Can politics threaten the neutrality of the Supreme Court?

Some people embrace a spirited political debate and others cover their ears and run for the hills when the “p-word” comes up. Two things that are certain are that most people aren’t neutral about the subject and that politics cannot be completely ignored.

American flag mural with tear in middle

Politics and the law go hand-in-hand, of course, which puts unique stress on the judicial branch as it strives for even-handed, non-partisan rulings that adhere to our country’s foundation. What happens when politicians contact the Supreme Court before a case is heard? Does it infringe on this?

Gun rights, angry letters and politicizing the court

Gun rights are a divisive topic in the country, to put it mildly. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning gun transport in New York City. Originally, the law banned transportation of firearms outside of city limits, which was challenged in court by a local gun rights association. The original rule has since been rescinded by both state and city law.

Because of the changes, several Democratic senators requested that the court drop the case. What catapulted the issue into the political arena is that, in filing this brief, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) closed his brief with the quote, “Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics.’” Republicans saw this as a threat and, in turn, sent their own letter to the court.

Can these letters affect the Supreme Court’s handling of the case?

One of the reasons people continually worry about undue influence on the court is because it is so hard to define. Politics are intertwined in daily life. The Supreme Court considers many issues when ruling on a case. Previous rulings, interpretation of the Constitution and a various types of evidence will all come into play. When politicians directly contact the high court about a case, it casts a shadow that is hard to ignore. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait until the next session to find out how the court will rule.