• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

It's unanimous

The Supreme Court just ended its term with two 5-4 decisions on controversial, hot-button issues, so there's bound to be a lot of analysis about the "divided" court. But here's something you might not be aware of:

The court has agreed unanimously in more than 66 percent of its cases this term (and that figure holds even if Monday’s remaining two cases, on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage and on public-sector unions, are not unanimous). The last year this happened was 1940.

The justices’ ability to cross partisan divides and find common ground in their bottom-line judgment in roughly two-thirds of their cases — including the two decisions handed down Thursday, restricting the president’s ability to issue recess appointments during brief breaks in the Senate’s work, and striking down a Massachusetts ban on protests near abortion clinics — should remind us that even in this hyperpartisan age, there is a difference between law and politics.

Unanimity is important because it signals that the justices can rise above their differences and interpret the law without partisanship.

That point about the difference betweeen the law and politics is an important one, and the author himself seems to forget it a few paragraphs later when he wonders if the court can provide a useful lesson for how others can get along:

This path, of trying to forge places of agreement even among people who are inclined to disagree, is the essence of what the American experiment is all about. In an era when the leadership of the House of Representatives is suing the president, when people across the aisle cannot even be in the same room with one another, the modesty and cultivated collegiality of the nine members of the Supreme Court this year remind us all that there is another way.

But the court's way will not work for those in political leadership positions. The justices have an underlying purpose that they're all aware of and committed to -- interpreting the law's constitutional compliance -- and they are insulated from public opinion in their pursuit of that purpose. Politicians are motivated by public opinion -- pleasing their constituents is how they fufill their underlying purpose of getting elected and re-elected.