Social issues have lagged in importance among voters versus issues such as national defense and the economy over the past couple of presidential and mid-term elections. With less than a year and a half to go until the next election, the economy, jobs, and national defense continue to be front and center.
However, the major social issues of the day, abortion and same-sex marriage, have been in the news more of late and could conceivably become a bigger player in the minds of voters as the elections draw nearer. For example, in Texas, Governor Perry is expected to sign soon legislation requiring that pregnant women seeking an abortion first have a sonogram and wait at least 24 hours after seeing the results of the sonogram before having an abortion.
Texas in not alone. In fact, dozens of states have measures on the table to restrict abortions. The Guttmacher Institute, a New York not-for-profit research group, estimates that 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproduction during the first quarter of 2011. A majority of those were designed to restrict abortion in some way.
Then on the issue of same-sex marriage, the Navy recently announced that its chaplains will be allowed to conduct marriages of same-sex couples. In New York, there is a major campaign underway to legalize same-sex marriage, while efforts are currently underway to block same-sex marriages in Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Therefore, with social issues garnering increased headlines, it conceivably puts these issues in the forefront of voters' minds come next November. Given the increase then in the news of these issues, coupled with today's delicate balance of the Supreme Court, where social issue debates tend to land, social Conservatives have good reason to be energetic about the 2012 campaign. The stakes are indeed high.
Of course, the big prize in 2012 is the Oval Office. If nothing else, the President nominates potential justices of the Supreme Court. Right now, Conservatives or better said “constructionists”, in context of the Constitution, hold a slim 5-4 majority on the Bench. Justices Thomas, Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Kennedy are among the majority, while Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagen, and Breyer represent the minority.
The status of the Court, however, could very well look quite different in the next four to five years, depending on who is in the White House. Right now, four of the seven justices are over 70 years old (Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Breyer), with two from the Right and two from the Left. So there is the potential for a shift in the Court simply due to age.
If Obama were to win a second term and all four justices were to retire, pass away, or become unable to serve for any reason, liberals could enjoy a 6-3 majority, with potentially all liberal justices at 62 years of age or younger, as Sotomayor and Kagen are presently 56 and 57 years of age, respectively. That could present then a liberal majority for the next several years—a near impenetrable barrier for conservatives in their battle over social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Granted, it is unlikely that four Supreme Court Justices would be replaced in Obama's next term. The more likely scenario is that at least one Justice will be replaced and if the individual is a conservative-leaning member of the High Court, then so much for the conservative majority.
Conversely, should a Conservative Republican be the 45th President of the United States and one or both of the left-leaning justices part ways with the Court, then Conservatives could enjoy a 6-3 or even a 7-2 advantage. With that level of margin, Conservatives could ramp up their efforts to overturn Roe V. Wade and make other judicial inroads into major social issues.
In the context of the Supreme Court, it is the Senate, of course, which ultimately has the power to confirm or deny the nomination for the Bench with a simple 51-vote majority. Democrats currently hold the majority, 53-47 and have held the majority throughout Obama's term in office, thus allowing him to nominate and eventually have confirmed both Sotomayor and Kagen.. However, of the 33 seats up for grabs next November, 23 are now held by Democrats, while Republicans only have to defend 10 seats. That gives the GOP a clear edge in its efforts to recapture majority status in the Senate and, coupled with a presidential election victory, having complete control over any addition to the Court.
While there is the potential for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, or more probable, one banning same-sex marriage, these issues seem more likely to be decided by the Supreme Court. Control over the Court for many years to come may be determined by who wins in 2012. For Conservatives passionate about the right to life and the sanctity of marriage, victory in this election is vital.
Chad Stafko is a writer and political consultant living in the Midwest. He can be reached at [email protected]