Ambrose: Candidates should tell us how they will deal with Supreme Court 

The Supreme Court has supplied us with some questions that ought to be asked of all those presidential candidates now spouting their views on this, that and the other thing in hopes of winning voter allegiance, first in primaries and then in the general election in November 2008.

The court suggested these questions by a disturbing deed not so unlike many in the past. It decided to make policy on a major issue even if that required so blatant a stupidity as failing to distinguish between air pollution and global warming.

Against constitutional principle, against the clear meaning of law and precedent and against common sense, this majority determined that the Clean Air Act permitted the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emission by automobiles of greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere. It simply doesn’t.

To get to where it wanted to go, the majority had to engage in a long list of logical fallacies. One question was whether Massachusetts had standing to sue the federal government. You would have to show that the state had suffered a catastrophethat federal action could have helped prevent. The court treated conjecture about rising sea levels as the catastrophe, and then said EPA regulations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, they would, but they would not reduce global warming one iota or in any other way have the slightest impact on sea levels.

The Bush administration has actually been more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than many of the European nations constantly castigating us, and Congress has been talking about getting in on the act. A Supreme Court eager to bless us with its superior stance on this matter shrugged its shoulder at executive judgments and quit waiting for Congress, waltzing in where it’s not allowed.

Journalists and the citizenry understand that while there are many important issues in the coming presidential election — the war in Iraq, health insurance — few issues are more fundamental to the nature of our republic than a court that abides by the rules. The candidates therefore ought to tell us where they stand on some pretty important questions.

Do they or do they not believe that some laws and many of the principles of the Constitution are explicit and clear in all sorts of particular cases and that they limit the court just as they limit the other two branches of government? Do they agree that the court has overstepped the legal bounds in any number of interpretive instances, and do they think this OK? Is it just consequences that matter to them, or adherence to a governmental structure assuring certain legislative prerogatives shall not be usurped?

Whatever the failings of President Bush, he nominated two fine candidates for the Supreme Court — John Roberts and Samuel Alito — both of whom dissented from the majority in the recent global warming case. It’s important as the citizenry sorts out its views of the current crop of presidential candidates that we find out what kinds of judges they would nominate.

Examiner columnist Jay Ambrose is a former editor of two daily newspapers. He may be reached at

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