Politics and the Supreme Court: The Need for Ideological Balance

17 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2017 Last revised: 21 Apr 2017

David Orentlicher

Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: April 12, 2017


Politically controversial decisions and divisive nomination battles at the U.S. Supreme Court reflect a disturbing reality — the Justices’ personal ideologies exert undue influence on the Court’s work. The ability of a mere majority of conservative or liberal Justices to impose their perspective creates three serious and related problems: Members of the public who share the perspective of the Court minority lack meaningful representation on many important issues, the judicial appointment process has become highly politicized as each side fights for a Court majority, and we increase the risk of ill-advised decisions. Better decisions are made when they are based on a diversity of perspectives.

Accordingly, I argue for a Supreme Court that operates on an ideologically balanced basis. With ideological balance, the Court would provide meaningful representation to all, it would defuse the politicization of judicial appointments, and it would make wiser decisions. On the relevant metrics, a Court with ideological balance is superior to a Court that brings an ideological bias to its work. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a good reason for permitting the Court to function with a majority on one side or the other of the ideological spectrum. While we can point to the principle of majority rule to justify partisan control in the executive or legislative branches, majorities do not deserve special recognition in a judicial branch that should be guided by legal principle rather than popular sentiment.

Drawing on approaches at European constitutional courts and the New Jersey Supreme Court, I identify three models for achieving ideological balance on the Supreme Court and lower courts. I also discuss how a combination of those models would provide the best results.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Partisan Conflict

JEL Classification: H11, K40

Suggested Citation

Orentlicher, David, Politics and the Supreme Court: The Need for Ideological Balance (April 12, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2950931

David Orentlicher (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States
317-274-4993 (Phone)
317-274-0455 (Fax)

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