Campaigns and the Court: The U.S. Supreme Court in Presidential Elections

By Donald Crier Stephenson Jr. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1
The Constitution, Politics, and the Supreme Court

The United States Constitution dictates, or at least allows, most of the recurring political phenomena in the nation. Through elections, voters choose their chief executive, senators, and representatives, plus a multitude of state and local officials. The Congress annually considers hundreds of pieces of legislation, rejects most of them, and forwards the rest to the president for his approval. Among other responsibilities, the president directs the foreign policy apparatus. With regularity, the Supreme Court hears and decides about 100 cases each term. And so on.

This book is about the intersection of two of these national political phenomena: Supreme Court decisions and presidential elections. As such, the book is not a history of political parties or a survey of presidential elections. Nor is it a history of the Supreme Court or an overview of American constitutional law. Rather, the book selectively draws from all four—party evolution, presidential campaigns, and judicial and constitutional development—to explore those instances when the Supreme Court and its decisions have been major issues in presidential elections.

One need only recall the presidential election of 1992. Campaigning for the White House, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas promised to apply a “litmus test” in selecting justices for the Supreme Court: only prospective nominees who supported a constitutional right to abortion would be considered.1 In the same year, the platform adopted by the Republican National Convention promised efforts to secure ratification of a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would forbid all abortions.2 The object of both Clinton’s statement and the Republican platform was the United States Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade.3 That landmark decision of 1973 first announced that the fundamental right to privacy protected by the Constitution encompasses abortion.4 Clinton and many Democrats were alarmed by inroads the Court had begun to make on Roe in 1989.5 For many

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