Neil S. Siegel on next President's legacy

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Supreme Court justices are often a president’s most enduring legacy, says Neil S. Siegel, assistant professor of law at Duke University and a former clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is possible that the next president will appoint as many as three justices over the course of the next four years, Siegel says, making it “absolutely critical” that voters consider the candidates’ views on judicial appointments when heading to the polls on Tuesday.

Neil Siegel

“The current court remains closely divided on many vital issues,” Siegel says. “During the debates, President Bush displayed ignorance or dishonesty in claiming he would impose no litmus test in choosing his Supreme Court nominee. Not only did Bush say before the last election that he wants to appoint jurists like Justices Scalia and Thomas, but during his first-term, lower-court appointments consistently have been ideologically driven.”

Siegel points to the abortion issue as a clear example of the political legacy that high-court judicial appointments can bring.

“Justices Scalia and Thomas are committed to overturning Roe ,” notes Siegel. “The current court is split 6-3 in favor of keeping Roe. Two hard-line conservative appointees would suffice to overturn Roe if they replaced Justices Stevens and O’Connor. Most Americans support abortion rights, at least in some situations. They must consider how they feel about abandoning Roe after 31 years, because a vote for President Bush would likely do just that.”

Siegel notes areas other than abortion that will be directly impacted, including the death penalty, affirmative action in higher education, federal antidiscrimination laws protecting women, the elderly, and the disabled, religion in the public schools, public funding for religion, and gay rights.

In the days that remain, voters should ask what kind of Supreme Court they want for the next few decades before casting their ballots.”

Professor Siegel is available for additional commentary on the implications of the presidential election.

Diana Nelson
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Frances Presma
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