Is the one branch of government that is supposed to be independent of partisan viewpoints becoming politicized? That’s the question political science major Michael Mack sought to answer in his research, “Political Influence in the Judicial Branch of the United States.”
Mack presented his research on April 14 at the university’s annual Piedmont Symposium. This is a chance for students to show what they have learned in class and apply it to real-world scenarios.
“We must live forward in the future as well as be able to know how our judiciary works because it has a great influence on not only our government and its actions and also the ability to alter our nation, but it also revolves around us as American people because it deals with our civil liberties and civil rights,” Mack said.
Mack was one of more than 200 students who presented their research at the Symposium. During this presentation, Mack touched on how the judicial branch ties in with the Federal Papers.
“Federalist papers number 78 was an article that Alexander Hamilton had written to describe or to establish a judiciary institution in our constitution,” Mack said. “More importantly it was centered on judiciary independence — to separate itself from political affairs and … be an independent body to focus on our Constitution, as well as protected from those entities to be able to protect the American rights and civil liberties within our Constitution.”
Freshman political science major Austin Vaughn noted that Federalist paper 78 essentially served as the foundation of the judicial branch. “Basically, the federalist papers just defend the Constitution and help give it power and give it life, and I think Federalist Papers 78 was kind of setting up the judiciary branch.”
Mack also touched on the ideological influence of the federal court decisions. A large idea in this point was on Presidents who did not completely identify as conservative or liberal, despite their party affiliation. For instance, a president can be Republican and also a liberal. These officials have chosen judiciary court members who maybe do not align with the president the same way ideologically.
Mack’s Symposium project was sponsored by Dr. Tony Frye, associate professor of political sciences. “If you go back to the Eisenhower Administration, Eisenhower didn’t necessarily support politically or ideologically [court appointees] but he appointed them. That’s much less so today if you’re Donald Trump or if you’re Joe Biden and you’re appointing a member of the court. You’re going to have a really good idea what the person thinks on all these issues before you even allow them into the door.”
Frye noted that recent Presidents — on both sides — have essentially politicized the courts. “This gets into what they call ‘litmus tests,’” he said. “This term was never used before the late eighties until the late Reagan administration. So, the nomination is always the president’s prerogative at all times, and the Senate just gets to say yes or no, but they don’t actually get to tell the president who to nominate.”
Mack takes this point a step further. “I was looking into the fact that they became politically polarized, that it has a different tone into who actually appoints certain nominees. For example, when it was in low polarization you would see nominees that were appointed by a President to be confirmed easily because the Senate was ideologically centered, giving them the elite way of having a moderate judge. In high polarization we can see that with the President nominating someone which could be off-centered or even within this ideology. We can see that a unified Senate majority within that same party may confirm that justice, so really it kind of brings an extreme aim or measure.”
Mack said it’s important for all citizens to understand the judicial branch of government. “We must live forward in the future as well as be able to know how our judiciary works because it has a great influence on not only our government and its actions and also the ability to alter our nation, but it also revolves around us as American people because it deals with our civil liberties and civil rights.”