During a recent visit to my Washington office, I was gifted with a red baseball cap with an excellent message across the panel that reads, "Make the Court Great Again." Obviously, it's an expansion on President Trump's rallying cry to Make America Great Again.
I love the message. Thanks to those who elected President Trump, not only do we have a solid justice in Neil Gorsuch filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court, but we will soon have good solid judges filling 134 vacancies on other federal courts.
In the 2016 election, the key motivating factor for many Americans to vote either way was to sway the direction in which the courts have been taking our country. So many voted because they knew the next president and U.S. Senate would determine the course of the federal courts. With Justice Antonin Scalia's death, we were faced with more than an abstract idea. There was the reality of a vacancy. Because the Supreme Court is evenly divided on many cases of pivotal importance, people wanted to have influence to determine which direction the court will go.
Even though the judicial branch of government is supposed to be the least influential in regards to public policy, which is created by lawmakers who represent citizens and are lobbied by those citizens who put them there, it has been overstepping its role for years. It is actually the duty of Congress to pass laws on a federal level. The executive branch signs those laws and enforces them. The courts are there only to resolve disputes, not to change laws or to change public policy.
But we know they have done so and continue to do so. And this phenomenon has given meaning to the term "judicial supremacy" as if our country were ruled by those 9 people on the Supreme Court who were not elected by the people. It's not supposed to be that way.
It's time to make the courts great again.
It's time to relegate the courts to their proper role and not the improper role of imposing liberal public policy. They need to be restored to their original purpose of resolving disputes in light of a fixed Constitution whose meaning should not be distorted, but applied in the way it was originally intended by our founding fathers as expressed by the text of the Constitution itself.
When a judge understands that his or her role is limited to implementing the actual meaning and text of the Constitution as the standard by which disputes are resolved, then we are not going to see courts imposing decisions like Roe v. Wade. We aren't going to see the imposition of the unconstitutional policy of abortion on demand in this country. We will not see the oppression of freedom of religion for groups like Priests for Life through unjust government mandates forcing us to do things that we teach people not to do. We will not see the redefining of marriage or the departure from what God created as a union of one man and one woman. The courts do not and should not have a role in creating in public policy.
Making the courts great again means restoring control of the courts to judges and Supreme Court justices who understand the limitations of their roles, the true purpose of the court, the meaning of the Constitution, and rule that way.
Justice Scalia was such a man. President Trump fulfilled his promise and replaced Scalia with Neil Gorsuch who is of the same mind and heart as Scalia was. But filling the Supreme Court vacancy was only the beginning of the process of reclaiming the courts towards pro-life. The Supreme Court is just one area where this battle rages but we have other federal courts below the Supreme Court.
We have 13 federal circuits, which are geographical areas of the country governed by particular courts of appeals. The circuit courts are federal courts that decide the same kinds of cases as the Supreme Court. In fact, when a case enters the federal court system, it is first dealt with in a district court, then it might move up to a circuit court of appeals before getting to the Supreme Court — if it ever makes it that far.
For example, when Priests for Life filed its challenge against the HHS mandate, we started at the district court level, and then appealed the decision to the circuit court level. The panel which heard our case were mostly Obama-appointed judges who, unsurprisingly, ruled against us. We then appealed to the Supreme Court, which took our case (which is technically still an open case).
The point is, 99 percent of cases that are appealed up to the Supreme Court do not get heard by the Supreme Court. Rather, the decisions of the circuit end up being final, because the Supreme Court only has the time and personnel to manage less than one percent of cases brought to them.
These district and circuit courts judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, in a process similar to the appointment of Supreme Court judges. There are no less than 134 vacancies to fill in federal courts. The Senate will need to do its part in confirming these judges. President Trump has begun the large task at hand. He has already named 14 judges. We can be part of the process by thanking the president and his nominations team, and by encouraging the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate — and the full body of senators — to focus on the task of conducting swift and fair confirmation hearings for these men and women so that the vacancies can be filled as quickly as possible
I cannot overemphasize the importance of these court vacancies. In 2009 when President Obama first took office, only the 9th Circuit had a majority of Democrat- appointed judges; the rest were courts with a majority of Republican-appointed judges. At the end of Obama's term, eight years later, only four districts remained with Republican-appointed majorities. Now, we find ourselves in a situation where there are 134 vacancies Trump has to fill. The president can make an important and significant shift again, back in the right direction.
So let's pray, support, and communicate with our president and our senators. Sign up at Stopabortionnow.org for email alerts on what you can do and what messages to deliver. A presidential term is a very limited amount of time, and every day counts. Let's send the message that Americans are not being distracted by other things that compete for our attention, but rather want our courts filled with good solid judges. Let's make the courts great again!
Father Frank Pavone (@frfrankpavone) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the national director of Priests for Life.
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