The next presidential election will help to determine whether we move further away from constitutional government, or make a critical course correction. Most Supreme Court watchers agree that the next president will significantly influence the court's course for at least the next decade, maybe longer. With vacancies possible across the Supreme Court's ideological spectrum, and in the lower federal courts as well, the stakes are high. Nothing less than preserving the form of government our Founders gave us--with limited powers, and accountability to the people--is at stake.
As president I will take an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Appointing judges who believe in the rule of law is a vitally important part of that job, and one that I intend to do to the utmost of my ability.
Too often the Supreme Court has, in effect, rewritten the Constitution. Sometimes it has invented rights that are not found in the Constitution and used them to strike down legitimate laws with which five Justices disagree. At other times it has failed to enforce parts of the Constitution. When it does either of these things, the Court erodes our system of government and short-circuits the democratic process
Our Founders gave us a limited government and divided its powers to protect liberty and accountability. They also gave us an amendment process to change the Constitution when needed. But because too many justices have viewed the Court as a kind of permanent constitutional convention, we have drifted far away from these wise arrangements.
If the Court goes the wrong way, we face a troubling future. Our strong tradition of religious liberty, which is already under assault, could erode precipitously. The right to bear arms could be read out of our Constitution. School-choice programs that have given hope to children all over our country could be ended by judicial fiat. The states could be reduced to mere administrative sub-units of the federal government. Liberal dogma could be placed in the way of reasonable protections for unborn children, even when most people agree on them.
I will do everything in my power to avert that fate. In my view, the federal courts have a vital but limited role in our national life. Their job is not to second-guess laws or to substitute their own judgment for the provisions of the Constitution. It is to apply the laws as written, and follow the Constitution above all. Because many cases present genuinely difficult questions, judges who share these convictions will not always agree with one another on how to apply the law in particular cases. But they will look to the text, original understanding, history, and structure of the Constitution for their answers--not to their own views about which public policies would be better, not to their sense of the zeitgeist, and not to what might win favor on editorial pages. They will defer to the elected branches on issues the Constitution leaves to them to resolve. But when laws conflict with the Constitution, they will not hesitate to strike them down.
As president, I will search for nominees who agree with this job description--nominees in the mold of such Justices as Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas--and I will fight for their confirmation.
We should not have any illusions about this fact: It will be a fight. Long gone are the days when we could count on Senate Democrats to accept conservative nominees who are well-qualified and have records that testify to their character and integrity. These days, their desire to have courts that will impose the liberal agenda they favor trumps such old-fashioned notions. A nominee with a record of applying the law as written--the kind of nominee I will select--is guaranteed to draw opposition from them, whether that nomination is for the Supreme Court or a lower appellate court. I am eager to have that debate when I am president, and I am confident that those of us who believe in judicial fidelity to the Constitution will win it.
For months now, I have been telling voters across the country that, as president, I would welcome the opportunity to nominate and fight for judges who will enforce the Constitution as an enduring document, not as a living document that constantly changes to accord with liberal fashions. Voters need not take my word for it, however. They can simply look to my record as a two-term governor of Florida.
As governor, judicial appointments were one of my top priorities. When I took office, Florida's judicial selection process was subject to excessive influence by special interests. Together with the Florida legislature, I created a new process better geared toward filling the state courts with jurists who had a sound understanding of their limited, but important, role.
My administration devoted substantial time to the vetting process and made appointments with the utmost care. I detailed publicly the criteria I would use to select people for the bench: humility, courage, an appreciation of the duties of a judge, a respect for the will of the people, and devotion to full application of the law without equivocation. And then I scoured Florida for people who met that test. While the reforms did not give governors a free hand in appointing judges, I was able to make a dramatic change for the better in the state's courts.
My two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court, Raul Cantero and Kenneth Bell, are strong examples of my philosophy of judicial appointments in action. Both Justice Cantero and Justice Bell have earned reputations as the Florida Supreme Court's most consistent conservatives. I also looked to the future with my appointments: Two of the appellate judges I named, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, are now serving with distinction on the Florida Supreme Court.
I would approach nominations to the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court with the same rigor and care as I approached appointments to the Florida Supreme Court. My strategy:
Assemble the broadest possible pool of candidates who meet the core qualifications.
Scour their records and vet their references.
Keep on the list only those people with a proven history of respecting both the limits of federal power and the will of the people.
Identify those most willing to stand up for the law, even if it runs contrary to their own policy preferences.
And fight to confirm the most qualified candidates who meet those criteria.
The federal courts are at a crossroads. I want to ensure they go down the right path. We cannot afford to elect a president who will pack the courts with politicians in robes willing to subvert the legal process to advance their political agendas. We need a president who is committed to nominating people who clearly understand the difference between judges and legislators, and who have demonstrated records of respecting the Constitution's limits on federal authority. That is what I am committed to doing, that is the record I built in Florida, and that is how we will ensure that our courts are realigned with the Constitution.