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

By Donald Crier Stephenson Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Presidential Campaigns and the Supreme Court

Chapter 1 gave fair warning: the Constitution provides means to ensure “independence” in the federal judiciary, as Alexander Hamilton acknowledged,1 but the Supreme Court has nonetheless been susceptible to electoral entanglement. Such occasions include or are adjacent to every election that students of politics commonly designate as realigning events. These are the contests that stand out as landmarks in the history of American political parties: 1800, 1828, 1860, 1896, 1936, and, to an extent, 1968. Realigning elections give life to new party systems, signaling not only a widespread and long-lived shift of power from one party to the other but also sometimes the birth and demise of parties. The perception of national elections as a series of contests mainly between Republicans and Democrats obscures the role of Federalists, National Republicans, and Whigs whom events displaced, as well as the sometimes pivotal, if usually brief, place of the Free Soilers, Populists, Progressives, Socialists, and followers of George Wallace and Ross Perot. And most political parties successful enough for opponents to notice at the polls, it seems, have had something to say about the Supreme Court. That fact is equally apparent in those other Court-conscious campaigns–of 1912, 1924, 1980, and 1984–that did not mark a realignment.


CONFIGURATIONS

There should be little surprise that Court-focused campaigns occur at or adjacent to these realigning events. Deciding constitutional cases entails taking sides on vexing issues of the day, and issue-driven shifts within the electorate are the raw material of realignment. Taking sides in turn may lead to

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