Friday, June 13, 2008

By a hair

Thursday's US Supreme Court ruling that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba have constitutional rights (habeas corpus rights) to challenge their confinement before a judge in US courts was a major defeat for the Bush administration. It was also a notable victory for those struggling to end these shameful torture practices - not to mention shut down Guantanamo and other "chambers of horror" once and for all.

The narrowness of the vote (5-4), however, is a sober reminder of the tenuousness of democratic rights in the hands of this deeply divided court and underscores once again the crucial importance of the presidential elections. The next president will almost surely name a replacement for one or more retiring justices on the present court.

Furthermore, the most likely retirees are justices that have consistently challenged the legalities of the policies of the Bush administration, while the least likely are justices (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) that have stridently supported them. In fact, all of the latter plan to be fixtures on the court for a long time to come.

If the math is simple, the dangers are frightening. One more conservative judge on the Supreme Court bench will lock in for an indefinite period a majority grouping on the court that will eagerly give legal sanction to authoritarian rule - fascist-like rule, I believe, is not too strong a word. No rights or legal precedents won in the course of centuries of unremitting struggle will be safe.

Here is another reason, and a big one at that, why the outcome of the presidential elections counts a lot. And yet, I am not convinced that millions of Americans have completely grasped this undeniable fact. Yes, the court's makeup is a concern for many, but is it a dire concern?

I don't think so. Does this bother me? Of course it does, but this is no time to panic. We have over 1500 days to make the case that who sits on the courts matters and that the next president's nominee(s) to the court will have far reaching consequences for our country's future.
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