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Are Supreme Court justices just partisan hacks?

On major cases, they might as well be.

The United States Supreme Court building in Washington.
The United States Supreme Court building in Washington.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

In a column over the past weekend, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post focused on threats to the “legitimacy” of the Supreme Court, which she said was reflected in various efforts by current justices to argue, as Justice Amy Coney Barrett put it, that justices are not “a bunch of partisan hacks.”

I don’t think they are partisan hacks, but many of them might as well be.

Many of the justices are smart and well-intentioned and decide cases according to their judicial philosophies. But they vote a party line on the big cases, so they almost might as well be party hacks taking a call from a party boss telling them how to vote.

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In the case of Coney Barrett and those of the other recent appointees, it is universally understood that they were put on the court by partisan presidents and confirmed by partisan senators using blatantly and highly partisan tricks in some cases. I’m looking at you Mitch McConnell, most especially in using partisan power to deny for a precedent-shattering TEN months a hearing to highly qualified nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, the most blatant example of court-stacking in modern history. So yes, Justice Coney Barrett, even if you rule according to your own sincere beliefs, it leads to partisan jurisprudence.

I would add that those rulings, and the lineup of how the various justices voted on the cases in question, were the same as they would be if the justices were partisan hacks voting the party line of the party that put them on the bench.

In the long history of Supreme Court appointments, there are many famous cases of justices who voted and ruled in ways that surprised and perhaps annoyed the president who appointed them. But I’ll also assert that those days are mostly over. And, to the degree they are over, Justice ACB, you might as well be a “partisan hack,” however sad or angry that makes you.

Here’s one more link to the Marcus column that set this off.