Top 10 Reasons Why Courts Matter to Us Jews

— by Eleanor Levie

There is an important issue being squeezed off the radar by equally important conversations on the budget, guns, and Israel’s survival: We need to focus on what is occurring in our nation’s courts. Here are my reasons why:

Full list after the jump.

10. U.S. Jews take our core values and constitutional rights seriously.
As Jews with a history of discrimination and oppression, how could we not? Remember, the Supreme Court hears only about 80-90 cases a year. All other important decisions cited across the country as relevant and applicable come down from the federal courts. And these decisions often chip away at our liberties and erode our rights. We have to stay vigilant.

9. Best chance to influence the process of government and score an advocacy victory.
All we need to do is persuade our Senators to vote on fair and open-minded judges for the federal bench. Advise and consent on the President’s judiciary nominations is one of the rare things the Senate does all by itself, without worrying about the House and its current inability to get anything done. Dialing Senators Casey and Toomey!

8. Two words: Lifetime Appointments.
If we elect a lousy person to the House of Representatives at least we can throw the bum out in two years. Not so with the federal courts where unless you commit a crime or suffer the final phases of dementia, you get to sit in judgement as long as you want. Approximately 40% of the judges sitting on federal courts are people appointed by President George W. Bush, in his mold. White Christian men in the prime of their lives, who tend to favor corporations over the individual and the environment, and whose evangelical views trump science and matters that should be private. The decisions of these people who do not share our values will affect us, our children, and our grandchildren for decades to come. We can’t do anything about that, but we can prevent it from continuing to happen.

7. Justice, justice thou shalt pursue.
Our sacred book of laws, the Torah, tells us to continually elevate fairness and expect judicial open-mindedness and independence. That means getting pushy for judges who see justice the way we do.

6. None of us is God.
We’re only human, so yes, mistakes get made. But in our democracy, it’s our civil right to seek redress when necessary. The Courts are our lifeline, and our last line of defense.

5. You just never know…
You never know when you might need your day in court, which is your right as an American. We need to hold fast to that right if we are to continue to live in a land that promises justice for all, no matter your religion, wealth, power — or lack thereof.

4. Justice delayed is justice denied.
President Obama’s attempts to fill vacancies with highly qualified, diverse people consistently meet with partisan obstructionism. Many deserving candidates who are admired for their scholarship and experience are willing to serve their country at salaries well below what they earn at corporate law firms. Go figure. But we are punishing them, making them put their lives and careers on hold while they wait months for an up or down vote. Not only that, but judicial vacancies throughout the federal court system are straining the capacity of the federal courts to administer justice in an adequate and timely manner. So cases back up, and sitting judges on senior status work well past what their health and energy allows. Worst of all, the parties involved in a federal legal case wait months to get court dates.

3. Money, money, money!
Judicial vacancies and the case backlogs that result are costly to businesses with lawsuits pending and hurt our economy. As feeling, caring Jews, we can only imagine the severe stress and hardship suffered by an individual whose life savings go to pay lawyers’ fees that increase with court delays.

2. Is tikkun olam — repairing the world — important or isn’t it?
Have you noticed how broken our judicial system is? Getting it repaired will take lots of us willing to speak out — especially for those who cannot speak for themselves.

1. The Courts make the decisions that shape our lives.
Their authority determines whether we have clean air and water. Access to reproductive health care and family planning. Gender equality in jobs, paychecks, the military. Separation of religion and state. Immigration reform. Civil rights. Affirmative Action. Integrated and equal public schools. LGBT rights and marriage equality. And much, much more.



  1. Joseph B Fischer says

    I would like to thank Eleanor Levie for her thought provoking article about Federal Judges.

    The nomination of Federal Judges by the President can have long lasting consequences. If a far right wing Republican had been elected president, there would have been a good chance that as Supreme Court Justices retired, their replacements could have over turned Roe v. Wade. It makes sense that the President tends to nominate judges that reflect his own values and philosophy. Perhaps the American people do not weigh this factor as heavily as they should when they vote for the President.

    In such a short article, Ms. Levie didn’t have space to get into some of the exceptions to her general statements. This comment is almost as long as the article it comments on!

    According to the Brookings Institute, President Jimmy Carter, a white Christian Protestant Evangelical man, was the first president to appoint a significant number of women and minorities as federal judges. President George W. Bush wasn’t as progressive as Carter or President Clinton, but Bush still appointed a considerable number of women and minorities. Statistics on the religions of Federal Judges don’t seem to be readily available.

    Ms. Levie suggests that a large number of judges, nominated by President George W. Bush, are “White Christian men … who tend to favor corporations over the individual and the environment, and whose evangelical views trump science and matters that should be private.”

    However, this is a generalization. And judges don’t always rule according to the philosophies of the presidents who nominate or appoint them.

    1. Many people in Federal Government, not just judges, seem to unduly favor corporations. This was especially seen in the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. However, this ruling was despite the fact that a minority of Supreme Court Justices, only 4 out of 9, are white Christian men.

    2. Ms. Levie is concerned about those judges “whose evangelical views trump science.” However, in the famous case where the Dover, PA, School Board wanted to criticize neo-Darwinian Evolution for religious reasons, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled against them. White Christian Protestant male Judge Jones was appointed by President George W. Bush. Yet Judge Jones ruled that religion didn’t belong in public school science class and agreed with the position of the majority of main stream scientists on Evolution.

    3. Ms. Levie is also concerned about judges whose “evangelical views trump … matters that should be private.” The record is more complicated in this area. Federal judges have mainly favored gay rights and gay marriage. The record of the Federal District Courts is mixed when it comes to blocking restrictions on abortion, and ensuring no-cost access to birth control. Still most federal court decisions have been in agreement with the values of the majority of Jews, when it comes to matters of reproductive health. Many of these issues are still being decided so in the future more court decisions could go the other way. Also, I’m not sure which decisions were on the Federal Court level and which decisions were on a state or local level.

    4. There are some whites, some Christians, some men, and some Evangelicals who do not favor corporations over the individual. This is also true of members of other races, religions and genders. Jews have been labeled and discriminated against for thousands of years. We should be careful about the assumptions we make about groups of people. We shouldn’t lump all Christians into one conservative, far right wing, political group. Instead of stereotyping whites, and Christians, and men, shouldn’t we call for human beings who value people and the environment above corporate profits to enter government service?

    5. We live in a country that is 2% Jewish, 78% Christian, 25% Catholic, and 50% Protestant. The Evangelical Protestants are about 25% of the US population. If too many Federal Judges are white, male Christians, what would be the right number? There should be more women nominated as judges. But even right wing Republicans at least give lip service to the goal of more women in government service. Should the percentage of female judges be the same (51%) as the percentage of women in the general population? How could this be accomplished? Should the percentage of Christian judges be different than the make-up of the general population? Should the percentage of Jewish judges be different than the make-up of the general population?

    6. More than 50% of law school graduates are now women. Based on anecdotal evidence, there are more Jewish law school graduates than one would expect given the percentage of Jews in the general population. Perhaps Ms. Levie’s organization, the National Council of Jewish Women, is already encouraging those Jewish women who value people above corporate profits to pursue careers as judges.

    7. Currently, a minority of Supreme Court Justices (4 out of 9) are white Christian males. There are three Jewish Justices and six Catholic Justices, but no Protestant Justices. Perhaps white Christian Protestant males have more than their share of Federal Judgeships. But if we value fair demographic representation, shouldn’t we be working to reduce the number of Jews and Catholics on the Supreme Court? We have a Black Justice and a Hispanic Justice, so we have those minorities covered. President Obama has already appointed two female Supreme Court Justices and may have the opportunity to appoint another woman. But shouldn’t we be asking that half of the Supreme Court Justices be Protestants and that two or three Justices be Evangelical Protestants? We might disagree with their opinions, but how can we justify leaving them out of Supreme Court decisions?

    8. Many Jews appreciate the strong support of Christian Evangelicals when it comes to the State of Israel. There tend to be disagreements when it comes to social issues. Perhaps with the Jewish tradition of discussing various different sides of issues there can be more light and less heat in the culture wars.

  2. Publisher says

    First of all, I’m just glad someone read my blog!

    You are absolutely correct — I could have chosen many of my words more carefully. Admittedly, the David Letterman Top 10 stylistic device is snarky and brash… again, a ploy to get noticed and provoke a response.

    I do stand by my deep concern that 40% of the judges making up the lower federal courts were suggested to President George W. Bush by advisers on the extreme right. Theirs was a deliberate strategy to remake the courts,  to impose their religious views on our society…. and it worked. It doesn’t matter so much what race, religion, or gender these judges are, although they are sorely lacking in diversity. What matters is that they came to their positions with certain biases. If they couldn’t dismantle Roe v. Wade, well, they can chip away at it. Lawyers representing minorities, gays, and environmental watchdogs know that with certain judges, they’ll not have a chance of getting a fair trial.

    It was also deliberate that most of those judges appointed by President George W. Bush came to the federal bench at the prime of their lives for lifetime appointments. Their decisions, coming out of a world view that doesn’t mesh with the values of progressive Jews, will affect us for generations to come.  

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