of any leaning unfortunately often find nothing especially objectionable about recent SCOTUS decisions. They don’t consider it a particularly pertinent bread and butter issue that relates directly to their own lives. Everyone votes based, to some degree or another, on their own self-interest, but this degree of apathy is due, in part, to the fact that the topic has never really been adequately framed in terms that resonate well with the electorate.
As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.
Taking a populist stance on this matter does make sense, but thus far economic populism has been underused by Democrats. The position stated above has been weakly rendered up until now and there has been no unified voice to advance it. If Democrats wish to come out strongly against unpopular decisions like Citizens United v. FEC then it certainly would be interesting to see the effort played with the American people and with the mainstream media. The Obama Administration has, much to the frustration of many, always taken care to hedge its bets regarding passionate denunciations of offending parties, particularly regarding financial matters–one day forceful populism, the next day conciliatory language. Throwing down the gauntlet means that the gauntlet comes down and stays down. Half-measures are perceived by most as as weak, not politically shrewd.