The judiciary

THE JUDICIARY…. Sarah Palin chatted with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson yesterday for an interview airing today. I’ll have more on their discussion later, but it’s worth noting that for Dobson, the single biggest issue on the political landscape isn’t abortion or gays, it’s the federal courts. It’s precisely why Dobson, who had vowed he wouldn’t vote for McCain “under any circumstances” ultimately changed his mind.

And speaking of the courts, the estimable Stephanie Mencimer has a terrific item on the judiciary as part of this month’s issue of the Washington Monthly, highlighting one of the often overlooked issues at stake in this year’s presidential election.

While the contrast between Barack Obama and McCain on hot-button social issues couldn’t be clearer, to focus exclusively on abortion or separation of church and state is ultimately distracting. The Supreme Court hasn’t heard a great deal of these cases lately, and this pattern is likely to continue for the near future. The areas where McCain may have the biggest influence include the growing number of business cases on the docket (in which McCain’s choice of judges would surely share his own ardent belief in deregulation) and questions of presidential power.

John McCain’s Court, in fact, would look almost exactly like George W. Bush’s. McCain has said repeatedly that he would appoint justices in the model of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. By the conclusion of Roberts’s second term this year, the Court had undergone a historic shift to the right. His Court has significantly restricted the average person’s access to the legal system, all but eliminated equal pay lawsuits, destroyed efforts to desegregate public schools, and made the Court an even friendlier place for well-funded business groups looking to insulate themselves from liability for wrongdoing. As Justice Stephen Breyer lamented, “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” By all indications, the Roberts bloc would like to change far more.

The subject hasn’t generated nearly as much as attention as it should — I think there’s a disconnect because voters don’t realize the influence a president has on the judiciary — but Mencimer’s terrific piece explains exactly why this matters. Just as importantly, Mencimer takes a closer look at the kind of jurists we’d see in an Obama administration. Read the piece.

And also keep in mind, as we talked about on Monday, you can receive a free, no-obligation copy of our new issue. It’s a unique issue about a critical election, and it features some terrific analysis from highly respected journalists (Jonathan Alter, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Kevin Drum) on some of the policy issues that matter most (the economy, foreign policy, energy, education, the federal judiciary).

It’s easy to get this free issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving the issue, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.