Note the bit about doing right to poor and rich and alike. Feeling sorry for the poor guy who violates the Constitution or the law has no role in how a Supreme Court justice is supposed to make a decision. Legislators can write laws based on empathy. They can invoke their pet theories about "how the world works." They can even, as Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are fond of doing, consult foreign laws and court decisions in their efforts to make a more perfect union. But Supreme Court justices are supposed to decide what the written law requires, not pick winners and losers based upon some sense of noblesse oblige. That's why all of those statues of Lady Justice show her standing blindfolded, not bent over kissing the boo-boos of the unfortunate and the downtrodden.
In a very real sense, this election year we face the question: Do we want to live in a monarchy or a nation of laws? Is this to be a country where justices serve as a reliable backstop against encroachments upon the constitutional order, or a country where the most undemocratic branch of government serves as the tip of the spear for such intrusions?
Five of the last seven presidents have been Republicans at least nominally committed to appointing conservative justices. Some have fallen short in that department (though not President George W. Bush), which is why the Supreme Court today hangs in the balance. John McCain could conceivably make the mistake of appointing a Souter or a Stevens or some other justice who sees the Constitution as an ink blot. But the key difference between McCain and his Democratic rivals is that he promises not to appoint such justices. Clinton and Obama consider it among their top priorities. That's at least one reason for saying this is one of the most important elections in a very long time.
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