There Is No Such Thing As Non Partisanism

Opinion Editor Hailey Gates reflects on the impartiality of the Supreme Court.

When it comes to America’s political institutions, the unassuming judicial branch seems to be number three of three. 

But lately the Supreme Court has thrust its power to the forefront of national politics. For a supposedly unbiased political body, they’ve been making some arguably polarizing decisions. 

The Supreme Court ruled July 1 presidents have immunity from prosecution for acts taken during their presidency. The decision is related to criminal charges against Donald Trump alleging his involvement in plots to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss and block the peaceful transfer of power, according to the Associated Press

It comes at a politically crucial moment. Just days after Trump’s seeming success in the first presidential debate, it’s now almost guaranteed he won’t be tried before the November election.

Supreme Court power is conducted under a supposedly unbiased pretense, as judges are meant to be non-partisan. This supposed independence is technically protected by certain constitutional elements, including life-long appointments and no decreases in their salary. 

This lack of bias is a fallacy. A Supreme Court’s power remains steady despite a grid-locked legislature — even when new laws can’t be passed through congress, with judicial review they can still be revoked or reinstated by the court. 

In this way, SCOTUS and state supreme courts across the country have increasingly obtained subversive political capital derived from the  majority party of a polarized government. The judges appointed are a reflection of their appointer’s views. No truly non-partisan entity would be treated with this kind of political import. 

The issue with the non-partisan moniker is that it provides the guise of unbiased legal decision making while shielding justices from the responsibility of representing the population. 

An August 2023 poll, conducted shortly after Trump’s federal indictment, found 65% of American adults considered the charges serious, with 49% saying he should suspend his presidential campaign. Public opinion hasn’t shifted much since last year, as an April 2024 poll found 49% of Americans think Trump’s attempts to overturn the election broke the law. 

The data shows a significant portion of a population is distressed over this presidential race. With public opinion so split and stakes for our democracy so high, a supposedly non-partisan governmental branch should issue judgements that reflect public uncertainty — not ruling the country’s first simultaneous former president and convicted felon to be above the rule of law.

The immunity ruling was determined in spite of Trump’s recent conviction on 34 felony counts in his New York hush money case. It was determined despite an indictment against Trump in Miami accusing him of taking and retaining classified White House documents. 

These contemporaneous convictions underscore the gravity of the election and contextualize troubled public sentiment. Yet, six justices voted in favor of Trump’s immunity — three of whom were themselves appointed by the former president.

These whiplash-inducing contradictions of Trump’s character and legal standing make it difficult to believe the Supreme Court is placing the American people ahead of their own political interests. Despite the non-partisan moniker attached to each justice’s name, decisions like last Monday’s fall squarely on one side of the aisle. 

A recent article from National Public Radio — which calls the current Supreme Court “the most conservative in 90 years” — explains Trump’s conservative super-majority has produced the most conservative decisions — 62% — in a single term since 1931.  

Claiming justices are non-partisan is a fallacy. News outlets can run headlines labeling the Supreme Court’s conservative majority and justices’ political ideologies can be easily assumed by their previous political activities. 

Who are we kidding? 

There’s no such thing as non-partisanism in reality — it’s a word thrown around because people want it to mean something. It’s become emblematic, a way to affirm the Supreme Court’s validity despite overt — and frustrating — political bias. 

Even if justices claim impartiality, the party of their appointer can’t be ignored. As long as legislative bodies and public opinion remain at a stand-still, courts are the only remaining realm where political capital can be obtained. 

Frankly, if supreme courts were truly non-partisan, the decisions being made wouldn’t have such an obviously polemic effect. If they were truly non-partisan, there wouldn’t be any arguments capable of saying otherwise. 

Featured image by Aidan Cahill | The Phoenix

Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates